Thursday, July 21, 2016

Is Pastoral Restoration Biblical? The Ashley Madison Controversy Exposes Deeper Issues

Pastoral restoration? With all the moral failures in ministry lately what's a path to restoration? To my knowledge, The Bible doesn't lay out a path for "pastoral restoration" per se. I could be corrected, but all the things I have read on pastoral restoration use biblical passages on general Christian restoration. Let me propose that is because we have made the pastoral ministry something it was not meant to be. Have you ever heard the phrase "called to the pastoral ministry". That is kind of a misnomer because the role of pastor/overseer/elder are filled by particular spiritual gifts, not this huge hierarchical position that we have turned it into. That is why the the scripture only lays out qualifications for those who practice their pastoral gifts. If a man falls into a "sexual sin" he is just no longer qualified because he is not "above reproach" anymore. 

Let me ask you a question to clarify. If a person with the gift of evangelism is caught in an adulterous relationship, does that disqualify them from the spiritual gift of evangelism? No, of course not they have just fallen into sin and need to be restored, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
(Galatians 6:1-2 ESV)

Or put another way. What if another with the spiritual gift of helps and hospitality has been found to have abused their hospitality, and had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a guest? Are they disqualified from the spiritual gift of hospitality? No they still have the spiritual gift they just need to be restored in a "spirit of gentleness."

I believe that the problem is that we have elevated the "ministry" to a place where I believe the New Testament did not mean it to be elevated to. The New Testament writers talk about the pastoral giftings as "one among many" gifts that are equal to any other gift in the body. So, in our current structure, when a pastor falls into sin it is more egregious than when a person with the gift of hospitality falls into an inappropriate sexual relationship. 

Also the modern pastor has more visibility than in the past. With the rise of the of the Internet with sermons online, and other organizations like the Gospel Coalition, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Acts 29, and pastoral conferences with thousands in attendance, and other such church planting and ministry training organizations, there has been this unbiblical and unhealthy move toward superstar attractional ministry leadership models. You can probably name your favorite pastor. Where do you know them from? Probably online. I am as guilty in supporting this as any other. How often have I watched a sermon from a talking head superstar pastor? How often have I read their books? How often have I visited their church or personal websites? This feeds the system. However, the New Testament had a completely different style of pastoral leadership. It was a bottom up, one of many, servant leadership type of shepherding ministry that was happy to be unknown outside of the congregation of which they were shepherds. 

They (i.e. The Apostles) didn't train for years and years in seminaries separated from the local body they had come from. Only to return later to another Church that they had no previous contact to. Being devoid of any real practical experience besides a one year practicum/internship, in which they got to preach one time on a Sunday where almost the whole church was away on vacation. See my point? We have to radically rethink the pastoral ministry. 

Besides all this. If the spiritual gifts are spread out in the congregation relatively equally, how many with the pastoral gifting would there be in a typical church. Probably in a church of 200 there might be up to 10% that's about 20 people or so with that gift. What are those men doing with their pastoral/teaching gifting? Probably sitting on their hands because the lead pastor has his "Kung-Fu grip" on the reigns of leadership. They probably aren't even aware they have a pastoral gifting. I bring this up because if there were 20 pastors of a church it would protect the church when one of the pastors fell. The church could carry on and the church would be able to "restore such a one (fallen pastor) with gentleness" without everything collapsing. But as is the current leadership structure, there is one pastor who has full and final authority. Elder and Deacon boards do nothing in practicality in those leadership structures. Actually they do something, everything the pastor tells them to do. This must change!

Let me be clear, I do not believe that a pastor caught in a extra-marital affair should just be kept in ministry after forgiving him, or one week later hired somewhere else. Or worse yet taking on a new Church Plant in a different city. What I am saying is that the whole system is unbalanced, and lends to a unbalanced pastoral ministry. We need a practical pastoral reformation, kind of like the great theologies that were won for us in the first reformation (i.e. "the priesthood of all believers."). That Priesthood of all believers needs not just to be believed, but practiced in our current congregations. In other words "every member a minister." 

The current Ashley Madison controversy exposes many problems and we are all going to talk about the sexual aspects and what is wrong with pastors. We definitely need to bring those secrets out so that the Church can deal with it, and seek to be a righteous and pure bride once again. But I want to challenge us to think in Biblical paradigms, and not to leave the current hierarchical pastoral position untouched. 

Pastor, please do not continue to usurp authority, but rather give it away. What I mean is in areas that the Bible does not prescribe for you to have authority over, please give your authority to other gifted men who are there already in your congregations. Train others to take your job and take your place. Its kind of like working yourself out of a job. In the end you and your church will be stronger and more protected as a result. Ultimately God is in control of His Church, and He will see that it is transformed from the top to bottom. Let us with renewed vigour make Jesus Lord, and ask our congregations to practice the priesthood of all believers along with us who are spiritually gifted as pastors, so that the body can be whole from the bottom on up. The most encouraging thing about Pastoral failure, or the Church being in upheaval is that Jesus still reigns! No matter how bleak things look he shall reign forevermore, and He can redeem, He can salvage, and mend all that was broken. My new favorite song is by The Silver Pages an old Hymn called "Jesus Shall Reign." I hope it encourages your heart that Jesus is the cornerstone of His church!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Superstar Preachers, Pastoral Moral Failure, and the State of the Evangelical Church

