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When Pastors Fall

repentance1.jpgMinisterial indiscretion is commonplace, and having trafficked in pastoral circles for many years, I’m usually not surprised by it. However, the explosive controversy surrounding Ted Haggard’s resignation has hit me hard. Haggard pastored one of the largest and fastest growing churches in America, rubbed elbows with James Dobson and other luminaries in the religious right, and was president of the large and politically powerful National Association of Evangelicals, which claims roughly 30 million members. In 2005, Time magazine included Haggard on its list of the 25 most influential evangelical leaders.

The story broke on Tuesday, October 31st, and has spiraled downward quickly. First, Haggard was accused of ongoing sexual relations with a male prostitute and drug possession, which he denied. The next day, he admitted some charges were true — he just hadn’t had sex with the man or actually used the drugs. Then yesterday, Ted Haggard was fired. According to the official statement by the Board of New Life Church:

Our investigation and Pastor Haggard’s public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct.

Of course, the blogosphere is filled with commentary on the matter, from rabid defense to thoughtful interpretation to glee. Far be it from me to pile on. . .or add anything really new to the discussion. Yet this issue is deeply disturbing. But why? This isn’t the first time a big name preacher has fallen.

About ten years ago, Ted Haggard visited our church and spoke to our leadership team. The man I was pastoring with knew Haggard personally, and the connection with New Life was a blessing for our growing church. Ocassionally, we would seek him for counsel about important decisions. We also studied their small group model, which was a form of modified cell church. This was near the beginning of Haggard’s ascendancy to stardom.

Some might be offended by that term — stardom — but to me, the type of celebrity status endowed upon ministers like Ted Haggard is part of the problem. No doubt, there are many talking points about this heartbreaking incident, many angles and admonitions. But this is the one that stands out to me.

We live in an American Idol culture, a world where charisma and polish gets the votes. Face it, folks: Bland dudes don’t pastor mega-churches. We require the upbeat, the witty, the attractive and dramatic. We do not tolerate the slow and boring. Our leaders must shine!

The American media and the Charismatic movement have spawned a type of plastic happypeople.gifhappiness that does not allow us to realistically address pastoral sin. We want men who are overcomers, not overcoming. Sanctification is far too messy. We need those who have fought the good fight. . . and won, not those who are battling addictions and fears, depravity and angst. 

But that describes most pastors.

Of course, all pastors aren’t screwed up. But then again, everyone is screwed up. And in that sense, many ministers are trapped. They’re trapped by expectations, ideals and career. They dearly want to pour their guts out to someone, but the confession could jeapordize their future, their reputation, and hurt numerous people. So they carry the dark thing, paste on a smiley face, and go through the motions.

I sincerely believe most pastors cannot be truly transparant before their congregations. In fact, MOST CONGREGANTS DON’T WANT THEM TO BE.

Maybe it is my proximity to Ted Haggard, having spoke to him and heeded his counsel, that makes this all the more disturbing. Perhaps if he admitted his problem sooner, this would’ve never happened. But, if he did that, he would’ve never had a mega-church.

My deepest, heartfelt prayers go out to Ted Haggard, his family and his church.



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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Makeesha November 6, 2006, 4:25 AM

    “I sincerely believe most pastors cannot be truly transparant before their congregations. In fact, MOST CONGREGANTS DON’T WANT THEM TO BE.”

    Your emphasized point here is right on the money. Congregants do not want to know that their pastors are flawed. They do not want transparency from them. They do not want their pastors to “be like them”. They need to know that the pastor knows more than they do and they need to know that the pastor is better than they are otherwise they cannot follow him. It’s messed up beyond belief and I don’t know how to fix it but it desperately needs fixing. Our ideas of leadership, the pastorate, the gifting of the pastor, etc. are all so errant and flawed, esp. for this day and age, it all needs to be deconstructed.

