October 16, 2017

Is Megachurch Culture Part of the Problem?

tullian-tchividjian-PREACHING

I really hope Tullian doesn’t do what Driscoll has done, and get back into ministerial work within the next month or two. He needs to stay home and mend relationships with his family and repair the damage done. He needs to mend relationships with those people who really looked up to him. I also think he needs to also really consider his reputation before all of this – as a “celebrity” himself. I think he needs to consider what the office of overseer means, and what it means to care for the sheep.

The Protest! Station

• • •

So, Tullian Tchividjian has fallen. The pastor of the renowned Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida resigned from his position several days ago, releasing a public statement that was followed by one from his wife. Tchividian admitted to seeking “comfort in a friend and develop[ing] an inappropriate relationship” after discovering that his wife was having an affair. His wife Kim’s statement said only that Tullian’s words represented his own opinion and asked that everyone respect the privacy of her family.

Here is the official statement from the church:

Several days ago, Pastor Tullian admitted to moral failure, acknowledging his actions disqualify him from continuing to serve as senior pastor or preach from the pulpit, and resigned — effective immediately. We are saddened by this news, but are working with and assisting Pastor Tullian and his family to help them through this difficult time, and asking people to join us in praying that God will bring restoration through this process and healing to all involved.

We did a post on Pastor Tchividjian back in 2010 after he was asked to minister at Coral Ridge. We called him “a ray of hope in south Florida,” as he took the reins of a megachurch known as a leading congregation at the front lines of the Christian Right in the culture wars. In subsequent years, Tullian became known for his quasi-Lutheran teachings about Law and Gospel, which led to his rancorous public departure from The Gospel Coalition. Leaders of TGC explained that the break was primarily because of doctrinal differences over sanctification, differences that had become “sharp and divisive.” In these and other neo-Calvinistic and neo-Puritan circles, Tullian has been branded an antinomian because of his views.

Ah, but that’s all blog blather now, lost and forgotten in the all-too familiar narrative of a high-profile minister crossing a moral line that precipitated his downfall.

Thankfully, I haven’t seen any “I told you so” posts (yet), claiming that this transgression was the natural result of a preacher being weak on sanctification. I have my doubts that doctrine had anything to do with Tchividjian’s indiscretions. I’m more than willing, however, to look at American church culture as a potential accomplice.

One of Tullian’s parishioners, who blogs under the moniker, “The Protest! Station,” has written an article about the situation called, “Tullian Tchividjian Resigns & The Age of the Unknowable Pastor.” He questions the kind of celebrity aura pastors in megachurches gain and wonders whether it might not contribute to situations like this.

I don’t want to be presumptuous or speculative, but I can’t help but think that such an environment only feeds that sickening desire within us to have renown. Let’s face it, we live in a culture that can arguably best be described by the phrase, “Cult of Personality.” I admittedly was hesitant to go to Coral Ridge, and have oftentimes been hesitant because I’ve wondered if that had something to do with it. Whether it’s the latest celebrity vocalist or someone like Perry Noble, Steven Furtick, Troy Gramling, Joel Osteen, you name it – the cult of personality is everywhere. It’s their sinful inclination to be worshipped and our sickening sinful inclination to worship anyone other than God. I love Coral Ridge, but as much as I hate to say it, we are probably going to look elsewhere because we just don’t really want to be there. It really is painful. And I think we need to find something smaller, with pastors who don’t seem inconvenienced or too busy to talk to you.

Tchiv2-44I think it would be entirely unreasonable to attribute something as common to human nature as sexual infidelity to external causes like this. Heaven knows, how many pastors and leading believers in smaller churches have walked this path!

No, I’m not suggesting that megachurch culture is the problem or that the answer to having faithful ministers is to put them all in small churches where congregations can know them better and hold them more accountable. Tullian himself would say — and he would be right — that this would amount to looking to the Law as the answer to sin.

However, I’m perfectly willing to discuss what I consider to be a matter of wisdom. I do think this kind of culture may play a contributing factor in making it easier for someone in a position like Tullian’s to drop his guard.

  • Position and power and public acclaim can be corrosive to personal character. Am I wrong?
  • A high-powered, fast-paced executive lifestyle can preoccupy a person to such an extent that attention might be diverted from the daily, mundane task of nourishing important personal relationships. Am I wrong?
  • A life that is constantly in the spotlight, on the stage and up on the jumbo screen, making public proclamations to big crowds of admirers, might face some different kinds of temptations to seek a little personal warmth and comfort in the shadows. Am I wrong?

I am not claiming that this is what happened to Tullian Tchividjian. I don’t know. But when an event like this occurs, it gives us all an opportunity to consider what we’re doing in the church. And I can’t help but thinking that the megachurch way and the corporate/celebrity culture it encourages may provide fertile breeding grounds for poisonous fruit.

In our 2010 post, we quoted Tullian Tchividjian when he said: “I learned that God’s capacity to clean things up is infinitely greater than our human capacity to mess things up.” May that truly be the final word for us all.

But may it also prompt us to look at what we’re doing in the church so that we can learn not to put people in positions where it’s easier for them to mess things up so much.

Comments

  1. Thankfully, I haven’t seen any “I told you so” posts (yet), claiming that this transgression was the natural result of a preacher being weak on sanctification

    That’s because you aren’t tuned into those channels. I haven’t read any either, I have better things to do with my time, but I am told they are certainly out there.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It’s the Internet. No matter what the subject, there’s going to be some Net Drunk with an Agenda somewhere shooting his mouth off.

      And “I Am Right!” Utter Righteousness is Everclear for Net Drunks.

  2. “I learned that God’s capacity to clean things up is infinitely greater than our human capacity to mess things up.”

