Monday, November 06, 2006

Ted Haggard and New Life Church: Lessons in Accountability, Grace, and Hope

When I first read the accusations last Thursday against Pastor Ted Haggard, I was mortified and hoping against hope that they were not true. Another high-profile evangelical is exposed for hypocrisy and sexual sin. Now, within three days the whole literate world knows the truth. By his own admission, Haggard has wrestled with his sensual nature, and lost regularly, his whole adult life. For over thirty years, he has hidden his dark side. That’s a long time to maintain appearances and at the same time ascend to prominence as a mega-church pastor, author, and internationally respected leader. But what pastor cannot relate, at least in some way, and then shudder at the prospect of being shamed publicly and disqualified for ministry?

On the web site of the International Herald Tribune, New York Times journalist Kirk Johnson writes a balanced piece that should spark hope and admiration in us Christians -- admiration for the way New Life Church has handled this crisis and hope for the church and its fallen leader, that he may be healed and redeemed for later ministry. It appears that New Life’s system of governance, worked out by Pastor Ted and his fellow leaders, has worked swiftly, transparently, and effectively. We can hope and pray that the process of discipline and restoration will proceed effectively over time as well.

Balancing Pastoral Authority with Pastoral Accountability

When we started The Bridge International Church here in Kuala Lumpur, I looked around for a form of church governance that balanced pastoral authority with pastoral accountability. Based on prior negative experience, I was finished with the kind of congregational governance in which the pastor is given all the responsibility for church health and growth and yet little or no authority to lead. (Such a situation virtually guarantees frustration and division.) On the other hand, I did not want authority without accountability. What to do?

Back in 2004, I reread Ted Haggard’s book, The Life-Giving Church, and found a model I liked. We eventually adapted New Life’s constitution to fit our situation. Basically, the senior pastor is allowed (expected) to lead, cast vision, hire and fire staff, oversee the budget, etc. – but he is also accountable: first to fellow elders in the church (elected by the church), and then, in the event of a leadership crisis, to a Team of Overseers from outside the church. The overseers are other senior pastors, well known and respected by the pastor, the elders, and the congregation; and the overseers have ultimate authority to advise, discipline, and dismiss their friend as pastor.

In this system, the sheep do not have authority over their shepherd. But the shepherd is still accountable for his character and conduct. Would to God that it had not been necessary this past weekend, but this system seems to have worked well at New Life Church. Perhaps more churches, especially Baptist and other congregational ones, should examine their own ways of balancing pastoral authority and accountability. By developing better governance systems and emotionally mature leaders (including ourselves), surely we’d have less conflict and fewer “failures” in ministry. I’m glad that because of God's grace, failure in ministry need not be final. I hope to hear about the healing of Ted’s family and his own growth and restoration in the months and years ahead.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Tribute to Alan Nelson, 1936 - 2006

The Measure of a Man
By 4Him

I say the measure of a man
Is not how tall you stand
How wealthy or intelligent you are
Cause I found out the measure of a man
God knows and understands
For He looks inside to the bottom of your heart
And what's in the heart defines
The measure of a man

Dad was not wealthy with worldly riches, though he worked hard and steady his whole life. He was rich, however, in relationships with family and friends. His heart was huge and full of love for others and gratitude to God for His grace. In physical stature, Dad declined over the years from 6'1" to about 5'7" due to osteoperosis. But he remained tall in the eyes of those who knew and loved him. He always had a smile and a handshake, hug, or humorous word. He persevered through his own obstacles, pains, and disappointments without complaint. He served others and encouraged them. He left a great legacy for his four children and eight grandchildren -- a legacy of love, service, faith, and a positive attitude.

He will be sorely missed by many: his wife, Liz, of 25 years; his children and their families; fellow church and choir members, golfing and fishing buddies, and many more good friends.

Now he has joined his beloved parents, brother, and other relatives in "our Father's house."

So long, Dad. Thanks so much for the example you set. We love you, and we'll miss you 'til we see you on the other side!

Dad’s Homegoing

While in the hospital recently recovering from congestive heart failure, Dad developed a serious infection which his weak or non-existent immune system could not overcome (a result of the bone marrow cancer). His pulse declined and various organs began to shut down. Rather quickly, God answered prayers that He would either take Dad soon or give him back his strength and independence. The Lord chose to do the former at 1:20 am on the 19th of September with my step-mom, Liz, and sisters, Susan and Pam, by his side. And we, the whole family, are grateful that Dad didn’t linger and suffer.