  • Ame November 6, 2006, 5:10 AM

    We’ve all three been sick this last week and unaware of much of anything, so this is the first I’ve heard. Oh, my heart is so heavy and burdened. I know their path well. Oh, God, may this man stick to it. It’s totally impossible without You to even think of beating this addiction, and it’s only possible with You if he sticks to You like glue. I pray he will – I pray he will for his wife and kids. Oh, my heart is crushed for Gayle. Lord, I know You will find her faithful. Strengthen her and uphold her as only You can. Provide a very safe place for her to dredge through this sewage from hell she has been dumped in. I love You, God, Ame

  • Linda Gilmore November 6, 2006, 2:25 PM

    Our church has been blessed to have a pastor who is remarkably transparent in the pulpit. And because he is, he’s been able to encourage us to be more authentic, to seek people to hold us accountable (he has a group of about three men who meet with him regularly and hold him accountable), to reach out to people in need. I think God is blessing our church’s ministry — our church is growing — not just by transfer of membership, but with new believers who are struggling with tough stuff. And we’re hearing marvelous testimonies. So maybe not all congregations don’t want transparency. It doesn’t happen overnight, though. It’s a growth process.
    (Our pastor is also working on the denominational level to help pastors who are struggling with burnout and other issues.)

  • janet November 6, 2006, 6:14 PM

    I always brag on my pastor. Aside from him being a great Bible teacher, the thing I appreciate most about him is his transpanency. Saved by God from a life of drug-dealing and rebellion, Joe serves with a humble heart, always forthright about his own screwed-upness.

    Also, I’ve never been (and never will be) a pastor, but I have been the picture perfect Christian who tumbled into some pretty bad sin. Some judged me, some forgave me, some helped restore me. The judging only hurts.

    Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

  • Mike Duran November 7, 2006, 1:03 PM

    I am not suggesting that every pastor has a secret sin which they are attempting to methodically cover up. No doubt, there are many wonderful pastors out there. In some ways, Ted Haggard might be one of them. What I am addressing here is the tendency of congregations to “pedestal-ize” pastors; to paint an overly rosy picture of human nature; to deny the insideous nature of sin and the abject depravity of man apart from Christ. The fact is: Any church and/or pastor can succumb to hellacious sin. NO ONE has it completely together. To deny this is to deny human nature and create the very ground in which scandal grows.

  • Ame November 7, 2006, 4:54 PM

    I believe I am always one choice away from that “slippery slope” ~ I fear my own “depravity” and try to stay alert always to my humanity and also to God’s power over my humanity.

    I have not been a pastor nor a pastor’s wife. I have been a pastor’s daughter-in-law and am a pastor’s sister-in-law. I have taught and am looked upon as “teacher.” I want to shout out my humanity, and certainly, I am open. Yet people, including myself, tend to see what we want to see. Perhaps people think that those in spiritual leadership positions are more “protected” or “guarded” by God than others.

    I think what we often fail to see is the extremely intense spiritual warfare over the heads of spiritual leaders – how fierce Satan is fighting for any tiny crack he can find, create, and enter through.

    Certainly, we need to seek biblical spiritual leadership. Once found, we need to accept their humanity, not their sin, but their humanity, knowing we will not like everything about them, and pray the power of the blood of Jesus over them often – and their families. May God open our eyes to see (2Kings6:16-17) and find us on our knees.

  • Ane Mulligan November 7, 2006, 7:04 PM

    Stardom is a temptation, but there are men like Rick Warren, who has a best-selling book (more than one) a mega church, yet you hear little about him. Why? Because he’s just a pastor doing God’s work. He lives what he said in his book: It’s all about God and not about me-or you. There have been a few men like him out there who have gained fame, Billy Graham for one, who have managed to handle fame without believing they did it themselves.

    I believe much of their ability to stay focused on God’s work is how hard we pray.

    My church is growing at a meteoric rate. We’re baptizing over 100 new believers each year. To help keep my pastor grounded, I pray for him. And I watch him closely. He has a wonderful accountability group, a solid prayer group and most importantly, he’s sold out to the fact it’s all about God and not about him.

    Pray for our leaders, bloggers. When you’re on the front lines in a war, you’re closer to the enemy’s arrows.

  • Phil Perkins November 8, 2006, 7:09 AM

    Just came across your site. Pretty cool design. Your in between approach is not biblical. The Emergents have embraced all sorts of unbiblical doctrines and immoral behavors.

    Your error is illustrated in this statement, where you claimed to be more loving, open minded, or kind than God Himself. You said, “Nevertheless, this type of guilt-by-association device is simplistic and unfair.”

    God, through the apostle of love said, “If any man comes to you, not bearing this doctrine, do not receive him into the house and do not speak to greet him. For the man speaking to greet him has fellowship with his evil works.”

