It’d be easier not to ask. It’d be easier to accept the niceties and generalities. But it wouldn’t be right, not if this pastor will be a shepherd after God’s own heart. Reflecting on my own ministry, I recall instances when I should have listened to that shepherd-sense to press harder, to go deeper, to fear the awkward silence less. My love of comfort and ease kept me from pursuing what should’ve been pursued. It might have been months later, or even a couple of years, but eventually it came out. That hard question might lead to more work, but also to more grace. And isn’t that what we want for our sheep?
Every pastor knows the value of a good question. When visiting with someone in your care, it can be your questions that move the conversation in a helpful direction.
“So how are things at home?”
“What have you been reading in your devotions?”
“Any plans for next year?”
“What’s been giving you joy this last while?”
Questions excavate the layers. Questions uncover what has been hidden. A pastoral visit should be the furthest thing from an interrogation, but a pastor (or an elder) wants to really know his people so that he can help.
But sometimes a pastor hesitates. The visit has been bumping along—topics broached and cursorily discussed, questions asked and sort of answered—and the pastor is uneasy. He has the feeling that he hasn’t been able to get to the heart. He needs to cut deeper and sharper.
In his mind he’s forming a question that he’d like to ask, one to slice through some of the conversation’s niceties and generalities.
But he hesitates. For he is fearful. What will the hard question uncover?
“Why do you seem kind of angry today?”
“How’s it going with sexual temptation?”
“Are things good between you and your wife?”
These aren’t well-worded questions. In the moment, the pastor will need to do better, probably preface it more carefully, give less room for a binary answer. But the pastor knows that he needs to ask something harder. Call it a gut feeling—not quite the tingling of spidey-sense, more like shepherd-sense.
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By Stephen McAlpine — 3 months ago
Here’s the thing about narcissists and weak leadership: they assume upon your silence. And that simply makes you complicit in the problem. A passive compliance to be sure. But the result is just the same. Weak leaders save their own skins in the end – at least for a time – and glibly allow other people to be churned up by the narcissist or toxic leader. That’s ultimately what makes them dangerous. People’s lives get wrecked. People’s spiritual lives get shipwrecked. And some people’s lives get ended, all because of weak leadership. And we see it time and time again in churches.
Time and time again we see bad leadership decisions made by weak leaders. And the church – and parachurch organisations attached to the church -, are sadly some of the worst offenders.
And the worst repeat offenders. Not simply the same leaders in the same places making the same mistakes. But other leaders in other organiations, knowing all of this, making those mistakes as well. It’s as if such weak leaders have never read books such as Chuck de Groat’s “When Narcissism Comes to Church“, or “Something’s Not Right” by Wade Mullen, or “A Church Called Tov” by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer. Maybe they haven’t. That would be too “leadershippy” of them.
As I wrote about during my expose of The Crowded House abuses by Steve Timmis:
A national review is a good place to start. But if all it does is sweep the house clean, pare it down to order, then it will have failed. That’s all a legalistic process can do. It will simply prep the house for even greater problems. Do the leaders have the stomach to go the really dark, honest, self revealing places that they have learned to avoid over the past two decades? That will take a seismic shift in their collective will.
And that’s the problem with a narcissistic leader. He (and it usually though not exclusively is a he, especially in churches), creates and sustains a narcissistic system. That’s what empowers him. And often this involves some sort family system dynamic to make up for some sort of lack of his own in the past.
You know the way that plays out: “Hey we’re all in this together!” Until of course, you’re not, and you’re cut, and the water closes over you like the Titanic slipping under the icy Atlantic waters. Maybe you’ll get the odd awkward phone call, but it’s clear that no one wants to talk about the one thing that you want to address with them. It’s as if it never happened. It’s as if you never happened. You don’t matter. That’s what makes it so painful.
As my wife observes, it’s the secondary trauma of not being believed, or having the issue diminished that is sometimes even more painful than the initial wound. As she says “Imagine a mother hearing her son say that her husband is abusing him, and the mother not believing her son.” That secondary trauma embeds the primary trauma to an even deeper level.
Granted, not everyone in such toxic systems is a narcissist, but these people only stay within that system long-term, because they play a part in feeding the narcissistic dynamic. Oh they may do it unwittingly, but let’s face it, we don’t know the true self within ourself, lurking below with all of its foibles. This systemic problem gives rise to the enablers, the deniers, the insecure, and those who think that by staying and doing a great job they are something ameliorating, rather than exacerbating and prolonging the problem.
And that’s where weak leadership comes into the mix. If the narcissist is leader in all but name, and often they are, they will gather a firewall of respectability around them, by forming a facade, a leadership facade made up of weak leaders who will bend to their will. It’s the psychological and spiritual equivalent of money laundering. “Legit in five years.” All of that stuff.
Their primary concern is that if someone should come onto the scene and run a white glove over the furniture surface that there will be no tell-tale grubbiness on show. “Hey, I’m accountable to my board, nothing to see here!” and all that nonsense.
So the problem is not the narcissist per se, the problem is the weak leadership that refuses to deal with the problem . Which is why weak leadership makes for dangerous leadership. Why dangerous? Surely those weak leaders under the thrall of a narcissist are just as much victims that churn out of the mince-meat maker?
Well only partly. Here’s how they are a danger:
A Danger to the Institution
How does it go? “Deep painful change or slow painful death.” You don’t get to choose whether you have pain or not, merely the type of pain you are willing to accept.
And in my recent experience, weak leaders will kick the can of pain down the road for as long as possible before they ever gird their loins, take a deep breath and take some immediate and necessary pain.
And why is it necessary? Slow painful death of course.
