Her Daddy told her this day would come. He told her there would be boys who took her out for a drive, who said they wanted to know her better. She’s sixteen, with a boy she likes, big baby blues wide with affection. He’s whispering sweet nothings in her ear. It feels right, but it doesn’t. Something is missing, but she can’t tell what exactly. He keeps telling her this is what people do when they get to know each other.
But should they be doing…this?
Respect yourself, her daddy says.
Don’t give yourself away.
Be cautious with intimacy.
But…oh the sweet agony…
The boy is giving her attention, he’s focused on her. Whispering in her ear, telling her how pretty, how valuable, how profound it is that God would put her in his life.
She wants to belong!
She doesn’t want to make him angry.
A kiss here…
A touch there…
Is this wrong?
She hesitates, wanting him to give part of himself, wondering what his commitment is to this intimacy.
He looks angry.
On with my scandalous metaphor
Having interaction with modern Church Leaders is a lot like this.
Outrageous, you say!
Certainly my metaphor is inflammatory but the goal is not sensationalism. I am shining a glaring light on exploitative interactions embedded in leadership presumption, the exploitation of our deep-seated need to belong somewhere, to be loved for the sum of our value, to be affirmed in our identity.
I speak from personal experience. Tell me if you see yourself in these words.
During a summer break from college I was asked by a pastor from a large local church to do some broom-pushing work at his church. This church preached that members had an obligation to serve, that doing menial tasks was a sure ministry progression path. I had no reason to doubt the teaching-at the time-about being a submitted worker and waiting on metaphoric tables. I believed the rhetoric that at the right moment the appointed authorities would see my longstanding work ethic, my faith, and “promote” and “release.”
I was traveling to said pastor’s church, chatting about this, that, and the other, feeling good because, Wow, this pastor wants to know me. Wow he wants to find out about little old me. Wow he wants to talk about himself.
As we talk he slips me this Spiritual Roofie: “So, John, what people do you feel limited by?”
I wanted to be accepted. I wanted him to hear my humility in my candor. I wanted him to affirm my self-assessment. I wasn’t threatened by a limitation but was aware of it. Besides, can you imagine the reaction had I said: “Well, I don’t think I have any limitations?” So I said: “I don’t think I would do real well with youth. I don’t think I have a calling to kids because the things I have to say they wouldn’t understand.”
Whatever I expected him to say, it wasn’t this: “With that attitude, John, God will not be able to use you. Unless you are willing to start at the bottom and, ‘push a broom for a while,’ He’ll never promote you.”
EEEEEK! Repent! Sackcloth and Ashes!
I wasn’t quick on the draw those many years ago, so I never really responded to what the pastor said. But I felt used. I felt exploited. I felt that my words were twisted to mean things that I never really meant them to mean. I had given transparency, because I thought that was what was expected and I was exploited just like that shy girl in the backseat of a car. He had used a Spiritual Roofie to disarm me for the sole despicable purpose:
“…you will encounter a man or woman who’s real motive for enforced transparency is to supply information for critique, condemnation, judgment, qualification, and authenticity. These are the college frat-boys who can’t get a woman, can’t get ANY form of intimacy without criminal, despicable actions. These are the folks who couch their appeal to DEEPER relationship so that refusal to open up to THEM is part and parcel of falling away, part and parcel of rejecting GOD, and the Church.”
The pastor had no right to take such liberties with me as a human being, even if it were true that my ATTITUDE was wrong. Even if it were true that all ministry is achieved by recognized service and subsequent promotion: the Pastor had no right to use my candor as a spring board for his Broom-Pushing Theology.
He graduated bible school and started his ministry life in a youth group. After years of working with kids he was tapped to be an associate pastor at a growing mega church. And then he was given the Senior Pastor role at a church planting. In his mind, that path was how he got into his current place: recognized service and subsequent promotion. My candor unwittingly stepped into the middle of his doctrinal expectation. I wasn’t paying homage to Broom-Pushing Theology.
Notice that I suffered because of three key relational dynamics:
- 1. The desire to be accepted, valued, and embraced.
- 2. A doctrinal expectation that eradicated personal boundaries.
- 3. The catastrophic teaching of Broom-Pushing Theology.
I don’t for a moment believe that the aspiration to be accepted, desired, or embraced is a bad motive. However, my eagerness to accept the requirement of soul transparency coupled with the hope that I might be found desirable is what put me in the position to be exploited–much like the shy girl in the back of the car.
I do believe the next two points are bad. The Pastor used a Spiritual Roofie on me to lower my personal boundaries and engage in unearned intimacy. I quote myself from this post:
“These men and women are the worst sort of humans, using the heady power of personal insecurity and spiritual manipulation to command intimacy, command transparency, demand familiarity.”
He judged my attitude based on a wonderful theological fiction that necessitates GIFTING be earned like JOB skills and ministry is bequeathed to those who master a humble attitude via menial tasks.
I was 20 when my car ride took place and not seasoned enough to understand what had really happened. Nor did I understand what happened in subsequent interaction with numbers of other leaders. To my growing frustration, I handled the exploitation with ever decreasing success. I tried all the harder to fit in, flinging the clothing off my soul, flashing any and all spiritual voyeurs.
Did it work? No. Never.
The specifics tended to change from leader to leader, pastor to pastor, but I always heard some variation of “God can not use you until…”
And funny thing: God’s ability to use me was always some qualifying personal revelation that THEY needed from me. And further funny thing: the only way to give THEM that revelation was for me to push yet another broom ever more naked for their voyeuristic pleasure.
How could this be?
Was I that far off the mark?
