Conflating ministry and celebrity is bad for our churches and our souls.
by Bob Hyatt
As my chiropractor was working me over yesterday, she was asking about the reading I’m doing for a degree I’m working on. After I rattled off the titles and subjects of a number of leadership books, she said, “Wow, what are you going to do when you are finished with school—rule the world?”
“Actually, I’m moving in the opposite direction,” I said.
And I am trying to mean that. Genuinely.
Over the last few years, I’ve thought long and hard about “my platform” as a pastor, a writer, an occasional speaker. And as I’ve done so, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a danger to my soul in pursuing more exposure, more name recognition, more money to be made from thinking, writing, and speaking about ministry issues. Especially while I am still in full-time, paid ministry to a local community.
I want to be clear, though: I have no issue with writers/speakers who sell lots of books, go on speaking tours, and generally promote their works however they can. But there’s something very “off” in the proliferation of pastors who are mixing ministry in and to a local community with “building their brand.” I think a good case can be made that the self-promotion that’s inevitably needed to build a brand in today’s world in incongruous with the servant-leader model of pastoring and the attitude of humility that ought to accompany it.
C.J. Mahaney has been reinstated as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, but questions linger about the investigation.
by Url Scaramanga
Last year former leaders within Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) came forward with accusations against the group's president, C.J. Mahaney. As reported on this blog, Mahaney was accused of "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy." In order for the board to investigate the veracity of these claims, Mahaney took a leave absence from SGM.
The scandal, which became known as SGM-gate, and has fueled numerous websites and blogs, came to be seen by some as an indictment of SGM itself and not simply Mahaney. Last year Joshua Harris, senior pastor of Covenant Life Church where Mahaney was the previous leader, resigned from the SGM’s board. Apparently, based on a statement released from SGM, Harris believed God was disciplining all of SGM. Harris said in a Sunday sermon that “our denomination is being publicly spanked, we are being humiliated and being brought low."
But last month after completing its investigation of the accusations, SGM's board decided to reinstate Mahaney as the president. The full report, which is over 40 pages, acknowledges that Mahaney and other SGM leaders engaged in behavior that was “coercive, wrong and sinful,” but the board concluded: “After examining the reports of these three review panels, we find nothing in them that would disqualify C.J. from his role as president, nor do they in any way call into question his fitness for gospel ministry.” (Read the board's announcement and the full report here.)
"I have so much to be humble about.... I am aware of my pride on a daily basis."
This video featuring C.J. Mahaney and James MacDonald was produced by The Gospel Coalition last summer. Given the current accusations against Mahaney and the mess unfolding at Sovereign Grace Ministries, the comments in this video take on new meaning.
C.J. Mahaney’s “leave of absence” and Josh Harris resigns from the board. What’s going on a Sovereign Grace Ministries?
by Url Scaramanga
The hurricane of news and accusations swirling around Sovereign Grace Ministries is moving too fast for many of us to keep up with. The story has become so big and complicated that some blogs have actually dubbed it "SGM-gate."
Earlier this month C.J. Mahaney, president of SGM, took a leave of absence when accusations surfaced against him. When this sort of thing usually happens the accusations are of sexual immorality or financial mismanagement. But Mahaney is accused of being a jerk. A statement issued July 6 says "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy" are the reason of his indefinite leave of absence.
Brent Detwiler, a former SGM pastor, has been one of Mahaney’s more vocal accusers. In an email written to Christianity Today, Detwiler said:
"[SGM] has been a wonderful organization committed to planting Gospel-centered churches in the United States and parts abroad. There are many outstanding pastors and people in the denomination. But temptation and sin come with rapid growth and recognition. That was especially true for C. J., and we did not serve him well by allowing him to play by a different set of rules—a double standard. We certainly share the blame for his fall. But C. J. genuinely loves the Lord and people, so I am confident he will respond to God's discipline in his life."
The entire affair has become even more unsavory since 600 emails written between Detwiler and Mahaney were anonymously published online--although Detwiler has since admitted knowing who released the documents.
When does involvement with porn disqualify you from ministry?
by Url Scaramanga
James MacDonald asks Mark Driscoll for a definitive answer on porn. When does viewing it disqualify a person from leadership--once a year, once a quarter, once a month, once a week? Driscoll avoids giving a one-size-fits-all answer. What do you think?
These ministers faced their compulsions—and stayed in ministry.
by John W. Kennedy
Addictions come in various forms: alcohol, gambling, drugs, pornography, overeating, and binge shopping, just to name a few. Whatever the particular vice, addictions thrive on secrecy and shame. And while addictions can be difficult for anyone to divulge, pastors face an even greater challenge in revealing their struggles. They risk losing not only friends, but their livelihood as well. As a result, many wander down the dark path of secrecy, isolation, and despair. But more are beginning to seek help.
