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!
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