Thursday, August 9, 2012

The High Price of Pastoral Cowardice

 Church leadership carries a high price but cowardice carries a higher price still. Just ask the Reverend Stan Weatherford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Mississippi.

A pastor provides spiritual leadership to his congregation through preaching, teaching, counseling and ministering in times of crisis and even death. At the same time, he administers the church’s programs, budget and overall direction. All while staying connected with the different groups within the church, many with wildly differing expectations of what the church ought to do and what the pastor ought to do to make the church do what it ought to do.

To make matters even more challenging, church leadership today takes place in a cultural environment so rapidly changing that almost everyone lives with a continuing sense of whiplash—in their homes, schools, businesses and even churches.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when a pastor does the wrong thing. Not because he’s selfish, incompetent or even sinful. But because he’s afraid, which is what happened to Pastor Weatherford.

Two days before their July 21 wedding at the First Baptist Church, Te’Andrea Henderson and Charles Wilson were told by Weatherford that they couldn’t be married there, even though their wedding had been scheduled according to church policy. It seems a small group within the congregation had approached the pastor to inform him of their opposition to the event.  

The problem was that Henderson and Wilson are black.

Pastor Weatherford gave into the complaints and moved the wedding to another church, where he still conducted the ceremony. His explanation to a local reporter was that "This was, had not, had never been done here before so it was setting a new (precedent) and there were those who reacted to that." 
"I didn't want to have a controversy within the church, and I didn't want a controversy to affect the wedding of Charles and Te' Andrea. I wanted to make sure their wedding day was a special day."

Pastor Weatherford should have told the truth, which would have been something like this: “When a small, vocal group within my church threatened me because my decision exposed their sin, I was afraid of losing my job. So I gave into their racist demands, forfeited my integrity, compromised my calling and, most importantly, wounded two innocent people.”

I’m not trying to beat up Pastor Weatherford. I know just a little of what he’s going through. Everyone who’s ever tried to lead a church has been in places similar to where he is right now. I’ve been scared, too. I’ve made leadership decisions motivated more by fear than by faith. At times I’ve tried to please influential congregational members instead of following biblical principles of leadership. I’ve lived with fear often enough to recognize it when I see it. I try not to lead that way anymore.

Regarding the First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, well, the story actually took a much more positive direction. When the pastor failed to lead, responsible members of the congregation stepped up to the plate. This past Sunday the church published a “Statement of Restoration and Reconciliation,” a public apology for their actions: 

We, the church, realize that the Hendersons and Wilsons should never have been asked to relocate their wedding. This wrong decision resulted in hurt and sadness for everyone. Both the pastor and those involved in the wedding location being changed have expressed their regrets and sorrow for their actions.

As a church, we express our apology to Te'Andrea and Charles Wilson for the hurt that was brought to them in the hours preceding their wedding and beyond.

We are seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with our Lord Jesus Christ, Te'Andrea and Charles, family and friends of the Hendersons and Wilsons, our church family, and our community for the actions and attitudes that have recently occurred.
We the membership of First Baptist Church Crystal Springs, hold the position that we should be open to all people. Our desire is to restore the church to be a spiritual lighthouse in doing the Lord's will in Crystal Springs and in Mississippi.

My plea to Pastor Weatherford and all the rest of the legion of pastors living in fear and trying to lead their churches by placating self-centered people more interested in their own agendas than the church’s mission, is to find the courage to lead. It may cost some of us our jobs. But it just might bring revival to the American church.

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