Sacrificing our integrity on the altar of success

As news breaks of another significant church leader being stood down over allegations of abuse it causes me to wonder why we allow this to continue.

This Story has been months in the breaking, and years in the circumstances leading up to it. What is most surprising in this particular one is that those who had the authority to remove the leader didn’t. Those who could have dealt with it before it became a major issue appear reasonable, fair and dare I say it, nice. My question in this post is why didn’t they deal with the situation until it was about to become public.

Success has become defined in Christians circles as the ability to draw a crowd. How ironic that in this latest story the model was to live in close quarters with each other. The leader had a church of around 120 people. Not the sort of church featured in Relevant Magazine. But he was a gifted preacher, a skilled leader and had the ability to capture imagination and inspire young people.

The common factor in contemporary stories of Church leaders who have fallen is not their theology. We have seen complimentarian leaders, egalitarian leaders, reformed, pentecostal, charismatic, seeker sensitive, house model and in fact I can’t think of a type we have not seen. Let us not overreact and say the mega church is flawed. It isn’t. Neither is the House Church movement. People are flawed. People with no accountability are dangerous.

My proposition is that the common factor with these leaders has been their gaining of disproportionate power through success.

Success covers a multitude of sins.

We do not deal with their abuse, their misuse of power, their sexual abuse, their lack of Christian grace, kindness and mercy because we are worshipping on the altar of success. We do not want to deal with their issues because we are enjoying being a part of a movement of God. We don’t speak out because we don’t want to be marginalised or accused of being a gossip or worse, see the ministry come crashing down.

I think we need to understand the complexity of this issue. Our God is incredibly gracious. He uses people who are incredibly flawed. We see this time and time again in the stories in the Bible. In a similar way, people in these ministries find Jesus, discover purpose for their lives, find community and places to worship together.

However no-one is above correction, rebuke and even church discipline.

We need to once again meditate on what success is and understand success can be extraordinary. Revival is real, does happen and should be celebrated. Let us not be cynical. However success can also be a temptation to overlook. To not reflect. To not allow difficult questions to be asked.

My hope, joy and belief is in the local church and the leaders who choose to take up that call to lead. It is not a easy role. It is indeed a calling. One I cannot turn away from.

Why Pastors have affairs

I could say this post is provoked by recent events in the life of the global church. As a long time supporter of Willow Creek Community Church and having read all Hybels books and been a part of his conferences, his recent fall has shocked me. The latest allegations coming out of Willow leave me wondering if there is not a systematic issue that needs addressing. But it is deeper than that for me. I have had various mentors, up close ones, who have failed spectacularly in this area. At the cost of relationships and ministries. It strikes home personally for me.

Pastors have affairs because they want to get out of ministry

This may surprise the reader. However it is true. I have seen and observed pastors deliberately compromise themselves because the pressure of ministry was such that they saw this as a way of escape. They could not just say or admit it, ministry is hard, I need to leave. In their mind anything would be better than this pressure. For them to quit would be to admit failure or to say that they were not good enough to keep going. Neither of which appears to be a better option than moral failure.

Pastors have affairs because they wish to rekindle their youth, or perhaps have a youth

This is not unique to pastors, but is certainly true of them. Many Pastors have had a relatively clean upbringing and never took the opportunity to be a rebellious teenager, young adult. They did not hang out at parties, they did not travel the world backpacking, they did not have many relationships apart from the person they ended up marrying. They find themselves in a position where they think they have missed out. They resent the life they have lived up to this point and wish to gain something they never had.

Pastors have affairs because they have disproportionate power relationships

I have only come to realise in the past few years how much power Pastors have that they generally don’t realise. We spend our lives encouraging and supporting people. Generally helping them with their lives, serving. Something changes at some point and many Pastors realise that in fact they have influence over people. It can be a sudden and jolting realisation. At that point the Pastor can choose to use that power for their own means. Whether it be power, money or an affair. We are in relationships where the boundaries can be easily crossed. Where justification can come easy, and denial even easier.

