God-inspired preaching bears legitimate fruit. But author Doug Stringer says if the church is degenerate and worldly, those in the pulpit are to blame. read more
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A guide for healthy ministry that will help you to remain real and stay accountable
My heart broke recently as I watched Pastor Ron Carpenter pour out his heart in his weekend message to his congregation. It was a gut-wrenching experience to hear him share with his church the devastating pain his family has endured during the past 10 years and the incredibly difficult future they now face.
I have never met Ron, but my heart and prayers go out to him. I can’t imagine the anguish of sharing the most awful parts of your private life with hundreds of friends and thousands of strangers. This is a time when we put aside theological differences and preconceptions and pray for a man and a family wrecked by the effects of evil.
Seeing Ron expose his heart and soul to his congregation reminded me of several hard-earned lessons from a lifetime of ministry. These lessons are not about Ron Carpenter or Redemption World Outreach Center. I don’t know anything about Ron, his leadership or the structure of his church. Rather, these are lessons learned from 31 years of vocational ministry, from growing up a third-generation pastor’s kid, from watching 30 members of my extended family in active ministry, and from interacting with hundreds of pastors and leaders across the country.
1. Integrity: Am I real? “Integrity” means “being complete or undivided.” Though all pastors stress the importance of integrity, there is a temptation in ministry for a leader to create an onstage image that is different from who he really is. Very few set out to be two different people; it just happens. This is an incredibly dangerous road to go down.
I’ve seen a couple of iterations of this tendency to project an idealized leader for public consumption. In one version, the leader creates a more polished image of himself. He is incredibly happy, has a well-adjusted family and lives a super-desirable lifestyle. He faces challenges and temptations, but he always overcomes in the end. The implied message is that if his followers will emulate his faith, they too can live a charmed life.
Social media has made this temptation into an art. The leader tweets about his “smokin’ hot” wife, his incredible kids and the constant spiritual breakthroughs he achieves. He creates a life everyone wishes he had. In reality, it’s a life the leader wishes he had as well.
In the second version, the leader creates a more raw version of himself. He talks about a crisis of faith he never really had. He embellishes college stories to better match those of his congregation. He exaggerates family challenges to sound more like the real-life stuff his followers deal with every day.
This version of the leader requires that he hide a relatively innocent youth as well as the luxuries ministry success has afforded him. He must feign humility even when he doesn’t feel humble. The message to the church is, “You can follow me because I’m just like you.”
Authentic ministry requires one version of you. You may be a little more refined in public, but people who know you should be able to say you’re the same guy on stage as you are at the ballgame.
2. Transparency: Am I human? “Transparency” means “able to be seen through.” Integrity says “what you see is what you get” while transparency says “what you see is a normal human being.”
Transparent, human leaders get tired, discouraged and frustrated. They’re not always sure where to go or what to do next. They don’t have fairy-tale marriages, and their kids sometimes (all the time) exasperate them. They worry about their finances and their health and how they’re going to care for their parents when the time comes. They have been called into a position of public ministry, but they’re just ordinary humans.
Being transparent about our humanity means admitting we sometimes struggle in our marriage, feel clueless as parents and wrestle with balancing our faith with our doubt. Transparency says the human condition is universal.
3. Vulnerability: Am I broken? “Vulnerable” means “capable of being wounded or hurt.” We are creating a version of Christianity that says the true believer, if he follows the right plan or practices the right disciplines, will inch closer to spiritual perfection. The goal is to be a mature believer who almost never sins and who, if he does, commits just minor offenses such as forgetting to leave a tip or sighing out loud in line at Walmart.
Leading the parade is the pastor who proclaims he has overcome the sin he used to struggle with and is now nearing heavenly nirvana. He might have been saved by grace, but he has worked his way to true holiness.
This in spite of all the biblical evidence to the contrary. David seduces Bathsheba and murders Uriah long after writing Psalm 23. Peter succumbs to hypocrisy, refusing to eat with Gentiles, years after leading Cornelius to faith.
The healthy leader says with integrity, “There is only one version of me”; with transparency, “I am only human”; and with vulnerability, “I have broken parts in my life. I am growing spiritually, but like you, I struggle with sin every day.”
4. Accountability: Am I under authority? “Accountable” means “responsible, answerable.” I have not seen a leader fail or crumble who has a small circle of friends to whom he is accountable—friends who know his family, his background, his sins and his failures; friends who call him out on his stuff and have permission to remove him from his position of leadership if necessary.
An accountability group works only if the leader is honest with those in the group. If he isn’t real, transparent and vulnerable with them, they are of little value. If, however, this is a group of peers he trusts with his life, they will likely catch him before his world comes crashing down.
