Battered Pastors (1)

A little more than a year ago I read Handbook for Battered Leaders. It was written by apostle paul.gifhusband and wife Wesley Balda and Janis Bragan Balda. Wesley is president of the Simeon Institute. In the past he has led the Ph.D. program at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management and was founding dean for George Fox University's School of Management. Janis is a professor of management at Fuller Seminary and UCLA Extension. She is also responsible for establishing the Peter F. Drucker Society of the Caribbean and is a principal at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership.

Those who know me understand that, while these credentials are impressive, they are not the sort of thing I go looking for when searching out a book to read. In the book, the Balda's draw out management principles and applications from Paul's ministry to the church of Corinth. And, as if to add one more barrier for me, they are egalitarians when it comes to gender roles in church leadership. Their Scripture references are from The Message. What is a conservative Presbyterian to do?

One more thing: Handbook for Battered Leaders was one of the most important books I read that year.

At first, I grabbed it up because of the title. It resonated with me because of what I was experiencing at the time. I was a battered leader looking for some answers.  I think most of all I was looking to feel less alone. When you are a pastor and your detractors are biting at your heels and designing your downfall the loneliness is excruciating. Just knowing that there was a category for "battered leaders" gave me some sense of companionship.

I am writing this and, Lord willing, future posts to encourage battered pastors. I hope to offer them some comfort in knowing that they have not lost their minds. Others have walked their road. I also hope that these posts will assist churches, particularly elders, to watch for signs that their pastor is being battered by what the Balda's call "toxic followers."

The Balda's chose a good subject for their study. The Apostle Paul was indeed a battered pastor. His enemies were numerous. Some were in plain sight. Others disguised themselves as friends.
For Paul, the intensity of his commitment to the community meant the sharing of deep and vulnerable trust. Here he explores the horrific consequences when trust at this level is broken...Second Corinthians triumphs partly because it identifies the phenomenon of toxic followers for leaders who are used to blaming themselves or taking on the blame their followers assign them. Followers can batter leaders all on their own, or they can be encouraged in dysfunction by others who have influence and power (p. 11).

Even Paul's body bore the marks of battering:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2 Corinthians 11:24-29).
Do you notice how Paul ranks the "anxiety for caring for the churches" right along with physical torture like being beaten with rods? In future posts we will see why.

For now I will refer to one passage from Paul's final epistle, his second letter to Timothy. As the letter comes to a close Paul gives final instructions along with a request for his cloak and some books. He also warns Timothy about a certain man who caused him great harm:
Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.  (2 Timothy 4:14-18)

We don't know anything about Alexander the coppersmith other than he sought to harm Paul. We do know that Paul did not shrink from naming him and warning Timothy to avoid him. That alone would disqualify Paul from service in most evangelical churches today. Paul goes further by offering assurance that the Lord will have vengeance upon Alexander: "the Lord will repay him according to his deeds." Unfortunately Alexander's heart was probably too hardened to understand the precarious situation in which he had placed himself.

The pain Paul experienced, however, was not confined to the evil done against him by Alexander. He also identifies the desertion of his friends. You can almost hear the pain in his words: "At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me."

One of the aches of the battered pastor is the fleeting courage of those who should have stood by him. "But all deserted me." These are devastating words. Nothing leaves the battered pastor's soul so hollow as when those who had acted as his friends become passive members of the opposition. But Paul pleads for mercy for these deserters: "May it not be charged against them!" Paul knows that God does not smile upon those who batter the men he has called to preach. So Paul intercedes for them. Remarkable.

Don't miss Paul's confidence: "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom." It is not ultimately the toxic followers and the aggressive opposition that would have the final word in Paul's life. He was confident of the Lord's ultimate rescue from "every evil deed" done against him. That rescue would not finally happen in this life but in the life to come, which, in the end, is the life that matters most.

* For clarification: I am blessed to serve a healthy church. I am well loved at Covenant Presbyterian Church. I serve alongside a session of men who know how to encourage and care for me. The ministry staff loves and serves each other. I am a happy pastor.