Disqualification – Guest Post: Todd Littleton

This is a guest post by my good friend, Todd Littleton.  Todd is the pastor of Snow Hill Baptist Church in Tuttle, Oklahoma.  I have known Todd since our days together at Oklahoma Baptist University.  There we studied together, shared life together and teamed up on a great flag football team.  Todd is the person who motivated me to begin blogging.  Through all my struggles, he has remained a dear and trusted friend.  Todd blogs at The Edge of the Inside.  You should subscribe to his blog.  He will keep you thinking.

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Disqualification. Check the rule books of all major sports and a person may clearly understand what would disqualify a participant. Watch what you do with your bat or your bets in baseball. Be wary of any needle in any sport whether biking or riding a derby winner. In college be sure to keep the grades up and be hands-off to handouts or not only you but your school may suffer the indignities of disqualification.

Right now an investigation is underway regarding a highly popular, if not high profile, Christian speaker and educator who, it seems, has fabricated a narrative to increase his credibility when speaking about Islam. Seems like simple research and the accompanying conclusions are not enough for book sales and speaking tours. Will he be disqualified? Who knows. Should he be? That may well be determined on how you employ your ethical framework.

My friend Frank, owner of this site, has been disqualified. Openly and publicly he has chronicled his life story on this site. Assuming personal responsibility is not a short suit for Frank. So when he asked me to consider a “guest” post for his site he offered a topic  – “What about a guy like me?” Let me translate more specifically. “What future does a guy like me have when it comes to ministry since I have been disqualified?” Adultery. Divorce.  Death knells.

Rather than offer an unqualified answer, I would prefer to flip the question. Would we disqualify a minister for lying? Would we disqualify a minister for a quick temper? Would we disqualify a minister for mismanaging his time? The question is not whether the minister should be fired, but would he be disqualified?

In the text often raced to in our attempts to purify the office of clergy we sidestep other qualifications, giving a pass to those who are intemperate, lazy and dishonest. Oh, they may lose their job in one place, but our churches are full of people who have passed from one place to the next with these foibles unaddressed.

Pressing the matter further lies with the community – Christian community at large or whatever local Christian community of which Frank becomes a part. What place does forgiveness and repentance play in these kinds of matters? What part does restoration play in the process of repentance? These are sticky matters. They are local community matters. I imagine this provokes the chagrin of Frank’s more conservative readers, maybe even Frank himself.

But, taking a cue from Derrida I am still left wondering at what point we understand forgiveness. If there is anything we would not forgive can we really say we forgive anything? Following on that, the Jewish understanding of repentance is not the quick – “Oh, that’s OK.” Included in the process is restitution and restoration. Too often we in the Christian community like the car wreck. We rubber neck to get the details. We stop way short of embodying the life of Jesus before a watching world. We are quick to judge and condemn. Slow we are to forgive and through the process of repentance require restitution and offer restoration.

What would it mean if the Christian community, the local church, lived out the redemptive narrative of Jesus, the Christ in these matters. Now, that life re-ordering narrative is sure to stir the imagination and cue up what it means to encounter Good News.

At what point does the Christian community decide to embody the redemptive work of Jesus in the here and now for the world to see? I will be watching as Frank continues to write and on occasion to share his story. Maybe we will get a glimpse at the answer in the community of which he and Suzie are now a part.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  • Frank,

    Thank you for the invitation to offer some thoughts for your website. A friend and I were talking about this piece after I had sent it to you. We wondered how we moved from the way God responded to David’s failures to where we are today. Consider most of the actions we use to “disqualify” a person and David yet remained King of Israel.

    I tend to think our modern practice follows the penchant to dehumanize a person after acting in a way the dominant powers deem outside the pale. If we can disqualify then we can dismiss and not have to think through the full implications of the Way of Jesus. McClendon may well be right – we should begin with Ethics.

    Peace, friend.
    Todd

    • Todd,
      I’ve looked and thought about David quite a bit the past years. Does being king (a life-time position) differ from being a pastor with regard to this issue? I probably would say that restoration is a possibility – after much time and some type of process. I would agree that I did encounter those who found it easy to dismiss rather than think through this. Still chewing on some of this.

      Frank

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  • Paul Burleson

    Todd,

    Good stuff. From the “FWIW” department..most people use the idea of being “Of good report to those without” in 1 Tim.3:7 as the basis of being disqualified for ministry. Thus adultery, divorce, drunkenness, etc, would disqualify one.

    My thought is that all believers are gifted and are to use those gifts for the benefit of the body of Christ. [Church] I also believe those gifts and callings are not “repented of” by the One who gave them.

    Then there is, as you mentioned, the other sins that we tend to make ‘lesser’ in nature. We have to forget those in order to emphasis our list of really bad ones.[I’m not sure outsiders wouldn’t put lying at the top of their perceived list.
    Besides..what better report is there than the one of sin being repented of and forsaken? I think we miss the boat all to often when in this territory.

    Add to all this the fact that I’m thinking we have created offices of ministry where they don’t exist anyway. We all are to minister and, as I said earlier, Pappa never changes His mind about how He has gifted/equipped us to minister.

    This doesn’t negate time away for recapturing our passion for Him at all But, as Gordon McDonald has proven so well, ministry perhaps can/should go on. May we learn!!

  • Paul,

    When you weigh in it is always worth a good deal of attention.

    I suspect in some instances the reference to being of good report from those without provides the guideline for some to assert disqualification from the ministry for some. On the one hand I believe this is what gets at the heart of being holy or righteous. That is, it is always in the context of relationship. On the other hand, the free church’s only magisterium is the local body and whatever presuppositions that group brings to the interpretive project.