A danger here is the illusion of accountability. A pastor will point to a board of overseers, deacons or elders as his accountability group, or he may say denominational oversight provides his safeguard. Normally, however, the accountability at this level is surface. The pastor rarely shares his intimate challenges and sins with an appointed board. They have the power to discipline or remove, but they don’t live in the daily details.
Board accountability is like floodgates on a dam; it is the last line of defense. True accountability happens in a smaller circle at a deeper level.
Living It Out
A final note on living out these four ideas: Not everything is appropriate to share at every level. It is as unhealthy to dump your garbage on your neighbor’s lawn as it is to hide it in your basement. Though a healthy leader has integrity, transparency, vulnerability and accountability at every level, he also understands what should be revealed at every level of leadership.
The leader’s small circle of friends has open access to his life. Nothing is off limits. They help him determine what is appropriate to share at the other levels.
The overseers have access to the general outline but not necessarily the details. The staff has a clear picture of the leader’s life without information that could hurt or embarrass others (for example, the staff leadership team may know the pastor is struggling at home but doesn’t know the specific challenge).
The congregation knows enough to understand the overall picture of the pastor’s life. If a pastor has been real with the congregation and his son is arrested for possessing or dealing drugs, the members won’t be shocked. They knew the pastor was struggling with a family issue; they just didn’t know which family member or the specific issue.
This article is not aimed at any pastor nor is it a blueprint for growing a church. It is a guide for healthy ministry that will help you project a true image of who you are to those around you. When you are honest with yourself and others, you will be more likely to succeed.?
Geoff Surratt is the director of Exponential, an organization whose mission is accelerating the multiplication of healthy, reproducing churches. He is the co-author of The Multi-Site Church Revolution. read more
A repentant heart is essential for a recovering pastor. But the hearts of those involved in the restoration process must be right as well.
Paul said that the attitude overseers should have in the process of restoration is one of meekness (see Gal. 6:1). Leadership failure is a tragedy and a disaster. No one should delight in or be gleeful about a leader’s demise.
The leader’s wife and children will suffer intense shame for the leader’s actions. His name will be a byword for many years. The church will suffer from controversy in the community. The lost will have a reason to blaspheme the Lord’s name. A proud, high-minded, flippant attitude on the part of those doing the restoration is spiritually immature and deadly to the entire process.
Paul said that we should look to ourselves so that we too would not be tempted (see Gal. 6:1). Here are a few attitudes a leader must maintain while overseeing a restoration process:
1. Impartiality. One aspect of meekness is humble fear before God in undertaking church discipline. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality” (1 Tim. 5:19-21).
These responsibilities are holy responsibilities. The Father, Christ Jesus and the “elect angels” are overseeing the order and operation of the local church. It is a mistake to allow ourselves to become simply “relational” in our discipline and restoration of leaders. Our love for them does not override our love for Christ’s church or the example we must set in ministry.
Open communication with a congregation about the discipline of a leader is critical. The overseeing body must select interim leadership and begin a search for new leadership if necessary.
2. Vision. Those involved in restoration must maintain a vision of a fully restored leader, marriage and ministry. Though a leader’s influence may be limited by his past, there will be opportunities for him to release his gift first as a layman and perhaps later as a five-fold leader. He must, however, maintain submission to the process so that the future testimony of those restoring him can be one of complete submission and restoration.
Some confuse the terms “forgiveness” and “restoration” with regard to a leader who has experienced a failure. A line must be drawn between forgiveness and restoration. Forgiveness is always instant! However, the Greek word for restoration means “the setting of a broken bone.” We know that restoring a bone requires a cast, a period of immobility and therapy.
Those restoring a leader must prepare themselves to be patient with the fallen leader in his depression, anger, hurt, confusion, misunderstanding and cycles of despair.
What is the end vision for a restoration team? To stand with a leader publicly, testify of his submission to a process and declare that he is fully restored to fellowship, fully functional in his family, and fully released to pursue the call of God on his life.
Larry Stockstill is senior pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, La. read more
Do you know of any church leaders who act as if they are untouchable? Would you call them out for doing so? read more
Every once in a while, we have to sit down and balance our checkbook. We take the time to assess what we’ve spent and how we are doing financially.
In a similar way, from time to time we need to take a spiritual inventory and a full audit of our theology. As leaders, it is easy to get in the performance habit—living our faith so publicly—that we forget the deeper parts of life that really comprise our foundation.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the basics. read more
Pastors and leaders, I’m going to give you a sneak peek at your final exam. You’re going to stand before God one day, and He’s going to evaluate your faithfulness. He’s going to look at seven different aspects of your life to judge your faithfulness, and you should be highly interested in developing these areas of your life and leadership.
