On Fallen Church Leaders

You know, I'm an average person for the most part. I do average things to try to get through fairly average days while keeping my family, my relationships and my vocation intact.

But there is one way in which I'm special. I'm in a very small, very select and very unique group of people.

Unfortunately, this particular "claim to fame" will never add anything to my bank account. It will never bring me into higher social strata, or make me any new friends. In fact, membership in this group has, over the years, tended to cost more than it pays - that's for sure.

Because you see, the particular unique group I'm talking about is that small group of students that attended Jimmy Swaggart Bible College during 1987 and 1988.

Just let Google be your friend if you don't know Mr. Swaggart's story.

So while you, or more likely your parents, were watching Jimmy Swaggart confess his sin on national TV - I was sitting a few feet from him at Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge.

I'd arrived just a few months before - thrilled to be in an environment where my faith and knowledge could grow - expectant of great things in the future.

And then right out of the gate - WHAM! - this mess blows up. Let's just say that classes like Life of Christ, Greek I and Bible Study Methodology were a LITTLE hard to concentrate on during those thrill-a-minute days.

I'll tell you that my dorm room walls heard every possible opinion on the question "What should be done with a church leader like this?". And after a little while, when the depression began to set in - then came the corollary questions:
"What am I going to do?"
"How do I handle this in the normal course of ministry?"
"Who's going to believe what I have to say about Jesus, when his famous representatives are so obviously messed up?"
and then finally, like a brick it hit us - the most difficult question of all:
"Do I have any seeds of this in me, seeds that could one day bloom into a filthy mess that knocks me out of the race?"
That experience changed me in all kinds of ways. And I learned a bunch in Baton Rouge for which I'm thankful to this day.

I learned lots of theology, philosophy and technique. And I made some wonderful friends that are still part of my life.

But I'm most thankful for the huge upheaval and restructuring of my thinking on human nature and church government. That was the biggest deal for me.

So what's my conclusion? Well, I conclude that the Church is just one more human institution run by flawed (dare I say stupid?) people. And before you get offended - yes, I fully realize I'm in that category as well.

Our gross stupidity is NOT related to the sinning preacher and the sinful acts themselves (although that is all very stupid - for sure). No, the gross stupidity is how We The Church allow anyone that can fog a mirror to be a "Christian Leader".

I mean, if he's a decent speaker, if he "seems like a nice guy", if he's in some way attractive - well then, boom - he's in!

Some of us award bonus points if the "leader" has several letters after his name, like "PhD" or "MDiv" or "DMin". But other than that - what evidence do we have that "God's Latest Gift to the Church" isn't just one more whack-job?

How do these people gain our trust? Why are we so willing to hand over the privileged places in our hearts and minds to people about which we have no real clue?

I've been through this too many times now - it's getting to be reaallllllly costly.

I want to be above reproach. I want to be a part of a team that's above reproach. I want those who care for my children to be above reproach.

Most of all, I want the Kingdom of God to advance in strength and in purity on Planet Earth without the constant black-eyes, ridicule and shame brought by these situations of gross weakness.

I'm praying for the fallen leaders. I'm praying for all those that have been hurt. I'm praying for universal Church of Jesus Christ, 'cause she's the one that always ends up beaten and bruised by this sort of thing. Yes, I'm praying.

But I'm also thinking through and validating something new - a fresh way of dealing with this "elephant in the room". Some friends and I are working on real, repeatable and trustworthy ways in which we in the Body of Christ might head this kind of thing off in the future.

stay tuned if the issue of corruption in church leadership means anything to you!

Father, grant us the wisdom and good judgment to keep accountable those in whom we place our sacred trust. Give us the courage to seek and the intelligence to find new and better ways to raise the bar - to be a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle.


Anonymous said...

I think that sometimes we give some of our leaders too much of God like features that they can not live up to. They are human like us. They are leaders so they still need to live by example. But it is when we apply these features to a preacher that I think we get messed up on. Instead of helping the preacher put himself back together or praying for him when he makes a mistake we leave him in a mess and judge him.

I liked this post because it makes a lot of good points.

Mike Aleckson said...

