News of what's happening in the Christian community usually passes under the radar of the secular news media - unless, of course, there's a good juicy scandal. And there have been enough of those to bring us into the public eye regularly. Usually these have something to do with the sexual (mis)behavior of some well-known preacher or televangelist, but occasionally there will be one or two involving financial indiscretions.
Recently there has been a scandal involving a mega-church pastor who is also a founder and leader of a large network of churches. This scandal, however, does not as far as I know, involve sex, and only involves financial impropriety in a secondary way. It appears to involve plagiarism and padding of sales of the pastor's books. The pastor was removed from his office by his board. His pride was named as a problem. The secular media had little to say about this, of course.
As I read of these goings-on in the religious media I kept thinking about that word - "pride". Isn't that possibly the main problem behind all of these scandals?
I have been associated with Christian ministry in one way or another for nearly 60 years. I graduated from seminary and was ordained 37 years ago. I have served as a pastor of a number of churches and have served on boards of others. When I taught at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston, many of my students were people involved in the ministry. I count many pastors and full-time Christian workers among my friends and acquaintances. And I have known some who have "fallen". I've had to deal with a few of these ministers and I've also had to deal with many people who were pieces of the wreckage that they and others had left behind.
When I entered my first pastorate at the age of 40, I felt that I had enough maturity to handle most crises. I thought I'd seen it all and was unshockable. But such was not the case. In the first year that I served at that church I had to deal with a situation that tried me to the limits.
It was a small church - a hundred or so people. In the church was a minister along with his wife and family - children, parents and in-laws. He served as director of a Christian ministry not directly related to the church. He was about my age, but with more experience in the ministry, so Uni and I cultivated their friendship. Uni even went to work in his office part-time. Well, it wasn't long before she discovered his briefcase full of porn and then we found that he was having multiple affairs and had been for years. It ended in a messy divorce and with his being removed from his position.
Uni and I were left to pick up the pieces - disillusioned church members, prominent townspeople, one of the women, his family of three generations. And church leadership that didn't know what to do, but somehow felt that my way of handling the situation was not the best. And this was just the beginning of a number of similar experiences.
Though at the time I felt stretched nearly to the breaking point, I later came to realize that I had gone through an education experience that I could never have gotten in seminary and that my four years in seminary had not prepared me for.
And it forced me to rethink my motives for being in the ministry. The man I had to deal with was clearly a man with an excess of pride; this came out during the conflict. And yet I soon realized that I too was suffering from the same affliction.
Why do people go into the public ministry? Why did I? Oh sure, most of us have felt some sort of "call" or at least have felt the Lord's leading in some way or another, or we've felt gifted as teachers, exhorters or leaders. But are there also underlying motives that we don't like to admit? Is it possible that the same motives or personality traits that lead some to enter the ministry could also be contributing factors in their fall?
I believe that we are more complex than we recognize or want to recognize. We may have entered the ministry for what seem the best of motives. We love the Lord; we love His church; we love people; we want to yield totally to Christ. We don't do this for our own benefit. And yet --
Let's face it, most of us in public ministry have egos that need feeding - pride. Of course, we need feedback and need to know what impact our ministry is having. Those "amens!" - the responses to our sermons, to our counseling - tell us they're listening and growing. But they also make us feel good! It's easy to take them as responses to us rather than the Lord; and sometimes they are.
Those who fall into sexual or financial indiscretions are crossing a line that we all face. I suspect that it's not only or even primarily the sex or the money - it's the bump to our egos that they bring. Most of us - at least the men in the ministry I know - have at times come too close to that line and some have crossed it. Though I've not been in a situation where money has been much of a temptation, I can assure my readers that I've been in situations with women where I've had to - to use Paul's word - flee! (Sometimes I've had to warn him of the danger! - Uni)
Harry Truman once said: "When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the 21-gun salutes, all those things. You have to remember it isn't for you. It's for the Presidency."
And we in the ministry need to remember this as well. It's not about us. We have a higher calling than even the Presidency. We must submit our pride to the One we serve. So when we receive those honors, they are not to build up our ego. We need to point them to Jesus.