Frequently Asked Questions

Big Questions
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Church

Q What type of support system does the church have in place for deposed or burned-out pastors?

A There’s a difference between “deposed” and “burned-out” pastors. Deposed pastors have been removed from office and may no longer serve as ministers of the Word. Those who are burned out, on the other hand, retain their ministerial status and may be serving a congregation even as they struggle.

Most of our denomination’s resources for pastors are preventive; councils and pastors are encouraged to take advantage of them before problems develop. For the first five years of ministry each pastor meets with a mentor to develop the habit of discussing ministry with a colleague. Each classis (a regional grouping of churches) has a pastor who meets with other pastors and, in some cases, with their spouses. Councils are encouraged to grant time and money for their pastors’ continuing education. The denomination’s office of Sustaining Pastoral Excellence offers conferences and other events for pastors and their spouses to improve ministerial skills and to maintain pastoral health. Some pastors meet with a spiritual director. Some councils offer a sabbatical as part of their call letter.

Other options for ministers who experience personal or professional difficulty include ongoing counseling, retreats designed for supporting pastors, and participation in a process of professional assessment. Usually these arrangements are made through the pastor’s council or classis. The staff of Pastor-Church Relations is available to advise pastors and councils about appropriate options. In all cases the support of the pastor’s spouse is crucial.

—George Vander Weit is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.

Relationships

Q I seem to have developed strong feelings of attraction for the new supervisor of my department. I am ashamed of these unwanted feelings; it feels as if I am betraying my marriage. Is quitting the job I love my only option?

A A better way is for you to examine what these feelings are about, as well as to take steps that will encourage your feelings to change. Opening up this uncomfortable reality in spite of your shame shows maturity and personal integrity. That in turn can help you put these feelings in perspective, giving them less power to make you feel guilty.

Illegitimate feelings of attraction usually express complex needs and yearnings. These may be related to childhood traumas of neglect or abuse or to a marriage that is dysfunctional. If you suspect either of these, counseling might help. But such feelings can also relate to a kind of idolatry. If you have begun to idealize your supervisor as having the qualities you admire most in a person and yearn to possess, your feelings of attraction may be the natural outcome.

Good supervisors understand that the power invested in their position comes with the responsibility to keep proper boundaries. In fact, most companies and institutions hold a supervisor, principal, or pastor accountable to stringent sexual harassment policies. Sexual harassment is the term used when a supervisor creates an inappropriate relationship with an employee under his or her supervision. Even if the employee participates willingly in the relationship, the supervisor is responsible and therefore liable.

If idealizing your supervisor is the problem, Jesus invites you to learn by the power of the Holy Spirit how you can find your home in him rather than in another human being—even one who is worthy of your admiration and respect.

—Judy Cook is a family therapist and a member of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ontario.

Ethics

Q A catechism teacher taught me that white lies are sometimes permissible for Christians to tell. He used the example of lying to Nazis to protect Jews. From an ethical perspective, is his position credible?

A I have never encountered an ethics book that offered a clear definition of a white lie. More promising would be a distinction between lies that are morally justifiable or defensible and those that are not.

Sometimes telling the truth can be cruel. A physician, for example, may decide that lying to an elderly person about her terminal illness is preferable to telling the truth. And sometimes telling the truth can put others’ lives in danger. Police officers have no qualms about lying to someone who is holding hostages at gunpoint.

Other times the situation is more ambiguous. If you know that your telephone is being illegally wiretapped, you might say things to mislead the eavesdroppers, but it is not clear that you are morally justified.

Christians should not lose sight of the fact that bearing false witness violates one of God’s commandments. The burden of proof always lies on the side of one attempting to establish that a lie is justifiable.

—Gregory Mellema is a professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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