David, a 41-year-old Lutheran minister in Southern California, has been free for more than a year from online pornography, although no one else on staff at his church even realizes he had a problem.
He kept taking bigger risks, escalating to a crisis point where he found himself in a chat room with video capabilities with an underage girl. David found help through anonymous weekly meetings of a church-based sexual addiction recovery group, Operation Integrity. The meetings, along with the help of online accountability software, helped him overcome his destructive behavior.
"Even though I realized other pastors had struggles, I still felt like I was the only one," David says. "The Operation Integrity group has provided a place where I can make a public confession, find absolution, and not be condemned. There's support, understanding, and encouragement for the road ahead."
John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Tim Keller fight porn with theology.
Leadership Journal is now in its 31st year of publication, and it seems that church leaders struggling with pornography has been a constant theme we've covered through all of those years--even well before the age of the internet. Does the rise of Calvinism and the Neo-Reformed movement have anything new to add to the conversation? John Piper speaks with Tim Keller and D.A. Carson about the role of gospel-centered theology in fighting the temptations of pornography.
What do you think? Do they have anything new or helpful to add, or are these the same answers and ideas you've been hearing for years?
Daniel Pink is the author of "Drive," a new book about motivation. He brought his core message to the Catalyst crowd.
Money is a motivator, he admits, but it is limited. (You can’t pay someone unfairly. But once you pay people enough, you don’t get additional satisfaction or motivation. The application: Pay them enough to take the issue of fairness off the table.) You need to provide three other motivations to bring out the best efforts in people.
1. Autonomy. “Management is a technology” (Gary Hamel) -- organizing for productivity. Managemeht leads to compliance. But we don’t want compliance anymore. We want ENGAGEMENT. And management doesn’t lead to what we want them to do.
People perform better when they know they have some freedom of their time, technique, team, and task.
2. Mastery. Desire to get better at stuff. An inherent desire. Single most motivating thing is “making progress.” The only way to measure that is feedback. How am I doing? That’s not neediness, that’s seeking immediate feedback. DIY feedback (do it yourself). Effective teams do this themselves. What’s going well; what’s not.
3. Purpose. Profit motive is insufficient. When profit motive is unhitched from purpose motive, bad things happen. Marry the two, good things happen.
“The tension is good.” That’s the theme of this year’s Catalyst Conference, and Andy Stanley’s opening session talk described the tensions caused by our appetites: “Food and sex, and food and sex, and the guys in the room are saying ‘I’m sure there’s more … oh, yeah, and sleep,’ ” deadpanned Andy, before pointing out that our appetites create an inner tension. They always want “more.”
In leaders, appetites are heightened beyond normal person’s, especially appetites for progress, greater responsibility, the desire to be envied, the desire to be loved and admired. No matter what we accomplish, we still want more.
All of this is a reflection of the image of God.
1. God created them, sin distorted them.
2. Appetites are never fully and finally satisfied. Ever.
3. Appetites always whisper Now and never Later.
These will always create tensions, temptations. This is part of being human, but you can’t let appetites rule your life.
Perhaps my favorite lab of the day was led by Pete Wilson, pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville. He titled the session: “Temptations in the Dip,” and by that he means seasons of life when things aren’t going well.
He pointed out that ideas and images are the means Satan most often uses when he wants to tempt us. We are vulnerable to certain ideas when we’re in a ministry downturn. Here are some of the tempting ideas that Satan uses against leaders in such times.
Nine out of ten young people say Christians are judgmental, but are they right?
By Skye Jethani
What did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” It’s one of the most commonly quoted verses from the bible (Luke 6:37). Many of us, and not merely politicians, invoke the verse as a first defense when accused of wrong. It is also a favorite stone thrown by those outside the church to accuse Christians of hypocrisy.
In 2007 a book was published called UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity. It’s based on research done among non-Christian 20-somethings. One of their core findings was that nearly nine out of ten young people view Christians as “judgmental.” And given the prohibition against judging issued by Jesus, this would mean most people view Christians as hypocrites.
Given these findings, it’s pretty important that both Christians and non-Christians understand what Jesus means when he says “judge not.” The key is recognizing that the word judge can be used in two different ways in the New Testament. Sometimes judge is used to mean “judge between things,” to differentiate, or discern. In this case we judge between right and wrong, good and evil, righteous and unrighteous.
What can we learn from Piper's leave of absence from public ministry?
As nearly everyone has now heard, John Piper is taking an 8-month leave of absence from public ministry starting in May. The announcement was made to his congregation during his sermon on March 28. He plans to examine his life and focus on his marriage and family. Piper said:
"You could view this as a kind of fasting from public ministry. One of the goals in this kind of fasting is to discern levels of addiction. Or, as Paul Tripp or Tim Keller might say, levels of idolatry. The reality check is: What will happen in my soul and in my marriage when, to use the phrase of one precious brother on staff, there will be no 'prideful sipping from the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety'?"