    But he doesn’t always do it in this world. Sometimes His way of cleaning is to just let you die, literally. And then raise you back to life. We should not hold out or promise any hope of smoother sailing in this life. Some are never granted this, and many who are throw it away. Let mercy be the air we breath, and our hope the cross.

    • Word.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Agreed. Word.

      • Agreed. Word. And it happened before. Remember Bob Harrington, titled “The Chaplain of Bourbon Street,” who seemed to drop off the face of the earth for a while? God did the same with him, he ‘died’ and came back to life, totally restored after 17 years away from the Lord. Just look at this article and try not to come to tears reading it.

        http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/2000/11/sla6

    • Robert F says:

      Okay, yeah, word.

      But I for one do much care for this dying stuff. It actually hurts.

      • Meh. Life is pain. How much worse could death be? Rest is good. Lord, now let your servant die in peace, my eyes have seen salvation.

        • This explains so much….. I am comforted in a most bizarre way…

        • Robert F says:

          Life is pain.

          That, in brief, is the first of the Buddha’s Fourfold Noble Truths.

          I like the way you brought the Nunc Dimittis into it.

          • Yes, Siddh?rtha Gautama was quite the orthodox pelagian. 😉

            More seriously, I do believe there is much good in Buddhism that aligns well with Christian doctrine, but only in matters of the law. When it comes to sin management, they wrote the book on secret tips and techniques. I still benefit from the time I spent listening to some of their teachers, and I think all Christians could.

            In our churches we sing the Nunc Dimittis after receiving communion, sort of like our sixth proper canticle. It is one of the most important prayers/hymns of the church, and it really helps emphasize the centrality of death in our spirituality. In my home we pray this at night before going to bed. We’re praying it tomorrow for a funeral. And I will be singing it on my death bed. Now I may sound morbid, but if Christianity does not prepare us to face death with confidence and hope, it isn’t much help in the long run. Besides, Rachmaninov requested his own setting of the Nunc Dimittis, from his Easter vigil, to be sung at his own funeral.

            I’ve also written my own funeral service already. I had to make sure the people actually sing a damn funeral dirge. For the sake of Buddha, I’m dead! Enough with the happy music.

          • Robert F says:

            My wife has all her funeral music picked out, and has been very precise about how she wants everything to go. But she feels no need to write a funeral service, because she believes the one provided by the Book of Common Prayer (1979) is perfect; truth be told, the main reason we remain Episcopal is that my wife is adamant that she wants the funeral from the BCP when her time comes. She can be quite persistent.

          • Robert F says:

            You might consider including the Phos Hilaron along with the Nunc Dimittis in your deathbed prayers.

            O gracious light,
            pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
            O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

            Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
            and our eyes behold the vesper light,
            we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

            You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
            O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
            and to be glorified through all the worlds.

          • Don’t get me wrong, Robert. I didn’t write my own funeral service, I just picked the music. The service will go precisely as scripted in the Lutheran Service Book. For some of us, it is a functional BCP. Our rite is very similar, but a bit simpler.

            And believe me, Phos Hilaron is already a significant part of my family/individual spirituality, more of an evening/after dinner prayer than at bedtime. Our translation goes like this:

            Joyous light of glory: of the immortal Father; heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ. We have come to the setting of the sun, and we look to the evening light. We sing to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: You are worthy of being praised with pure voices forever. O Son of God, O Giver of life: the universe proclaims your glory.

            Check out the musical setting in LSB. It’s quite good.

    • Amen, Miguel.

      Christ is our only comfort in life and death states the Heidelberg Catechism. Too often we believe and expect the comfort to be only in this life. Sometimes God does grant smoother sailing in this life–sometimes He doesn’t. More and more I find myself praying (or at least helping me to accept) “not my will but Yours be done.”

      • That one line almost from HC drew me really strongly towards the Reformed tradition. Christ is our one true comfort, and I appreciate how this is emphasized better in the continental reformed standards.

        In our churches, that prayer is used every week, as part of the Lord’s prayer, as part of our communion celebration. If you like catechism, check out what Luther’s small has to say about the Lord’s prayer. It is paradigm altering: It turns it into a creed, or better, an anthem of Christian hope. And in the context of the supper, all we seek in the prayer is then given to us in the flesh and blood of Christ.

        …and then there’s this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXpAoIZPzOA
        But you really don’t want to see Lutherans trying to rap. It would most certainly not be good, right, or salutary.

        • I’m in a slightly less than typical non-denom but still one with a fairly short view of church history and of the larger church universal. I’ve discovered the value of the creeds and catechism and, as you said, it is paradigm altering. I’m seen as kind of an oddball–call me a rebel!

          • Rick Ro. says:

            There was a day and time when NOT following the creeds and catechisms would’ve made you a rebel.

          • Scott, be careful where that rebel train leads you. You may find yourself becoming increasingly uncomfortable in your current situation. Stop learning now, while you still can! 😛

            Once you know too much, though….

            Rick, in our age of such doctrinal relativism, creedal orthodoxy is the only rebellion left. 😀

    • “Behold, I make all things new.”

      • …but especially dead things. Kind of his specialty, if you know what I mean.

        “Jesus came to raise the dead. He didn’t come to teach the teachable, improve the improvable, or reform the reformable.”

        Capon’d!

        • I read “Between Noon and Three” several years ago and it totally changed my little world. It was like the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy finds herself transported from the drabness of Kansas to the vivid colors of Oz. He described a view of God’s grace I had never known and I owe that book recommendation to Michael; had it not been for him I would never have heard of Capon. .

          • Clay Crouch says:

            I only wish more Episcopalians would read Capon. After all, he was one of us.

