Monday, November 06, 2006

What To Do When You Fail

I was deeply saddened upon hearing the news recently of the moral failing of Pastor Ted Haggard. Not all of the details have emerged, and I'm not sure I really care about them. The facts are simple. Ted Haggard admitted to sexual immorality and has resigned as Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado and as President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Aside from the obvious political motivations of the whistle-blower, there are some very important issues raised.
Te Haggard is the latest in a list of high-profile preachers who have had moral failings, including Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. The saddest part of the whole sordid affair is the damage that is done to the church, both local and general, not to mention his family. Trying to repair the damage that is done in one of these situations is like trying to unscramble eggs. The best that can be done is often to simply try to learn from the experience. So, what can we learn from this?
  • Don't put people on pedestals. Ted Haggard founded a church and nurtured it to a weekly attendance of 16,000. That is no mean feat. But it doesn't make him superman. He was a sinner saved by grace, just like any other Christian. He is subject to the same temptations and challenges that anyone else faces. That being said, the greater the leadership role, the greater the responsibility. A Christian leader must take care of his or her personal life, recognizing the impact that they have on those who look to them for leadership. I'm sure that Ted Haggard thought that dealing with his problems would be painful and embarassing, perhaps even career-threatening. However, I'm also sure that the pain he is going through now is much more severe.
  • Leaders need accountability. From all appearances, New Life Church did have a system in place to provide for just this type of a situation. However, there doesn't appear to have been anyone in his life in whom he could confide and who could have helped him to deal with his problem before it became a public mess. One of the greatest challenges for leaders is living up to the expectations of their followers. That can lead to being more concerned with our reputation than our character. Integrity means being, in fact, what we say we are. Maintaining integrity requires accountability relationships with people who know you well and who have permission to ask you the hard questions. While this is challenging, prevention is always better than the alternative.
  • Churches should avoid becoming a "personality cult." It looks as though this has not been a huge problem with New Life as another Pastor has stepped in and can hopefully lead the church through this dark time into better days. It was the problem with Jimmy Swaggart though. His was the face and the voice of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries and so he refused to receive the discipline of his superiors because he didn't think his organization could survive without him for three years. The Bible teaches us that, in the church, while all are important, none are irreplaceable. When we think that we can't be replaced, we should be.
  • Failure does not have to be final. While I'm sure that Ted Haggard and his family feel as though they're living a nightmare, life will go on. Back when Jim Bakker went through his disgrace and imprisonment he became the butt of many a comedian's jokes. But I was impressed with his sincerity in his confessional book, "I Was Wrong." People are generally forgiving if they sense real sincerity. While, quite obviously, things will never be the same for Ted, my hope for him and his family is that they are able to work their way through this and demonstrate the power of God to heal. Someone said that if you've fallen, you might as well pick something up while you're down there.

Life is hard sometimes. People do stupid things. When we've failed we must own up to it; take the consequences. It's not easy to do, but whoever said life would be easy? It's in days like these that I remember what Jesus said: "In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer! I have overcome the world." If you believe in prayer, remember to pray for the Haggard family and all of those affected by this.

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