This Letter About A Mega-Church Pastor Being Removed Should Encourage You
The Journey is a mega church in St. Louis. Darrin Patrick was the founder and lead pastor of the church and a vice-president for the Acts 29 church-planting network. Patrick has been removed from the church and Acts 29 and I think this should be encouraging to Christians (and non-Christians) struggling with the fall of prominent Christian leaders.
First of all, if you haven’t read the letter from the board of elders at The Journey regarding the events that culminated with the removal of Patrick from his position, you can read it here. I highly encourage you to read the letter (both the one from the elders and the one from Patrick himself) because it perfectly illustrates what biblical discipline in the life of an elder (lead pastor) should look like. And the intended response from that elder should biblical church discipline be needed.
That leads me to why I believe this is an encouraging sequence of events.
I have heard many times over the last few years how people of faith are discouraged and frustrated by the sin of pastors and the subsequent action resulting from that sin. In case you don’t remember some of these high profile cases, let me remind you:
John Piper took leave from his church in 2010, citing his need for “a reality check from the Holy Spirit.”
Sovereign Grace Ministries president C. J. Mahaney stepped down due to “various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy.”
Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll resigned in 2014, after his church found him guilty of arrogance and domineering leadership.
(Thanks to Christianity Today for keeping tabs on these events.)
Patrick is only the latest in a string of high-profile Christian leaders to be removed for some sort of sin. As odd as it might sound, I’m really thankful it wasn’t a moral failure involving sex or money. Patrick was removed, instead, for “a range of ongoing sinful behaviors over the past few years including manipulation, domineering, lack of biblical community, and ‘a history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms,’” according to a Christianity Today article (and the letter from The Journey elder board).
In the wake of each of these incidents Christians took to the Internet to express their shock, horror, frustration, and growing disillusionment with the sin of church leaders. The angst seemed to be at significantly higher levels due to the prominence of these well-known Christian leaders. But frankly, that doesn’t make any sense. If people walk away from their faith and the church just because Christian leaders fail I’m afraid there would be a constant line to exit the building each and every Sunday.
Let’s do a quick review through some biblical history:
Moses, the great leader of the Exodus: killed a man, lived in exile so he would not be punished, and disobeyed God in the desert.
David, called a man after God’s own heart: committed adultery, lied, and had a man killed.
Peter, the great Pentecost preacher, denied he even knew Jesus and cut off a man’s ear.
Paul, the greatest missionary in history, persecuted and killed Christians.
(Here’s a great list of other people God used and their shortcomings: Noah was a drunk, Abraham was too old, Isaac was a daydreamer, Jacob was a liar, Leah was ugly, Joseph was abused, Gideon was afraid, Samson had long hair and was a womanizer, Rahab was a prostitute, Elijah was suicidal, Isaiah preached naked, Jonah ran from God, and The Samaritan woman was divorced (more than once). Here’s another really good list.)
The reality that God uses sinful, fallen people to accomplish His work has somehow been lost on a culture that wants to vilify everyone for everything. The practical outpouring of grace and forgiveness is often less visible and seldom offered inside the church than it is anywhere else. Part of this is, I think, due to the fact that we are bombarded with news 24/7. I can only imagine what some of history’s greatest preachers were like in their daily lives; Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, Sunday, Graham.
We tend to think of these men as sinless saints while they lived here on earth; and without realizing it we project on them a persona that has no room for sin. But I believe we would have a very different opinion of them if the media that exists today existed in their time. Not that I think they hid their sin or acted in a self-righteous way – God has no patience for such arrogance. Simply that the ideal we’ve created in our minds regarding these men would most likely look different had the Internet been around 200 years ago.
Can you picture what some of the headlines regarding biblical characters might read?
“Murderous felon leads religious group into desert to find God” (Moses)
“King has mistress’ husband killed, claims to be Christian” (David)
“Well-known evangelist denies he knows Jesus, tells people to repent at tent revival” (Peter)
“Self-Righteous persecutor of Christians wants to tell people about Jesus” (Paul)
Now, I don’t know about you, but those headlines would freak me out. In fact, I’m fairly certain those headlines would make many of us leave our church and give up on this “Jesus thing.” We would sit around with our friends and lament about the lack of “true” Christians and how people are easily deceived by “cult leaders” in our world. And that’s exactly what many people did at the time these historical biblical events were unfolding.
So if God has been using imperfect people for thousands of years, why are we surprised when (1) God continues to use imperfect people and, (2) those imperfect people sin?
The reason this letter from the elder board at The Journey encourages me is that they followed biblical procedures for holding their pastor accountable and, eventually, removing him from leadership. They didn’t gather in back rooms in secret meetings to plot a coup. They didn’t send secret letters to church members calling for a vote (Notice, the church had no say in the matter. That’s biblical!) No, this group of godly elders followed what the Bible teaches. The response of their pastor shows that the Holy Spirit is leading at this church through these leaders. If I lived in St. Louis, I would be visiting this church on Sunday.
Listen, if you’re a believer and you have this idea that your pastor is perfect and doesn’t sin, its time to read your Bible and remember that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” (Rom. 3:23) You also need to be reminded that “there is none that is good” (Rom. 3:10) and that each of us deals with our own sins. Rather than project an unbiblical persona of sinlessness on your pastor consider praying for him and letting him know you are praying for him. Be quick to extend the grace you need in your life to your pastor when he blows it.
More pastors have been forced out of churches where God was working because they made a mistake or two and people in the church “lost confidence” in him as their pastor. Well that’s just silly. If your pastor sins and you lose confidence then you clearly haven’t read your Bible and the accounts of the people God used mightily – they were all sinners that screwed up big time!
Sin has consequences. But God shows tremendous grace to us each and every day and we need to be willing to offer that same grace to our pastor. The fact that it took The Journey elder board several years to come to the decision of removing their pastor says that they showed tremendous grace, patience, and a willingness to forgive. This should be an example to us all.