Top Men, Yes Men, Good Men
Just over a year ago I received an email from one of the Top Men, giving me the routine lecture about how my criticisms of him, his organization, and the culture which he had helped to foster amounted to mocking the work of God and taking a sinful delight in the struggles of the godly. So far so predictable. But what struck me most about the tirade was a particular comment to the effect that he was telling me this because it was clear that none of my friends would do so. He did not use the phrase, but clearly he regarded me as having surrounded myself with Yes Men.
That is a serious claim and one not to be dismissed lightly. I am not sure how many ‘No Men’ the Toppers typically have around them -- not many, it seems, if the significant silences surrounding the various catastrophes of the YRR are anything by which to judge -- but a criticism is not invalidated by the inconsistency or hypocrisy of the critic.
Well-ordered church polity allows for congregational election of elders and this should be a check on the ability of the pastor to appoint Yes Men. Yet everyone knows that there is a certain culture and psychology to churches. In some places, the pastor can be treated like a dog, in others like a god. The mere fact of elders does not mean the pastor hears what he needs to hear. Only particular elders can do that.
Thus, I was for a while concerned that the Topper’s barb might be true. Did I have friends with the courage to call me out when I crossed the line or even came close to so doing?
Then, late one evening a few months ago, I received a call at about 11 pm at night from one of my elders. He told me that at the next meeting of the session a certain matter was going to be discussed and that my emotional involvement in the issue made it certain that I would not think clearly and may even sin in anger during the discussion. As a result, he was calling to tell me that I should recuse myself from that part of the meeting and that if I failed so to do, he would bring a motion to have me recused.
Initially, I was furious; but then as we talked I saw that he was speaking the truth and doing so because he cared for and respected me. He did not want me to sin. Thus, when the meeting did take place, I left of my own accord at the appropriate time.
The elder concerned is fifteen years my junior. He is a former student. It took me years to persuade him to address me as ‘Carl’ rather than ‘Dr. Trueman.’ I suspect he called me at 11 at night because it took him all day to build up the courage to confront me. But I am glad he did. And I am glad that the congregation of the church where I preach is wise enough to appoint such men to leadership positions. I need to be held to account for my own good as well as for the good of the church where I am a minister.