Whether it's international or merely local, pastors who find themselves on a platform week after week are going to face some level of notoriety. But how do we keep it from poisoning our souls? Many have applauded Piper for his honesty and preemptive disconnection from public ministry rather than the punitive disconnection so often seen among celebrity pastors. But rather than focusing on Piper, what should this development make the rest of us think about?
For Keller an idol is “anything more important to you than God, anything which absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” Elaborating on the book’s title, Keller writes that a “counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life, that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” What does Keller have in mind? Well, everything: family, children, career, earning money, achievement, social status, relationships, beauty, brains, morality, political or social activism—even effective Christian ministry.
Why the uber-bloggers encourage fasting from their task
by Drew Dyck
For one of the first Catalyst lab sessions, three of the top Christian bloggers took the stage to talk shop: Ann Jackson (www.FlowerDust.net), Carlos Whittaker (www.RagamuffinSoul.com), and Jon Acuff (www.StuffChristiansLike.net)
So what wisdom did these titans of the blogosphere impart?
Stay away from blogging.
Well, take breaks at least. Basically, blogging is like cat nip for your ego, so taking the odd break is advisable.
The conversation based on Eric Reed's report, "Trouble Brewing," in the latest issue of Leadership has been...stimulating. What should church leaders be modeling for their flocks? Everyone agrees that sobriety is essential, but is enjoying an alcoholic beverage ever okay? Or should we prohibit ourselves and other leaders from drinking out of sensitivity to "the weaker brothers" among us?
We wrap up with two insights. First, a video depicting the era of Prohibition that shows how the church spoke about the issue in decades past.
And finally, a comment posted by "J. Joyce" from our previous post on the subject. Joyce has an interesting perspective on abstinence as it relates to other "sins":
I spent a semester abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, during college and attended a great church there. On my first visit to the head deacon's house for dinner, he asked me what I'd like to drink. I asked him what my options were. "Well," he said, "we have beer, lager, ale, stout, scotch, sherry, wine - whatever you like."
"I'll have water, please."
It became more obvious the longer I was in Edinburgh that abstinence from alcohol was not a Christian distinctive. Christians decried drunkenness. But the pubs were where they had spiritual conversation and met for small group.
I chalked up the differences between my teetotalling background and Scottish license to cultural differences. A lot changes when you cross the Big Pond. But now a growing number of American pastors are passing the bottle in the name of Christian liberty. As Eric Reed reports, the changes may be leading to a new battle over prohibition.
The excerpt below is from Eric's article, "Trouble Brewing." Follow the link below for the full text.
Anne began struggling with an Internet porn addiction at a young age. To help us with our ongoing conversation about dealing with addictions, Anne spoke to Skye and Brandon about her journey and what the church can do to help others in her situation.
Leaders from Frontline discuss the biblical liberty, and limitations, of alcohol.
Earlier this week Brandon O'Brien wrote about the new debate among clergy over alcohol. Even if we believe the Bible permits consumption, what does wisdom tell us? Should pastors drink as an expression of Christian liberty, or should we refrain for the sake of the weaker brother/sister? This video from Frontline, the young adult ministry at McLean Bible Church, highlights the dilemma.
In the upcoming issue of Leadership (in print mid April), we'll hear from a number of pastors - including Craig Gross, John Burke, and Matt Russell - who are committed to taking the gospel to people with addictions.
We're also featuring a couple of articles about how pastors can and should deal with their own addictions.
One article I suspect will get people talking is Eric Reed's report on clergy alcohol use. Here's a preview: Some younger pastors in traditionally teetotalling denominations are beginning to view bans on alcohol use as out of date. Is their so-called liberty in Christ simply an excuse for bad behavior? Or are the old timers adding laws to the gospel?
How should the church respond to Grand Theft Auto IV?
I have a confession to make: I'm a thief and a murderer. I haven't actually killed a living, breathing human being (I have stolen a thing or two, though; mostly pens and pencils). But one summer in college, a roommate and I played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City until we'd both done pretty much every awful thing there is in the world to do, including killing and stealing.
And it was great fun.
The newest installment of the Grand Theft Auto series is anticipated to be dang near the most lucrative media release ever. Take-Two Interactive Software, the company that owns GTA creator Rockstar Games, expects to sell 9 million copies of the game by the end of their fiscal year in October. They expect sales to gross $400 million in its first week; that's a measly $1 million less than the top grossing movie of all time, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, made in its first week.
Together the series of three games has sold around 70 million copies so far, which puts it in competition with (and actually slightly ahead of) Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday, 2003). It will also be in league with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last of Rowling's Harry Potter books, which sold 12 million copies in its first run in the U. S. Think of that: if the game's popularity is comparable to that of Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code, there's no doubt that people in your church will soon be stealing cars and chasing women. Virtually, of course.
