The Loss of Accountability Leads to Profound Sadness

kinnon —  November 3, 2006 — 1 Comment

I began seeing links to this story last night, before I went off to bed. And the story has made me profoundly sad. It has been alleged that Ted Haggard, leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, has had an ongoing sexual relationship with a gay escort that also involved drugs. I hope and pray that the story is not true. (UPDATE: Watch Tony Campolo’s response on MSNBC. Also, read the Internet Monk’s Passion of the Haggard Part II.)

Theology professor and one of my favourite bloggers, Ben Witherington responds to the story this morning.

Before we ask– has the world gone mad, it might be good to reflect for a minute on the leadership climate in the rarified air of big time Evangelical mega-churches. of course it will vary from church to church, but there are a few things in common with most of these churches which needs to be rethought:

1) most of these large churches are not part of denominations which have a connectional enough system to hold the individual church leadership accountable through peer leaders in other churches. By this I mean there is little outside accountability. There are no covenant relationships with other church leaders, no covenant relationships with other churches, the leadership structure is entirely controlled INTERNALLY between influential lay persons and the ministers.
2) The culture of patriarchal Evangelical leadership involves a lot of power and isolation at the top. Too often it involves a cult of personality kind of scenario, with the “pastor-superstar” model, and the pastor put way up on a pedestal– from which he is almost bound to fall. The isolation from normal accountability structures and peer correction leads to all sorts of abuses of power.

If you’ve been reading my blog since the early days (since Feb of 05), you know that Leadership Accountability is something I’ve written on numerous times. Ed Young Jr, Pastor of Fellowship Church outside of Dallas, TX prompted my post “The A Word” in June of ’05 when I wrote about him saying at his C3 conference;

‘if someone asks you who you are accountable to, avoid them. They are trying to control you.’ (paraphrased)
I responded:
Really? This had to be one of either the dumbest or scariest statements I’d heard from a leader in a long time. Isn’t accountability part of the leadership package? Especially for a leader who is an orthodox Christian.

Ashley Hodge, a former Fellowship member commented on my post almost a year later and pointed out his post , A Tale of Two Pastors, comparing John Piper and Ed Young Jr. in terms of their leadership and accountability structures:

Ed Young is accountable to God but deems accountability to a board of elders as unnecessary. The finances of Fellowship Church are cloaked in secrecy. John Piper is accountable to God and an elder board- biblical model. The finances of Bethlehem Baptist are transparent and can be viewed by anyone on their website.

At this point, some readers will accuse me of attacking megachurches again. I’m sorry for that – it is not my intent here. Accountability protects not just the people, but the leader as well. This is the lesson in the Haggard story – if there is one. Proper accountability may have prevented the alleged transgressions. (Note that Ross Parsley, acting Senior Pastor at the New Life, the church that Haggard led, is reported as saying “I just know that there has been some admission of indiscretion…”)

I sat in a megachurch staff meeting a number of years ago and heard the wife of the senior pastor complain that “some people want (name withheld) accountable to a board. He’s accountable to God!” I was shocked and saddened and have watched this church struggle as a result of the infallible-senior-pastor-model since. I pray this leader does not suffer the moral failure of other non-accountable church leaders.

Another “infallible church leader” in my hearing referred to questioning of his leadership as a sign of “falling away” from the Faith. Rob McAlpine’s book, Post-Charismatic, due out next year from Kingsway unpacks much of this bizarre understanding of church leadership. All of it highlights Lord Acton’s famous statement that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (I had the surreal experience of hearing the aforementioned leader use this statement in a sermon – not recognizing the obvious application.)

I’ll let Ben Witherington have the last word:

…I have seen many good ministries destroyed due to lack of proper accountability and lack of good marital relationships, and lack of spiritual formation of the leader himself. Its time to change the climate and culture of leadership in many parts of the Evangelical world. We could start with Ephesians 5.21– “let all submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. We could add to this “confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James. 5.16). Notice it does not say confess only to God, nor does it say confess only to the priest or your ministry partner. Open confession within a context of a church accountability group will be the beginning of healing.

UPDATE: Or perhaps, Wolfgang Simson should have the last word (from the TSK link in my Randoms Link post below)

No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional “holy man” doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive religious consumers Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from the Old Testament. The heavy professionalisation of the church since Constantine has now been a pervasive influence long enough, dividing the people of God artificially into laity and clergy. According to the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:5), “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” God simply does not bless religious professionals to force themselves in-between people and God forever. The veil is torn, and God is allowing people to access Himself directly through Jesus Christ, the only Way. To enable the priesthood of all believers, the present system will have to change completely. Bureaucracy is the most dubious of all administrative systems, because it basically asks only two questions: yes or no. There is no room for spontaneity and humanity, no room for real life. This may be OK for politics and companies, but not the Church. God seems to be in the business of delivering His Church from a Babylonian captivity of religious bureaucrats and controlling spirits into the public domain, the hands of ordinary people made extraordinary by God, who, like in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfume and revolution.

Perhaps it is the Spirit revealing the sins of the leaders, that we might escape Babylon once again.

UPDATE: Read this post as it appears the allegations are all true – how profoundly sad!

Related posts:
Accountability: Man in the Mirror
Profound Sadness in Colorado
When God Takes Us at our Words
Earlier posts:
It’s About Transparency
The “A” Word: Accountability
The Responsibilities of the Led

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

One response to The Loss of Accountability Leads to Profound Sadness

  1. Accountability is a funny thing. Everyone wants to talk about it, but no one really wants any of it. Whether it is a mega-church or a mainstream one, even with an elder board, it doesn’t mean that real accountability is done. I have a client that is a partnership between three guys, and accountability is an issue. It is because when they started they just assumed that each person would do their best for the business. In reality, accountability is fine until it requires change in attitude and behavior. For this reason, I think you have to structure accountability so that it is absolutely clear what the expectations are. Without it, it’s just talk.


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