          • I work in his neighborhood. My Episcopalian friends here have never heard of Him. Mockingbird guys, but they’re back in the city.

  3. Rick Ro. says:

    Maybe part of the issue with megachurches and the people that pastor them – highlighted by your three bullet points – is that Jesus takes a backseat to the “show” and the “personality.” I mean, Jesus isn’t even mentioned in this article, which means He’s taking a backseat to the scandal and the drama. (That’s not a criticism of the article, just an observation that seems to illuminate the Jesus-void.)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I think that is key; because the ending of this constant sequence of church implosions is not More Jesus, it is precisely less Jesus [or Jesus-as-secret-ingedient]. He is not relevant to the problem – he does not offer the solution. That an institution is a church changes nothing, it adds no magickal properties – it is an institution of men, full stop, no spiritual super sauce. The problem is we cannot talk about them as such – as what they are – as political organisisms bound to the EXACT SAME strictures of organizational behavior as any other type of organization.

      It is a frustration I remember well from my days in mega-church and then non-mega Evangelicalism land. While the people of the institution are generally Conservative – none of the wisdom of Conservatism [and it has much to offer] are brought to bear on the institutions they create and animate, it is exempt from such scrutiny. Every church I attended would have benefited mightily from that exact scrutiny [and skepticism]. In this case the need is for more bureaucracy, not less – tedium such as oversight, auditing, and conflict-of-interest rules. There is no need to awkwardly inject-some-Jesus into these essential mechanics [and doing so often makes a mokery of Jesus’ teachings, they are so contorted and stretched].

      The question is do you want an Institution or do you want a Hero? Choose one.

  4. I read the title of the article thinking that I would disagree with it all. But to answers your questions; no, I don’t think you are wrong. I think you are correct.
    I appreciate the tone of looking for solutions, without being harsh or judgmental.

    Jesus + nothing = everything

  5. Seems to me that if you put someone on a pedestal (regardless of whether he wants to be there or not), you’re setting him up for a fall, sooner or later.

  6. Christiane says:

    you would think we would gladly embrace humility as a shield against the infernal serpent . . .
    but we proudly refuse to adopt humility until we must . . . only then can we receive its hidden gift of unearthly grace

    ” . . . Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile
    Stird up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv’d
    The Mother of Mankinde . . . ”

    (John Milton)

    • Damaris says:

      I had the same thought, Christiane — that humility is protection. Not that I can achieve it, but if I’m truly seeking humility rather than self-aggrandizement, I’m probably in a safer place than, say, a celebrity. That’s a reminder I need.

    • I recently had opportunity to engage in an extensive discussion of Benedict’s 12 steps to humility. Benedict did not fool around when it came to the necessity of cultivating humility. Note how these steps seem, in many ways, diametrically opposed to Mega-church culture.

      http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2007/feb8.html

      Nevertheless, pride is a pernicious weed, deeply rooted in every heart. It flowers in all climates and zones and types of soil. Benedict’s rules suggest that by careful attention and hard work we can prevent it from overtaking the garden. I think that this sort of thinking is not a big part of mega-church culture.

      • Jazziscoolithink says:

        Just read through Benedict’s 12 degrees of humility. I see value in some of them, but others come across to me as anti-human. I mean, good God, is it ever okay to have a nice laugh? I assume it must first be approved by one’s superior.

      • Christiane says:

        Hi DENIS,

        St. Benedict’s prescription was likely written for those who have been called into monastic communities. There is another helpful source for those who are seeking after humility who are lay persons. It is a Catholic ‘litany of humility’, and some may not be familiar with the ‘litany’ format, but it is not hard to sort out.
        It has helped me to rethink a lot of my own prideful ways:

        “O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
        From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
        From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus
        From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus

        That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
        That others may be esteemed more than I , Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
        That, in the opinion of the world, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
        others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
        That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
        That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
        That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
        That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”

        The litany acknowledges that Our Lord changes the old equation. He puts things into a different light for us. He offers us a way to become detached from our pride, and He offers us the freedom that comes in its place.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Yes, humility is the key. I’ve been leading an adult Sunday school through Luke and we just looked at Luke 6:20-26 (the Beatitudes). Jesus seems to be saying there that a spirit of humility is vital for Kingdom people, that the Kingdom is for the people at the bottom of the world’s pyramid, not the top, and the only way to be a part of the Kingdom is to have a humble spirit.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Does this include the Megachurch Head Apostle with the liveried Armorbearers blowing long trumpets before him to announce how HUMBLE(TM) he is?

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Definitely! The louder your humility is announced, the more humble you are!!! 😉

  7. I think it would be entirely unreasonable to attribute something as common to human nature as sexual infidelity to external causes like this.

    Perhaps… but the lack of accountability, the isolation, the pressure, and the disconnect from the rest of the local congregation surely can’t help. :-/

    • Adrienne says:

      I agree Eeyore. The mega church is the perfect setting for isolation and individualism. No one “has your back”, sees that you are in trouble and reaches out before it goes too far. I was a member of mega church for over 20 years and, though I saw some problems because of the size my wake up call was when husband of a couple who sat in front of me for all of those 20 years committed suicide. They met at the church, married, raised their family, were very involved with the youth group etc. etc. I used to joke that they were the Poster Kids for the mega church. No one knew – not even his wife. Why were we so unaware?

      Chaplain Mike thank you for addressing this latest downfall. I am praying that Tullian steps completely out of the limelight for a good, long time and, as Eeyore says, stays home and rebuilds and repairs.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        They met at the church, married, raised their family, were very involved with the youth group etc. etc. I used to joke that they were the Poster Kids for the mega church. No one knew – not even his wife. Why were we so unaware?

