I always remember the day well over ten years ago when the news broke of the head of the National Evangelical Association being forced to admit a decades long relationship with a male prostitute who he routinely did crystal meth with. Ted Haggard was the lead pastor of a congregation well in excess of 10,000 people and was the most vocal evangelical voice against homosexuality. The hypocrisy was a stench in the church that day and when I went to my local church that week my pastor, who intended well, only discussed it in terms of warning us not to judge.
That was when I first realized how strong the cult of personality purpose driven pastor framework was. Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church requires a cult of personality pastor. A fantastic orator who captures the hearts and minds of his listeners and draws them back each week to hand over their 10% and keep the seeker friendly industrial complex strong. For the record, Ted Haggard currently operates a new church since 2010 in the same state, because you know; restoration or something.
This is not to pick on Haggard, as he was just a microcosm of a recurring problem and I don’t mean sin. We are all sinful creatures. I am speaking about the fact that those in church seem more protective over the racket than the cause of Christ. Please do not start preaching forgiveness either. We can forgive and realize that someone has permanently compromised their ability to fulfill the pastoral qualifications listed in the Bible. We can root for someone to be restored to their walk but not their pulpit. Mark Driscoll once bragged, in a sermon, about the pile of dead bodies he was leaving in his wake as leader of the 10,000 + congregation at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. A few years later he was caught using $250,000 in tithe monies to cheat the New York Times Best Seller list. Then he was thrown out of the Acts 29 Network, which he had founded! Just when his hand-picked board was going to discipline him, he pretended that God told him to leave and he abandoned his church. One year later he was preaching and soon after that he was pastoring again in Arizona. Oh, and he got a new book published by the folks at Charisma House, proof that they’ll publish anybody. Here he is peddling stuff on Daystar.
This is not to pick on just Driscoll, because the list is practically endless. It is about Kong Hee defrauding his congregation of $50 million dollars. It is about John Gray and his $200,000 Lamborghini hush money payment to satiate his wife regarding his alleged affairs. It is about Israel Houghton winning a Dove Award for music he wrote while cheating on his wife or the man who wrote healer to cover up his pornography addiction by pretending he had cancer. It is about Bob Coy and James Baker.
Now it is also about James MacDonald.
I have written a couple times about the MacDonald empire being on fire but now the story has jumped off a cliff and threatens to take us with it, if we for once do not stand up as a church and say no more. No more do we accept these failings at the expense of those seeking God and the sheep directly affected.
For the uninitiated, MacDonald was an international pastoral figure. I used to receive his daily word in my inbox daily. I did not know that he was running his church into financial ruin to the reported tune of $70 million in debt, while collecting a $350,000 salary (in 2009). Public gambling problems. Publicly calling three elders who demanded accountability, “Satanic to the core.” All of this and he was still the (very confident) pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel.
Check out this video from only about 5 years ago where Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald put their egomania on full display, while they brag about their gigantic churches in front of Mark Dever:
James MacDonald had been deflecting criticism and maintaining power better than his megachurch buddy Mark Driscoll. That is until tapes recently emerged with MacDonald threatening to place child pornography on the computer of Harold Smith, the CEO of Christianity Today. Mr. Smith’s sin? He covered the story of MacDonald and told the truth. Finally, James MacDonald was fired. He left the same kind of mess in his wake that Driscoll and Haggard did before him, only now the story gets worse.
Two separate people, one of which was a close associate of MacDonald, have come forward to police to say that James McDonald asked them to hire a hit man to kill his former son in law. McDonald even offered one of the men to help bury the body. Now everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence but where there is this much smoke, something is usually on fire.
The McDonald story serves as a stark reminder why we should never deify a pastor or preacher. It does not matter how great a speaker they are. The Apostle Paul actually teaches us that fancy speech empties the cross of its power. It is time beloved to start following the Bible when it comes to pastoral oversight. The key verses are some of the wisdom Paul imparted to his protege’ Timothy. He was setting out to be the new pastor at Ephesus and Paul warns him to guard only two things — his life and his doctrine. Ironically, these are two areas we seemingly never hold our pastors responsible for. Try correcting the teaching of someone’s favorite pastor and just watch. The conversation usually goes something like this:
Me: You know Pastor X teaches Heresy A
Follower: Why are you trying to divide the body of Christ?
Me: You know Romans 16:17 teaches us that division comes into the body through false teaching, not those who point it out.
Follower: Well, that’s YOUR interpretation.
Me: I didn’t interpret that verse; I read it.
Follower: Well, God hates a lying tongue and he who sows discord among the brethren
Me: I agree, Pastor X should stop both practices.
Follower: I know his heart, you don’t. He loves Jesus!
Me: I do not need to know his heart, only evaluate his teaching. If he loved Jesus so much he would preach His word correctly.
Follower: Judge not!
Me: You have got to be kidding me…
In all seriousness, if it is not excusing false doctrine then we turn a blind eye towards the other area: his life. MacDonald hand-picked his board but how in the world does the leadership of any church allow $70 million of debt to accrue? How did the Mars Hill Board allow the $250K expense of tithe monies for a personal book promotion? In a local church we watched as a pastor stole the memberships of people who had faithfully served for decades because he accused them of not tithing! Yet everyone showed up the following week and raised their hands as if nothing happened. Pastoral abuse of the sheep? Nothing to see here. A 40% salary increase for the pastor (as MacDonald received in 2009)? Perfectly normal. Unbiblical covenant agreements? Where do I sign?
Enough beloved. I have heard well intended congregants pretend it has nothing to do with them and we must stop this nonsense. Maybe James MacDonald did not try to hire a hitman. Twice. From two different people. It matters not because his empire started smoldering years ago. When the first billows of smoke hit the horizon, all of the cult of personality followers turned a blind eye to the key verse today. Not my pastor!
Yes, your pastor.
I pray next time we at least pull the fire alarm instead of watching the whole thing burn to the ground wondering what happened.