What should we do when our church’s leadership is boldly rewarding and promoting their own “inner circle”?

Q: We have all heard of “cliques” in the church, but what should one do when it becomes obvious that the church’s leadership culture boldly rewards, acknowledges, and promotes their own elite “inner circle?” This is occurring while at the same time others are being ignored, neglected, or avoided.

A: First, we start with biblical truth! God’s propositional truth regarding any form of “favoritism” is discussed extensively in the Scriptures. God does not show favoritism (see Acts 10:34-35; and Romans 2:11), and we are equally commanded to not show favoritism (see Ephesians 6:9-10; Colossians 3:25; and 1 Timothy 5:21). The specific portion of Gods’ Word that most clearly demonstrates that there shall be no favoritism in the church, however, is James 2:1-10. Anyone practicing favoritism is spoken of there as a “lawbreaker”: “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers (verse 9).

Second, knowing with certainty that any practice of favoritism in the church and among Christians is forbidden as sin now brings to the forefront your question, but stated in a slightly different way:

“What should one do when they see a sinful practice occurring in the church and it is the leaders of the church that seem to be caught in that practice?”

Do you see how starting with God’s standard for faith and practice lays the foundation for asking the next best question that will most accurately help you make decisions and focus your next steps? That is a critical step when seeking to use the Scriptures as a guide. But even here we have to be careful. Look carefully at how I have restated your question; it is a compound question that contains a presupposition. The next thing we should do is break the question down into its parts and then strip out any presuppositions.

The first question would then seem to be:

“What should one do when they see a sinful practice occurring in the church?”

The next question may be stated as follows:

“What should one when do when they see a church leader apparently caught in sin?”

I use the word “caught” here as it is used in Galatians 6:1 where it does not simply mean that an act of sin has been discovered. Rather, the meaning there is that the victim of sin has been overtaken by surprise and is in need of mending (restoring, rescuing).

I believe you know the answers to both of those questions as now stated. Every person needs the benefit of accountability, even pastors and other leaders. Paul, writing to the Corinthians says,

“Don’t you know that a little yeast [sin] works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are (1 Cor. 5:6-7).”

“Sin in the church is to be dealt with; it is to be expelled so that the sacrifice of Christ, our Passover lamb, may be celebrated not with the old yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast [without sin], the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:7-8).”

Leaders are not exempt from being taken captive by sin. Read again Ezekiel chapter 34. God holds those who would be shepherds accountable for their ministries. Hebrews 13:17 says that such men “must give an account.” There are also some very important words at 1 Peter 2:13-17 that would be helpful in breaking the cycle of abuse you have described.

Be a rescuing servant to your leaders and let them know of your concerns and why you believe their practices have brought sin into the place where there is to be no yeast.

– Dave Edling

(Originally posted on August 17, 2011 by David V. Edling.)

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About Tara Barthel

Tara Klena Barthel formerly served as the Director of the Institute for Christian Conciliation. As such, she oversaw hundreds of conciliation cases (including conflicted church interventions) through the international network of trained conciliators. Tara also provided oversight and leadership for all advanced conciliator training. Currently, she serves her family as a homemaker while occasionally accepting cases as a mediator, arbitrator, and conflicted church intervention team member. Currently enrolled at Reformed Theological Seminary and pursuing her Master's Degree in Religion, Tara consults with businesses and ministries on the legal risk management issues attendant to conflict; designs and presents custom training on biblical conflict resolution for churches, missions agencies, and parachurch organizations; speaks frequently at women’s conferences and retreats; and is currently working on many new writing projects. Tara is the author of the Living the Gospel in Relationships video series and co-author of Peacemaking Women—Biblical Hope for Resolving Conflict (Baker Books, 2005), and Redeeming Church Conflicts--Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care (Baker Books, 2012; second imprint Hendrickson Publishers 2016). Prior to moving to Billings, Montana to join the staff of Peacemaker Ministries, Tara worked as an attorney and business consultant in Chicago. Tara earned her law degree and M.B.A. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and her B.A. in psychology from Augustana College (Illinois).
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