        Because in so many churches you HAVE to put on a Happy Victorious Christianese front (“Do YOU have the Joy of the LOORD? Are we SMIIIIIIILING Today?”) — or else.

        It’s not only chickens who peck defectives to death in the barnyard.

        • Suzanne says:

          In other words, lamentation not allowed, or if allowed, only for a brief moment until you “get over it”. It is so difficult to believe that a church that is not bright, shiny, cutting edge, and vibrant can actually do some good in this world.

  8. One parting thought…

    I really hope Tullian doesn’t do what Driscoll has done, and get back into ministerial work within the next month or two. He needs to stay home and mend relationships with his family and repair the damage done.

    I agree 100%. The problem is (and again, it goes to the root of the megachurch/celebrity culture thing), you don’t draw (usually) your megachurch pastor salary while you’re staying at home and “getting things right”. Long periods of repentance, in these cases, would lead to drastic cuts in lifestyle. And a lot of these guys (I’m looking at *you* Driscoll) aren’t much into losing the spotlight, or their meal ticket, over a trifle like taking the time to get their spiritual house in good order.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “””aren’t much into losing the spotlight, or their meal ticket, over a trifle like taking the time to get their spiritual house in good order.”””

      Which may involve loosing your nice car, your vacation cottage, your N,000sq/ft home…. which is going to pile onto the family issues not help resolve them. It is likely much more than the spiritual house is in disrepair. If anyone has observed someone they are close to endure significant financial decline – it is no trifling thing.

      This is one reason I ****strongly**** support the Catholic tradition of priest celibacy – it is simply a Very Good Idea [and I don’t care whit about a Scriptural-basis-or-not]. Is there any doubt the prosperous-and-often-large-pastor-family adds very serious overhead – and political constraints – upon many churches? Many churches release much of their direction and control, implicitly, to the needs and desires of pastor’s wives and children. One rarely hires a Pastor, the church is more honestly hiring his family.

      • Robert F says:

        You know, of course, that in the effort to find more candidates for the priesthood in a time when vocations are fatally low, the Catholic Church could easily change the discipline (it’s not doctrine or dogma that demands a celibate priesthood) allow married priests; and that this is one change the Pope could make almost completely on his own, without the need of much approval from the bishops, since it’s a change of discipline and not of teaching. Don’t be surprised if in the foreseeable future this happens; there is an extreme paucity of vocations to the priesthood as things stand.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          “””Don’t be surprised if in the foreseeable future this happens”””

          I won’t be.

          This however has little bearing on the quality of the idea. Through some means priesthood / pastorship desperately needs professionalization – a tough thing to accomplish in a profession that inherently involves so much community. Celibacy, or more importantly No-Family, was one – albeit brute force – way to accomplish that [perhaps unknowingly]. There are likely other models, but we haven’t found them, in large part because we are not looking [as a result of not wanting to see the problem?].

          Some other less blunt approaches – such as mandatory pastor rotation – are used by other churches. But requiring someone to move has its own issues – pastor’s should not be about-wealth, but given the paucity of retirement support the need to move every X years creates significant financial constraints even aside from stress on the family.

          • I’m not sure what you mean by “professionalization.” I don’t want to react to your post until I understand it. Can you help me clarify?

        • Christiane says:

          the Catholic Church DOES allow married priests in certain circumstances already

      • One rarely hires a Pastor, the church is more honestly hiring his family.

        I actually have no problem with that. Hiring a ROYAL family, however, is where I get off the bus.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          I do not believe you can disentangle these things – one is always the other. And what about children? When a pastor is hired the child is 7, a few years later she/he [or they] is a teenager who did not opt-in.

          Aside: One reason I would never ever do youth ministry again – unless a pastor’s children were grown and gone. The child’s perceptions will if not trump at least bias all else, and the commentary or feedback of everyone else.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Hmm…not sure I agree with your strong support of priestly celibacy. Celibacy brings about its own issues, pressures, anxieties, masks, cover-ups and sins. To me, that’s one tradition that’s in serious need of detonation.

        • Celibacy as an equal option : YEAHH. Celibacy as a requirement: BOOO. The fact that Adam does not want to look at the scriptural case for either/or, very telling. All wisdom is God’s wisdom, but why not start with The Book ??

      • Also, if you’re a celibate priest, you can’t have grandchildren who go on to become mega-church pastors on the back of your celebrity…

  9. Without meaning to sound snarky, Tullian’s problem wasn’t dropping his guard, clearly it was dropping his pants.

    I tell my grandkids all the time that actions have consequences (oh, be careful, little feet, where you go and so forth).
    It is nevertheless still true that as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. Pray for Tullian’s’s heart.

    • I would second that. I’ve seen too many star pastor types (even those with relatively small spotlights) fall into the mental trap of viewing their own failings as Satan attacking their ministry. They then sell others on the idea that it was all about the Devil targeting their ministry because they were doing God’s work and doing things like they’re supposed to be done and the Spirit was moving in a big way and so on and so forth. From that point, it just becomes a matter of stomping on the serpent’s head by getting God’s chosen ministry machine up and running again. The real root issues of sin and pride and idolatry and genuine repentance get swept right back under the rug, and the “great man of God” (or someone just like him) is propped right back up on the throne.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I’ve seen too many star pastor types (even those with relatively small spotlights) fall into the mental trap of viewing their own failings as Satan attacking their ministry. They then sell others on the idea that it was all about the Devil targeting their ministry because they were doing God’s work and doing things like they’re supposed to be done and the Spirit was moving in a big way and so on and so forth.

        According to some reference I saw yesterday, that IS the Spin coming out for this scandal. Source did not say whether this Spin was from TT, his church, his Pastor cronies, or just fanboy hot air.

        (Years ago, I read about a similar “Geraldine Defense” used by a Christian contractor to justify his own shoddy work.)