1. Do you possess the right values? A faithful person knows what’s important in life and what isn’t important in life. A faithful person knows how to invest his or her life. A faithful person makes their life count. A faithful person knows the significant apart from the trivial. read more
Last week, I wrote about the three greatest temptations of leadership. This week, I want to talk about the three ways we can keep our integrity and prevent those temptations from destroying our testimony and diminishing our influence.
First, deepen your reverence for God. Never forget that God put you in the position you’re in today. Psalm 75:6 says, “For promotion and power come from nowhere on earth, but only from God. He promotes one and deposes another” (LB). Great leaders realize that they are stewards. They realize that it’s not their world, their church, their business; they are just the manager, the steward. Promotion comes from God, not from other people. read more
Do you think it’s easier handling success or failure? Thomas Carlyle once said, “For every 100 people who can handle adversity there is only one who can handle prosperity.”
I think most people can’t handle being at the top. It changes them. In fact, success destroys some people. There are several legitimate benefits of being in leadership: read more
Pastor, there are two truths I want to share: (1) Many of your fellow pastors are personally struggling with pornography and; (2) pastors must address the issue of pornography among the people they lead.
Several questions emerge based on these two truths. What if you are personally struggling with pornography? Who can you tell? Who can you trust? What if they break your confidence? What should you do? How should you broach the subject of pornography in the pulpit? I mean, it is awkward and could be controversial. Besides, are that many Christian men (and women) really struggling? Should the whole church have to endure the uncomfortable discussion on pornography in your preaching because a few are struggling? read more
By definition, a narcissist is a person who believes the world evolves around them to such an extent their own desires blind them to relational reality which makes them insensitive to the needs and perspectives of others. One of the sad realities in our consumer driven, hedonistic culture is that we are producing millions of narcissistic people including leaders of large organizations.
Because of our sinful nature as human beings, all of us have some narcissistic tendencies to deal with.
The following traits identify leadership narcissism: read more
Have you ever thought that a guest at your church might, in fact, be a spy? My church consulting company uses church “spies” to help us evaluate how churches respond to guests. Our spies are “good” spies, though, since their goal is to help a church face reality and move toward health.
Numerous spies have written us reports for more than a decade. Below are some of the most common findings they have sent us.
To be fair, the churches that invite us to work with them know they need help, so these findings should not be entirely surprising. What concerns me is the number of churches that have not yet recognized these findings characterize them too: read more
Whether you recognize Sam Hinn’s name or know nothing about the ministry of Benny Hinn’s younger brother, there’s an important issue in the body of Christ that needs to be addressed in light of Sam’s “re-ordination” on Sunday night in Orlando, Fla., only eight months after he stepped down from the pulpit due to a serious moral indiscretion.
This and other recent instances—both in Orlando and around the nation—prove that we, as the church, still struggle with how to restore fallen leaders. read more
The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27).
Christians are the most overweight people group in America. Have you wondered why this is true? I believe everything rises and falls on leadership, and I believe the main reason people are overweight in the pews is because so many pastors are overweight behind the pulpit.
Like most pastors, for years I chose to ignore the problem, shift blame elsewhere and not make my congregation aware of the importance of being healthy—but not anymore. Now that I’m doing something about my weight and my lifestyle, I no longer have a difficult time speaking to my congregation about this problem. read more
Every week it seems there is another scandal breaking out with a high-profile person, whether in politics, sports, media or the church. A person could have done much good their whole life but with one act of passion destroy everything they have built.
Proverbs 22:1 teaches us that a good name is worth more than riches. One of the things I have found out through the years is that a person’s name and reputation are their greatest capital in regard to opening doors and having influence in the world; this is a quality people look for even more than gifts, talents or leading a successful enterprise or ministry. This is because people know success built upon gifts and talents and not on the foundation of character and integrity will not last in the long run. All of us are tempted to fall and have the capacity to fail because of our sin nature. read more
Recently, I received a call into my Heal Your Servant conference call line. On the other end of the phone, there was the voice of a broken and frightened man. He was sobbing uncontrollably—so much so that it took over five minutes for him to gain his composure enough for me to understand anything he was saying.
He then began to just systematically break down his sexual sin. He stated that when he was a little boy, his dad was very dominating and abusive toward him, his mom and his sisters. The only time he would receive any accolades from his father would be when he acted out with verbal aggression toward his mother or sisters. His father claimed to be a Christian man and always quoted Scripture that emphasized man’s dominance over women. read more