We haven’t even begun to experience the fallout from the publication of data from Ashley Madison, promoted as “the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters.” Josh Duggar is the most prominent “celebrity” identified in the data dump at the time of this post, but I have no doubt that many pastors, church leaders and prominent volunteers will be experiencing very painful conversations at home and at work during the days and weeks ahead. I fear that most of us will be praying for at least one friend or family impacted by the website’s security breach.
My current workout reading (on a stationary bike) is You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman from the Barna Group. As sad as I am about the impact disclosures of infidelity will have on millions of American families, I’m equally sad about the hit to the reputation of Christianity likely to occur among those outside the church as the hypocrisy and moral failures of those in positions of leadership and influence are exposed. The teens and college-age students I spend much of my day with at work aren’t very impressed by a faith that doesn’t make any difference in the lives of the people who profess it. The folks who dislike Christians and Christianity will have ample opportunity to revel in the fall of those who have publicly assumed responsibility for advancing the Gospel.
If you’ve managed to read this far, you may be wondering what Christian leaders being outed for subscribing to a website that facilitates marital infidelity, young people turning away from Christianity and disability ministry have in common.
Allow me to preface what I’m about to say by noting in the course of my work with Key Ministry I encounter church leaders every single day who truly walk the walk in addition to talking the talk…people who indisputably demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit at work within them and have an immeasurable impact upon the world. But Christianity… and the church have a very big problem with people who make their livelihood by representing Christian culture (in the case of Josh Duggar), leading churches or ministries (fill in the blank with the name of a church leader whose dirty laundry has been exposed in recent years) or serving in church leadership with spiritual struggles or a lack of giftedness that render them unfit for the positions in which they serve.
They’re killing the “brand” of Christianity with those outside the church.
Life’s tougher for people who occupy positions of prominence in the church. They essentially walk through life with targets on their backs for the enemy. The enemy recognizes the impact if those with the greatest capacity for influence can be incapacitated. Scripture is clear in setting out a higher standard of personal conduct, self-discipline and spiritual maturity for those who seek to be leaders out of recognition for the challenges and temptations facing those in leadership. We often fail to demonstrate grace and compassion when leaders fall short, overlooking the reality that we all fall short of God’s standard (absolute perfection) and all are sinners in need of a savior…Jesus Christ. At the same time, we all too often enable leaders and church staff by turning the other way when we observe unhealthy patterns of behavior or a lack of giftedness for their current behavior. Note: My definition of enabling is keeping someone sick through “love” and “understanding.”
In the case of the Duggar’s, where else are they going to make the kind of money they made through their TV show if they don’t maintain the charade? Where is Josh going to find a job with the potential for influence (and salary) he received through the Family Research Council? And what do we do with clergy and church staff who are ineffective in their ministry but lack the necessary training or skills to support their families in some other occupation? Where does the pastor turn when they have a wife and kids to feed but struggle with moral failure or relationship issues that should disqualify them for their present positions? They cover things up as best they can and pretend.
I can’t begin to tell you how many people I’ve encountered in the last few years with a heart for disability ministry and a high capacity for service who have been discouraged or turned away from local churches where they sought to use their gifts and talents because they represented a threat to the people currently serving on staff. Most churches operate on very tight budgets. High capacity volunteers are very threatening to underperforming staff in churches that operate from week to week on the money from the Sunday offering.
When I think of the team members I’ve met at churches having a great impact for the Kingdom, I’ve been struck by how many are serving after having achieved success in other vocations or are making a fraction of what their talent and ability would bring in the work world. Looking to the future, the church will bear lots of fruit in those places where everyone is encouraged to contribute their gifts and talents to the mission Jesus has called us to.
Before my dad went home to be with the Lord, he occasionally observed that Jesus should sue some of the more prominent people serving in his name for defamation of character. It greatly bothers me that people are rejecting Jesus in all too many instances based upon a misrepresentation of who he is.
I’ve personally been very reluctant to take money for doing ministry because of my own fear that mixing livelihood with ministry holds great potential for doing the right thing for the wrong motives. Many people in ministry handle it well. Lots of “professional Christians” don’t.
We are all ministers. Those of us who profess to be Christians need to assume the responsibility for representing Jesus to a broken and hurting world, even if we lack a seminary degree or professional credentials.
The first leader of the church (handpicked by Jesus) put it like this…
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
1 Peter 2:9-12 (ESV)
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