        • Tullian didn’t blame the Devil. Tullian blamed his wife.

          • Christiane says:

            does appear that he outed her sin publicly for sure, unless she had already make it public which is doubtful . . . I wouldn’t think that was at all helpful to a marriage one wanted to save

            . . . sometimes when people in this much trouble try to think clearly under pressure to ‘explain’ what happened, it comes out more like an ‘excuse’ . . .

            maybe in time, they will work it out, especially if children are involved

            . . . all a very sad business,

            and always so much worse for any children

          • Yeah, I was pretty disappointed with this. For starters, his wife’s sin – or anyone else’s – isn’t really relevant. For another, what kind of person airs dirty laundry like that, wife or no? Furthermore, he seemed to be implying that he was so grieved by her infidelity that he sought solace in the arms of another. Well, to that I say man up. You made the vows, buddy. You can’t blame anyone else for your choices.

          • Robert F says:

            Yeah, publicly blaming his wife seemed kind of low.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Well, Adam tried it.

  10. Clay Crouch says:

    Megachurch stardom seems to be just one big cautionary tale. I wonder if he will get a regular job. You know, like the rest of us. And maybe he won’t write a book about this. I also wonder if the folks that work for him at Liberate saw this coming.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “I wonder if he will get a regular job. You know, like the rest of us.”

      I highly recommend this for anyone who desires to be a pastor. Work in the “regular” world somewhere along the line– and not just while in college. Learn how regular people live, work, play, worship, and think. Learn, and know how to do something in the “regular” world. To me this means doing something apart from your calling, and not simply practicing it in another place.

      There are multiple benefits to this for those who have fallen and to those who aspire to be a pastor or other leader.

      • Agree completely. The Christian bubble, especially in pietisic, separatist circles, can be personally stifling, with serious negative consequences for true spiritual formation.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          And the consequences for psychological and personality formation are not much better.

          Over at Wartburg Watch, a common thread among Nones and Dones is fleeing that stifling oppression of the Pious Christianese Bubble. Like going over the Berlin Wall into the freedom of the West.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        Thank you for your insight. Another benefit of that approach is that those entering pastoral ministry would be older and hopefully wiser.

  11. Regardless of whether the megachurch culture and the cult of personality that goes along with it (which can also be found in smaller churches) may be directly related to this event, that culture, and ministry model, is in itself sinful and idolatrous, both on the part of the celebrity leaders and those who (admittedly often unknowingly) worship them.

    I am reminded of Paul’s ‘model’ of ministry in his Corinthian letters. He is adamantly opposed to a model that emphasizes rhetoric and style (in 1 Cor 1:17 Paul speaks of ‘wisdom of word’ – rhetorical skill – not ‘words of wisdom’, as most translations have it, which then leads to a misunderstanding of the rest of chapters 1-3). In 2 Cor 2:14 he speaks of ‘being led [as a captive] in [Christ’s] triumphal procession’, and opposes the triumphalism of his opponents, who see ‘ministry’ in what Paul refers to as ‘secular’ terms (e.g. 1 Cor 3:3, ‘you are living like secular men, with jealousy and quarreling’). Chaplain Mike’s post yesterday about praying with a family who lost a loved one is a model of ministry of which Paul (and Christ) would approve, not the ‘Celebrity Church of Dr. Rev. [fill-in-the-name]’ who will never even know your name.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “””He is adamantly opposed to a model that emphasizes rhetoric and style”””

      Paul was both professionally trained in, and a master of, rhetoric. There is nothing sinful or idolatrous about the effective use of rhetoric [which is the style and form of public discourse, always has been, always will be].

      It is culturally absurd and of no utility to use the metaphor of Idolatry to discuss these things. Idol worship is idol worship. Betraying one’s stated priorities is betraying one’s stated priorities. Lets call a spade a spade.

      “””praying with a family who lost a loved one is a model of ministry of which Paul”””

      But the Paul in Scripture spends much more time writing letters to churches and public speaking than he does praying with families.

      • Probably because he was in prison.

      • ‘When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.’ (I Cor 2:1-5). ‘For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”‘ (2 Cor 10:10). These verses are full of technical terms (in Greek) used to describe rhetorical technique, specifically related to the Sophists (of the Second Sophistic period), and Paul is not critiquing ‘worldly wisdom’ but ‘wisdom of word’ – secular rhetorical techniques.

        I would suggest Bruce Winter’s book ‘Philo And Paul Among the Sophists: Alexandrian and Corinthian Responses to a Julio-Claudian Movement’, and his book ‘After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change’. Winter makes a compelling case that Paul’s opponents in Corinth (who were dividing the church around personalities and style) were Christian teachers/preachers who took up the popular secular model of the Sophists, which emphasized style, rhetoric, and persuasive skill (including a good deal of emotional manipulation). They also emphasized physical appearance and ‘presence’ (something Paul’s opponents apparently mocked him for lacking). Regardless of whether Winter is correct (though he has gathered some pretty heavy endorsements in the scholarly field [e.g. N.T. Wright]), I don’t believe what Paul says in the passages above would describe many mega-churches or their leaders. (I’m guessing Paul probably wouldn’t wear skinny jeans and spend much time with the hairdresser.)

        • We did a series on this here at IM called “A Letter for the Church Today” back in 2012 in which I made many of these same points.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          And the irony is completely lost to the reader? The very first sentance of that letter is rhetorically eloquent. And what follows qualifies as Literature, it is loaded with rhetorical flourishes and poetic explanations.

          You don’t see I-did-not-move-you-with-persuasive-words as rhetoric? We will have to agree to disagree, we read those passages very differently.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            When you read them with Utter Word-for-Word Literalism (“SCRIPTURE!!!!!”)….

