the Hope of Survivors

Pastors vs. Imposters—Survivor Girl*

(From the January 2013 edition of HopeSpeak)

Like many Christ-followers, I have a large assortment of devotional books, but one of mine really stands head and shoulders above the others. Daily with the King, by Pastor W. Glyn Evans, packs a theological punch and keeps me on my spiritual toes. The fact that it was discovered while buried under a pile of books at Goodwill endears it even more to me and is a reminder that we often have to dig deep for gems of spiritual truth. Last week I unearthed a reading entitled “Mannequin Christianity,” which focuses solely on the connection between pastors who live the Spirit-infused life (true shepherds) and those who don't (false shepherds). Evans writes:

God's people have institutionalized spiritual service. We call a man to be a pastor, and because he is officially a pastor, we expect him to be a mouthpiece for God. Not necessarily. The title is not the life, and the office is not the fruit. God does not bless an office or a title; He blesses a person, and He blesses him because he evidences the flow of spiritual life in his life … spiritual life is what God requires and what the world craves. Nobody, not even the outspoken agnostic, will refuse the life and fruit that God gives through His church; but everyone will bitterly denounce the 'mannequin' aspect of Christianity, form without life. (Daily with the King, pp. 232-233)

Mannequin is a French word for a life-size but not life-filled form and is a fitting metaphor for false faith leaders or “imposters.” We can never assume that someone we call “pastor” or “Reverend” or “Father” is living out the full requirements and responsibilities of that title. Assumptions, defined by Webster's as “things taken for granted without proof,” are dangerous. One thing I've learned as a clergy sexual abuse victim-now-survivor is that there is a high spiritual, emotional and even physical cost to giving automatic (done unconsciously or from force of habit) trust (reliance on another's ability, integrity or strength) to a pastor simply because he/she has the title. Historically we've been instructed to place our confidence—and often our very lives—in those who have more knowledge, more wisdom, more experience, and even more years on earth than we have. That's a good thing ... until it's not. In other words, it's dangerous for us to rely on someone's unproven integrity and trustworthiness. And it's when we make the common mistake of believing that “title=integrity” that we are guilty of giving blind trust and are ripe for falling victim to an abuse of power. It's downright essential to ask ourselves if a faith leader's life is marked by progressive conformity to Christ's life. Evan's writes that “the office is not the fruit.” It's foolish to believe that someone who occupies the role of “pastor” or “coach” or “Doctor” is to be trusted simply based on his/her title. We need to be on the lookout for a life that honors God and others (good fruit).  

God's Word is replete with warnings to “test the spirits” and “watch out for false prophets [who] come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” How will we recognize these wolves? “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7: 15-16) When we are lovers of Christ, we will manifest His mindset and His behavior as “fruit” in our lives. When we produce godly fruit, we are producing evidence that our hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit. 1 John 1:11 says to “remember that those who do evil prove they do not know God.” Abusive pastors who prey on the vulnerable are exploitative (using others for selfish gain), do egregious harm (produce bad fruit) and are the embodiment of evil. They do not know God; in fact, such acts prove they have the antithesis of the mind of Christ. Period. 

Evans writes that God prizes the spiritual life so highly that He “makes it a condition of service.” Abusive pastors who prey on the vulnerable have no spiritual life and are in no condition to serve in authority over God's people. Why would we allow those who do not qualify by God's own standards to serve God to continue in any pastoral role? They should be removed from service. Period. 

Faith leaders have certain responsibilities to those in their flocks, but the flocks also have responsibilities:  

  1. People of God are to pray for godly discernment and for godly pastors. Are we regularly holding up our faith leaders in prayer? 
  2. People of God are responsible not to follow blindly but should “test the spirits.” Do we hear our faith leaders consistently giving out a message that conforms to Christ?  
  3. People of God are responsible not to be fooled by the attractiveness of still-life mannequins but to “know them [our faith leaders] by their fruits.” Do we see our faith leaders consistently living out a message that conforms to Christ?

 It's important to remember that we are responsible to trust only those who prove themselves trustworthy. Entitlement is not an option because it breeds a false sense of one's importance (leader) and breeds a false sense of security (parishioner). We can view trust like a dimmer switch. With each fruitful act, more light shines on the “evidence” until the quality of character, for good or for ill, is revealed. With our dimmer switch, we can learn to “adjust the trust.” 1 Timothy 3:2 says that the pastor is to be “above reproach;” when he/she abuses the role by using others for selfish gain, he/she is 100% untrustworthy. After all, God calls and equips true pastors, not imposters. 

 * A pseudonym.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18