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Life Ministry

Pastoral Environment and the Fight for Holiness

My heart was deeply saddened yesterday when I heard about another resignation of a well-known pastor of a mega-church. This time, it was Tullian Tchividjian, pastor at Coral Ridge in Miami. This came about, he said, because of ongoing marital issues. His wife admitted to adultery. He developed an “inappropriate relationship” with someone in the aftermath of the news from his wife. God is grieved by this, that church will be greatly affected, and two people (Tullian and his wife) must deal with the destructive effects of sin. It breaks my heart. But I believe God is gracious and he can bring redemption to the darkest valley. I pray he does.

I’ve pondered this story a bit more deeply than other readers perhaps. I have a different perspective. Why? Because I’m a pastor.

Reading this as a pastor, I’m looking under the surface. I’m wondering what else was going on. I’m thinking about how it might have been avoided. I’m trying to see themes and trends and triggers that are plain as day in hindsight and might have signaled something like this was coming.

Now, hear me clearly, adultery is a human problem. People sin. Pastors are not exempt. What’s more is that sinners are responsible for their sin. We can’t shift blame elsewhere. Because of the gospel, we can own up to our sin and confess it, knowing that we have an advocate before God, Jesus Christ the justifier of the unjust. So yes, we are responsible for our sin, but the good news of the gospel is that Jesus takes responsibility for our sin on the cross.

And yet, as we learn to deal with failure, we learn that life is complicated. Sin is complicated—adultery is complicated—and there are always multiple factors and variables in play. This is a tension that, as Westerners, we would probably rather not acknowledge much less deal with.

While adultery is sin—and sinners are called to repentance—this does not mean environment is unimportant. You can’t make a plant grow but you can improve the environment, the conditions, so that the seed has everything it needs to flourish. No rain? Find a hose and a sprinkler. The same goes for people—including pastors. A quality, genuine, redemptive environment doesn’t guarantee spiritual fruit. But by God’s grace, it helps.

This leads me to ask: was there something about this particular pastoral environment that made holiness more elusive? More specifically, was there something about Tullian’s mega-church environment that was not conducive for growth? Holiness is hard because of our sin nature—the Spirit of God and the flesh oppose each other to keep us from doing what we want (Gal. 5:16). It takes work (Phil. 2:12-13). Throw us into a garden where the conditions are not optimal—or even good—and growth can be “more elusive.”

In Tullian’s case, he was in a mega-church environment that exalted him to celebrity status. Christianity Today, reflecting on what brought Tullian to the church in the first place, wrote, “[Coral Ridge] elders hoped that Tchividjian’s youth, vision, and name could revive the fortunes of the aging congregation.” This mega-church environment centered on the lead pastor’s personality, charisma, preaching ability, and energy. Sadly, this isn’t unique to this church. It’s a mega-church trend. Building around a dynamic, visionary, CEO-type. (This is what happened with Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill, though with a different issue and over a longer period of time.) No human can bear this burden. So the pastor grows into a celebrity and becomes isolated and beyond accountability. And when this happens, he’s vulnerable.

This is not just a mega-church trend. What about churches in different contexts that are smaller and relatively unknown? Like many mega-churches, a small church could still be centered on the pastor. Maybe not his personality or charisma or vision, but his ministry credentials, his administrative skills, his ability to be available to everyone all the time (or his sense of guilt to be so). He does all the preaching, all the counseling, all the hospital visits. He is “the minister,” the one “doing ministry.” No human can bear that burden. So the pastor becomes desperately needed yet at the same time, curiously, he’s lonely. He becomes isolated. Now, he’s vulnerable.

I don’t know all the reasons for pastoral failures when it comes to adultery or “inappropriate relationships.” The sinful nature is, of course, bent on desiring other things above Jesus. We are fighting not against flesh and blood here and I’m not making any excuses because sin is sin, sinners are responsible for their sin, and we repent and trust that Jesus has taken care of not just our sins, but us.

But in the North American church, we seem to be quite adept at centering ourselves around our leaders. We cultivate pastoral environments that make holiness elusive for pastors—the people who are to take the lead in modeling a gospel-shaped life. And anytime we center our communities of faith on a pastor—even a very good one with much to offer the church—and not the Person of Jesus Christ, that pastor is doomed to fall.

