Ted Haggard Should Know: Ministry Failure is a Hard Teacher

He speaks out on the tragic suicides that have struck prominent Evangelical pastors’ sons:

“Some researchers are reporting that the suicide rate among Evangelicals is the same as that of the non-Christian community. How sad,” Haggard, who made national headlines for a sex scandal involving a male prostitute in 2006, writes on his blog, days after Hunter, founder and former pastor of Summit Church in Orlando, Fla., died of an apparent suicide.

I got into it with New Mexico pastor Alan Hawkins on Haggard’s restoration.  Although my time working as a denominational employee ended three years ago (they abolished my department) I am still involved as a member of the Church of God Division of Care board.  Part of the division’s portfolio is ministerial restoration.  The process is fairly extensive, and some of our pastors who experience moral failure simply leave the denomination and go independent without going through the program.  Obviously some of them just don’t want to go through the process, but for others it’s a matter of wanting to continue ministry income, which stops during the restoration process.  That’s where an economic issue trumps a ministerial integrity one, which I find unfortunate.

In Haggard’s case, since he was not in a denomination, and for whatever reason the restoration process he entered did not complete successfully, we’re back to the lack of accountability issue that plagues non-denominational churches.  With his ability to generate income through secular means, the economic issue wasn’t there either.  My wish when I was going back and forth with Hawkins and now is that a) Ted Haggard be well with God and b) we avoid a repeat of his 2006 disaster in Colorado Springs.  The former is obviously between him and God; the jury is still out on the latter.

In any case, Haggard makes some correct observations about ministers and the pressures they are under.  The pressure for performance–and performance usually means big crowds and the money they generate–has warped the system.  Much of that pressure comes back on pastors; I wouldn’t want to be one these days.  The result is that PK’s, not in an easy situation to start with, often have a worse situation than before.

I’ve always found it strange that Christianity, where salvation is totally from God’s provision and the first shall be last and the last first, has been turned into a performance-based business for laity and clergy alike.  Our Lord said that “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:30 TCNT)  So why have we made it so heavy?  And why, lay people, can’t we make it a little easier on our pastors, not only on Pastor Appreciation Day but all year around?

I also think that our teaching on suicide leaves something to be desired of.  For centuries, suicide was considered murder and treated as such for eternal purposes (remember Dante)?  With Reformed and related theology, salvation for the elect is inalienable, no matter what they do.  Now we look at things therapeutically, which for some has merit but perhaps not for all.  Maybe if we were more concerned at possible eternal consequences, we’d be more conscientious about helping people and preventing people from taking the one life that God has given them.

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