Yep, it seems to be the natural human thing to do - to exalt people - especially in the church.

Thanks Heather!

Tim Williams said...

Mike! I would enjoy hearing more as you follow-up on these thoughts! I've seen all sides of this picture! I think it's particularly hard for people to accept that a leader has all the same sinful struggles as they do - but that shouldn't exclude them from leadership, it should just cause us to put perimeters in place that support and protect that person, just like we all need - so they don't have to hide their fallenness until it erupts.

Mike Aleckson said...

I agree, Tim, with your point on having a perimeter for leaders that creates a supportive environment. The hiding of the fallen nature is indeed a huge problem.

It sure would be better to talk through things!

On some of this stuff, though, especially pedophilia - I think a different course should be taken. I'd rather not have a struggling pedophile anywhere near a position of leadership in the church. The opportunity for great harm to children and the church is just too great.

That's where we're going to be doing some innovative things in the future.

Thanks for the comment!

RT said...

I know what the issue is in my church which has totally incompetent leadership. The problem is that those in leadership are weaker brothers spiritually. Over the years those who were more mature have gradually been pushed out of leadership by those less mature believers who felt threatened by the spiritual wisdom made evident by the more mature leaders. There is also another more subtle problem- strong willed women who rule as heads of their homes, these women stir up trouble and need to be reigned in. They might as well sit on the board, because their husbands are their to serve the interests of their wives rather than the church body.


Mike Aleckson said...

Interesting, RT. I have witnessed a general move toward the elevation of younger and younger people into senior leadership roles in the church.

It's harder, for me at least to judge the root cause and the motives. But I have spent some years studying leadership and I'm interested in your thoughts on this.

If you don't mind, what exactly are the signs of incompetence you can see in your church leadership? Is it administrative, strategic, theological, or something else?

Thanks for the comment and any insight you can share!

RT said...

I don't mind at all. From my own experience I see that incompetence manifests itself in many ways. In all the areas you mention. However I feel the root is the lack of spiritual maturity. In my own situation the leaders of my church have only a surface knowledge of the scripture, these are not young men, some of them have been in the church their whole lives and are retired from their jobs. They are spiritually still adolescents. They do just fine if the Pastor happens to be very mature and wise. But lately that has not been the case.

I also think that in my church particularly the majority of men possess the mercy gifts, while few possess the gifts of leadership. Again we have very many strong willed women in our congregation, the church itself was started by women over 100 years ago. perhaps this is unique to my church but traditionally the women have had more of the leadership gifts while the men do not, and since we do not elect women to positions of leadership in my church, the result is that we have a board of men who are mostly gifted in mercy.

These men do not recognize the value of the other gifts, they often regard those with the other gifts as un-spiritual even spiteful, and yet it is these men who follow them around cleaning up the messes that they make, and because they are left holding the bag, they get the blame.

Again to me the real issue is weaker brothers in leadership, men who lack understanding and insight because they do not walk according to the Spirit but rather in the power of their own flesh. They often react to issues out of emotion and fear rather than knowledge and self control. Because of their lack of understanding they tend to over-spiritualize when anything controversial happens. They tend to look for the path of least resistance even if it means ignoring what is right, mostly because they don't even see what the right thing to do is.

Don't get me wrong, these guys are sincere they really believe in the Lord, they care about the church, they just don't get it, because they lack understanding. They lack understanding because they do not pursue God's word. They read the words of men, but not God's word.



Mike Aleckson said...

Very interesting take, RT. Men for the most part without leadership abilities.

That's something we're working on helping to fix with a branch of our ministry - leadership training.

We've identified multiple dimensions of leadership. Philosophical, theological, strategic, tactical and functional - understanding and motivation in all these areas are required, to one degree or another, for leadership.

Many, if not most, church "leaders" I've met have strong personalities and charisma - but lack understanding and motivation in the other areas. Thus, little true leading is done. Rather, such "leaders" maintain their positions without actually bringing the organization to new places.

Thanks RT!

John said...

Hey Mike,

Glad to be a part of that group. Thank you for your friendship after all these years. May your tribe increase!

Mike Aleckson said...

And thank you for your friendship, John. I look forward to getting together with you soon!