Ted Haggard1 and the Perils of Spiritual Leadership
(Dr. Ron Woodworth)
I’m sure that everyone was as shocked as I was to learn of Ted Haggard’s downfall. Here was an admirable leader who was undeniably a major influence for the Body of Christ—both locally, with a mega church of some 14,000, and nationally as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, with some 25 million members. Even the secular media had hailed Haggard as having reached the “pinnacle of his profession.” I’m sure that most of us as leaders have been encouraged by our visits to New Life Church in Colorado and perhaps even ministered there in the multiple ministry venues available on such a sprawling campus. For those familiar with Islam: Colorado Springs in a Mecca of Evangelicalism (James Dobson’s Focus on the Family headquarters there) and New Life Church was a Kaba [touch] stone of Christian pilgrimage.
And now, in a moment of time, all that Ted had worked for 21 years to build must now go on without him. The repercussions are staggering with grief, reproach, discouragement, and mistrust abounding. And though we all know that our ultimate trust is not in any man or woman, the fact is we are all human ourselves and should take some time to reflect on what we can learn from this unfortunate situation–so that it does not repeat itself in our own experience.
Every profession, including Christian ministry and leadership, has its perils—seven (7) of which we will briefly review here in no particular order. These seven potentially destructive perils of Christian ministry and leadership are: pride, lust, greed, power, offense, discouragement, and anxiety. To which of these are you more vulnerable. It is our responsibility to know our strengths (gifts) and weaknesses (vulnerabilities) so that we can be both offensive and defensive in the spiritual battle of life and kingdom work. Could I suggest that you perhaps read this article among your support group and share how these perils rank in your own experience?
Pride is what caused satan himself to fall from heaven.2 Pride is an inordinate self-esteem; a tendency to be ostentatious and showy.3 In other words, pride is egoism and arrogance. Many don’t realized that pride is almost always the cloak of insecurity and jealousy—the fear of being displaced. The opposite of pride is humility—which literally means to be lowly minded. Humble people have no problem recognizing and praising the grace of God in others. Jesus was the epitome of humility.4 Humble people are great learners whereas proud people know it all. The humble are always on a journey of discovery whereas the proud have already arrived at their final destination. If you and I want to by leaders that last then we must always make the quest for humility a never ending journey of discovery. Proverbs goes so far as to assert that the wisdom of God is the partner of humility.5 When you live in the constant presence of the Lord it’s hard to be proud. After all, compared to Jesus none of us have anything to boast of. Since I am only his steward-servant I am owned by another and can take no credit for that which I have been given. In fact, the only thing that the Scripture allows us to boast of (or literally, “to be proud of”) is in the Lord himself—specifically that we are recipients of his attributes and actions of kindness, justice, and righteousness.6
Lust is desire out of control. Paul warns that if we do not work to discipline our bodily passions then we may end up being disqualified7 from ministry—regardless of how well we preach.8 Forgiveness from sin is one thing, but deliverance from evil is another. Lust is so insidious and pervasive. Indeed, the entire world has been corrupted with the lust that was unleashed at Eden by the fall of our original ancestors Adam and Eve.9 The only solution to escaping this lust is to renew our minds, seek God’s will wholeheartedly, and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Since lust is often associated with eyes10–and by extension to what we visualize in our “minds eye”–there needs to be a discipline brought to what we allow ourselves to look at. This is especially relevant with the barrage of pornography (in its multiple expressions) in the world today. We need to practice looking away as early as possible so that lust will not be allowed to conceive sin–and sin to reap its destructive consequences11. Mastery of the eyes is a major requirement for spiritual maturity and leadership. The temptation to lust is often best over come by a discussion with one’s spouse–and support group as necessary.
Greed is actually a form of lust that is directed toward the acquisition of money—especially more money than is actually needed. I’m impressed with Jesus’ words that even when a man has an abundance of earthly assets his life does not consist of what he possesses.12 In other words, life is not a possession…it’s a pursuit. If you are pursuing the glory of the kingdom then you are living, but if you are seeking monetary comforts to the neglect of kingdom priorities then you are only existing. Rather than simply fighting greed the best protection is probably to cultivate the attribute of contentment. After all, contentment has to do with learning to limit ourselves with what we consider to be essential for life vis-à-vis our basic human needs. It has been cleverly said that God promises to meet all our needs—not our greeds. In 1 Timothy 5:5-6 Paul argues for godliness with contentment as opposed to those who make financial gain the primary objective of their godliness. He even goes so far as to say that if we have food and clothing alone that we need to have an attitude of contentment. This is not to argue against godly prosperity based on faithfulness and generosity toward others, but it is a sober warning to guard against the false notion that my happiness in life, let alone the measure of my spirituality, is essentially based on my check book.
Power is the ability to control, have authority over, or influence others. Power is directly related to the issue of rule, leadership, and ownership. The peril of power is when we forget that we all servants. No one owns any other person; let alone themselves if they are redeemed, but God. And regardless of the measure of rule we are given in the Lord’s house (or world); it is still his house (and world) alone. You’ve heard the adage that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Whatever power, authority, control, or influence we are given by God we should always make it available to empower and promote those people and policies that would bring him glory. Unfortunately, when insecure people get in power, they tend to serve themselves by suppressing others so as not to lose their rule rather than to truly serve those under their oversight. Do not become greedy with the power God has given you, but make it available to others whom God is seeking to promote lest he need to remove you (or them) in order to fulfill his purpose. And, if you are under the power of an insecure leader/ruler, remember King David and do not try to usurp his or her authority, but be humble in your attitude and faithful in your service–knowing that no one can ultimately resist God’s authority and kingdom promotion. After all, why strive for the position of another when the Lord may be establishing a new domain for you altogether.