Now that the Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter comparisons have been made, that makes me wonder, What is the church to do with Grand Theft Auto IV?
John Piper says we shouldn’t let guilt over sexual sin derail our ministry.
There is no need to reiterate the statistics on sexual immorality among clergy. We all know them. And we also know that addiction to pornography is at epidemic levels even within the church. But do we know how many gifted young leaders never answer their call into ministry because of the guilt they feel over past sexual sins?
John Piper has written an article for Christianity Today addressing this problem. He says:
?so many young people are being lost to the cause of Christ's mission because they are not taught how to deal with the guilt of sexual failure. The problem is not just how not to fail. The problem is how to deal with failure so that it doesn't sweep away your whole life into wasted mediocrity with no impact for Christ. The great tragedy is not masturbation or fornication or pornography. The tragedy is that Satan uses guilt from these failures to strip you of every radical dream you ever had or might have. In their place, he gives you a happy, safe, secure, American life of superficial pleasures, until you die in your lakeside rocking chair.
"When our goal of worship is to receive God's help to be successful, pride is taking over. Then we are just using God to further ourselves. Could it be that we want church-growth secrets, or even God's Spirit...for the wrong reasons? Have we slipped into a proud and competitive mode? Is this part of the reason why the American church seems so crippled right now?"
-Miles Finch recently retired as pastor of New Life Christian Center in Polson, Montana. Taken from "Surprised by Pride" in the Spring 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
In a recent issue of Leadership, Sally Morgenthaler shared the story of her husband’s sexual addiction that resulted in a felony conviction and years in prison. Through that painful experience, Morgenthaler came to see how pastoral ministry can actually contribute to the addictive behaviors that destroy many pastors and their families. Here is an excerpt from her article.
Religious culture has a hard time with pastors and pastor's families who have flaws. Thousands of pastors serve congregations that, despite rhetoric to the contrary, expect their leaders to maintain (at least for public viewing) near-perfect marriages, near-perfect families, and near-perfect lives.
Granted, certain kinds of church attendees are attracted to "bad-boy" clergy: those who tell and re-tell their stories of wild living, knowing that they will draw certain kinds of people simply because they have lived life on the edge. When a pastor is vulnerable for the right reasons, not just to entertain the masses, but to humbly demonstrate the power of the gospel, it is a positive step.
But let's not be fooled into thinking that "having a past" gives a pastor permission to be human in the present. More than a few congregations function with this unspoken proviso: "Pastor, we love the fact that you've walked on the wild side. It makes you fun to listen to. You're down-to-earth, we're not afraid to bring our neighbors. But your past is just that: the past." Even former bad boys get stuck living on pedestals at altitudes inhospitable for anyone less than angelic.
What are Christian leaders to make of the spectacularly painful experience of watching Ted Haggard this past week? The president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of giga-church New Life Community in Colorado Springs, Colorado, gradually admitted to purchasing methamphetamines and the services of a male prostitute. We asked Leadership editor-at-large Gordon MacDonald to reflect on what we should learn from this episode.
It is difficult beyond description to watch Ted Haggard's name and face dragged across the TV screen every hour on the news shows. But as my friend, Tony Campolo said in an interview last week, when we spend our lives seizing the microphone to speak to the world of our opinions and judgments, we should not surprised when the system redirects its spotlight to us, justly or unjustly, in our bad moments.
We are still in the process of learning what has actually transpired over the past many months on the secret side of Ted's life. In just the last few hours the leadership of New Life Church has announced that he has been asked to resign. His ministry at New Life Church and as leader of the NAE is over.
I've spent more than a little time trying to understand how and why some men/women in all kinds of leadership get themselves into trouble whether the issues be moral, financial, or the abuse of power and ego. I am no stranger to failure and public humiliation. From those terrible moments of twenty years ago in my own life I have come to believe that there is a deeper person in many of us who is not unlike an assassin.
We've gotten an interesting response to the current issue of Leadership, which deals with ministry amid a sexually charged culture, and which we titled "The Drive." Those who claim to get the journal for its articles have been overwhelmingly positive. But a number of subscribers can't get past the cover. Leadership's editor Marshall Shelley has some explaining to do.
The cover photo is a detail from the famous statue of Pallas-Athena that stands in front of the Parlament building in Vienna. Athena was the war goddess of ancient Greece, but also worshiped as the goddess of wisdom. The Viennese statue was erected as a tribute not only to Athena but also the four rivers that were once a part of the Austrian Empire: the Danube, Elbe, Po, and Vistula.
But it was neither the pagan inspiration nor the implied endorsement of Austrian imperialism that caused some of our readers to object. It was a bared marble breast that was visible on the statue.