Yesterday I posted about HOW BOUNDARIES GOT CROSSED in my situation. Today, I want to reflect on what could have prevented it — and also hopefully identify some lessons for other pastors or myself in terms of any future ministry.
There are a couple of different options that some people suggest. First, there are those who would say that you should never actually be friends with people in your congregation. That is actually a pretty dominant theory among a lot of denominations, seminaries and clergy.
I reject that option on pastoral, theological and ecclesiastical grounds. I actually think a major weakness in churches today has been the increasing clergy/laity distinction and the treatment of clergy as hired-guns/chaplains who are called from outside the community. I am a true congregationalist… which I know makes me a minority.
So what is the answer?
Well just like the explanation of how boundaries were crossed turns out not to be super-complicated, I think the answer is equally simple.
ACCOUNTABILITY WITHIN COMMUNITY.
Now the idea of accountability is thrown around a lot in churches, but I think rarely practiced in ways that are healthy and effective — especially with pastors.
To be effective, accountability needs to be (a) mutual, (b) safe, and (c) focused on growth and grace.
An example of how this would have been helpful to me would have been to be able to share that I was struggling with sexual attraction with someone (a congregant) that I worked closely with and was close friends with.
For the majority of pastors out there, this would not have been a big deal. This ind of accountability takes place all the time. It allows others to ask good questions, offer wisdom and insight, etc.
But for me, because I am gay and the issue was with another guy, even to say “I am sexually attracted to this person and feel like some emotional boundaries have been pushed” would have cost me my job.
So instead of having that conversation with a friend, in a small group, with a member of the board or fellow staff person, I simply kept it hidden and hoped I could manage it myself.
So how could all of this been prevented?
To have a safe community where I could have said “I am gay” and then been able to have honest and normal conversations about the day-to-day issues I faced — temptations, battles, victories, etc — as a single, gay, driven pastor of a rapidly growing and successful church plant.
If I was straight, these conversations would have been routine and easy and expected.
Given the dominant view of homosexuality in the church, this was not possible for me.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?
Well, simply put, any future ministry needs to be in a context of where I can be open and honest and really part of the community and have good accountability.
WHAT LESSONS ARE THERE FOR THE CHURCH I LEFT?
Probably some serious thinking about how pastors are cared for, included in the community, etc — as well as some serious reflection on how LGBT people are treated within the broader context of the church (not just with clergy).
WHAT LESSONS FOR OTHER CHURCHES?
Be intentional about creating environments for accountability from day one… but accountability that is healthy, mutual, positive, safe, etc.
Those are my thoughts… WOULD LOVE TO HEAR YOURS!