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The centerpiece of most churches today is not the “altar” but the pedestal – a slippery, invisible pedestal that elevates the pastor above the people, for better or worse. Usually worse.
As I write these words Sunday morning, New Life Church, just up the road from me, is packed with sorrowful but determined parishioners. I share their sorrow. The thing that stings about Ted is he was one of our best.
But now he admits: “The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There’s a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life.”
Yet Ted was and is a saint, just like the rest of us who have genuinely been born again by the grace of God. Trouble is, we all have dirty habits. Ted was more like the reforming alcoholic who really wants to quit the bottle, except that he didn’t have a close group of fellow alkies around to support him.
Ted probably has a personal prayer support team. But it’s almost impossible for pastors to share their innermost problems, even with a select core of parishioner friends. The word about the pastor’s weaknesses will eventually get out, and then he will be out of a job. It’s lonely on that pedestal, and very slippery.
Some think that pastors are so important that the devil targets them for special attack, therefore we must be especially understanding and forgiving with them. That’s true to a point, but most of the falls today are like Jim Bakker’s and Jimmy Swaggart’s: not due to the devil, but to the pastor’s own flesh.
We can blame Ted for not seeking help. But there is a much greater blame in this case, and it must be aimed at the pastor-centered church system that does not and cannot provide ongoing help and correction. Sure, there are many retreat centers (ranches and other getaways) where a pastor and wife can go during pre- or post-burnout. But what is needed is a whole new system, a flow-through church where gifted, motivated “laymen” are allowed to naturally grow into greater and greater spheres of service.
Why haven’t I driven up I-25 this morning to join the service, at least as a sign of Christian unity? Mainly because my presence would have made as much difference as an extra gallon of water going over Niagara Falls. Standard churches are a polished show for a passive audience (unless you count saying “Amen!” and singing as playing an active role). No, I knew that after all the good and proper things were said about repentance, forgiveness, healing and moving on, the entire focus of the church would be upon getting back to normal, to business as usual – with a new guy on the pedestal.
In all fairness, Ted Haggard was one of the greatest proponents of the “cell church,” a model where home groups meet during the week to discuss the Word, pray, confess sins and share at the intimate level that Ted himself so desperately needed. New Life has hundreds of such cells – but only as a subdivision of the central church.
About 10 years ago, I suggested to Ted that he go whole hog and decentralize his church into a full-on house church model – which has leaders, but no clergy class. He good-naturedly said I was 20 years ahead of my time. Hmm. Perhaps I was only 10 years ahead of my time. If Ted had been in a small, high-accountability, house-church group, I think they could have kept him out of trouble.
As I said in my column two weeks ago, the bigger problem is not the pastor, but the pastorate system. “Give us a king!” the ancient Israelites squawked to God. Since this “king” system continues to chew up and spit out even our best leaders, it’s time to retire the system.
The fall of Ted Haggard can be a huge blessing if it opens our eyes to the flaws of the pyramid model. By eliminating the Holy Man-of-the-Cloth system, we can draw the entire church into a participatory family.
Then holiness and accountability will be everyone’s job, and we’ll have 100 percent of the church doing the work instead of dumping everything onto the shoulders of one pastor-hero-father-king standing on a wobbly pedestal.