When Discipline Works

News, Reviews & Commentary
As many of you know, Tedd Haggard served as senior editorial adviser to Ministry Today and wrote a column in each issue of the magazine until this last May, when his increasing duties at New Life Church and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) precluded his ongoing involvement.

During the time he served in this role, we appreciated his warm personal encouragement and insight—as well as his incisive wit in writing and conversation. We're still reeling as we read the accusations, admissions and announcement of his resignation from the NAE and dismissal from the pastorate of the church he founded and successfully led for so many years.

We do not want to understate the long-term effect this scandal will have on New Life Church, the body of Christ at large and the world's perception of God's people. But while we are sobered by the events of early November and vividly reminded of our own frailty and vulnerability to sin, we are also strangely relieved. Why? Because this could have gone so much worse had it occurred at one of many ministries whose leaders did not have the sense to structure their organizations to account for such a dreadful situation.

Consider the case of the Atlanta church essentially run by a family of untouchable religious potentates, several of whom have been accused of ethical and moral lapses, but who have maintained control of their church through a bizarre combination of blackmail, bribery and spiritual manipulation. The congregation of thousands has shriveled to a handful, leaving a wake of shattered and disillusioned souls.

Then, there's the Arlington, Texas, area pastor who drugged women in his church with methamphetamines and then raped them. Although allegations of misconduct had swirled around him for some time, it was not until he was hauled off to prison to pay for his crimes that his pastoral position was pried from his grasp.

This is not to say that denominational churches are immune to such spiritual thuggery. Some of us remember the Southern California pastor who divorced his wife, remarried a week later and pulled his 10,000-member church out of his denomination when its leaders had the guts to confront him for his outrageous conduct.

In contrast, the bylaws of New Life Church were structured in such a way that within 72 hours of the initial allegations of Haggard's conduct, he had been investigated, removed from his post by a team of overseers and elders from inside and outside the church and placed in the restorative care of three respected church leaders.

This is not to say that the system worked perfectly—a "perfect" system would have prevented this scandal from occurring in the first place. As the story unfolds, it will doubtless be revealed that warning signs were ignored and safeguards were overlooked. Even the most efficient structures of accountability and discipline cannot contain the destructive forces of our human depravity. But the leaders to whom Haggard was accountable should be commended for the swift and decisive manner in which the situation was dealt with.

As New Life's interim senior pastor, Ross Parsley said on the Sunday following the crisis, "Last week we were a lot happier, but we were not better off." The wounds of discipline are painful and yet so necessary to our healing.

Matthew Green is editor of Ministry Today.

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