Prayer Right Response to Scandal
It’s been more than a month since the remaining lead pastor and elders at Willow Creek Community Church resigned amid a months-long scandal over the founding pastor’s alleged abusive behavior. However, the repercussions will continue for years.
In personal conversations of late, I have learned that many folks aren’t even aware of the suburban Chicago church that helped pioneer the modern megachurch movement.
That I am, and even interviewed that founding pastor one time about one of his evangelistically-oriented books, shows the double-edged sword of having reported on a wide range of church-related topics. Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t so aware of various events.
A Wave of Misbehavior
This latest development comes several years after another well-known megachurch imploded. Its pastor resigned amid various allegations, including a raft of complaints about his verbally-abusive behavior.
At the same time of the latest Willow Creek revelations, a Philadelphia grand jury issued a report accusing 300 priests of abusing 1,000 children over seven decades. Plus, conspiring to cover up their crimes.
There have been other misdeeds revealed in various churches over the past year—pastors with drinking problems, sexual misconduct, et. al.
The net effect of this wave of scandals is a serious blot on Christianity. Indeed, the situation is so grave that the only reason I am confident the church will survive is Christ’s statement in Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (MEV).
The typical knee-jerk reaction to such events can be phrased as: “Off with their heads. Lock ‘em up and throw away the key!” Returning then to our comfortable routines means not giving much thought to the implications such problems reveal:
- Authoritarian leadership
It’s my belief that in too many churches and ministries, leaders either project—or enforce—a “my way or the highway” ethic.
When individuals are given too much power, or when elder boards or others who are supposed to hold a leader accountable fail to do so, the results aren’t pretty.
It’s not because the leader is inherently off balance, but because human nature can easily drift in the wrong direction. None of us is above questioning, correction, or constructive criticism.
A pastor I know told me about God correcting his attitude about former President Bill Clinton.
Admittedly not a fan of Clinton’s, the pastor said after the Monica Lewinsky scandal that hampered his last two years in office, one day the Lord told him: “If the church had spent as much time praying for the president as it did complaining about him, that affair might never have happened.”
So, as we survey the carnage of late in the church, we have to ask the painful question: how many of us are praying for our pastors and other Christian leaders?
Sure, I can claim regular intercession for my own pastor, but I likely need to widen my scope of concern.
- The Need for Closer Relationships
While large churches can tackle major projects in a way smaller congregations can’t, no matter what the size of the church we need more personal contact with each other in daily life.
A once-a-week “hi, how are you doing?” handshake after some praise and worship music and a sermon before returning to “normal life” isn’t the way Jesus designed His church to operate.
We need to be involved in close, accountable relationships, the kind that can result in friction or irritation even as they create friendships and mutual support.
We aren’t to do church, but be the church. Right now, our muscles have atrophied. It’s time to rebuild.