Sandra Bullock’s new movie, “The Blind Side,” has been the sleeper of the year. Word of mouth has kept movie-goers filling the theaters, earning a huge box-office for this story about a homeless kid taken in by a Christian family and who went on to become a football star.
The fascinating story carries a terrific message for life in a hundred ways. And for deacons in one specific way.
The movie opens with a slow motion depiction of a play that occurred perhaps twenty years ago in a game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was hit from his left–the blind side for this right-hand-throwing QB–by Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Theismann never played football again.
According to people in the know, that devastating play changed the way football is played. Thereafter, as soon as the ball is snapped to the QB, the left tackle moves back to protect him on his blind side. If he is a lefty, it’s the right tackle who protects him.
Sheltering and guarding the leader at his point of greatest vulnerability.
That is one of the chief roles of a deacon in today’s church.
The leader of a church is the pastor.
If one argues with that, we might as well end the discussion right now. From one end of the New Testament to the other, it’s the shepherds–the meaning of the word ‘pastor’–who are charged with leading the Lord’s people.
The New Testament also teaches two great secondary lessons: one, they are often a plurality of pastors, not just one man, and two, the pastor has (or the pastors have) the assistance of others called ‘deacons’ or ‘servants.’
Anyone regularly reading this blog might have observed that I beggar the English language searching for metaphors to explain and delineate the work of pastors and deacons.
Pastors ride point; deacons ride drag.
Pastors are the priests; deacons the Levites.
Pastors are the stage personalities; deacons the event staff.
Pastors are often (not always) the executive; deacons often (not always) the legislative. In this metaphor, if anyone is the judicial, it would be the congregation, according to our system.
The problem–well, one of them–is that these categories are not hard and fast. They vary from church to church, according to the personalities of the people involved and the times.
There are occasions, for example, when the deacons must rise up and confront a pastor and even set into motion the process for having him removed.
That process should be spelled out in the church’s constitution, otherwise the omission may result in vigilante groups inside the congregation taking matters into their own hands. The result is always–always and forever–bad.
When a church I know discovered their new pastor was a homosexual and making overtures toward a young man in the congregation, the deacon leadership moved quickly to remove him. The members of the church had such trust in their deacons that, even though they did not have all the facts, they stood by their lay leaders and the church went forward.
That kind of trust is not given quickly, must be earned over years and even decades of mature leadership, and should never be abused.
Herein lie the seeds of a different kind of problem.
Once some individuals among the deacons–in our system, it’s almost always the deacons–see they have this kind of authority to call a pastor to account, unless they are mature disciples of Jesus Christ, they move to the next stage and assume responsibilities that are not theirs.
They begin to sit in judgement over the pastor.
They expect him to account to them for everything. They become the board of directors and he the hired employee.
And if they are unhappy with him–mark my words, some are almost always unhappy with any pastor worth his salt–his job standing is in jeopardy.
Case in point.
A young pastor in another state contacted me. Since Hurricane Katrina did its devastating work in our part of the country in the latter part of 2005, he had read my blog. In the intervening years, he had also found our articles on pastoring and leadership. Today, he needed someone to talk with.
He had been at his church just one year and the deacons were killing him. In his initial note, he said, “In your blog, you have addressed every problem in the church except one–gossip. And it’s destroying my ministry.”
I quickly saw the problem was not gossip. It was carnal men posing as deacons.
According to the young pastor–let’s call him Dale–various members of the church would create charges out of thin air against him or his wife. They would take some statement he had made and exaggerate it, then attack him in the community for having said it. In every case, as soon as the charges were made, the deacons went into action.
Their action was never to go to the source of the problem. They never confronted the gossips in the congregation. What they did was to call the pastor and his wife to account.
Dale said, “Last night, we spent two hours on the carpet with them accusing us and us trying to defend ourselves. Finally, it came out that there was nothing to it.”
There was no apology from anyone. In fact, a few days later, when Dale and his wife found the source of this particular bit of slander, the culprit said she had been misunderstood and had told the chairman of deacons as much. When Dale asked the chairman, he agreed that she had. “I thought this was behind us,” he protested weakly.
Dale and I swapped emails back and forth on this. The more he told me, the angrier I became.
And when I get hot about something, I blog about it.
In doing so, I work to camouflage the circumstances, the location, and the people involved, but I tell the story.
If it’s happening to one pastor, it’s happening to others, I figure.
Dale gave me permission to tell the story.
Regular readers might have read the article. However, if you went back two weeks later, you would notice it missing from this blog.
Here’s what happened.
The pastor took one statement I made about the proper role of deacons and inserted it in the church bulletin. He credited this blog.
One of the deacons, always on the lookout for something sinister the pastor might be up to, turned on his computer and found this website. It did not take long for him to locate the offending article, the one spelling out in no uncertain terms what I thought of what he and his partners-in-crime were doing.
That did it.
He used that against the pastor.
Instead of making matters better for Pastor Dale, I had stirred up more trouble.
We erased the article, but the damage was done.
In time, the pastor and deacons worked out a severance package for Dale and he resigned. At last report, he still has not found a new pastorate and has taken secular employment to support his family.
Instead of protecting their pastor, the deacons played the part of the linebacker hitting him on his blind side.
The young pastor had no defense against these cruel men. I pray they have not destroyed that his ministry.
I am not naive, let me insert here. I am well aware that no pastor is perfect, and it’s quite possible Pastor Dale may have been to blame for some of his troubles. But he needed the deacons to be his friends and help him with them, not to serve as judge and jury and to discipline him.
My friend Rick, pastor in a nearby state, told me that a deacon from another church in his town had joined his church (which we will call Pineview). Rick’s congregation is unusually unified, growing, and faithful. If ever a pastor has been happy in his work and honored to serve a church, it’s Rick.
That deacon, Rick says, carried a reputation as a troublemaker from his previous church. After he had been in Pineview one year, the man went to another fellow in the congregation and said, “So–what do you think is wrong with Pineview?”
The other man did not hesitate. “Not a thing! Pineview is a breath of fresh air compared to our last church!”
That shut the troublemaker up for the moment.
The other brother told the deacons and the pastor at their next meeting. Everyone agreed they would quarantine the man. They would see to it that this fellow never served their church as a deacon or any other leadership position.
That’s protecting the church and it’s protecting the pastor.
He does not have eyes in the back of his head.
It’s a wonderful gift when a pastor has a few good, strong men who will back him up and keep an eye out for anyone stirring up dissension in the congregation. It’s a blessing beyond compare when they deal with disunity the moment it rears its ugly head.
Their payoff will be a strong church, an effective pastor, and an honored Savior.