Pastors have affairs because they are bored

If you have been pastoring for a while it can be very tempting to slip into caretaker mode and live off the work of the past. Perhaps the church is comfortable and you are comfortable. In fact the church would prefer you maintained the status quo. There is no compelling reason not to. So the Pastor basically gets bored. They seek after something beyond the mundane. Opportunity arises and they take it.

Pastors have affairs because they are human like all of us

All of us sin, are attracted to people who are not our spouse, and desire something which we shouldn’t have. It can lead to a situation, an affair, which is consensual, but entirely inappropriate and sinful.

Pastors have affairs because they are under pressure and spiritual attack

There are no excuses for moral failure, at some point you make a choice. However there are compelling reasons. Pastors can be under immense pressure to help people in so many areas of their lives, at the same time as balancing the budget, fulfilling administrative requirements (huge these days) and under spiritual attack from the Accuser.

Final Thoughts

The Church, and those who lead it, are God’s blueprint for the gospel to be shared in the world. It is a beautiful body, with the majority of Pastors having incredible integrity, heart and passion for Jesus and His people. The majority of Pastors never have a catastrophic moral failure. Most of them are faithful and loyal people. However when a Pastor fails, so many ripples occur. In my life I have had a number of mentors, both personal and from afar. Unfortunately a number of them have failed in this area. I do look up to people perhaps too much. In those moments where they have failed, it has wounded me, and scared me as well. One of the reasons I have written this post is to just try and make sense of it all myself. In recent days the news out of significant churches just causes me to pray. The Church at times appears so strong, and at other times so fragile.

This post may provoke strong reactions, perhaps disagreements, and perhaps attempted corrections at things I have missed or not stated.

So a disclaimer. These are merely my own thoughts and observations. I am not offering them or myself as some sort of authority. I speak merely as a pastor who has seen, suffered, been disappointed with, different leaders and pastors over the years. All within the context of loving pastors, being supportive, thinking the best of them, and perhaps most importantly, being one myself.

If you have something to comment, please do, but please be kind and frame it within the context I am offering.

The Spa Man

The Spa Man visits our church every now and then, depending on how many Baptisms we have at church. He drops off the spa we use for our Baptisms in the former factory building we call church. Apparently he does quite a few churches. The spa comes with no heater or bubbles, but that suits us. We use the water from our own tap and it is always a good week when we know we have a Baptism coming up.

Last week the Spa Man picked up the spa on Tuesday as he normally does but this time it was different. He wanted to chat, at length. I don’t wear a collar or robe, but he knows I am the minister. Turns out Spa Man has cancer, and not the type which is dealt with quickly and dispatched. I ask him how old he is and its obvious he has lived life to the full. He has grandchildren and wants to see them grow up and get married and be a part of the next season of their life. This may not happen.

So I listen and ask questions, and don’t offer up solutions. Spa man wants to chat to this Pastor who he probably sees two or three times a year. There is anger there, frustration at misdiagnosis but mostly a overwhelming sense that there is not much he can do in this situation. Apart from seeing doctors who have disappointed him. It is a precious time, and not what I expected to be doing on a Tuesday afternoon.

Finally I speak up and ask Spa Man if I can pray for him. He says yes of course and keeps talking. I ask permission to interrupt and say, actually Spa Man I want to pray for you right now, is that okay. He mumbles yes and I place my hand on his shoulder. I spend a few precious moments asking for the Holy Spirit to heal him. For the doctors to have wisdom. For him to have years ahead of joy, peace and strength with his grandchildren.

Is he healed, is he okay. What has happened. I look forward to our next baptism to ask the question.

Coffee Shop thoughts

I was sitting at home in relative comfort eating some spicy breakfast beans and reading the West wondering what I should do for an hour or so before my meeting this morning.

It was the weirdest sense I had from God that if I was going to write a blog post I should leave my warm kitchen and go to a coffee shop and percolate. The coffee is certainly better here, especially since my coffee machine has clogged itself up beyond repair. But it was a unusual feeling of trepidation walking into a coffee shop I have never frequented before here on Beaufort St Inglewood. I found a little table I could plonk my Macbook on and sat down.