I began flying home the same day and arrived on the afternoon of the 20th. We had the funeral on Friday, Sept. 22. I had the privilege of leading the service and sharing it with his pastor, choir director, and my nephew, Grant, 10 years old.

Thanks to all who prayed, expressed concern, and offered condolences -- especially to the Bridge Church family. As Jeni said on behalf of the extended Nelson family, we have loved and been loved by a great man. And he is being missed by many, many friends as well.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Question for Discussion: SBC and Charismatics

Here's the multiple choice question I posed over at Wade Burleson's blog, with very slight editing. Anyone care to speculate or offer an opinion?

"Why is the Southern Baptist Convention the only large historic denomination that has not made room for a fellowship of "charismatic" churches under its tent (like the Methodists, Lutherans, even Presbyterians and Catholics have, for example)?"

Would you say it's mainly because of:
  1. the excesses of the charismatic movement and the off-putting attitudes of the "haves" vs. the "have not's"
  2. the firm theological convictions of most Baptist pastors/leaders (i.e., their certainty of the rightness of their own interpretations of Scripture and their low tolerance of others' interpretations)
  3. fear of change or of rejection or of emotionalism
  4. local church autonomy and the denominational structure (assoc, state, nat'l levels) which makes it impractical, improbable, or even unnecessary to make room for such a fellowship of churches
  5. all of the above, or a combination of the above
  6. other (please explain)
Ok, have at it, please. I'm real curious to know what others think and have experienced.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Latest Family and Church News

Dad's Cancer

My dad, Alan Nelson, was diagnosed a month ago with bone marrow cancer, a real surprise. He's 69 years old. I flew to be with him in hospital in Tampa and to be with family as things developed. I'm very glad I did. I stayed until 29 Aug, and I was able to bring him home to his house on the 28th. A week later however, he went back in hospital with an irregular heart beat and fluid build up -- congestive heart failure. While that was being treated in hospital, he contracted a bladder infection which has become serious enough to transfer him to ICU. He's very weak, barely communicating, has bouts of confusion, and the family is very concerned. We would appreciate the prayers of our friends from around the world. Please pray for the infection to be overcome so that Dad will get back some strength to fight the cancer and go on the thalidomide treatment. May the Lord intervene and grant him more time and more strength for the time he has left. Please also pray for my step-mom, Liz, who is working full-time, and sister, Susan, who is full-time mom to two elementary school kids and visiting Dad every day in hospital. Sister Pam lives and works in Tampa. Sister Sally lives in south Georgia. Thanks for your prayers for them as well.

Church Camp

I got back from Tampa and, with Jeni and girls, went straight from the airport to our first church camp at Port Dickson, Malaysia. Seventy people had signed up. Our friend Hakan Gabrielsson came from Singapore to be the main speaker. It was a wonderful time of worship, Word, fellowship, prayer, play, and a missions emphasis. Three missions agencies were represented by local staff in our missions fair: Overseas Missionary Fellowship, Asian Outreach, and Wycliffe Bible Translators. Our own Michael Wong represented Operation Mobilization. Hakan shared about some wonderful things happening in places he visits regularly, like Myanmar, India, and Iran. His missionary ministry is called Touching Asia.

Vanessa Schaefer, our Sunday School co-director, was healed of chronic neck pain during a prayer time at church camp! She had been suffering for a long time from a spinal condition and recently had to quit driving her car because of it. Now she's driving again and free from the pain. Praise God!


We expect to have three weddings coming in the next several months: Chris and Winnie (Malaysian Chinese), Victor and Grace (Malaysian Indian), and Julian and Sally (Malaysian Chinese, living in Jakarta). I've got lots of pre-marital counseling to do! I've had the privilege of doing several weddings over the years here in Kuala Lumpur, but not this many in such a short span of time. Funny, we've also had more babies born recently (to other couples) than ever before in our eight years here. Looks like we're experiencing some biological church growth to go with our conversion growth! :-)

Answers to Prayer

Our consulting company is up and running! And Lisa and I have our work permits through GuideStone Consultancy Pvt Ltd! I'm the Managing Director, and she is the Senior Counselor. We each have two-year visas in our passports allowing us to work as counselors which we're doing, of course. The visas came through in June and July.
Praise the Lord!

Next Post

Maybe in the next post I'll pose a question that I left on Wade Burleson's blog. We could have a little discussion about a theological subject. Check back in a day or two if you're interested.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Back Home in KL

After a week in Texas and two weeks in the SE, I'm back home in KL. Got home at 2:00 am Saturday morning after 33 hours of traveling. Went to bed at 4:00 am and slept til 2:30 Saturday afternoon! But then I got sleepy working on my sermon and napped from 7:00 to 10:00 pm. Now I've been up since then! Maybe I'll be back in sync after tonight.