            Kind of like how an Aspergers or Low-End Autistic misses all the tones and social cues in everyday speech.

          • Hmm… the “Brutus is an honorable man” technique?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Winter makes a compelling case that Paul’s opponents in Corinth (who were dividing the church around personalities and style) were Christian teachers/preachers who took up the popular secular model of the Sophists, which emphasized style, rhetoric, and persuasive skill (including a good deal of emotional manipulation).

          i.e. Paul’s opponents in Corinth were inventing the Trendy Megachurch Preacher.

          • Exactly. Though the irony is that the ‘fire and brimstone’ preacher who abhors ‘worldly wisdom and learning’ is just as guilty – ending every service with 47 verses of ‘Just As I Am’, with a few emotionally manipulative stories thrown in to help the Holy Spirit do his work.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “The Devil sends us sins in matched opposing pairs, so that in fleeing one we embrace the other.”
            — C.S.Lewis(?)

            And just like Communists vs Objectivists, they only see the OTHER guy’s sin, never their own.

  12. Marcus Johnson says:

    I’ll suggest that the megachurch culture is the problem. Well, maybe not the megachurch culture itself, as much as its attachment to an evangelical industry that overexposes pastors, magnifies their vulnerabilities, and leaves them open to ruin and public ridicule when they fail to conform. While I won’t provide any excuses for Tchividjian’s behavior (because there are none), I do put it in the context of a career that asks people like him to conform to a certain standard of behavior, affirm a singular doctrine without question, and do both under intense public scrutiny. If this wasn’t a pattern that we have literally seen repeat itself over and over again for centuries, ever since the church figured out how to use mass media to increase pastors’ profiles, I would leave this institution alone. But this is becoming something that’s just too obvious to miss.

  13. dumb ox says:

    I recently heard Francis Chan speak on a subject that touches on this issue. He said that being a Christian isn’t about going to church or participating in church programs – standard “churchianity” frequently discussed here. I think he gets it; I’m not convinced he has the answer. For all the rhetoric from evangelicals about the evils of collectivism, they look to church to provide religion as a program or entitlement, rather than taking personal responsibility. The problem is how not to fall into pietism. Church and pastors serve a role to build up the body of believers, but they are not the end.

    • I recommend reading Rod Dreher’s article over at The American Conservative about this situation. I’ll put it on the IM Bulletin Board later. He comes at it from a more traditional viewpoint, reminding us that the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the holiness of the minister. The pietistic ethos plus the glare of the spotlight in an entrepreneurial enterprise may add pressure far beyond what we should expect from ministers.

      • Ox said: Church and pastors serve a role to build up the body of believers, but they are not the end.

        Between this and Chaps reply, blend well, and I think we are on to something. Many of the ‘nones’ (and this has been me for yrs) have said “I’m fine without the loca church, and the local pastor/priest”, while the other side of the fence has oversold the position and role: somewhere in the middle is safe ground,

        and I couldn’t agree more about the importance of the sacrament. When that is diminished, something , or SOMEONES, will rise to take HIS place.

        • dumb ox says:

          I would also add that a church’s function is greater than spear-heading missional efforts. I like the common model, “equip, train, and send”, but it is a recipe for turning parishioners into mere resources for the cause. Nurture vs. Outreach: another case for that dirty word, “balance”.

    • Chan spends a lot of time belittling ordinary life: getting up, working your job, taking care of your family, etc. In his estimation, one does not love Jesus very much if this is all he or she does with life. He doesn’t understand that he is actually creating the church ethos that he is attacking: ordinary life and vocation is spiritually meaningless; therefore, one must do something “religious” to truly be a Christian. This usually means spending time at church or joining a church program or mission. It also turns pastors into celebrities or a higher caste of spirituality – just like the good ol’ Medieval days. This leads to disasters when the pastor’s clay feet turn out to be no different than mine.

      So, yes, sacraments, but you Lutherans have got to drive home the concept of vocation, i.e. “Table of Duties”. Sacraments and vocation go hand-in-hand.

      • These evangelical celebrities need to get out of their ivory towers and live one day in the shoes of a working class or middle-class parishioner. They wouldn’t survive an hour.

  14. I was wondering if IM was going to comment on this.

    This whole thing is really sad… I’m a big fan of Tullian and got so much out of his preaching over the years. I don’t think I ever truly understood Grace before I heard his stuff, and while I was alone and isolated in Japan for three years, his stuff played a huge part in helping me grow. I definitely don’t agree with him on everything (I wouldn’t describe myself as Reformed) and I see valid criticisms of his teaching, but there’s definitely been way more good than bad in it. Definitely praying that God will heal him and his marriage.

    But on the other hand, I completely agree with IM’s assessment. I was always worried something like this might happen, to be honest, for many of the same reasons. Tullian always seemed so different from others of his ilk – Driscoll, Young, Furtick, and so on. He didn’t seem like a guy with an ego, or who got bogged down in politics and other stuff that distracted from the Gospel. Although I sure don’t know if this is what happened, it seems plausible that being a famous pastor who writes bestselling books and has TV appearances really adds to the pressure. I know Tullian is/was a fine teacher – but was he a good *pastor*? I don’t know.

    I wonder, what’s someone in his position even supposed to do? Adultery disqualifies you from leadership in the church, but when you’ve spent your whole adult life in ministry, how are you supposed to make a living for yourself? Who knows.

    • One question I wondered about was: he is seemingly disqualified from any preaching from the pulpit (at least in that style of church). That kind of rubs me wrong: I can see the leadership thing, but is he now rotten yogurt as a teacher, forever, because of this lapse ?? I understand the integrity issue, but is this a bridge too far ??