We (pastors), too, are great sinners in need of a great Redeemer and we need help. Surely there is something churches (including the pastors) can do to help pastors fight for holiness, see fruit, and finish the good fight of faith. In my next post, I’ll look to the Scriptures to find out just how we can do this.

Categories
Theology

Android App Created to Hide Calls and Texts

An Android app called CATE (call and text eraser) was created by Phillip Immler, a cop and law student, to hide what you don’t want your spouse to see on your phone.  No joke. In the online story, the author quotes Immler:

“I had a good friend of mine who went through a divorce because his wife was finding things on his phone. It intercepts call and text messages from people on your lists and stores it within the app,” says Immler.

The author continues:

Only the app owner has the passcode to unlock the contacts he or she decides should be hidden from view. There’s already buzz over the app online.

Divorce attorney Robin Roshkind says while the app may promise to hide your infidelity, it won’t stop a determined woman or man wanting to know the truth.

The story ends by quoting Immler again, when he says that he doesn’t condone cheating. Really, Immler? Yet you help adulterous people hide their sin from their spouse?  This is not surprising–this is the way the world works.  God has spoken of actions such as these–listen to Paul’s words:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (Romans 1:28-32; my emphasis).

The good news of Jesus is that even adulterers and those who approve of adultery can be saved: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9).

Categories
Life Theology

Tiger Woods: “I have a lot to atone for.”

Tiger Woods made a short statement today.  He spoke for about 14 minutes.  He talked a lot about his selfishness and foolishness.  He said he has bitterly disappointed everyone in that press room.  Here are some quotes from Woods during the conference:

  • “I’m ashamed to have put you [my friends and business partners] in this position.”
  • “I have a lot to atone for.”
  • “Elin has shown enormous grace and poise in this ordeal.”
  • “I thought I could get rid of whatever I wanted to…I thought normal rules didn’t apply to me.”
  • “I felt I was entitled [to temptations].  Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them.”
  • “I have brought shame…to kids all around the world who have admired me.”
  • “My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before.”
  • “It’s up to me to make amends.”
  • “It’s up to me to start living a life of integrity.”
  • “I have heard before: It’s not what you achieve in life that matters.  It’s what you overcome.”
  • “Character and decency are what really count [in life].”
  • “It’s hard to admit that I need help.  But I do.”
  • “I’ve taken the first steps in the right direction.”
  • “The issues [between Elin and me] are between a husband and a wife.”
  • “I know above all, I am the one who needs to change…I owe it to everyone to become a better man…Part of that for me, is Buddhism.  Buddhism teaches that when there is a craving for things outside ourselves, I need to learn restraint.”

I could say thousands of things about this press conference, but I’ll keep it at one thing.  He said, “I have a lot to atone for.”  Woods doesn’t need to make atonement.  Jesus already made it.  As Brit Hume has already said, Jesus Christ offers Tiger Woods something that Tiger Woods desperately needs.

I’m glad Woods made the statement.  I think he was sincere, but I hope he looks outside himself to Jesus, instead of what he has within.  And I can only pray that God opens his eyes to see that.

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Categories
Life

The Adulteress and Anberlin

This isn’t a part of our series on Proverbs, but as I was working out today, the song “Feel Good Drag” by Anberlin came on my iPod.  I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, but as I listened today, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the lyrics and Proverbs 5 and 7.

Here’s the first verse and chorus of “Feel Good Drag.”

“I’m here for you,” she said
and we can stay for awhile,
my boyfriend’s gone,
we can just pretend.
Lips that need no introduction,
now who’s the greater sin?
Your drab eyes seem to invite.
Tell me darling, where do we begin?

[Chorus]
Was this over before,
before it ever began?
Your kiss, your calls, your crutch,
like the devil’s got your hand
This was over before,
before it ever began.
Your lips, your lies, your lust,
like the devil’s in your hands.

Here’s Proverbs 5:3-6:

For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.  Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander and she does not know it.

And Proverbs 7:18-19:

Come, let us take our fill of love til morning; let us delight ourselves with love.  For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.

Truly, adultery (and all sexual sin) is a feel good drag.  It might seem sweet for a while, but eventually it will be bitter.  It might appear to be life-giving, but it’s really planning for a banquet in the grave.  The pleasure will be over before it ever begins.

“Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (Prov. 7:27).

. . .

Update:  The song “Feel Good Drag” was in the #1 slot on modern rock radio this past week.

Categories
Life

Jesus Wants the Rose

Here’s a good example of how and why one pastor should “rail” another.