by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference
Leaders in Christian circles do not typically talk about the topic of power among leaders and much less about the abuse of power. Someone once said, that the way a person manages power is the true test of their character and leadership. Unfortunately, we are reluctant to talk about power and the abuse of power until the news breaks out with a new scandal about the fall of another spiritual leader. Thankfully, this silence is being shattered as we have witnessed the rising of movements like #MeToo coming through the walls of our churches and schools, which have empowered the voices of those deeply hurt by people in secular and denominational leadership. The movement #ChurchToo has formed a platform facilitating an audience for people that had been hurt by their spiritual leaders.
Our North American Division launched the EnditnowNAD campaign to encourage our churches and communities to be intentional about breaking the cycle of abuse because they recognize that abuse deeply affects children, women and men not only outside but within our church and school communities. I thought it would benefit our NPUC team if I shared some bullet points of the seminar I was invited to present this week (for the Spanish track) at the annual NAD EndItNowSummit on coaching pastors and teachers on how to create and maintain appropriate personal and professional boundaries.
One of this year’s scandals illustrated perfectly how the failure to set intentional healthy personal-professional boundaries can result in situations that create ideal circumstances for the abuse of power through inappropriate sexual conduct. Andy Savage, a respected teaching pastor from the High Point, mega church in Tennessee was accused of sexually abusing a 17-year–old girl more than twenty years ago, while he was a youth pastor. This claim prompted Andy to resign from his responsibilities saying “He had committed sexual sin and had sinned against God”. In one of the most unexpected scandals of the year, Bill Hybels, lead pastor of the world-famous Willow Creek Church in Chicago, announced to his congregation that he would accelerate his planned retirement by six months and step aside immediately for the good of the church. Though he continued to deny the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, he did publically acknowledge, “I too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid.” It is evident that as spiritual leaders, we must take the time to reexamine our personal and professional boundaries in the context of the innate power our ministry positions incorporate. I trust that the following 10 suggestions I will share, will help you navigate through the issue of abuse of power and with God’s aid, will help you to be more intentional about preventing and avoiding the falling into sexual misconduct that leaves behind a tragic trail of personal, familial and community destruction.
Boundary # 1 Be aware that your position carries power
In his writings about pastors and boundaries, Peter Scazzero reminds us that there is authority imbedded into your role as a leader. Spiritual leaders must think about and intentionally process power, especially because they possess great positional power, personal power, “God factor power”, projected power, relational power, and cultural power. These powers exert a tremendous amount of influence on the thinking process and behavior of others.1 Unfortunately, most people, inside our circles of influence, relate to our authority with courtesy and kindness and seldom are confrontational. Our society and denominational culture have taught our female members to accept male leadership authority without questioning whether this leadership is healthy or unhealthy.
Boundary #2 Your authority and power will be tempted
Just as Jesus’ authority and Continue reading