By Bill Muehlenberg — 2 years ago
The simple truth is, we must ask this question and think carefully about it: What aspects or parts of OT law carry over into the NT, and which do not? Those of differing theological persuasions will answer this question differently. Theonomists, or Christian reconstructionists, for example will see almost all of the law carrying through, including the civil laws and their penalties, while other Christians will claim that only the moral law does.
Is Jesus at odds with Moses here?
In my previous article on this topic I noted how the Old Testament expresses the concept of lex talionis, or the principle of retaliation and retribution. I noted the three main passages on this, and sought to provide a larger framework by which we might understand these texts.
A major point I sought to make was that this principle was actually an improvement on that of many other ancient cultures in that it strictly limited personal revenge and sought to put crime and punishment in the context of a just social and political order. As we put it today: ‘the penalty should fit the crime.’ That is how we are to understand this biblical principle.
The Relationship Between the Old Testament Law and the New Testament
The topic of this subheading has been extensively discussed and debated over the centuries, and entire libraries exist with books on this and related matters, so I can only give the briefest of outlines here. For one short and general look at these issues, see this piece: billmuehlenberg.com/2018/10/08/the-law-and-the-christian/
The simple truth is, we must ask this question and think carefully about it: What aspects or parts of OT law carry over into the NT, and which do not? Those of differing theological persuasions will answer this question differently. Theonomists, or Christian reconstructionists, for example will see almost all of the law carrying through, including the civil laws and their penalties, while other Christians will claim that only the moral law does. And not every believer is even happy with that threefold division of the law (moral, civil and ceremonial).
Again, whole libraries have been penned on such matters. As but one helpful discussion of how OT law fit in to the NT, see the discussion by Roy Gane in his 2004 NIVAC commentary on Leviticus and Numbers, pp. 305-314. Here is just one quote from that work: “Properly viewed within a covenant framework of love and grace, God’s law is not ‘legalistic’ and obedience to it is not ‘legalism’. People are legalistic when they put his law in place of his grace as a means of salvation.”
And Gane wrote an entire book on these issues in 2017: Old Testament Law for Christians. See the details of that book and nearly 40 others I list in the article I linked to just above.
Jesus and Lex Talionis
But the Christian will immediately think of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew 5:38-42:
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
The question is, do those words nullify what the OT taught about lex talionis? I think not. A major part of understanding what Jesus was referring to here is to realise he is offering a personal ethic for the individual believer. He is NOT saying there is no place for justice to be administered by the state to punish evildoers.
That is, if I am slapped in the face, I can turn the other cheek as a Christian.
By Carl R. Trueman — 9 months ago
Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Wednesday, June 7, 2023
What we are up against is a generation transfixed by the allure of desire, the delight and satisfaction of destruction which lets loose the forces held in check by civilization. Any effort to respond in a persuasive manner must come with an appeal to the heart—one that offers to satisfy not only material needs but spiritual longings for beauty, for meaning, for devotion. Evil is not banal, so good cannot be either if it hopes to triumph.
If the Holocaust is the 20th century’s most infamous example of evil, then perhaps the most famous reflection on the nature of evil is Hannah Arendt’s contribution to Holocaust literature, Eichmann in Jerusalem. It is a work remembered above all for its striking and influential subtitle: A Study in the Banality of Evil. Fascinated by Nazi official Adolf Eichmann’s apparent lack of moral depth, amazed at his seeming inability to understand the wickedness of the Final Solution or the role he had played in pursuing it, Arendt concluded that Eichmann and the bureaucratized evil he represented were “banal.”
In the decades since Arendt’s work was published, the idea that evil is banal has become a virtual cliché. It has been reinforced by the steady stream of news about evil that appears in the press. Reports of shooting, murders, massacres, and war crimes are regular occurrences. Clothed in a certain routine familiarity, they come to look even more banal.
And yet there are very serious grounds for rejecting Arendt’s thesis—even in Eichmann’s own case. Subsequent research has revealed that he was very much active in Nazi circles as an emigrant in Argentina. He was fully committed to a ferocious anti-Semitism, well aware—and proud—of his own role in the Final Solution. The Eichmann on trial in the glass box in Jerusalem was an act, a character he was playing for the audience, and Arendt fell for it. He may not have been an intellectual, but he was no mere manager of railway timetables either. In short, he was anything but a case study in the banality of bureaucratic evil.
But even if we were to allow for the sake of argument that Eichmann himself was as banal as Arendt thought, it is surely implausible to see this as a key to understanding Nazi evil. How and why does a mediocrity become such a monster? And moving beyond Eichmann, we have to face that other problem of evil—not the typical question of its origin, meaning and significance, but rather that of its apparent appeal. Evil is often exhilarating and exciting. And one does not need to be evil to provide evidence of this. Serial killers are truly evil. But what of those who pore over books and flock to movies based around serial killer plotlines? They are not evil, but they are nonetheless fascinated by it. True banality—as represented in the lives that most of us lead most of the time—makes for neither good television nor bestselling pulp fiction.
A Beautiful Madness
And so if the foot soldiers of the Holocaust cannot be identified with mere banality, what might help to shed light on them? Surely part of the explanation has to lie with the aesthetics of evil. Take, for example, Leni Riefenstahl’s notorious film of the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. The opening sequence begins with a statement about Germany’s wartime humiliation and then her rebirth with the election of Hitler. This is followed by a view of the medieval German city taken from Hitler’s plane. Then there is the arrival of Hitler and the Nazi elite, greeted by adoring crowds as the Führer’s motorcade drives through the streets. Then there are the speeches, the torchlight parades, the scenes of joy, and, of course, the carefully choreographed marches of the rally itself, culminating in Hitler’s ascent to the rostrum. Countless images draw upon the mythical medieval glories of the German people, and the whole production speaks of the returning significance and power that the Third Reich represents. Everything is designed to stimulate a seductive desire in the audience to belong to something that gives meaning to life.