The story of Paul Flowers, the former Co-operative Bank chairman and Methodist minister who was revealed as an illegal drug user via hidden camera, isn't the only high profile fall for a church leader in recent weeks. Only a week ago, Teddy Parker of the Mount Zion Church in the American state of Georgia committed suicide a short while before he was expected to preach on the Sunday morning. This has led some to comment on the extreme weight of the yoke of ministry, and how sad it is that many do not realise the burden they will take up until it's too late.
The question is, why is that burden so heavy? Surely as members of a community, we should be able to recognise when someone is having too much of a tough time of it, right? Except that when it comes to leaders, it is often them who we expect to be doing the recognising for us. It isn't often discussed that the burden of leadership is a two way process. Just as our church leaders are expected to take us forward, so we as a congregation are expected to lift them up in doing so.
In the case of Mr Flowers, was his reluctance to apologise earlier over his indulgence in the substances and lifestyle he was engrossed in caused by fear of the scorn and disappointment of his congregation? Such a fear could be more intense in the established churches, particularly those sometimes called 'high' churches. The pomp and ceremony add a degree of separation between the leaders and their flock that make it more difficult for the latter to truly be there for the former. Not to mention the fact that in many churches, services contain little of the personality of the leader, and in fact there is a much more mechanical relationship of delivery of spiritual leadership, rather than a pouring out of a person's soul.
As individual Christians in a Church, like so much else we deal with, we must give our leaders the best of our conviction and compassion. We should understand that they, just like us, are fallible and flawed people, and that no matter what roles they are called to fulfil within the Church, they too have sinned and are subject to temptations common to all. In talking about the issues surrounding this issue, we need to be clear in our conviction that our pastors' actions can be wrong and unbecoming of a Christian leader. At the same time, we need to be compassionate and understanding, in the particular case of Mr Flowers understanding that this man was also a victim, and as such needs help. The lesson to take from this is that we, the congregations, are those who the leaders are lifted by, just as they help lift us. Ultimately, we are all in the same sinful boat of a world.