I grew up in the rural South, so my parents taught me to respect my elders, submit to legitimate authority, and be kind to others. I've followed these principles most of my life, though I've certainly slipped at times. On one occasion, I was somewhat insubordinate to a company commander of mine in the Army. He quickly corrected me, I even more quickly apologized (realizing my blatant disregard for courteousness and military decorum), and I most definitely learned my lesson. In the nearly 20 years of military service that have followed, I've not made that mistake again!
But one place I've never been even slightly insubordinate is church. Growing up in a Methodist congregation, we had some doozies for pastors. One pastor chain smoked before and after each service, was very gruff, and carried himself more like a mafia hitman than a pastor. But, at the end of the day, he was an extremely nice guy (as opposed to a wise guy), so I liked him. In fact, as eccentric as some of our pastors were over the years, none of them garnered my disdain, either internally or externally. I accepted them for who they were...men appointed by God to lead our church. Sure, they had their warts, but who doesn't? And, failures and faults aside, they all seemed to want to serve God, serve others, and honestly teach God's Word.
This perspective on Christian leaders, however, changed dramatically after I became an administrator at a very large Christian university in 2010 or so. At first, it was business as usual...I noticed the weaknesses of my leaders, but I humbly submitted to their authority, realizing they are fallen people just like I am. But as I continued to be promoted and get deeper glimpses into the inner-workings of the institution, I realized I couldn't continue to ignore some of the things I was seeing. And when the warts I saw started to morph into large, hairy, cancerous lesions, I knew something had to be done. That is to say, when these leaders started to hurt their employees intentionally and maliciously (many of whom were people I loved and respected), I could no longer look the other way or write their sin off in some naive application of Romans 3:23.
So, I approached my leaders and challenged them. I did it respectfully and professionally, but I stood up for what I thought was right. As you can imagine, this didn't go over well, and in the two or three months that followed, I was ostracized, criticized, and marginalized. I maintained my professional bearing, endured the blows, and remained positive for my subordinates. But I knew I had to leave. In January 2017, I resigned from my post and returned to full-time ministry in the local church.
What was most disturbing about these leaders was that many of them had been pastors before coming to the university. And they all talked a great game! To hear them pontificate about their faith was inspiring; yet, their actions bespoke some sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide personality disorder. The Provost in particular was an interesting case study in hypocrisy. He could quote lengthy passages of Scripture, his testimony of being delivered from an abusive home was rousing, and when he shook your hand and smiled, you felt the warmness of a grandfatherly figure. Nevertheless, there was something lurking just below the surface that you didn't want to see...a heart motivated by evil...something almost poltergeistian. Some will say I'm being over-the-top in my description, but several of my colleagues and I witnessed his unashamed lies, proud misogyny, unrepentant sin, and wanton destruction of those whom he considered enemies. I remember when I said to him, "Dr. X, there is sin in the Provost's office that must be dealt with," he responded, "Mark, sometimes the wrong thing has to be done in order for the right thing to be done." I've yet to find that passage in Scripture!
Why do I tell you this story...what's the point? Is it to get something off my chest? No, I did that a long time ago. Is it to justify my resignation? No, I don't need to justify it. Is it to rant and rave about something? No, I offered forgiveness in my heart a long time ago. My reason is simple...to warn. Folks, you must be VERY careful who you follow in your lives of faith. The Bible warns us, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (ESV). I experienced the ravenous wolves, and it wasn't pretty. In my initial naivete, I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, but doing so only gave them power. When sheep give in, the wolf doesn't let them go; he simply kills them sooner and quicker.
So, don't let the collar fool you. Sure, there are many wonderful Christian leaders out there. Many--maybe even most--are doing great work for God. But there is a significant percentage of them whose clerical collars look a lot like dog collars, and it is our responsibility as orthodox followers of Christ to leash the dogs. We wouldn't allow wild dogs to roam the streets of our neighborhoods, so why let them run amuck in our churches and faith-based organizations. Stand up to them! Yes, they may attack you, but their barks are much worse than their bites...and bites heal.