    Sounds like guilt by association applies in God’s mind. But that’s just God.

    Phil Perkins.

  • Mike Duran November 8, 2006, 1:28 PM

    Hey Phil, thanks for trolling by to tell me I’m in “error” and my “approach is not biblical,” before rushing off to police other bloggers. Thankfully, we’ve got folks like you who’ve been “appointed” to make sure the rest of us come correct.

    Have you read my entire series on the Emergents? Didn’t think so. If you had, you would’ve known I talk a lot about potentially unbiblical elements in the EC. I also talked about issuing blanket condemnations upon a movement that is extremely broad and undefined. But alas, this appears to be the MO of many Emergent opponents, including yourself.

    Jesus often condemned the guilt-by-association mentality. The Pharisees postured themselves as righteous and then issued blanket disapproval of entire classes of people — like Samaritans, tax-collectors, lepers and women — outcasts whom Jesus embraced. Furthermore, He rebuked His disciples for such broad-brushing methods: “Now John answered and said, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side’ (Lk. 9:49-50 NKJV). Sorry Phil, but just because everyone doesn’t “follow with [you]” does not mean they are “not biblical.”

    P.S. The next time I claim to be “more loving, open minded, or kind than God Himself,” please pinch me.

  • Truth_Be_Told November 8, 2006, 1:56 PM

    Being in a church where my pastor is very open about his flaws, lets me know that he’s not perfect … that he deals with issues just lkike I do … that he needs support and encouragement just like I do … it humanizes who he is in Christ. To try to make me believe that you’re perfect would make me very suspicious of you and your teachings. If Ted Haggard would have been forthcoming with his own struggles, perhaps he would not been in the boat he is today. There’s a saying that goes like this – you stay as sick as your darkest secret – if you don’t reveal what’s hidden on the inside … it’ll come out to your ruin … what you do in darkness, will come to light. I pray that all of our leaders will come to knowledge that the truth shall make you free.

  • Diane November 8, 2006, 3:16 PM

    Great post. Pastors are not exempt from their own humanity. No one is. When others focus solely on Christians instead of looking directly at Jesus…..they will be disappointed. I join you in praying for this family.


  • Phil Perkins November 8, 2006, 3:17 PM

    First of all, sorry for putting these comments on the wrong post. Scrolling back, I went one too far. Here is the logic: God says don’t associate with false teachers. That is what Calvary Chapel is prohibiting. I’m SBC so, no bias here. I just wish my group would seek similar purity.

    When you spoke against them you also spoke against the word that the Father gave us, since He has made clear it(as I quoted from II John 10-11) that such association makes us guilty by association (fellowsip.) You seemed to rely on the cultural bromide that says guilt by association is always silly. Well, sometimes it is, sometimes it aint.

    Please compare the generosity of your response to these false teachers to your response to a brother that has simply reminded you of a biblical principle that is not currently popular in the compromised church of today.

    In Christ,
    Phil Perkins.

  • Mike Duran November 9, 2006, 1:01 PM

    Hey Phil, when you show up and tell me I’m in “error,” “not biblical,” and that I claim to be “more loving, open minded, or kind than God Himself,” I don’t appreciate it. You don’t know squat about me, my background or my theology. You may be a brother, but if you expect a different response, then ratchet down your rhetoric.

    Your entire arguement hinges on the assumption that ALL Emergents are “false teachers.” Because there is no “official” Emergent Church, headquarters, leader or creed, this CANNOT be substantiated. The truth is, as I said in Part Five of my series, some adherents are dangerously close to false doctrine. However, others are not. If you’re comfortable with generalizing the entire movement and everyone in it (whatever it means to be “in it”), that’s your prerogative. I, however, believe that kind of whitewashing is unwise and unbiblical. Jesus dealt with individual people, and I happen to believe that is the best way to approach this particular situation. No doubt, some Emergent churches should be avoided. But the fact is, so should some Baptist, Charismatic, Lutheran, Presbyterian churches be avoided. Shall we brand all of them because some of them are off-base?

    If you want a more charitable response, in the future, I’d suggest that you do not roll into people’s blogs with guns blazing.

