Jesus Told the Bride of Christ to Remove a Plank from Its Eye

The top defense of the abusive and authoritative in the church in recent years has become a kind of projection that reframes legitimate allegations into an attack on the church. The leaders who abuse power, harm people, and cross boundaries can assure themselves of safety by turning attention away from their misdeeds, claiming their accusers are attacking the bride of Christ (the church), and then presenting themselves as its defenders.

It’s a slick play that has become far too commonplace. In addition, they can bolster their positions by pointing fingers at individuals who may have been unfair with the scope of their criticism or who have failed to adopt a more constructive direction for their criticism. It shouldn’t surprise us that those who are wounded by the church will struggle to find the “perfect” way to critique it!

However, regular examination and critique are exactly what Jesus called his listeners to do in Matthew 7. It would be naïve for us to assume that such examination is only personal. There surely are systems, positions, and institutions that are worthy of the same scrutiny.

When addressing hypocrisy, Jesus said to first remove the plank from your own eye before attempting to scrutinize others. In other words, if we don’t want folks to criticize us, then we need to criticize ourselves first. Some have used the word “interrogate” today to describe this process. That captures the seriousness of our examination.

Of course, savvy church leaders committed to their own preservation can twist this verse against those who expose their misdeeds. This is the danger of religious professionals. They can always find a loophole for themselves if they want it.

The words of Jesus remind me that we should expect to find “planks in our eyes.” We will have serious oversights and problems to find and to address.

What makes the Bride of Christ beautiful isn’t the ability to overlook these ugly planks or to deny that they exist. The beauty of the bride of Christ is a redemptive trust in the restoration of God when we expose these ugly planks.

When we have experienced the grace and mercy of God to heal our flaws and errors, then we have grace and mercy to share with others. Whether others have a speck or a plank in their eyes, we will have more to offer than clarity. We will remember what it felt like to live with the pain and confusion of a plank obscuring so much of life.

As we work with others for their healing, we’ll transform our previous pain and confusion into a fellowship forged in the love and acceptance of God.

The stakes of exposing our planks are quite high, but on the other side of God’s healing and mercy, we will find clarity, freedom, and a capacity to minister that we could never touch while denying our deepest flaws. When Jesus points us to a time of examination and healing, he is giving us one of the greatest gifts we can share with others.

We’d Rather Stay with the 99

church stage performance Christianity


Have you seen the size of our congregation?

Can you fathom how many lives have been transformed by our hard-working ministry… I mean, by the Gospel?

Our outreach programs and community service teams are missionally engaged in the surrounding culture. We have strong attendance numbers. Our baptism services are more packed than an MTV beach party—at least, what we imagine an MTV beach party would be like if everyone dressed super modestly.

While everyone’s writing about the decline of the church in America, we’re celebrating new salvation decisions every week. Our membership classes are always packed. We’re going to open a new campus next year that will expand the reach of the Gospel into yet another unreached suburb.

It’s true that some people have been damaged, spiritually abused, and manipulated by our pastor. We’re the first to admit that he has some flaws.

We say let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Our pastor is a sinner like everyone else who is no longer under condemnation. We are all under grace, and the least we can do is extend that same grace to the leaders who are running ministries that are too big to fail… I mean blessed by God with astounding attendance numbers.

We can’t let the gates of hell prevail against the church, can we?

We know some wounded people keep criticizing the spiritual abuse, manipulation, and all-male elder boards who use church by-laws and covenants to control people. It’s not our fault that these critics, at one time at least, wanted to follow our biblical model and signed up to join our congregation. It’s not our fault that they refused to abide by the covenant that we established through our culturally bound and arbitrary… I mean inerrant interpretation of God’s Word.

Yes, it’s true that some people have left the faith or have been deeply wounded because of our ministry. Shouldn’t any business… I mean empire… I mean church, expect some collateral damage?

Those calling for “accountability” and changes for our church and our leaders simply don’t understand the numbers involved in successful business… I mean church growth… I mean Gospel-centered ministry. It really all comes down to math… and some grace… especially for our leaders… but usually not for the people they hurt since aren’t preaching to thousands of people every Sunday.

Let’s deal in some round numbers for the sake of simplicity.

Say there are 100 people in our church (Not that we’ve ever had less than 150 since our launch in our pastor’s massive basement). Through the spectacular preaching of our pastor and the extremely male headship of our elder board, 99 of those people come to a saving knowledge of the Gospel, join the membership class, pledge to tithe regularly, volunteer on a regular basis, and begin reaching friends with the Gospel in order to expand our empire… I mean ministry. That’s amazing, right? What church wouldn’t dream of a 99% conversion rate?