Offense is a fact of life. When we are offended we are made to stumble usually through anger over some injustice done. Our sense of justice is violated and we easily pass verdicts on others—that usually require some sort of vengeance, penalty or punishment. Unfortunately this spirit of offense can too easily cause us to become judgmental, accusatory, and slanderous of others. If we do not learn to deflect offense we will always become part of the problem and not the solution. Leaders who learn how to redemptively deal with offense become skilled in peacemaking rather than too quick to declare war. There is a time for war13, but too often war among family members, friends, work associates, neighbors, church people, and nations is the result of the anger of man (or woman) rather than the righteousness of God.14 As leaders we are called to be skilled in deflecting offense so that we train our people in negotiating peace rather than in waging incessant wars. “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another” is the biblical injunction15. For if we cannot be at peace with one another in the family of God how are we ever to be called to bring his peace to the nations of the world? Don’t always react in the flesh when you are offended. Learn to respond in the spirit by adopting the proverb: Rather than be offended I choose to be instructed. And if you are quick to learn then you will be apt to teach—which is a primary requirement for those called to lead the people of God.16
Discouragement means to deprive of courage or confidence or to dishearten. In Hebrew, to discourage literally means to “let the hands hang down.” In other words, when discouraged there is no strength to lift up one’s hands to work for fear that danger, opposition or hardship will bring our efforts to nothing. So why try at all?! Make no mistake about it, God wants all of us his servants to live in this world with a spirit of courage to face every day. The enemy’s key objective is to sow discouragement into our hearts so that we cannot persist in the work of the Lord—especially as difficulty approaches or continues to swirl about us. Even if you or I need to make some major course correction in life or in ministry, we should still do it with a spirit of encouragement that God is leading us in another direction. We must always resist the temptation to discouragement because even when God is disciplining us he only does it for our ultimate benefit. We may not feel happy about it all the time, but even when we’re circumstantially unhappy we still have every right to feel the joy17 of the Lord as our strength. Are you prone to discouragement? This temptation is a serious peril that will plague us in leadership until we learn how to persevere in trial and to unyieldingly trust in the Lord with our whole heart even in time of darkness.18
Anxiety is an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension (or fear) often marked by self-doubt regarding one’s capacity to cope with an impending challenge of some sort. Acute anxiety can even become virtually paralyzing requiring medication and intense therapy to cope with merely functioning day to day. As leaders we are called to personally overcome our fears and apprehensions so as to be an example of how others can experience God’s peace and strength as we learn to live by grace through faith. Again, though we all struggle with anxiety at times, a number of leaders are more susceptible than others. Anxiety is traced by some health professionals as symptomatic of those who have been left alone too much in their childhood or youth19. Anxiety nearly always deals with a fear of or in the future. As a result, anxiety can be greatly alleviated when we learn to live in the here and now. Jesus said for us not to worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.20 The implication is that rather than worrying about the past or obsessing about the future; we must focus our attention on the now of our existence. That is not to say that it is wrong to resolve the past or to hopefully plan for the future. Rather, we should not allow the preoccupation with either the past or the future to usurp the main reality of our being—the here and now. After all, the past is in the past and the future will wait until we get there. But since Jesus promised never to leave us21 we have a reason for our confidence to face each day.
All of these perils of leadership: pride, lust, greed, power, offense, discouragement and anxiety must be taken seriously if we are to be effective servant-leaders in our respective spheres of ministry. My friend, how are you doing handling these perils? Are you struggling with one or two in particular? If so, please share this with your spouse and/or support group for prayer, counsel, and accountability. You and I were destined to win. No scheme of the enemy can prevail against us if we with humility, truth, and grace face our fears and temptations. Along with our co-laborers in Christ let us courageously confront the perils of our calling with confidence in a God who promised to finish the work he also began in us.22
1) Though bemoaning Ted Haggard’s situation, please know that I can honestly envision a scenario where, after an appropriate season of time and healing, Ted Haggard could again be in fruitful ministry of some sort, like helping to restore other fallen leaders, etc. After all, our deepest life lessons usually grow from our greatest challenges and often our most miserable failures. We are all sinners who, by God’s rehabilitating mercy, may become trophies of his grace. See 1 Tim. 1: 13-16
2) 1 Tim. 3:16, c.f. Is. 14 & Ezek. 28
3) Merriam-Webster Online article on :pride” @ http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/pride
4) Phil. 2:5 and Matt. 11:29
5) Prov. 11:2
6) Jer. 29:23-24
7) This disqualification from ministry may be for a season, or a lifetime, depending upon our response to our brokenness and God’s grace in helping us to completely confess all sin, repentance of the heart, and accountability from those we trust to monitor our recovery.
8) 1 Cor. 9:27
9) 2 Pet. 1:4
10) 1 John 2:16
11) James 1:13-15
12) Luke 12:15
13) Ecc. 3:8
14) James 1:19-20
15) Mark 9:50
16) 1 Tim. 3:1-3
17) Hebrews 12:2
18) Micah 7:8
19) “The Primal Wound” @ http://www.adoptiontriad.org/primal.htm
20) Matt. 6:34
21) Matt. 28:20
22) Phil. 1:6