It was great to be back at The Bridge this morning. We had a full house at church including many visitors. (One couple came back for a second visit after last week. They are former staff members from Willow Creek Church in Chicago, now here in KL 'cause he's working for Caterpillar. Greg is a sound technician and his wife is a worship leader. Thank you, Lord!)

Jeni and the girls will return to KL on Monday night, 10 July.

I had lunch today with three other "bachelors" whose wives are in their home states/countries: Randy Fletcher (Ohio), Dale Coleman (Texas), and Oh Won Yong (Korea).

Abby got her learner's driving permit on Friday, June 30! Yeah! She's been driving around south Georgia since then. Next summer she'll get the real deal before she starts college -- wherever that will be.

Jeni speaks at Okapilco Baptist Church this Sunday morning in Brooks County, GA. (I know you'll do great, honey; the people love you! -- and so do I! We prayed for you today in our church service here.)

We had a wonderful time on our travels. Thanks Colemans, Wombles, and Tuckers for your hospitality in Texas! And thanks, Halls and Harwells, for the use of your minivans.

On our Sundays away, we got to visit Bannockburn Baptist Church in Austin, North Point Church in Atlanta, and Tampa Baptist Church in Florida. We also visited Columbia International Univeristy in SC, and Southeastern Univeristy in Lakeland, FL for Abby to see the campuses and meet people one last time before decision-making time. Once SAT scores come back and financial aid and scholarship applications are answered, then she'll be ready to choose where to continue her education.

Dad and Liz, Mom and Russ, we enjoyed our time with you all. It's never quite long enough; but one day, Lord willing, we'll be closer.

Next year we expect to come in July, and I will stay longer to get Abby settled in her college dorm. Jeni and Sarah will have to be back in KL to start school in early August, whereas Abby won't start til late August.

I'm off to nap just a little bit before dinner. Starting to droop at the keyboard ...


Friday, June 02, 2006

In the Air and on the Road Again

We're flying out of Malaysia on June 10 for our annual home leave to the USA. Here's our itinerary.

June 10-13, arrive at DFW, 10:05 am, borrow van from Hall family, leave Sarah with her friend Kelly, and drive down to Austin with Abby to see the Coleman and Franz families.

June 13-15, head to Houston to see the Womble family and baptize their daughter, Katie, on Wed evening! :-)

June 15-17, drive back up to Dallas/Ft Worth, Abby stays with Leanne, Sarah still with Kelly.

June 17-20, all fly to Atlanta to visit the Harwells; spend Monday in Buford on Lake Lanier with Capes family (Todd's long time friend from school days); and Columbia, SC for Abby to visit Columbia International University.

June 21-26, drive down to Tampa and surrounding area to be with Todd's family (Todd stays until 29th and flies straight back to KL thru Atlanta & Seoul, arriving on the 30th.)

June 26 - July 9, Jeni and girls are in Brooks Co, GA and Jacksonville, FL with Jeni's family. (Todd is in KL from June 30 onwards; girls arrive back in KL on July 10.)

Jeni and I may get some time to walk the campus of Southwestern Baptist Seminary where we remet in 1983, fell in love, semi-eloped, lived in student housing, and had Abby.

We leave The Bridge in good hands with elders, admin team, assoc pastor, and ministry leaders who I know will keep things running smoothly. Thanks, Michael, Charlie, Diana, Lisa, Glenn, Guan Lye, Joo Din, Diane, Joseph, Rachel, Irene, and Derrick! Sharon and Mike, enjoy your summer vacation. Hilton and Lena, have a great time in South Africa! See you all in July. Matti and Riitta, you're leaving a big hole to fill! God guide you to a new church family in Dubai. Dave and Jan, thanks for the dedicated work with children. May the Lord guide you, too, as you settle in Saigon. And Tope, I know you're looking forward to taking the kids and joining up with Kayode in Glasgow! God bless you all!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Family Photo, Dec. 2005

In Bandung, Indonesia, December 2005 while on holiday with our friends, the Anderbecks.
L to R: Abby, Todd, Jeni, Sarah

Friday, April 14, 2006

Photo at Tea Plantation

Boh Tea Plantation, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, December 2004

Greetings from KL

We're over-40 American parents of teenagers who have their own blogs -- all of us living in Malaysia. Don't expect much more from us than sporadic news and photos! I don't correspond often enough with family and friends by email. Maybe I can do better with a blog? Doubt it! :-)