Corruption Runs Rampant in the Church. Who Should We Hold Responsible?
The American evangelical church needs to experience a new conversion around the kinds of leaders we esteem.
Brian From and Aubrey Sampson
The recent Christianity Today podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, chronicles the skyrocket to pastoral fame of Seattle-based leader Mark Driscoll, and the church’s just as quick demise: Mars Hill unraveled due to his tyrant-like leadership tactics. What we find in the podcast is a common theme in many of these stories: charisma outpaced character.
When ministry leaders with amazing talent and best-practice skills in communication are placed on pedestals, podiums, and in pulpits before their spiritual and emotional depth has had time to mature, it is always a recipe for disaster. In a day and age when pastors are confused for (or confuse themselves for) celebrities, the American evangelical church needs to experience a new conversion—our own come-to-Jesus-moment—around the kinds of leaders we esteem.
What is our responsibility as churchgoers and fellow sojourners in these stories? Are we choosing leaders who are striving for the next viral soundbite instead of those who humble themselves? Are we allowing sin to slide by, in the name of Instagram likes? And most importantly, how do we do the hard work of changing?That said, it is all too easy for us to the point the finger at certain big personality leaders, when we aren’t in their (fancy) sneakers. But what we also find in these stories is a magnifying class—we all have to ask ourselves how we have contributed to the creation and rise of such leaders.
Celebrate a biblical definition of success.
When we define success for our pastors by how many conferences they speak at, how many book deals they have, or how many followers they are accruing on social media, then the metrics for pastoring have gone off the rails. Those are worthy and wonderful accomplishments, but they cannot replace, or become the standard by which we determine success. Pastoral “success” ought to be defined by the transformative changes that are happening through the Spirit of God within a body of believers and within the church’s neighborhood. Church leaders must reclaim the role of shepherd, humble and sacrificial, through imitating the way of the Shepherd.
Make accountability and accessibility a part of church culture.
Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, is famous for having said that the lead pastor role is one of the most difficult jobs in America. That may or may not be true, but because of the very real challenges of church leadership, many pastors and leaders—if they aren’t careful—can end up nurturing an undercurrent of entitlement, a belief that they deserve certain things because of their leadership burdens. Pastor Rich Villodas wrote recently, “Resisting entitlement requires churches to ensure their pastors are accessible and accountable.” In order to be both, a pastor needs to be relationally connected to those he or she is called to shepherd –while also having a structure in place such as a non-familial board of elders to hold him/her responsible to his duties in both deed and character. Our gospel witness is at stake; let’s make accountability and accessibility a normative part of our church leadership.
Bring darkness to light.
Sometimes congregations choose to overlook the misdeeds of their spiritual leader because of “fruit” that is happening as a result of their magnetism. But the fruit that comes from the roots of sin are always rotten.
The fruit that comes from the roots of sin are always rotten.
If we allow personality to (no pun intended) trump integrity, it will inevitably lead us to ignore questionable behavior, sinful missteps, and gross mishandling of difficult situations. Becoming a people who regularly and unapologetically bring darkness into the light is the only remedy to keep pastors and entire ministries from being swept away from the torrents of scandal and abuse.
The Bible tells us to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV). Bringing out any deceitful, sinful patterns of behavior is a command given to us for this very reason, to keep the darkness of sin from corrupting leaders and the ministries in which they lead.
Become contributors to, not consumers of, the Kingdom and the Church.
We must recognize that we have all played a part in creating the perfect storms that oftentimes lead to massive damage in churches. We have turned the evangelical church in America into a commodity, a consumable product, rather than a community of people under Jesus, on mission together. We are contributors to God’s Kingdom, not consumers of a church product.
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