A few hours ago, I asked the following question on my Facebook wall:
Hypothetical for discussion: You are a pastor. In your church is a young girl age 15 who is very rebellious and doing her “own thing”. She ends up getting pregnant. Abortion is out of the question and she refuses to consider adoption, so she decides to parent. The kids in the youth department want to throw her a big baby shower on a Wednesday night as the due date approaches. As pastor, what do you do? Discuss among yourselves and no breaking the furniture when I’m out of the room.
Within less than 2 hours, well over 100 comments had been posted, arguments started, debate was had, some got upset, others got disgusted, some did the knee-jerk response of “look at these hypocrites” and “judgementalism is alive and well”, etc… But hopefully EVERY ONE was required to think. That’s what I do as a professor and having been a pastor, I will tell you that every pastor faces dilemmas like this one many times each year. It’s a HARD job and someone is ALWAYS mad at you for any decision that you have to make. Sometimes, it’s good to think of responses before they are presented.
So…at this point, I’m going to offer my thoughts. No doubt, some will disagree with them and that’s OK. But don’t just say “you’re wrong!” And don’t you dare say something like “I feel…”. As I say in class constantly, “I don’t give a rat’s behind what you feel. Tell me what you THINK and WHY you think it.” Preferably, build on Scripture and don’t twist it out of context. You may be worn out by now and if so, that’s OK. Please know it wasn’t my intention to drag up old wounds for some or to make anyone feel bad. This is real life. I teach graduate students Christian Leadership for Liberty University. This is what I do for a living and because I love it. Tough questions, tough choices, tough positions. Hopefully, in the end, even if you disagree with my position, you won’t be upset with me because of my disposition. Think Biblically above all else.
So here’s my reply….
I want to thank everyone for participating tonight. I may be a sadist, but I enjoy exercises like this. The unexamined life is not worth living according to one philosopher. Those who have had me in a live-class setting in one of the colleges where I teach or have taught, know that throwing a question like this out into the middle of the class is how I often like to start a class or new section. Most of us want simple, clear, black and white answers. Better yet, many of us want someone else to make the tough decisions for us. That doesn’t work in the real world. We each have a responsibility to learn to think on our own and to think Biblically – not with just our hearts, but with our heads AND our hearts, but keeping Truth paramount.
As for the question I posed, many of you – if not most of you – were in my opinion grasping onto core Biblical principles including justice, grace, repentance, compassion, confrontation and mercy. I’d give everyone a passing grade and I thought it was good to see some of you adding caveats and adjusting your perspective as the debate raged on.
I’ve had similar situations in every church and school with which I’ve been affiliated to the one I cited, but none just like this. Some of the finest people I’ve ever known and that I love dearly made a mistake (both girls and guys) similar to the one of the hypothetical girl and they grew spiritually as they recovered from the consequences of their sin. Today, the are sweet friends who are making a difference in the life of others. Their life is not defined by a period of rebellion. Indeed, their life — like all of ours should be — is a celebration of God’s grace. Because whether or not they are obvious (like a pregnancy out of wedlock) or not as obvious (like being addicted to porn or alcohol or simply being a critical, bitter, self-righteous shrew) — we all have nasty, disgusting sins in our lives.
And yes, getting pregnant out of wedlock (or simply having sex out of wedlock) is a sin. Let’s not candy coat it. We should not be surprised when humans…aka SINNERS, sin. (Rom. 3:23, etc…) I didn’t handle all of the situations perfectly as a pastor, though I tried to handle them sincerely and carefully. Another note – pastors aren’t perfect and it is a mistake to hold them a standard of perfection OR have an insistence that they always agree with YOUR perspective all the time. That isn’t going to happen and if you leave your church every time you disagree with something, you’ll be in a new church every week.
But here are my thoughts…
1. 1. The sin occurred while and because the girl was in rebellion. This cannot be ignored. This wasn’t a rape. This was intentional. Thus, sin has to be confronted. While some will say that not every sin would be confronted – that is true. We won’t and can’t know every single sin. But this sin WAS known and it shouldn’t be ignored simply because we don’t “catch” all the sins. We are only accountable for what we know. But Matthew 18 and also Galatians 6 has a formula for confronting sin that begins with the personal visit and concludes as a last result as a corporate action. The Bible warns us that rebellion is like witchcraft and sorcery – we should not ignore it. So as soon as the sin was discovered, the process of confrontation that will hopefully lead to repentance and then to restoration needs to occur. Without that, we start off incorrectly.
2. 2. In my opinion, baby showers and youth groups don’t mix. That should have been a pretty easy one. Teenagers can get married and when they do, they need to leave the youth group. But unless they are married, teens shouldn’t be having sex and they shouldn’t be making babies. So baby showers and youth groups just don’t mix. There are some things that the youth need to leave to adults until they have attained sufficient maturity – counseling, marriages, being a deacon/elder and yes….Baby Showers. If Baby Showers are necessary for anyone – single, married, young, whomever – let the older women of the church sponsor those. It solves problems before they happen to have that as a policy or standard.
