This year I am listening to Nicky Gumble’s ‘Bible in one year’ program each day. I switched on my headphones this morning and the first New Testament passage was Mark 9 and 10 with these verses:
Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ (Mark 9:36-37)
When I heard Jesus’ words spoken aloud, I had to pause the audio on my phone.
Over the last 24 hours I have been reflecting on what I would write to you in response to the conviction of George Pell. I am very conscious that many in our church, including my wife Leanne, have a background in the Catholic Church, many have friends in the Catholic Church, there are as many lapsed Catholics as there are lapsed Anglicans who you will come into contact with. I am very mindful of the Anglican clergy and church workers who have been convicted of unfathomable behaviour towards children. I am incredibly mindful that similar abuse has occurred in many other church organisations and denominations.
Regardless of whether a person professes a faith or not, one of the hardest things to reconcile in life, is why people behave in an evil way. It is even harder to reconcile when people who are supposed to be advocates for what is good, what is holy, what is ‘moral’, and what is right are revealed to have done things that can be described in no other way but evil. Many of us are wrestling with this reality right at this moment. I am also very conscious, that as Christians, many of our non Christian friends and acquaintances will be looking to us for our responses and any answers we might have.
I have been speaking about the George Pell revelation with people outside of our own church community over the last couple of days. Some have expressed doubt or disbelief, others a sense of shock and horror, while others have a sense of vindication that it was ‘about time’. I’ve been listening to the media respond in similar ways.
When I mentioned I was thinking about what to write to my church, one friend, who happens to be a Public Relations professional, said to me that I should say:
“At a time when our institutions and leaders are failing us it’s an opportunity for individuals to make an impact…”
I know many of you may not see yourself as church leaders but each of us is called to leadership in our lives, in our relationships and our communities. Jesus’ model of leadership is somewhat different than others have modelled for us, including some clergy within the church. Jesus precedes his words on welcoming the little child with these words:
“…Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)
We are called to humble service. In my experience this is the most impactful model of leadership in both a church and secular context. While I know I do not always get it right, this Jesus principle is what I am accountable to. When I get it wrong, I thank God for grace and forgiveness, and I thank God for the grace and forgiveness expressed to me by others who I have impacted. I do, however, expect to be held to account in the here and now for my wrong actions and mistakes and I am responsible for repairing any damage I may cause.
As believers and followers of Jesus we all can and should lead in this way. We should, as John Ortberg says: “Do the next good thing we know how to do”. If we lead and live this way, we will not only begin to rebuild the trust that the wider community has lost in the institution of the church, which is important, we will also be a living, breathing, humbly serving testimony of the hope that is found when we live and lead like Jesus, when we are honest about our mistakes and wrongdoings and do not try to hide from them but seek first to bring hope and healing to those who we may have hurt. This is much more important than rebuilding our public image. It is the Gospel imperative.
St Peter challenges us to give an account of the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15). I pray that as we all continue to wrestle, we might respond with humble service, even though we might not think we have the right words, or any words, that people may see Christ in us, the hope of glory.
If you or someone you know is feeling distressed by the events of this week, please let me or one of the ministry team know so we can journey through these difficult times together.