Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Abuse in the Church: A Review of A Cry for Justice

Every pastor that has ministered for any length of time is familiar with abuse.  Some pastors or pastor’s wives grew up in abusive situations.  Others see kids or spouses in their community that are abused.  We understand that in our sin-soaked world, abuse happens and we compassionately do our part to minister, care and rescue those in abusive family situations.
But one of the things we pastors don’t think much about is abuse in our churches.  I am not talking about sexual predators that all churches should be on guard against.  Rather, I am talking about seemingly ordinary families in our churches, people perhaps in leadership or in ministry that are secretly either abusers or victims of abuse.  This is the topic of Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood’s book A Cry for Justice:  How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in your Church.
I do not know either of the authors personally.  A couple in my church gave me the book, sharing with me that Jeff Crippen was an ex-pastor of theirs in the years before they moved to our area.  Jeff has a background in law enforcement and has been a pastor for 20 years.  Anna Wood is an abuse survivor who writes and blogs to help other victims of abuse.
A Cry for Justice is a powerful book.  It is obvious that the authors feel passionate about their subject.  Anna dealt with it first-hand as a victim, Jeff as a pastor of a church with abusive families.  It is a call for believers, and especially pastors, to open their eyes to the fact that there may be families in our churches who outwardly appear normal, but in reality are hidden centers of abusive behavior.  The book is a hard read, because it is a hard topic.  Jeff and Anna delve into the mentality of the abuser – their motivations and thought processes.  They present a clear picture of the ugliness of sin and the true depravity of man.
The authors argue that the serial abuser has a mentality foreign to our understanding.  While pastors deal with sinful people all the time, we can often see that solid biblical counsel, confession, prayer, forgiveness and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives can bring true life change.  For the serial abuser, that is not the case, mainly because the authors argue that the serial abuser, even the one who holds a leadership position in the church, is not a believer.  They argue that:

While every Christian can certainly hurt, mistreat or be insensitive to another person, and more frequently than we think, it is impossible for a Christian to be what we have defined as an abuser in this book.  That is to say, Scripture makes it plain that a person whose very mentality and habitual practice is that of entitlement, power, control, and justification, does not know Christ, nor does Christ know him. (p. 241)
The authors argue that when we see the serial abuser who he really is, as someone who does not know Christ, we are able to see the abusive situation as it really is.
The book is a valuable resource for pastors.  In addition to chapters on how the abuser thinks and operates (which are very disturbing), there is good counsel about the effect of abuse on children, how the church can help an abuse victim, how abuse often continues after separation and how the church should deal with abusers, especially those who are on a quest for power in the church.  I am not sure I agree with the authors on every point.  They argue that abuse qualifies in Scripture as abandonment (1 Cor. 7:15) and thus enables the abuse victim to pursue divorce without sin.  Another controversial point they make is that pastors should be reading secular experts in the subject of abuse; men and women who have made is a specialty to delve into the mentality of abuse.  I for one am not totally convinced on these last two points, but I do plan to hunt down some further resources to pursue these questions in greater depth.

Despite the fact that it contains truths that are hard to read, pastors should read this book.  Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood have done a service to the church.  They have lifted the lid off something we do not want to talk about and have shed the light of the Scripture upon it.  While it should not prompt us to see abuse under every tree and bush, it should equip us to recognize the signs when we see it, and have the tools to compassionately and justly care for the victims of that abuse.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Read This Book!

I read a lot of books.  Some of those books are fine, but when I get a chance I trade them in at a local used book store, knowing that I will never read them again.  Others are better and are books I want in my library because they will be a valuable reference to me.  Still others reach a higher plane, becoming books that I know I need to pull off my shelves every few years and read again.  Dangerous Calling:  Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp is one of those books.

I will admit, I was not keen on reading this book at first.  While I have been impacted by Dr. Tripp’s writing and speaking over the years, I was not sure I wanted to read another book on ministry.  But when a friend suggested we read it together, I agreed and I was so glad I did.

The title of the book – Dangerous Calling – and the graphics suggesting warning and danger on the cover of the book led me to believe that this was a book about the outside pressures, temptations and dangers that confront pastoral ministry.  I was wrong.  Rather, the emphasis of this book is internal.  Dr. Tripp forces the reader to focus on the attitudes, the assumptions and the motivations that all too often guide, and misguide the average pastor.

There are two themes that can be found throughout the book.  The first is a negative one – Dr. Tripp is persistent in giving us a glimpse of the dark underbelly of pastoral ministry.  What does it look like when a pastor has theological knowledge but lacks a heart for God?  What happens when a pastor divorces himself from the church community?  What occurs when the minister does not recognize that the calling they have is a calling to a spiritual battle, a war?  What is the result when a pastor is motivated by pride or a sense of arrival?  What goes wrong when we settle for mediocrity in preaching or seek our own glory rather than God’s?  Over and over again, I found myself searching my own soul, as the words and the personal testimonies of this book revealed my own struggles, my own temptations, my own personal ugliness.  It was not a pleasant experience.

At the same time, another theme persists in the book.  Without this theme, Dangerous Calling would likely be the most depressing book I have ever read.  This positive theme is found in a simple statement – pastors need the truths of the gospel as much as anyone else.  You see, the key to solving all the struggles inherent in pastoral cultural and all the temptations that come upon a sinful person in church leadership is found in the gospel.  The gospel reminds us that our value comes from God, freeing us from feelings of unworthiness.  At the same time, it reminds us also that everything in our lives comes from God, freeing us from pride.  The gospel tells us that all glory belongs to God, not us.  The gospel reminds us that we are sinners, but also has the solution to our sin.  The gospel is about grace and transformation, enabling a flawed instrument to be used by God.  The gospel reminds us of God’s profound and loving care for us.  I could go on and on.  Every ailment in the heart of a pastor can be solved by honestly and carefully preaching the gospel to himself before he preaches it to his congregation.  We can never think we are above the basic truths of the gospel, or begin to believe that they are applicable to the flock but not the shepherd.

So if you are in ministry, read this book.  It will hurt, but the gospel truths in it can heal.  If you are not a pastor, prayerfully read this book yourself and then pass it on to your pastor and perhaps your church leadership.  Pastors are involved in a dangerous calling.  Let’s make sure they are strengthened by and equipped with God’s truth in the midst of it.  Anything less will spell disaster.