    The result is the local body asserts the “rule of life.” In redemptive communities made up by humans in the Way of Jesus, it seems there must be a deeper value of relationships and so people who fail, including those who lead. I cannot fathom a more evident expression of the work of the Spirit in bringing the Kingdom to bear on present realities than those “outside” witnessing the wonder of forgiveness and restoration with grace and charity with and among those on the “inside.” My way of saying what you said much more simply – “Besides..what better report is there than the one of sin being repented of and forsaken.”

    Glad for your ongoing ministry. Always learning from you and with you.

  • Paul, the comments on being of good report to outsiders is very helpful as is the example of Gordon McDonald.

    Todd, perhaps the free church can collectively provide some sort of thought pool around this subject.

    Both of you have made this blog much more beneficial to me and I’m sure to others. Thanks for the words of wisdom. I will be chewing for awhile on what both of you have written.

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  • Guy Rittger

    Todd and Paul – Reading Todd’s piece and Paul’s autobiography, Jesus’ words, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, immediately came to mind:

    When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

    On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    Many churches today are populated solely by the “righteous” and have no time for “sinners” – indeed, they take any necessary measures to distance themselves from those who, for whatever reason, have made mistakes in their lives.

    Yet, in some respect, this is a good lesson to learn and forces one to refocus attention on those whom we can most help from our positions of insight – painfully acquired – those like ourselves who have stumbled or failed to live up to their own ethical standards and commitments.

    The key thing is not to disregard your talents simply because “righteous” institutions turn their back on you. I need not remind you that Jesus lacked official credentials and was shunned by the “righteous” of his own day. As I’ve written to Todd on more than one occasion, it is critical that one embrace the redemptory grace in its broadest, most extreme sense (and with my own nod to Derrida): all sins have always already been forgiven by God.

    I realize that the gist of Todd’s piece is oriented towards organizational “disqualification”, and is perhaps intended as pragmatic approach to the issues at hand. So, to that end, let me trot out Jesus’ admonition to the woman “taken in adultery”. After refusing to condemn her, he instructs her to “go and sin no more”. My takeaway from this encounter is simply that if one acknowledges one’s failures and sets out on a different path in life, who are any of us to condemn or shun such a person, or deny him/her the pursuit of his/her calling?

    Best,

    Guy

  • Guy –

    As always we often seem to “read each others’ mail.” Indeed I was did have the way most “Free Church” traditions practice disqualification in their organization. For that matter I would suspect traditions with some form of formal magisterium would also mark the fallen in the same way. Your final sentence contains a question that must be answered despite the preemptive attempt to call the question moot in light of the practice of disqualification.

    Peace.
    Todd

  • Guy,

    First, it is Frank’s autobiography not Paul’s. Normally I wouldn’t point this out, but I don’t want anybody leaving here attributing my junk to Paul.

    Second, I want to clarify that it is not that I have been “shunned” by institutions. I did go through a lengthy period of bitterness with regard to the institutions, but have found much mercy and grace within the church.

    The question concerns finding the best way to live Christ within the church.

  • Todd,

    With regard to Guy’s question, I’ll go back to your original opening paragraph. You related disqualification to a sporting event. In the NBA, 6 personal fouls disqualifies a player for the remainder of the game. But a flagrant foul disqualifies for the next game as well. So, should we see life and ministry in the context of 1 game or treat like a 7 game series?

  • Paul Burleson

    Frank,

    My junk..your junk..whose to care? 😉

    Apt sports illustration from both you and Todd.

    Finally, from the FWIW department, it looks like you did find within the Church what is will be there always..grace and mercy. I’m of the opinion “institutions” and “church” are not synonomous anyway. I’ll bet all you guys agree. [Even if the “institutions” are religious ones with local church-type names.]

  • Frank –

    As aside in this very good conversation. You may or may not remember Guy from OBU days. We commuted together during the months the weather kept him off his motorcycle. If I recall the circumstances correctly. We recently reconnected via the wonders of technology.

    On to the question you posed …

    You and I know analogies will eventually break. But, for the sake of the conversation the redemptive turn in Jesus and what should be the redemptive character of the local church calls for life and ministry as a seven game series rather than an occasion wherein one is suspended from the game with no possibility of playing again. No one would suggest, at least among those carrying on this thread, a person should carry on indiscriminately. Guy noted a change of direction in life. Your story points to the same. As such, it is now back into the realm of the local community of which you are a part. You may well receive grace and mercy. The ultimate question I wrestle is the next move. What does restoration look like in light of that grace and mercy when it comes to living in and with a redemptive community? To give evidence to those without grace and mercy must be more than let’s have dinner, share space in the same class, etc. It “must” give evidence that should you or another be moved to a place of ministry leadership there is not the “oh but you [had this in your past].” That would be truly an act of redemptive restoration. And you well know that in our tradition, those places are fewer than many.

    Paul – much like your recent post on ordination, the clergification of the church is certainly akin to the “over” institutionalization of the church. I say over, because the minute we do something a few times as an organization it is then “institutionalized” in the most innocuous sense.

  • I am grateful for the contributions you men are making to this discussion. It is very enriching for me.

    Paul – regarding your thoughts, I know that even now I am to be about service within and outside the body. To live and demonstrate Christ is what I am to be about.

    Todd – I know that for me, it was a “flagrant” foul. It would have been unwise to have sought a more full restoration in the past. I wasn’t ready. For others that may “learn” more quickly, perhaps the time would be less. I do have confidence in Christ and his bride to move me along in the right direction. We’ll see. Perhaps God will be pleased to do something special through this shattered but rebuilding life.

    Again, thank you, gentlemen.

  • Paul Burleson

    The single greatest qualifier for anything is, IMHO, true biblical repentence. I think I’ve just heard that experience described in words. May we all be of that heart and mind.