  • Phil Perkins November 9, 2006, 4:34 PM

    In all honesty, the attitude that we should be tolerant to everyone is an error. Tolerant of saints that need teaching and correction. Tolerant of unbelievers, not matter their lifestyle. Even tolerant of false-teachers in that we do them no harm. But to give place and approval to false teachers is simply against the stipulations of both new and old covenants.

    You said,”when you show up and tell me I\’m in \”error,\” \”not biblical,\”…”

    ANSWER: Well, I just quoted the Scripture for you. Do you have an answer? Is my logic wrong, or did God say we should let false teachers in? If I am wrong I will take correction. I am committed to that principle and follow it rigidly, to the point that if I have taught something wrong publicly, I retract it publicly. I am a teacher and had occassion to do just that in class last week.

    You said, “…and that I claim to be \”more loving, open minded, or kind than God Himself,\” I don\’t appreciate it.”

    ANSWER: The logic is simple. Smith has obeyed God’s command for separation from apostates. You have criticized him for being too harsh. Therefore, you have criticized God, whether you intended to or not.

    You said, “You don\’t know squat about me, my background or my theology.”

    ANSWER: These things are of no weight in a discussion of this sort, except your theology. And your theology should be made biblical. It is deficient in the separation-unto-holiness department, as is true with most of the Evangelical church. (I don’t know if you call yourself Evangelical or not, so I’m just guessing here.) That is, most of us have lived wrongly. Chuck Smith seems odd, but the fact is that most of us Evangelicals have been sinning for a very long time. Smith simply has righted a wrong and so he looks funny to us. Your Chesterton quote goes to this point. He said, “The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”

    You said,: You may be a brother, but if you expect a different response, then ratchet down your rhetoric.

    ANSWER: You mean like “demonize?” Or “…Calvary has erred in making blanket condemnations…?” Oh wait, you said that, huh? I don’t think I was outside the parameters evident set in the examples of Paul, Jesus, and the prophets and apostles. They spoke frankly without perjoratives to believers in error, and spoke with perjoratives grounded in fact to and about unbelieving false teachers.

    You said, “Your entire arguement hinges on the assumption that ALL Emergents are \”false teachers.\” Because there is no \”official\” Emergent Church, headquarters, leader or creed, this CANNOT be substantiated.”

    ANSWER: Did Hymenaeus and Philetus have a building and a doctrinal statement? Non-sequitor.

    You said, “The truth is, as I said in Part Five of my series, some adherents are dangerously close to false doctrine.”

    ANSWER: I don’t know who you have in mind, but they are much more than close. Donal Miller has called anyone who takes a creed a heretic. Brian McLaren has denied both hell and the substitutionary atonement. John O’Keefe is a potty mouth that pushes Communists, sexual perversion, and the drug culture. Mike Morrell came up with what he calls “biblical” panentheism. A local Emergent apostate here in Billings, MT is teaching that Jesus is the TAO. Rob Bell and Tony Jones are active in pushing contemplative prayer on the youth in churches under the nose of uninformed parents. McLaren, David Sherwood, and O’Keefe have all actively worked to normalize sodomy in the church. I could go on. I have read a lot of their own writings.

    You said, “However, others (some Emergents) are not (close to false doctrine.)

    ANSWER: How many Emergent types do you know that don’t read, take seriously, and spread the teachings of Spencer Burke, McLaren, Bell, Jones, and that whole apostate bunch?

    You said, “If you\’re comfortable with generalizing the entire movement and everyone in it (whatever it means to be \”in it\”), that\’s your prerogative. I, however, believe that kind of whitewashing is unwise and unbiblical.

    ANSWER: Paul said something about lumps and yeast didn’t he? I’m not comfortabel with being lukewarm to truth.

    Mike, beyond the toleration of apostates, there is another error that is really common in Evangelicalism. And it is worse than this unbiblical tolerance in that it denies the power of God. That is we don’t trust God to give the increase. Hence,we think we need schemes, like relevance, the Emergent, and so forth to reach folks.

    The truth is we never reach anyone for Christ. Instead, we are to evangelize them. Then God’s Holy Spirit will save His chosen.

    In Christ,
    Phil Perkins.

  • Phil Perkins November 9, 2006, 5:33 PM

    I posted some of this interchange on one of my blogs,
    http://zitsemerge.blogspot.com. You may respond there as well, or you may leave it anonymous.

    In Christ,
    Phil Perkins.

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