When the Door Closes – Generational Sin

Churches, and even entire fellowships of churches can sin–repeatedly and in such a way that it continues year after year–even generation after generation. Like idolatry in Israel, or alcoholism in a family, sin is like a tick that can imbed itself in church leadership–even through entire denominations. It takes incisive and sometimes extremely painful expulsion to get it out.

Have you ever wondered why some churches or denominations always have drama, the ministers never stay very long, there’s always a scandal, or they are a revolving door for members? Have you ever wondered why some religious groups’ expatriates bear deeper and more profound scars than others?

I have no idea.

Except, maybe one.

If sin exists and leadership cannot be held accountable, it will continue. This is true particularly of the “white-collar” sins of pride, abuse of power, lording over the flock, secret-keeping, and the like. After many years, the cancer of that sin can embed itself so deeply it becomes the new normal or “the way things have always been.” Sin becomes tradition. It’s how most systemic sins embed themselves. When they do…they drill deeper and deeper, until:

  1. The Body gets sick enough it knows it needs real help.
  2. The Body remains sick and miserable indefinitely.
  3. The Body dies.

The biggest reason to pay attention to this is: when there is sin in leadership that goes unchecked, God will withhold His blessing. What I am suggesting is that some churches have a leadership system in place that facilitates unhealth and makes it extremely difficult for the Body to purify itself.

Here are a couple of illustrations of how this happens:

In church A, the preacher has an affair or some money goes missing along with the Treasurer. The elders dismiss him quietly. They keep it all “confidential.” The preacher moves on to his next church, the Treasurer “resigns” quietly and the elders develop the habit of concealing from the Body. This isn’t to say there’s never a time for discretion. However, discretion and coverup are very different things. We’ll talk about the difference in tomorrow’s post.

In church B, the elders or an elders are in sin. Racism, sexual abuse, extreme abuses of power, financial corruption… you choose. The preacher discovers it and attempts to get the said elder(s) to repent or resign. The elders close rank around that elder or take offense that the preacher would presume to question the elders, and dismiss him. The preacher goes quietly–as he’s been told is the Christian thing to do as not to be a “divisive” force in the church. So, the church never knows of the sin. They are probably told either that the preacher has been “called to another ministry,” or the preacher is scapegoated. The problem, however, stays in place. The next preacher comes in…and discovers it…and… well… let’s just say the only thing that changes is the name on the door.

Churches and even whole denominations can become sick systems. When leadership becomes the problem, these Bodies simply have no immune system to protect them from disease. Thus, the Body has no means to diagnose and treat itself. After a while, that Body comes to know dysfunction and unhealth as normal, because that’s how they’ve felt for so long. Sometimes they have no idea they are sick, because healthy for them has become “non-terminally sick.”

This will be controversial and not be a real pick-me-up. But, it’s vitally important that churches understand that leaders can fail. Much of what happens when the door closes is good. Some of it though, needs rebuking and repentance. Where leadership, whether in attitudes or actions, dishonors the Lord without repentance, problems are close at hand.

Tomorrow’s post will deal with forming a climate of transparency while preserving healthy confidentiality. Leaders are those who serve God by serving His people through leadership. Sin corrupts this beautiful calling, and thus must be confronted, purified, forgiven, and learned from. I’ve seen churches experience complete rebirth. Others, choose to be sick or don’t know why they’re sick.

If sin exists and leadership cannot or will not be held accountable, it will continue.

Thoughts? Have you seen this play out somewhere? 

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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