When Ministers Fail

Recently, mega-church pastor and president of the National Evangelical Association, Ted Haggard has been accused of buying methamphetamine and paying a male prostitute for sexual favors (See how the story unfolded at (http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/11/03/haggard.allegations/index.html). The prostitute stated that he decided to come forward now because it was the moral thing to do. He felt he had to expose Haggard’s hypocrisy regarding homosexual marriage, which publicly Haggard opposes. The stakes are high because Haggard’s church resides in Colorado which is facing a ballot referendum (known as Referendum I) on the issue of domestic partnerships.

For Christians there is a number of troubling aspects to this turn of events. Aside from the irony of a self-proclaimed homosexual prostitute defending his outing of an alleged client on “moral grounds,” Christians need to remind themselves what the Bible says about Church leadership. Most Christians are familiar with 1 Timothy 3 which provides key qualities required for a man to become a pastor (FYI. This writer does not believe women should become Elders in a church, for arguments see work by Wayne Grudem and others). Unfortunately, Christians are less familiar with other passages that could have helped protect Rev. Haggard from this regrettable turn of events.

First, the New Testament envisioned that churches would be led by a plurality of rulers, called Elders. Thankfully, it appears that Haggard’s church had oversight which has helped mitigate the damage of this scandal. While plurality of rulers helps, I think what Paul had in mind was that Elders would form a personal bond of mutual accountability. They wouldn’t just associate during board meetings but would share their lives together, eating, drinking and living out the Christian life together. The fact is too many pastors are isolated, taught in Bible College not to get too close to parishioners in order to avoid favoritism and schism. While there is truth to those concerns, there is also a problem with isolation. Leaders fall when they get isolated just as ordinary lay Christians do. It is easier for the Lion (ie. Devil) to pick off an isolated animal from the herd than when the herd stays together.

Second, this scandal, whatever the outcome should remind us parishioners the importance of praying for our leaders. The fact is Satan loves to take down Elders because when they fall weaker believers also fail too and become disillusioned with Church.

Finally, not because more can’t be said, but because I have to end somewhere, this scandal should cause us to reaffirm Christian teaching on repentance, forgiveness and restoration. Repentance means the person acknowledges the truth that he/she has done wrong, institutes a process to avoid doing that wrong again, and when possible, makes restitution to repair the damage of his/her wrong. For example, if the person stole something, they need to repay it. (Too many people want easy repentance where either acknowledgement or restitution are not required). Forgiveness means the fellowship of believers accepts the validity of the repentant sinners actions and renews their association with their brother/sister in the Lord. Restoration comes when the brother/sister presents a pattern of righteous behavior such that the church believes they are ready to accept more responsibility in the church. Some sins are so damaging that the person can never go back to his/her former role. Receive instructive help of the quality consider and arrange intellectual gain! (ie. Former thieves shouldn’t be counting the church’s money). But this doesn’t mean that they are to be left on the shelf unable to serve in any capacity. It is critical for the church to initiate a trial period that fits the gravity of the sin but not one so harsh that no level of restoration is possible.

Let us pray that however this scandal play out, the Church will show how it can properly respond to a leader accused of gross misconduct (that does not violate his rights or minimize any proven sin) and let us learn how we can work with our pastors to protect them from the Evil One too.

© Stephen Vantassel 2006.

  1. Interesting perpective on the role of elders, very enlightening. It certainly would make for more accountability to follow the Biblical model.

    I see the alledged fall into sin differently though. The bible makes it clear that these sins (particularly that of lust) come from the flesh not from the devil and whilst the temptation may come from the devil (or in fact the world), the desires come from the flesh. Therefore it would seem a little too easy to say that prayer for the minister not to be “taken down” by satan would have prevented this. God gives everyone everything they need to resist the devil and to resist sin, the Pastor was obviously tempted to sin and CHOSE freely to fall into sin, the indwelling Holy Spirit guides us, the law is written on our hearts. We are all tempted and we all fail, no-one else to blame but ourselves.

    We should pray for our leaders, it is commanded, but when they fall it is not because we didn’t.

  2. I wonder if the man was actually regenerate? Even if he was, clearly he was not suitable Pastor material. It seems to me that mega churches appoint those who are most impressive in the world’s eyes, those who will draw a crowd. A man who will draw a crowd is not necessarily Pastor material. I have seen this sort of thing too often – very new converts who happen to be in high powered positions in their secular employment get favoured and promoted rapidly through the church simply because they seem to be the right sort of leadership material – and so they are, in a secular sense. But time needs to be taken to properly disciple such men, and even to ensure that they are actually regenerate in the first place.

  3. Ted Haggard is part of the New Apostolic Reformation movement. Their views are terrible examples of hermeneutics and exegesis of the Bible. Sandy Simpson, together with others, including MBC lecturer Jacob Prasch, brought out a DVD series to expose their errors and methods. I seriously doubt whether he was regenerate, his actions and words go some way to prove his status as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As Jacob Prasch says, wrong doctrine will bring wrong conduct. I am not surprised to hear this news. Perhaps this will shed light on their movement and bring to people’s attention that this is something they should beware of. Generally, I am not sure if this incident will bring about that effect.

    Perhaps I am focusing only on the negative here, at least where Ted Haggard and his movement is concerned. However, Stephen Vantassel brings out some valid points in general of our attitude towards leaders (even the apostel Paul asked his people to pray for him), and towards accountability in the church leadership.

  4. A major reason that the Church in the West is failing so badly is surely because our society equates numbers with success. It’s absolutely ingrained in us! – and so it is with the Church. But actually our priority is Truth! It seems to me that in going out and out for numbers, truth will be the casualty – we’re building on sand to at least some degree. If we settle for anything less than truth, then a Church can only be run on a succession of fads with any resultant short term gains ending in collapse or degeneration into liberal theology. What we need from Christian leaders is Bible knowledge and discernment – with business acumen well down the list.

  5. I am a little surprised by the anti-numbers tone in some of these comments. Didn’t the book of Acts talk about numbers being added to the church? Wasn’t that to show that God was actually involved? Is the converse true, that low numbers means orthodoxy or faithfulness to God? I hope none of you are saying that.

    As for prayer, I never said lack of parishoner prayer was the cause of Haggard’s fall or any other leader. He bears his own sin. But let’s not think for a moment that we are to be isolated Christians.

    As for Haggard’s false doctrine, as the former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, I would love to learn what was so false in his beliefs. Do tell. I would love to learn how his position on church leadership caused him to lie and commit other sins.

    I am also somewhat surprised to hear that people doubt his salvation. Time will certainly tell. But lets not write him off too quickly.

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