A realization came years later: God was already using me. I lost count LONG AGO the number of strangers who would come up to me off the street and ask for prayer. I suspect the numbers are in the thousands where my hands have been the conduit of healing, and financial blessing, and my voice has been the medium of teaching, and compassion, and exhortation to people outside of that building we call Church. At every turn God was/is affecting people through me.
So how was it that the leaders that I offered such absolute transparency did not see this? How could the assessment of “Authorities” be so dramatically different than those whom my skills and talents and anointing had helped?
The answer is unflattering. They treated me like a shy girl in the backseat of a car. The pastor of my anecdote is a prime example. He had no interest to KNOW me. He mandated my intimacy and used it for his own purpose. He demanded transparency and used that to qualify or disqualify me for something he thought he should arbitrate.
What did he think he should arbitrate? Everything.
What was his commitment to the relational intimacy? Nothing.
The inequity in this “relationship,” this unearned intimacy, gave him the ability to pick and choose what parts he was interested in using.
When was the last time you had a conversation with a leader where they told you as much about themselves as you felt compelled to share about yourself? Leaders feel an enormous freedom to pressure transparency from “laity” yet lead intensely private lives.
Call a preacher with his name on the marquee and ask them out for a soda some time. NOT A COUNSELING SESSION. A soda and a chat about whatever you find mutually interesting: a meeting of equals. Try carrying on a conversation with them about THEIR lives and you will find them utterly inaccessible.
The tyranny comes when leadership creates doctrines of obligation that demands transparency of people in exchange for approval and acceptance. When leaders have no intention of reciprocating intimacy and use self-revelation to judge and evaluate and disqualify. When we need leaders to LIKE us so that we can “serve” the local body with our gifts and talents, the relationship is fraud. That kind of relationship is exploitation. That kind of relationship is JUST like that shy girl in the back of the car.
I know a church where the application process for ministry is as thorough as applying to the CIA. This ministry body is unabashed in their request for personal information: “If you want to minister here, you must tell us everything you’ve ever done, in writing,” and woe to you if you do a Scooter Libby.
Sometimes the pressure to reveal all is more subtle. Even after five years of relentless pew sitting and “service,” ask to move past the free work and on toward Big Important Spiritual Stuff, something like this will cross a pastor’s lips: “I just don’t think you are on board with our vision. Until we KNOW you better, we will just have to be patient and develop a “Relationship.”
I Got Five Kids Waiting for Me at Home
My Grandmother, well into her 80s, is a beautiful woman; when she was in her late 20s she was a jaw-dropping knockout. (Just trust me on this) She was at a Ballroom Dance event. A dashing dance instructor asked her for a Diet Rite date. (A date where they drink soda not coffee.) Her response: “I’ve got five kids waiting for me at home.” She didn’t have five kids, she had two: a single mother in the 1950s. That dance instructor became her husband for 41 years. She put his casual interest to the test. He rose to the challenge of commitment.
It is time that believers expect the same from their leaders. It is time to vet the level of their relational commitment.
Here is what I suggest. Go up to the Uber Pastor at your church and ask to do something he thinks BIG IMPORTANT SPIRITUAL STUFF–something you need to be “promoted” to do. That big spiritual important thing will usually be preaching to the adults Sunday morning, but if not…think about it a while till you come up with his definition of important. Remember you are not asking to work at the bottom of the JOB totem pole, not lick stamps, not pass the offering plate, or greet at the front door.
Whatever his initial reaction–hilarious embrace or outright rejection–the course of action he will demand next will be based on KNOWING you. He will consider it but he doesn’t KNOW you well enough. Or he will reject you outright because he doesn’t know you. If he doesn’t toss you out the door, you will eventually hear some variation of you must perform free work so he can have a forum for a “relationship.”
Here is the next crucial step. Here is where you tell him that you have five kids waiting at home. Since free work is the forum for interaction, have a list of tasks at YOUR house that you would be glad to offer him the privilege of serving toward their completion. (Why should his free work be more important, more spiritual than your free work?) As a leader, he should have long since qualified himself with such a standard. So, theoretically, he should be fully equipped with the requisite humility to persist in menial tasks, and therefore participate in your forum for “Relationship.”
Did that not work? Did he hem and haw, and make vague references to his time being important, (as if your time isn’t) or was he unapologetic in saying he needs to be “ministry exclusive?” Hahaha…
Okay…take the free work off the table. Tell him you only have two kids waiting at the house. Tell him you will gladly have a relationship with him: you will bear all if he does. Then ask him about his sex life–favorite positions, number of partners, the last time he looked at porn, his relationship with his wife, how she treats him, is she submitted in the bedroom, or the kitchen, the problems they have, the challenges they have with their children, his bank account and spending habits, tithing habits. In fact, every question he asks, tell him that you will gladly answer any question the he answers fully FIRST.
The content of THIS interaction would at least have the shape of a REAL “Relationship”: a sense of exchange, and mutual vulnerability, and equal transparency.
Most Church leaders are “relationship” con men, so I suspect you will not get to preach, or do whatever it was HE thought was BIG IMPORTANT SPIRITUAL STUFF. Oh…I know many of them are sincere, but it is long past time for these folks to be evaluated on more than the purity of their intentions. The point of the exercise was to reveal the relational fraud: a despicable practice that serves one purpose–to evaluate, judge, discredit and disqualify.
Who’s Your Daddy?
Refuse being accepted on leadership terms, defined by them, at their sole discretion. The practice is manipulative and exploitative, despicable, and reprehensible. The practice is evil and wrong.
Your Daddy has spoken. You have been told: respect yourself, don’t give yourself away, expect commitment, and be cautious with intimacy. When leaders come groping about your soul like they are entitled to your spiritual nudity, you tell ‘em: “My daddy told me not to get in the car with boys like that!”