      • Rick Ro. says:

        I agree. And as an example, I’ll turn to one of my favorite books on grace and Jesus – The Ragamuffin Gospel – and it’s author, Brennan Manning, who without his fall and recovery would’ve never written such a precious book. I think the real question is timing. When is it appropriate for him to teach again, drawing from his fall and Jesus’ grace through it? That might need to take some time.

        • Agreed: the attitude that “what GOD has given me is so indespensable, I must get back to writing/teaching/preaching” is not going to help the healing process, granted. I think of Gordon MacDonald as another example of how this was handled (I think) well. He took a LONG sabbatical, but came back to teaching eventually.

      • In Religious Business Clubs ™ one “ah shit” (especially of the sexual nature) wipes out all your “atta boys”.

        • Robert Capon;

          For still another thing, all the clergy, mega or mini, who try to turn back the tide of marginality begin to burn out at an alarming rate. And for a last (though the list could go on and on), the burnout doesn’t usually happen soon enough to prevent such clergy from committing actionable peccadilloes that scare the wits out of ecclesiastical bureaucrats and their ever-watchful insurance companies. The church becomes prey to product-liability suits over such things as “sexual harassment” and “exploitation”; the offending clergy are run out of their franchises; and the church (which is supposed to open its catholic arms to everyone, sinners included) ends up looking like a condemnatory piece of work that never heard of grace or Gospel. And all for the bottom-line reason of keeping a corporation from losing its angelic shirt in a lawsuit. My, my. As I said, there may well be some good intentions behind our current alarms and excursions over sexuality. But we’re certainly smashing a lot of Gospel china in the process.
          Indeed, far from following the secular lead and paring our corporate structures back to a leaner and less cumbersome condition (“less is more”), we are proceeding full-bore in the direction of involving additional classes of church members in the corporation’s trials and tribulations. The guidelines now being produces by panicky judicatories for dealing with the “clergy misconduct” brouhaha do not stop at clergy misconduct. On the principle that misery must be provided with company even if the proposed company doesn’t appreciate the invitation to misery, the churches are busy manufacturing computer-aimed, armour-piercing artillery, programmed to fire automatically at church-school teachers, organists, choirmasters, parish secretaries, janitors, and anyone else who might get the corporation in financial Dutch by lifting so much as an eyebrow in the service of sexuality.
          The sad result of this insistence on taking as much of the church as possible down with the foundering corporate model has been to endanger even further the church’s catholicity. We are supposed to be witnesses to the fact that God in Christ has taken away the sins of the whole world. But by insisting on the moral irreproachability of even minor functionaries in the witnessing community, we are effectively saying that we cannot have in our midst any recognisable representatives of the sinfulness that is so obviously God’s cup of tea. Which is manifest nonsense, of course, because one of the things all Christians are supposed to do ad nauseam is tell God what miserable sinners they are. Quite frankly, it makes the church look a bit like a carpenter who, while he claims to be the best woodworker in town, tells you that unfortunately he can’t repair your house because he’s allergic to wood.

          – An excerpt from The Astonished Heart, a brief overview of the different models of the church throughout history.

          • This was what immediately struck me here too, even in these comments.
            Everyone goes on so much about grace.
            People mention having to have your “I’m so perfect and happy” face on at church.
            But this guy steps out of line – finally showing the even pastors are sinners and human like the rest of us, and his life is over.
            Apparently God’s grace only extends as far as us, we can’t extend it to anyone else?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Adultery disqualifies you from leadership in the church, but when you’ve spent your whole adult life in ministry, how are you supposed to make a living for yourself?

      Simple.
      Plant a new Church(TM) and hit The Comeback Trail with a new flock of sheep you can dominate with NOBODY to tell you “No”.
      Like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Mark Driscoll.

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Unspecified “Moral Failure(TM)”.
    i.e. Live boy or dead woman in his bed?
    “I did not know that woman in the Biblical sense” a la Doug Wilson ESQUIRE?

    And so the latest CELEBRITY preacher sex scandal kicks off.
    Someobdy really ought to start a take-a-number system.

  16. I am of the firm opinion that a fallen human will eventually abuse any power that person has. It’s inevitable. Attempts to prevent abuse of power via confinements of “accountability” etc. always fail too. Yes, I mean they fail 100.00000000% of the time. The more power a person has, the worse the abuse. The stronger the “accountability” confinements, the greater the explosion when the strength of “accountability” is finally exceeded.

    I look at Nebuchadnezzar. He had enormous power and abused it. For this he was driven crazy and got to explore the varieties of grass cuisine for a few years.

    If you’re already have your face on the ground, feasting on grass, you don’t have any power, and so can’t abuse it.

    While in this life, as fallen people, Power is dangerous. Always.

    • 1) Mathematically, all the zeroes you scribed to the right of the decimal are superfluous.
      2) Lord Acton’s Law. Yes.
      3) But outside of the church, organizations and even governments have evolved very rapidly to limit the power of those “in charge” – in fact, democratic consensus building has all but supplanted the top-down “military” style of leadership that drove early corporatism.
      4) As an example, I have spent the last decade in mid-level management for Fortune100s and smaller companies, and it was not “accountability” that “kept me in line” – I quite simply have not been given power to abuse. So, for example, if an employee is underperforming, I can inform HR who can then choose (or not) to bring it up before the leadership team, and then we decide together on a game plan that is compliant with corporate values, etc.
      5) In light of that, why is it so hard for churches to change? Why do they struggle on with outdated and ineffective models of leadership? They way some megas, especially, are structured, one can only conclude that the leaders are in it entirely for themselves.

