Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. -- 1Timothy 4:16 (ESV)
It is as inevitable as the sun rising. Whenever a prominent pastor falls from grace there is a rush from the church to defend the offender with a seeming blase' attitude towards the sheep they were entrusted with. I remember after Ted Haggard, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, was caught in a 20 year affair with a male prostitute who he did crystal meth with the pulpit cry from my own church was -- don't judge! Are you serious? The number one reason given by unbelievers for why they do not go to church is the hypocrisy of Christians. They see a story like what happened to James McDonald over the past several years and then read articles like the one linked above from Pastor Shane Idleman and can smell the rank hypocrisy. Let us reason together through Idleman's defense of the indefensible.
"The number of prominent pastors stepping down because they are very controlling, manipulating, and creating a culture of fear and intimidation appears to have reached new heights these days. Although this type of behavior is unacceptable, I'm hoping to shed some light so that repentance can take place in the pulpit as well as the pew." -- Shane Idleman
Right away we see the false premise being laid down. This article is in direct response to the James McDonald story. There is no reason to split the bill between the pulpit and the pew. Pastor Idleman however appears ready to lay blame everywhere so as to water down the sins of McDonald. This is a result of the cult of personality purpose driven models of church growth. Pastors take on carnal methods of business growth and apply it to eternal matters. Since the bible makes clear that growth is the Lord's responsibility is it any wonder so many pastors fail? When we consider a mix of trying to do God's job along with applying carnal solutions it is a wonder that all pastors do not fail.
"Regardless of the pastor, the comments are often the same: "The leadership is secretive, controlling and manipulating. They retaliate against anyone opposed to them! There is a culture of fear among the staff. The pastor has a lot of 'yes' men surrounding him." All these comments demand that pastors and elders look in the mirror, reassess our calling, and repent if warranted. That's obvious. But on the flip side; these statements are sometimes unwarranted and unfounded when used by disgruntled members. The problem: Pastors are people: Why do they fall? They fall for the same reason that all Christians fall. Each of us is drawn away by our own evil desires and enticed. We need to abort sin when it's conceived (see James 1:14--15). Sin has a life cycle--it either grows or withers depending on whether we feed or starve it. John Owen once said, "Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you." Put Christ on the pedestal, not people. People will always let you down; Christ will not." -- Shane Idleman
James McDonald stood legitimately accused by former members of decades of financial malfeasance to the tune of having his church once fall 70 million in debt while he was receiving a 40% pay increase to $350,000. Tales of a Mark Driscoll-esque power grab where McDonald expanded his board from 12 to 30 so they would have less individual power. Publicly admitted gambling problems after railing against gambling from the pulpit. Publicly accusing three elders of being "satanic to the core" because they had the temerity to ask for a line item budget of expenses. That does not sound like disgruntled members beloved. The purpose driven church however teaches pastors that people who do not agree with them are obstacles to be removed through "blessed subtraction." The aforementioned Driscoll once joked that his victims were a "pile of dead bodies" behind the Mars Hill church bus he was driving. Yes pastors are people but they have a higher calling. The reason they fail is twofold beloved. One the church refuses to enforce biblical requirements for the pastoral office. They turn a blind eye to obvious small sins allowing the door to be left ajar for the bigger ones. How does a church fall 70 million in debt? It sure didn't happen overnight but no one could challenge James McDonald. The second reason why pastors fail is they take on responsibilities that are not biblical while ignoring their true call to shepherd the flock. Acts Chapter Two clearly outlines that God is responsible for the horizontal growth of a church while the pastor is responsible for the vertical growth of the sheep. The purpose driven teachings flips this upside down. Once "saved" sheep are easily discarded and marginalized in a fevered search for more goats to "convert." The pastor fancies himself a vision casting CEO instead of a shepherd. Mega-Church darling Andy Stanley once said that the term shepherd should not even be used anymore because it is no longer culturally relevant. Ugh.
"If a leader continues to ignore the warning signs of a hard heart, they will inevitably drift from God. Not all fallen pastors are wolves, false teachers or unbelievers; they've been overcome by sin. They need to be lovingly confronted and lovingly encouraged. Have we drifted so far that we have forgotten to exhibit the same grace we so desperately need ourselves? I'm not talking about sweeping corruption under the rug; I'm speaking of the ultimate goal of restoration--not necessarily to ministry but to relationship. It's just as heartbreaking to see Christians bash a fallen leader as it is to watch the leader fall. Hurt people hurt people." -- Shane Idleman