One of the questions I have had to wrestle with a lot in light of all that has happened is how did I get to a place where I allowed myself to cross so many appropriate boundaries as a pastor.
It is a tough question. But an essential one to answer.
As I have prayed and reflected, a few thoughts have come about…
When we started the church, one of the things we did from the beginning was reject the idea of “the office of the pastor” and pastoral hierarchy and the strong distinction between clergy and laity. This was reflected in our church’s name, bylaws, values, structure, and even my title (lead pastor, not senior pastor).
The idea was that my role was to lead (hence the title “lead pastor”) but that didn’t make me “senior” anything. As a congregational church, we also strongly embraced the idea that the lead pastor is first and foremost a member of the community/congregation, and then secondly called forth to serve in a particular role from the congregation. This is very different from a church that calls someone from outside the community/congregation to “fill an office”.
In some church traditions, pastors are discouraged from being friends with people in the congregation; at the church served, I worked hard to develop authentic friendships within the congregation. In fact, many times I was told by people that what they liked best about the church was that they thought of me more as a friend than as a pastor. (People never called me “Pastor Ben” — just Ben).
In the early days, when we started, this worked well. It was part of our culture and vibe and I think it was really healthy. As we grew, people came from other churches with different views of clergy and “the office of the pastor”. Without realizing it, people brought with then different expectations of the pastor and of me. We lost the sense of congregationalism and others created the idea of “the office”.
For me, what I did I did in the context of a friendship with a friend. It was obviously inappropriate and wrong and contrary to the church’s community life statement and the basic teachings of scripture.
All of this raises a question about the wisdom of the model we used.
I still think it is the right model.
I hope the church doesn’t revert to an “office of the pastor”/institutional model. My fear is that the outside advice they got and are getting is based on this model — a model that frankly I don’t think is very Biblical.
But I think we needed to do a better job of teaching people our theological understanding of clergy, leadership, gifting and roles.
And I needed to do a better job of obedience, honoring friendships, and seeking holiness and purity.
I’m open to other thoughts on this… haven’t figured it all out yet… so feel free to chime in.