Friday, September 09, 2011

What To Do With a Proud Pastor?

"My sense is that many of the celebrity religious leaders are well aware of and intentionally attempt to guard themselves against sexual and financial temptations," said Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary sociologist who studies megachurches. "But they forget that pride comes before a fall."

"I could imagine neo-Reformed preachers and theologians emphasizing a theology that stresses election and predestination and implies a 'seriousness' about rigorous theological contemplation, leading to an attitude of religious superiority that would suppress abuse of sex and money but compound a sense of pride and elitism," Thumma said. "However, it is to the credit of C. J., John Piper, and others to recognize this and remove themselves—or be willing to be removed—for a time of reflection and spiritual introspection."

The comments above I found in a Bobby Ross article in Christianity Today, "Sex, Money ... Pride? Why Pastors Are Stepping Down." I must admit this was all new to me. I've heard of the guys mentioned in the piece (C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, Joshua Harris, Larry Tomczak) but, beyond them being from Reformed convictions (which I'm not), I didn't know anything about them. I'm afraid I do not pay close attention to what megachurches or even denominations are doing.

But the article certainly was disturbing. I mean, pride can corrupt anyone, no matter your personality, the religious tradition you follow, the vocation you've embraced. But pride in ministry leadership ministry is lethal. And therefore, completely unacceptable. The Scriptures are as clear as can be on this matter. They make equally clear that virtues of humility, integrity, and servant-orientation in church leaders are to be carefully overseen by other spiritually mature elders.
Reading Michelle Boorstein's article in the Washington Post (which is where I found the link to Ross' CT story) makes me wonder if Mahaney's role at least hasn't been hopelessly compromised already.

When C.J. Mahaney took a leave of absence this summer from the helm of his 100-church denomination, saying he was guilty of “various expressions of pride,” conservative evangelicals nationwide took notice.

A college dropout who was once a hard-core partier, Mahaney went on to become one of the most-recognized and popular faces of neo-Calvinism, which teaches that man is lowly, sinful and in desperate need of spiritual oversight. Mahaney, with his perma-grin, distinctively casual style (shaved head, no jackets), and successful books and conferences, put a happy, hip face on the idea of discipline.

But inside his Gaithersburg-based Sovereign Grace Ministries movement, there was a growing sense that things had gone too far. Former church members said Mahaney had created something they thought was more like a cult.

His leave came days after a former top Sovereign Grace pastor distributed hundreds of pages of e-mails and internal church documents that portrayed Mahaney as fixated on the sins of everyone below him, particularly critics. The documents, which included discussions among the pastors, showed Mahaney and others threatening the movement’s co-founder, saying they would make private family details public if the man were too openly critical of Sovereign Grace as he left...

The problems that this article refers to should never have gone this far. The other leaders should have stepped in to prevent it, to check it when it first appeared and to enact appropriate discipline if the offending party wouldn't submit to correction. Even now, it appears that the elders may be too lax in dealing with the problem. Is, for instance, a lengthy vacation an appropriate way to deal with a pastor's serious sin? Is it just a matter of him getting some rest, recreation and reflection before returning to lead the flock?

Or will his reputation (and thus, his moral authority and trustworthiness) be forever injured by his previous acts of self-serving arrogance? Might such sin disqualify him, not for membership in Christ's Body and not even in spiritual service, but for a position of pastoral leadership?

James 4:6 explains that "God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble." That means that the proud man cannot be a co-worker in God's vineyard. They can't work together who are working against each other. However, the grace God offers to sinners is available in full to all, including the proud and stiff-necked who recognize their sin and repent of it. Restoration of relationship. Joy. Freedom of conscience.

But do certain sins disqualify someone from church leadership due to the effects they've left on his public reputation, on the capability of people to trust him wholeheartedly? I think so. I would, therefore, urge the elders of churches, denominations and religious organizations to be very wary about trying to correct proud pastors by giving them paid sabbaticals in the mountains. And I would urge them to think twice before reinstating them into public leadership.