Sometimes I seriously question whether or not most churches, as institutions, actually believe what they preach: forgiveness, grace, God as redeemer, all have sinned and fallen short. You know, that sort of thing. Very often they get the words literally correct on Sunday, but are their brains engaged and their hearts in line with the redemptive nature of the Cross?
Over the years I have had the privilege of serving with groups of church friends appointed to find new leaders to fill roles on the pastoral staff at all levels. These groups are usually known as “search committees.” Over the years I have also been not-so-privileged to live with the results of those searches. Not all candidates live up to their billing over time. This result caused me to give the issue a great deal of thought and prayer. I have concluded that often the criteria applied in these searches might need some additional interpretation and serious adjustment.
There are widely held criteria for church leadership that are based on several passages from the Bible. You can view a summary of those qualifications here. (insert link) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elder_(Christianity) Since this is a blog about divorce and the church, let me concentrate on the criteria of “husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2). In my experience this is usually interpreted to mean a man who has never been divorced. Other interpretations I’ve heard disqualify a man even if he was never divorced, but married a woman who was. The whole thing can get pretty legalistic and nit-picky. A actually the whole thing can miss the point altogether.
My revelation, after serving with these carefully appointed men (the “man” thing is a subject for another post) who have met the Biblical standards as to wives, family, drinking, child raising, memory verses and other criteria is that an exalted level of Holiness just may not be the end-all qualification that prepares a person for Christian service.
I remember one Elders meeting where I advanced my new theory and criteria for selecting senior leaders of the church. Here’s what I proposed:
Should I ever be in charge of a search again, I am going to insist that our candidate have at least one face-plant failure in their background. I mean the kind of moral fall that is usually hush-hushed in church circles.
And I would want to see that person, recover through the Grace of God — and grace offered by those around him or her.
Imagine a person who has failed (imagine ourselves perhaps) and imagine that they have fully restored their lives through the help of faith, friends and family. Plus they have been redeemed by Christ’s work on the cross.
Can you see how that individual might be so much better prepared to relate to and help those of us in the church body?
Imagine the humility with which they would approach those they serve. Picture the empathy they would have for the troubled among them, not to mention the practicality of their own life lessons.
Isn’t that the sort of person who can humbly guide those of us who are struggling and seeking a better relationship with those around us and stronger reliance on the teaching of Christ?
After I advanced my theory, it took awhile for the slack jaws of my fellow Elders to return to a pained semblance of normal. I can’t say I received an overwhelming endorsement for my views. Even the divorced Elder (who tried to keep that part of his life out of view) pretty much turned a deaf ear. I wasn’t surprised by the response from my leadership pals, but in the three plus years since that I have had to think about the issue, my theory makes more sense to me now than ever.
Yes, we need to hold our spiritual leaders to a high standard of behavior and character. But doesn’t the overwhelming story of Jesus in the New Testament point to His great sacrifice to redeem the fallen, not to promote the religious? We need more leaders who have experienced first hand the redemption and restoration from their bad acts. We need people who are willing to see the realities of life and lead us all to better places because they have walked the walk.
Who better is there to give counsel to someone going through divorce, than someone who has been there and recovered?
I’d love to have you think about this idea and perhaps even share your thoughts by commenting below. Don’t be bashful. I’m not used to getting a lot of accolades for this line of thinking. But, if we don’t question our faith (and especially our faith practices) we really don’t have faith. We have belief, which is the opposite of faith.
“The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.” ― Anne Lamott