It is a smallish place and the coffee is good, as you expect for my area. What is surprising me is the real sense of community and fun here. The crowd is diverse. The bloke next to me is typing away and chatting in a Eurpoean accent to the little boy next to him sipping on his babycino. There are three Mums in sporting gear, no doubt returned from the gym, ‘insert facepalm emoji’. There are two high vis tradies desperate for their morning hit, and the obligatory hipster asking for a single blend.

I notice that there are two people behind the counter. One of them is focused on the small Synesso coffee machine. The other has dyed pink and green hair and seems to know everyones name, except mine of course. In fact she knows more than their names, she knows them and they know her. Its pretty obvious this coffee shop has the formula right.

Know the people, and know your coffee. Be genuinely happy to see someone, beyond the fact they are tapping their credit card on your little machine.

Will Koorong sell the new Kanye West Album?

I must admit the first time I have taken notice of Kanye West is when I mispronounced his name during a sermon. I also like his sneakers.

His new album, “Jesus is King” doesn’t fit into any category neatly. The music ranges from gospel to pop to hip pop, soul and of course rap. What is interesting about it musically is the diversity and range of influences Kanye crams into the playlist. West is a incredibly creative and innovative artist.

In my house it has been on high repeat, particularly as I have been cooking which is always a good sign. I am enjoying it a lot.

As a pastor, father to teenagers, and someone who likes to keep up with contemporary spirituality I am really encouraged by the lyrical content and heart of the album. Kanye touches on various themes ranging from pure worship to prophetic utterance on church, society and life in general.

Is his conversion real? I hope so. How would anyone but Jesus know. Is what he is producing good and uplifting? I think so. I hope he gets some mature and wise leaders and mentors around him. It is scary how quick the contemporary church seeks to use those who have fame rather than develop them. It is clear that with all new disciples they need time for the maturity to catch up with the influence. I am going to pray for him, for his ministry and for our world. We need more positive influence and I choose to hope this is what Kanye is becoming.

The pain of personal growth

When I have been confronted by my own personal failures, mistakes and points of growth….these have been some of my most painful moments.

Isn’t it better to live in denial land where everyone likes you and you like yourself?

There have been moments this year where I have been confronted by my own failings. Moments where I have realised of my own lack of self awareness. I have experienced the pain of seeing something in my own life which I don’t like, something I wish wasn’t there.

The natural inclination in these moments is to run. But how do you run from yourself? Maybe you run from those people who show a mirror to yourself. Maybe you run from moments of sitting and reflecting and allowing God to speak into your life.

I am so aware there is no fast track to personal growth. But I do know it involves pain. All growth does.

On the Bench

The AFL Grand Final is on this weekend and it should be a great game between two fantastic teams of differing styles. In Australian Football there are 22 players selected for game day, with 18 on the field at any one time, and four on the bench. These four players will rotate throughout the game, with most players having a rest at same stage.

This bench time is crucial for the teams success as it allows the players to have a mental and physical break from one of the most aerobically challenging sports in the world.

It is wisdom to think that in our Christian life we have time on the bench. This time is to allow us a breather from being in the intensity of ministry. Serving Jesus can be exciting, exhilarating and demanding. Jesus knew that. He gave His life to serving God, but He also had times He withdrew from the crowd. Times He spent on the bench to recharge, regather His thoughts and have spent reserves replenished. Does this mean He was not still serving, that He was cast aside, that He was useless?

None of those. In fact being on the bench was preparation for the next stage of Ministry. It was also necessary for His sustainability.

I think the worst thing we could do was think because we are not in the hustle and bustle of ministry and church life that God has forgotten us. He hasn’t. I would hate to think a time of rest was mistaken for a goodbye or rejection.

Maybe someone reading this needs to hear, you are not forgotten, you are still part of the team. It is time to start moving again getting ready for when you are called back onto the field.