Hello, my name is Nate Sparks. You may or may not know me. While it is honestly of no importance to me if you have read or will read my work, in the interest of full disclosure I feel it important to make my identity known. In that spirit, I have decided to post this letter on my blog. I want you to be able to read the rest of my work, should you choose to do so, and make an informed decision on whether to engage in the conversation.
I want to be clear, you need not engage this letter publicly, but I sincerely want to hear your response. I have posted this to my site because I believe there are some important questions, that we all (myself included) need to consider, raised within. However, given that this is no doubt a difficult time for you, I understand if you choose to continue this conversation in private.
I specifically want to take a moment to address your recent removal from pastoral leadership of The Journey Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and as Vice President of Acts 29. I read Journey’s official member’s statement and felt there is a great deal of good that could result from a careful and open dialogue. My goal here is not to berate you, mock you, or gloat over you. Instead, as a brother in Christ I wish to offer you encouragement and the hand of friendship as I hope to speak some important and prophetic words into your current season of struggle and humiliation.
With these thoughts and intentions in mind, I want to offer you four words of encouragement. As stated above, you are invited to respond; I would love to talk to you.
1. I encourage you to recognize and publicly confess patterns of abuse in your ministry. I do not wish to beat you over the head with this point, but the reality is the charges laid against you by your church are those of “pastoral misconduct.” From the elaborations they gave, you have had a recurring pattern of unrepentant sin which revolves around dishonesty and neglect of duty. While it may be painful to hear, the reality is your church has found you guilty of pastoral abuse – however kindly they may have chosen to word it. This, as I’m sure you are aware, is a pitfall into which many pastors have fallen, and unfortunately many more will fall in the future.
There can be no growth or repentance where one’s own brokenness is not owned and confronted head on. You will not begin to learn from your actions until the abuses of pastoral privilege and duty you have perpetrated are admitted to. Only then can you begin to learn from them and seek healing before God and those under your care whom you have betrayed with your actions. This will be a painful process, but as a man who has functioned as a leader of so many in the faith, I hope you will take the time and effort to set a new standard for how these incidents ought to be handled by fallen pastors.
2. I encourage you to take your time. One of the central areas your church has exposed is your unwillingness to do the hard work of repentance. They specifically noted you have a long history of short term change without long term fruit. All Christians tend to fall into the trap of self-serving and ego at the expense of others at one point or another. I know I have certainly been guilty of it in my own life. But as one who has set himself up as a leader, we need you to also provide us an example of the nature of true repentance.
It has often been the tradition of fallen pastors to rush the process of repentance. Rather than recognize the reality that repentance is a long and hard-fought journey, we often assume that “I’m sorry” is enough. Please do not make such a grievious mistake. Instead, respond honestly to the accusation that you have placed too much of your identity in creating and maintaining a platform. This behavior, which might properly be called pride or egocentrism, has hindered your ability to minister to the Gospel and caused great hurt in your congregation because of your abuses. Please take the time necessary to disinvest your personal identity from your role as pastor/leader/celebrity and instead learn again to invest it solely in Jesus. Do not let ego prevent you from practicing the full measure of repentance, but instead seek a Christ-centered humility in pursuing the hard road of setting aside personal comfort or position to address and learn from your abusive actions. You owe justice to those whom you have abused, a justice rooted in the cross of Christ. Please do not neglect this.
3. I want to encourage you to personally confess to those you have wronged. Many pastors who have fallen resort to open letters and video messages confessing their flaws. These are good, and they have a place in the process of repentance. But these are often treated as sufficient apologies for specific wrongs. This simply is not the case. You have been guilty of specific abuses against specific persons. You cannot break the cycle of abusive behavior in your life if you do not specifically take the time to address each incident and address your behavior with the persons wronged.
It may very well be some do not have no desire to speak to you. Understand that abuse leads to varying reactions in different people. Do not speak ill of or judge those who are currently too hurt by your actions to carry a conversation. If the time has not come for them to be comfortable speaking to you, then accept that boundary and recognize it exists as a result of your own sinful behavior. Do not resort to shaming, over-stepping of boundaries, or other ungracious behaviors.
These types of actions would only serve to make the situation worse via revictimization of those whom you have abused. Again, this is a process and it will take considerable time. Please do not try to rush the process of repentance, instead work to dismantle the system of abuse which you created and participated in and begin to seek justice for your victims.
4. Lastly, I want to encourage you to ask the necessary questions. It can be difficult to take a step back and gain perspective, especially when we are exposed for wrongdoing and abuse. It feels much easier to respond defensively, to obfuscate or minimize our transgressions. But in the end, this will only perpetuate the system of oppression which you have thus far worked to maintain.
Therefore, I want to encourage you to ask yourself a series of questions which will, hopefully, assist you in the process of repentance, healing, and growth. These questions are hardly comprehensive, but will hopefully spur thoughts which will guide you into a deeper contemplation of your actions.
How have my personal convictions and hermeneutical commitments been shaped in a way that helped me excuse my abusive actions in the past?
Is there any area of my theology which, when carefully analyzed, can be seen to correlate directly to the attitudes and actions I have used to justify my abusive behavior up to this point?
How does my view of the cross of Christ compel me to lay aside my ego and seek true repentance?
How have my beliefs helped to create a systematic abuse culture within Evangelicalism, and what must I now do to correct these issues?
How will the failures of pastors before me inform my decision on the repentance process?
Now that my abuses have been exposed, how is God speaking to me through his word and through others to cause me to analyze, own, and seek to repair the damages I have done?
How will I accept and address my own abusive behaviors in a way that serves as an example for those around me facing failures of their own?
I beg you to realize I speak out of love for you as a brother in Christ. I wish you no ill, I do not delight in your fall. But I do hope that you will find encouragement in my words. I genuinely wish for you to find healing in the areas of your life which caused you to commit these abuses. I genuinely hope you and your family are drawn closer together in Christ-likeness. I desire that you will be given insight into how your actions are, in fact, a form of abuse. And I continue to pray that you are open to seeing these things, and that you will be led by the Spirit towards true repentance and humility.
In closing, I want to remind you of Paul’s words to the Philippian church in chapter two, verses one through eleven.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Please, I entreat you, take these words to heart and seek to truly have a mind like Christ’s as you face the reality of the abuses you have committed. Again I ask you to seek justice for those whom you have wronged.
If you decide to contact me in private, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I bid you Peace in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ of God,
**Cover image from http://da1b7c03727f3b6ee204-5cb208460c86a8606ae1d0644b1c034d.r25.cf2.rackcdn.com/uploaded/d/0e2985705_1394559255_dp-speaking-image-no-regrets-feb-2014.jpg**