However, let’s say that one person out of the 100 has a run in with our pastor, perhaps while he’s jet-lagged from speaking at a conference, or a disagreement with our elders who are simply asking for accountability that requires acquiescing to their demands despite everything that person believes about healthy personal boundaries. For the sake of argument, let’s say that person is deeply wounded and even spiritually manipulated, although we’re not sure how that could happen since people living under godly accountability technically can’t be manipulated. They just need to submit to their leaders and call it a day.

The wounded person may leave our church or the faith altogether. Either way, it’s not our job to cater to the whims and needs of one person. We have important work to do. We have 99 people to instruct in theology, to train in outreach, and to engage in our latest giving campaign.

It’s an unwise allocation of resources and the highly valuable time of our leaders to chase one person out of the hundred who wanders away.

If that one person out of 100 simply wanders away from the Gospel altogether in order to pursue a sinful lifestyle, then our hands are truly tied. If the Gospel has been preached and the elect have responded, what use is there in seeking out the one person wanders away?

Whatever the reason may be for one person wandering away or leaving our ministry, the key point here is that leaders need to keep focused on their vision and mission. If someone doesn’t want to “get on the bus” or play ball with your God-given vision and mission, then let them go.

Don’t leave the 99 behind in order to pursue the one who wanders away. That’s a terrible way to manage an organization or to fulfill a vision.

Pastors literally can’t afford to leave the 99 behind in order to pursue the one who wanders away.

Can you imagine the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies doing such a foolish thing?

Stop thinking about the one who wandered away! Invest in the 99 who are committed to your vision… and to the Gospel.

We want to see the Gospel reach all people, not just one person. Judging by the size of our congregation, you should stop listening to our few critics and start taking notes on our church management… I mean, disciple-making process.


[A Note to Readers: In case you were wondering, yes, this is satire. It’s not based on a particular church. It addresses some broader trends I’ve observed and experienced in many churches and materials written for church leaders.]



5 Signs You Don’t Have an Abusive, Megalomaniacal Pastor

A Christian Survival Guide

A few years ago I was meeting with my pastor, and friend, to talk about communication because our church had almost shut down. Things needed to change… fast. He’d been the teaching pastor while the “Lead” pastor ran things into the ground. My friend’s honesty and focus in the middle of the crisis were refreshing.

Several ongoing church events/ministries were struggling to continue, and he took a very frank, people-focused approach:

“If we have enough people willing to make them happen, that’s great. If not, we’ll put those things on hold to make sure we can do a few things well. Right now we need to focus on communicating better and helping everyone navigate this season of transition.”

In case you aren’t familiar with how churches can work sometimes…

  • He didn’t fall for the temptation of putting ministries above people.
  • He didn’t focus on how it would make him look to have a ministry end.
  • He also focused on the particular season of the people in our church: a lot of people were hurting, and he knew that he needed to focus on helping them.

You don’t have to look too far these days to see what a terrible pastor looks like. Perhaps you’ve been under the authority of a terrible pastor for so long that you’ve forgotten what a good one looks like.

While I’ve had a few crazy pastors over the years, I’ve been blessed with quite a few good pastors and teams of pastors, men and women, young and old, who modeled all that is good about pastoral ministry. Having chosen to not go into full time ministry myself because I felt like I didn’t have the right skill set for it, I have taken note over the years about what makes a good pastor:


  1. Your Pastor Has Accountability

Congregational churches typically have a mishmash of elders and congregational accountability that is manifested through votes. Other churches function with a hierarchy of elders and/or bishops who provide oversight and accountability.

Both models (and their many variations) have strengths and weaknesses. The key is that pastors shouldn’t be able to stack the deck in their favor. They need people who can speak with bracing honesty into their lives for their own health and for the health of their congregations. If a pastor has overstepped his/her authority at any point, members of the congregation need a reliable place to go to share their concerns.


  1. Your Pastor Delegates Responsibility

The best pastors I’ve worked with over the years gave away their power by empowering others and letting fellow pastors or lay leaders make important decisions or lead critical groups or ministries. Pastors who try to control too much inevitably burn out.

Interestingly enough, Jesus delegated a ton to his disciples before they even understood what kind of Messiah he would be—if some believed he was the Messiah at all. His disciples were empowered to baptize, cast out demons, preach, and heal.

Narcissistic pastors will be the most defensive and possibly abusive since they will try to protect their positions and public perception about them by concentrating as much power as possible.


  1. Your Pastor Communicates

I grew up in a church where the pastors effectively used the bulletin, website, and church events to communicate. They moved intentionally slow in order to keep everyone on the same page.

I don’t think communication is the same thing as building consensus, although it can help build consensus. Communication should at the very least inform members about a process or expected change so that they aren’t surprised by a dramatic change on Sunday morning.

