An Open Letter To David Farrier
An Open Letter To David Farrier
I write to you today as a Christian leader who has served and worked in many churches and not-for-profit organisations in NZ for over 40 years. My career has included serving as a senior pastor in three churches, so I understand the incredible responsibilities that come with that leadership role. Like you I write blogs and I have been a reader (and subscriber) of your blog, Webworm for about 18 months.
Currently, and not surprisingly, there is a fair bit of vitriol being stated by some Christian leaders toward you and to a lesser degree toward all journalists in the mainstream media who have anything negative to say about the Christian church. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the phrase, “This is another media beat up.”
But that is not what everyone is saying. I’ve been speaking with and following other leaders both here in New Zealand and Australia who have quite a different point of view - one that might even surprise you.
I was on a call last Friday with a retired pastor who has served in the Pentecostal church all his adult life. We got talking about the Hillsong and Arise stories and he said to me, “It’s time that the boil is lanced!”
This is a sentiment you won’t hear in public but it is one that I think you will find many church leaders are saying in hushed tones, including Pentecostal pastors. What I’ve also been hearing are comments that reflect Christian leaders’ sadness, embarrassment and even disillusionment.
To be honest with you, the Christian church in New Zealand – and throughout the Western world - is not in great shape. We have some problems and you have rightly pointed a few of those out. Over the last 20-30 years the Church has adopted some practises that are more worldly than biblical. These practises have not in any way, shape or form been a reflection of the person of Jesus Christ, the one whom we are wanting to represent. Some practises, as you have reminded us, have been abusive - there is genuine hurt and serious damage.
Like Jesus, those of us in leadership positions in the Church are called to be humble, to put others’ needs ahead of our own, being a great listener, being a champion for injustice, not tolerating hypocrisy, speaking the truth always and so on.
Interestingly, there have been a few voices (prophetic voices) within the wider Christian community who have issued repeated warnings and urged for a re-think for at least the past ten years. But sadly, these warnings have been largely ignored. Instead, the Church has been captured by a ’theatrics,’ performance sort of mentality that has hurt a lot of very good people – both those being served and those doing the serving.
I have for some time wondered what Jesus would say and do if He walked into some of our churches today. I have wondered what He would find if He did an audit on our finances, our sermons (theology), our talks about giving and tithing, our leadership structures, our policies and our behaviours in general. I don’t think some of us would pass His scrutiny. But many would and I will come back to them in a moment.
I, for one, believe it is high time the Church takes a long and deep look at ourselves. Perhaps in a strange kind of way God is using you to help us do exactly that?
I have appreciated that, although you have been forthright about some of the hypocrisy and the abuse of power by these leaders, you have been careful how you have handled people’s experiences. I suspect that most people who wrote and spoke to you have done so after trying to get their concerns addressed in a fair and pastoral manner within their respective churches. It is a further indication of how far off track from Biblical principles the Church has strayed when these hurt people have not felt listened to and helped with love and compassion when they needed it most.
A number of us in the Christian community are asking some questions:
- What are the learnings here?
- What must we do that reduces or even better, eliminates the risk of the misuse of power ever happening again?
- What service or agency is needed to both pastorally and professionally handle complaints?
Personally, I believe that we may need something that is completely independent and with some regulatory clout in NZ. Maybe as a first step it’s simply a confidential whistleblowing or listening service of some sort. We, the Church, need more accountability.
David, if you take a close look around our nation you will see many churches and pastors doing some amazing things. For their members they provide meaningful worship services, warm and supportive community life and awesome places to serve and volunteer. There are amazing, compassionate, ethical ministers and pastors serving their communities with integrity all around New Zealand.
Many of these same churches are reaching out to people in their neighbourhoods who have great need and/or who want to know more about the Jesus of the Bible. Historically, the Church has served and loved people in humility and compassion, and I truly believe – on balance - society is better off because of the impact the Church has made.
Finally, I want to say that I hope the exercise of the past few weeks has greatly increased the Church’s awareness that it should not expect to be above scrutiny by the media, and we should think deeply about what is being reported - especially if done fairly to both the church and it’s perceived victims as you have done.
I look forward to catching up sometime soon.
Alan Vink is currently the Executive Director for LeadershipWorx. Prior to this role he has been the Executive Director of Willow Creek Association NZ (WillowNZ), a Baptist pastor (23 years), Bible College teacher, and church consultant.