3. 3. Showers are celebrations by design. I’ve never seen a somber shower. There are games, refreshments, laughter, balloons, etc… Offering a party in the middle of the Matthew 18 restoration policy sends the wrong signal and confuses the process. It shouldn’t happen. The attention should be on the spiritual healing that is necessary. Her family should make sure she is getting prenatal care, is physically cared for, etc… In the absence of a supportive family, then she should be assigned to a church family who should take her in and minister to her – providing that she is engaged in the restoration process. In my opinion, it would be wrong to honor someone who is in the midst of recovering from a moral failure. Her soul is more important than her feelings and how she perceives us and whether she is happy and excited. Let’s focus soberly on the spiritual issues – that’s the foundation. (Before you get angry and stop reading, let me say that I’m not done yet…hang in there and stay with me.)
4. 4. If she stays in rebellion, then the church and her leadership have no choice but to protect those who might be influenced by her on-going rebellion. Failing to move toward repentance, she should be formally disciplined by the church ultimately leading to – as a last resort – an excommunication from fellowship. At that point, the church has no additional obligation to her. There are private charities and government assistance available to her and above all, her family is obligated to stay involved but also within their terms as the authority/parents. Some rebellious teens separate themselves from their families intentionally. Sometimes we have to let them as hard as that may be. But by choosing to stay in rebellion, after a patient period of exhortation and appeal, she is the one who is walking away from the benefits of grace and support that a church can and should provide. It is not the church rejecting her – she is rejecting God’s word. We must see that. We can’t let our hearts, sloppy agape or a need to be liked and affirmed to overrule truth.
5. 5. If she repents and desires restoration, then this is when grace and mercy and healing can flow and bless her and the church. She should seek reconciliation first with God, then her family and then the church – all of whom were offended and impacted by sin. Public sin needs to be dealt with publicly. What “public” is might well be somewhat impacted by the size of the church also. Small churches are quite different than mega-churches in terms of how news travels.
6. 6. A shower is for the mother – not the baby. The baby does not know, nor does she care, if there is a party. So don’t try to make this about celebrating the baby. We celebrate life – but we should do so wisely and appropriately. But there are ways to help this young woman prepare for the costs and responsibilities of motherhood. She needs a Godly mentor if her mother can’t or won’t provide that – so like they did in Titus, she needs to be ministered by an older lady who will love and train and teach her. I believe, that at a time near the birth, it would then be perfectly acceptable to have some sort of care event at which time other Godly examples of character and Biblical womanhood come together and break bread, present gifts and most of all – share wisdom. This can be done in a joyful way without labeling it a “party”, but if it feels like a party, if there is rejoicing over grace and forgiveness and healing — then why not celebrate it? It should drip with mercy and care and charity. We rejoice in repentance. We rejoice in forgiveness. We rejoice in restoration and second chances. But we don’t celebrate sin. And we also guard the hearts of our young, single daughters. They don’t need to be there. She is now assuming the responsibilities of an adult. Let the adults take the lead in ministering to her.
7. 7. Anyone else in the church can, and perhaps should, minister to her through providing resources and supplies. This communicates love and reconciliation. That might include her peers in the youth group. But that should be a family matter. Let them decide together what is the best response. In the presence of repentance, we cannot Biblical refuse to help, forgive and restore fellowship. If we fail to do so, then we are behaving unBiblically and it might be time for another Matthew 18 journey.
8. 8. Do the right thing regardless of politics. Someone will always be upset. There are people who are spiritually weak and immature and they will not agree. Some will want more grace. Some will want more punishment. It is not the responsibility of the church to punish the sinner. The church is to push for repentance, reconciliation and restoration. God will take care of punishment. Plus, sin always has consequences. Both on the guilty and on the innocent. In the absence of repentance and restoration, the integrity of the church must be guarded and the immature must be protected. Thus, the unrepentant sinner must be put out. It’s not an act of retribution. It’s an act of protection for the church
9. 9. Finally, remember that your pastor and elders are humans, but they hold divinely assigned roles that must be honored. We don’t have to agree. We won’t give account to God for the decisions – they will. It would be wrong to stir dissension, quit church, confront the pastor, etc… simply because we disagree. If there is a Biblical issue – a CLEAR one – then there is a Biblical process for confronting an elder. But you’d better be right and you’d better follow the Scripture. Otherwise, you are quite wrong. Acknowledge that some others will see it differently than you, but stay committed to Truth and the process. Let God’s Word stand and let God be God. Being a pastor is a heavy and solemn responsibility. Pray for your pastors and elders.
So that’s my 2 cents. Thanks to all of you who participated. Feel free to continue the discussion in the comment section below. If you aren’t a Facebook friend, feel free to friend me and go back and read the debate. We’ll do this again sometime.