Part of belonging to a community is communicating in order to keep everyone in the loop. Taking an analogy from a family, it’s a pretty terrible idea to spring a move to another city or even a nearby house on the kids without telling them that you’re looking at houses or considering buying a new house, etc. The kids don’t get to decide where you’re going to live, but they should know about the process before you tell them to start loading the moving van.


  1. Your Pastor Leads Relationally, Not Positionally

The best pastors I’ve seen over the years lead through lunches, breakfasts, and coffee meet ups. They host meals where leaders and groups gather together for discussions. They listen and share what they’re thinking.

They get things done, but sometimes it takes a little bit of time to launch a new small group or ministry, especially if the people involved are new. They need time to build up a relationship.

I’ve read stories about pastors who demand obedience because of their positions that are allegedly based on biblical authority. These pastors are the bullies who make demands as authorities rather than asking for help as members of the same church family who are guided by the same Spirit.


  1. Your Pastor Is Not Key to Your Church’s Success or “Brand”

If people talk about your church, are they talking about the kinds of things your church does or do they inevitably talk about your pastor? While some pastors are naturally more interesting and popular than others because of their preaching style, I’d be worried about attending a church where the pastor is the main highlight rather than the actual ministries of the church.

There are lots of bad reasons to attend a church, and a rock star pastor is among the worst because it’s not sustainable and could breed a really unhealthy atmosphere that is more centered around entertainment and making fans rather than community outreach and making disciples.


What are some other marks of a good pastor?


Read more about the ways bad churches happen to good people in my new book:

A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth.

I Thought That Receiving Communion Was All About Me

church unity communion

There are moments during communion when I’m overcome with the enormity of the Christian faith. Followers of Jesus span back through centuries and circle around the world. We have been practicing this sacrament for the history of our faith, and it will continue for years to come.

Sitting in the time between worship and communion yesterday, I thought of the many other churches around our country gathered for worship at that time. In particular, I thought of the few pastors who have abused their authority, people in their congregations, and sometimes even people beyond their congregations.

There are pastors and teachers who have helped cover up child abuse scandals in some congregations.

There are pastors and leaders who have threatened fellow Christians with lawsuits.

There are pastors and leaders who throw around heavy words of condemnation at those who disagree with them.

It was all too much to bear. I wanted to take scissors to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. United with them? The only thing I’d like to unite with them is my fist—this from a guy who hasn’t thrown a punch since the age of 13.

How did these divisions happen? Where did we go so far off track? While a divided church is as old as Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the divisions among us felt particularly acute even as I prepared to take communion.

Searching for answers, I revisited the scars left by more conservative critics who have called the integrity of my faith into question because my God wasn’t as dominant and powerful as their own or because I saw culture, gray areas, and complexity in the pages of scripture where they only saw black and white.

It is a deep hurt to have sought out answers with integrity, to arrive at different answers than your original tribe, and to then be cast out as a threat, false teacher, and enemy.

That isn’t to say I was innocent and pure all along as my faith ventured into new territory. I was quite angry for a season. I felt like I’d been tricked—as if someone had set up a curtain to hide the true nature of things.

I don’t think you can stop the anger and resentment from taking hold when your long-held beliefs crumble. At least I don’t know how I could have stopped it, and as I see other Christians pulling back the curtain of their conservative faith, I don’t have anything better to offer them.

Our personal histories lead us in different directions. Sometimes there is grace for these differences. Sometimes there are divisions over the abuse of power that cannot be overlooked.

Both my past hurts and the folly of abusive leaders today left me despairing as I prepared to partake in one bread and one cup on Sunday morning.

Perhaps I despair so easily because I fail to grasp the lesson of communion each Sunday. I’ve been too focused on myself.

I approach communion completely absorbed in my own spiritual health, fearful that I will take the body of Christ in an unworthy manner. I want to have a clean slate between myself and God. Communion has been about healing my own soul.

Even our divided churches could teach us about the dangers of seeking our own salvation at the expense of everyone around us. There is a tendency to pursue salvation by remaining pure, cutting ourselves off from others.

Isn’t this act of taking the body of Christ an act of unity, a mystical binding together of Christ’s body in this one simple act?

Do I believe that Christ can not only heal me but also heal his church, even the parts I find reprehensible?

What if my part right now is to keep receiving communion, to keep praying for a healed church that can minister to a hurting world? Some Sundays, like last Sunday, that feels like an enormous leap of faith.

Communion reminds me that God endures even as denominations and leaders rise and fall. The Kingdom continues to advance, and Christ’s body still offers us healing, even if we aren’t looking for it.