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.


Tim Rogers said...

Brother Todd,

Great comments. I too, find it refreshing that a church would handle the situation this one found themselves in with the clear call they did. They dealt harshly with the sin, while compassionately dealing with the sinner.


chryl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chryl said...

thanks for your thoughts and encouragement, todd. as much as we understand that our leader is jesus himself, we are all deeply affected when a respected leader stumbles and falls flat on the floor.

i must be reminded that anyone can get tripped up, each one of us can wipe out. bad. humility is the start; if i know my heart is 'prone to wander' then the anchor is loving accountability. now i may be asking god a bit more enthusiastically for that in my life now for sure.