There has been a rash of moral failures in high profile pastors in the evangelical world in the past several years. I will not name any names, because I think that would be counterproductive, and not graceful to the families and men who are involved in these failures in ministry, envethough they had very public ministries and very public failures. In a quick count off the top of my head I counted more than ten pastors that I could think of off the top of my head in the last few years. What I would like to address is the current state of the American Pastor and church. What I do believe is that these failures in ministry are not about adultery, or pastoral abuse, or pornography, or alcoholism, although those things are very wrong with terrible consequences, but rather these are symptoms of much deeper issues that the church is facing and must face and come to terms with before we can move forward or ever be a righteous "city on a hill" once again. I want to first address personally what I faced in ministry, and secondly what the Church has taken on in leadership structures that I believe are unbiblical, and should change through the leadership and power of the Holy Spirit

The Current State of Pastoral Ministry
Pastoral ministry is challenging for many reasons, but most of all because you are seeking to lead people into a relationship with Christ. Because I want people to know Christ above all things, I will do whatever it takes unless it is plainly unbiblical, unethical, or immoral. But sometimes those lines can become a little blurred. This has been what I believe has happened to many pastors in my opinion over the last few years. The Slippery Slope starts with small decisions to not do the biblical, moral, or ethical thing. Let me explain.

Pastors do not decide one day that they are going to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from their churches. They decide that they will use their ministry credit card once and then twice for personal items. Pastors don't decide one day that they want to cheat on their wives with the secretary, they make one decision to have a "working lunch" with their personal assistant and then decide to have dinner with her a few months later. A pastor doesn't decide one day that he wants to topple a church with his power structure and have that church crumble under his failures. He decides to change the church bylaws to get "everyone on board with his leadership." A pastor doesn't want to be an alcoholic, but he gradually slides down that slippery slope because he comes home in the evening and wants to "take the edge off" when faced with the unbiblical model of a multi-site megachurch that he is the superstar of. These are the small compromises that I have seen and experienced in my years in ministry. Men In ministry must take measures to be "above reproach."

Let me give you a personal example of this. When we moved to California to become youth pastor we were required to register our car 90 days after the first day it was in California. Of course I waited a few days too long. When asked on the form when the first day the car was in California, I lied that it had been in California less than 90 days to avoid the penalty. I was so convicted that I returned to the DMV to tell them that I had lied and I was there to pay the penalty. The woman at the DMV was shocked that I would even want to return to make things right. She even said I should not worry about
it, but I insisted that lying is not acceptable for me as a Christian and if you let me get away with it now then on another occasion I might also lie. I had to pay a hefty fine, but that was a powerful lesson for me and through that and other lessons I was able to build honesty into my life and ministry. Later on I accidentally used my Church credit card for personal use. I realized it later, and immediately went to our church administrator to pay back what I had spent. Integrity means that what you say, do, and think are all consistent with each other. The slippery slope that we find ourselves on is sometimes very hard to discern in pastoral ministry. The word of God gives us clear parameters, and the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin and righteousness.

Pastor, some questions that might help you avoid these pitfalls are, do you have a living, humble, needy, celebratory, affectionate, meditative, worshipful, loving, and tender, communion with Christ? If not why not? Has the ministry become your identity in Christ? or is Christ alone still your identity? Or do you, as I did often say, "I am not an emotional person." Maybe you need to open your personality up to godly changes. Ask the Lord to make you a tender, emotionally connected person, like Jesus our master. Lord remove our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26)!

The Current State of the Evangelical Church
I would like to address what I also see as systematic problems within the evangelical church in America. There is such a thing as an ungodly unbiblical model of church governance and I believe the evangelical church is flirting with those unbiblical models. Here are the problems we face...

1. We are attracted to the superstar preacher. If he is charismatic and funny and a great preacher we listen and good preachers gain a following quickly in our information rich culture.
2. We are not self feeders anymore. Christians have a hard time because of superstar evangelical preachers. We don't feed ourselves spiritually we look first to those leaders/pastors.
3. We have innovated ourselves to death. Megachurch structures, multi-site campus churches, and entertainment/superstar preacher driven ministries are the byproduct of our over-engineering of church ministry, and I believe are not biblical models and should die with the pastors who plant them.
4. We overlook serious moral character flaws or outright sin (i.e. the "cussing preacher") in pastoral leadership if they are charismatic and entertaining preachers
5. We have forgotten the mandate of leadership in 2 Timothy 2:2 especially in regards to empowering and multiplying new preachers and teachers. Instead those preachers hold on to their pulpits with Kung-Fu grip.
6. The entertainment mode of ministry has so enamored the church in America it is hard to imagine any other way for the average Joe who is not gifted so charismatically to be seen and understood as successful. The average Joe minister may be very successful at making disciples, multiplying leadership, and planting new churches, but he doesn't have 5,000 sermon views a week and so we discount him as unsuccessful. We need a new ministry scorecard.
7. We have forsaken personal holiness for a consumer driven brand of church. Look at the numbers on divorce, pornography usage, alcohol abuse, etc. and it becomes clear the church of Jesus Christ looks exactly like the world. How can we be a mirror of the gospel if in reality we only mirror the world. My brothers and sisters this should not be. Ephesians 5 describes how we should walk in holiness as the church...
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” (Eph.‬ ‭5:1-12‬)

I am so sad about this current trend in pastoral failure and so that is why I am writing to at least bring the topic up and investigate some solutions to systemic problems that I see. Most of all we can pray that God would bring us back to sole devotion to him, his word, and his glorious church and the proper government of that church. The hope that we always have even as fallen pastors is that the immense Grace of God extends even to us who have fallen in ministry. God is sovereign and even when we walk through the fire, even in our brokenness, and our failures, he is there and he will and can restore us. He may not restore us to ministry, but he will forgive and his grace knows no bounds. This however does not mean that we can treat his grace cheaply or take advantage of it. Thank God! That is the good news that is available to every man woman and child. It is also available to those of us who serve the Lord in professional ministry. He has taken our punishment and wrath upon himself that we might be credited with his perfect record of righteousness! Hallelujah!