  17. That Other Jean says:

    I am surprised, and a bit dismayed, that nobody here has called out Mr. Tchividjian’s stated reason for his resignation–that he ” admitted to seeking ‘comfort in a friend and develop[ing] an inappropriate relationship’ after discovering that his wife was having an affair,” as Chaplain Mike reported . “The woman made me do it!” is the oldest excuse in the Book, but it has never been a good one. It’s Tullian’s fault, not his wife’s, that he failed to keep his pants zipped.

    • My impression was that TT’s particular sin was a launch point for discussing whether the form of the megachurch is the offspring of a culture where pastors are more vulnerable to sins that disqualify pastors from the pulpit or perhaps whether the megachurch produces such a culture. Regardless, TT is not the main focus, as I understand it. So I don’t mind that there’s been no calling out of TT. It does seem that other sites like Wartburg Watch are more interested in that, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that missions. But I like that IM isn’t performing WW’s function.

      As to the general questions of the post, I would say that marriage is generally hard even though there can be amazing moments of delight, camaraderie, pleasure, and so forth. But I think the pastorship does make it that much harder because it’s hard to leave work at home and “other people” can be easier to take care of than doing the frightening work of being one flesh with another person. It’s not hard to conceive of pastoring a megachurch as yet another level of difficulty. If for nothing else, “shepherding” a flock so big you can’t know who’s new, who’s been around a year, and who’s been around for 5 makes the “other people” other faceless people. “Knowing” probably comes after hearing reports from underlings or the numbers on attendance to various events. At what point do you just chuck megachurch pastors in with rock stars and say, “They live in the same risk pool for exploding their marriages?” From there, either you protect megachurch pastors with a Nehemiah as the wine taster, or you encourage most pastors not to pursue megachurch pastoring if they aren’t willing to have a wine taster with them.

    • I’ve seen this in a lot on comments about Tullian’s situation and I have to say I don’t get it.

      First, the wording on his statement looks very much like “legalese”, a carefully-worded statement that probably some PR guy (or a lawyer) looked over. I’m waiting for a more informal account of events from Tullian before I’m ready to come down one way or the other about this. They may have suggested he say this or that, or maybe not; right now, we don’t know – we don’t even know exactly what happened since an “inappropriate affair” is rather vague. And maybe we never will; this is personal stuff, and not really our business, and while I don’t condone or excuse his behavior at all, I see no profit in kicking the guy while he’s already down.

      Second, the statement suggested that there had already been word going around about his wife’s affair, and it’s possible that it was mentioned there in response to rumors. Hard to say without knowing anybody from the church (not that I want to encourage gossip about an already sensitive situation, anyway.)

      Third, I didn’t see anything suggesting he was “blaming” his wife for his own behavior. Sure, his statement had a “mistakes were made” tone of vagueness – but again, legalese. His sin is entirely his own, and his wife’s affair doesn’t excuse that or make it any less worse. But it’s naive to think that her actions had no bearing or effect on what happened. Clearly, both sides were in the wrong here, and acting like his wife had nothing to do with it is disingenuous.

      Also, well said Andie.

  18. I agree with Mike; I don’t think being weak on sanctification had anything to do with it.

    Who else do I know that’s weak on sanctification? Some Lutheran, as I recall.

    And why do I get these subliminal images in my head of van Gogh paintings? Odd association…

    Van Gogh…van Gogh…

    Ah, it’ll come to me.

  19. dumb ox says:

    Any marriage is potentially a moment away from disaster. You don’t have to be a type-A mega-church pastor. Sadly, one could be a couple holding down multiple jobs just to pay the bills. It could be one stupid decision made out of a momentary lapse of reason. It really doesn’t matter how long a couple has been married. Imagine the pressure of a pastor of a small town church just trying to keep the doors open. Pray for one another.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      There’s truth to this. We’re all one wallop of a temptation away from going down the wrong path. It’s also why, when Tiger Woods had his mega-crash, I didn’t feel like throwing stones at him while many of my Christian friends did.

  20. My greatest moral failure, not my only mind you, occurred when I was a very young twenty something in a position of authority in the church. I had no place being an ‘elder’ but I was. After that I left church until about the age of forty. Now, a full thirty years later, I only go to church but don’t do anything ministerial. I think the thing that would certainly make me suited to some position in ministry now, and the thing that will more likely keep me from one, is my distinct lack of desire to do any such thing. Ambition, the desire to be a leader of men, though couched in a cloak of humility, is a blinder and the more people you have telling you how great and invaluable you are the better the chances are that you’ll believe them.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “But such is the lure of the limelight, how sweetly
      It takes hold of the mind of its host;
      And that foolish Pony did nothing to stop
      The destruction of one who had needed her most…”
      — Ponyphonic, “Lullaby for a Princess”

  21. I can relate, Chris. I was serving as an elder in training in a growing independent church when it started dividing off into factions, broke apart, and scattered to the four winds, all in a startlingly short amount of time. I tried my best to serve as a moderator and keep everyone together in unity and love. But the harder I tried, the more it just slipped like sand between my fingers. Since then, I have been very gun shy about holding any kind of position of authority in a church setting. People may tell me I’m a gifted teacher with deep insights into the scriptures, but when they start lining up in formation behind me, I get very uncomfortable. And I start asking myself disturbing questions. Where would I lead them if they followed me? What would we do if we got there? Who are we marching out to fight against? Who the heck am I to lead anyone anywhere?
    Then again, maybe a healthy fear of leading is a mark of a good leader. I haven’t worked it out yet.

    • Slug,
      I laughed when I read your comment because it rand so true and so familiar.
      Chris

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Chris and Slug….Your discussion has me thinking about REAL pastoralship (is that a word?), i.e. the pastor as a SHEPHERD. Shepherds, it seems to me, are just humble fellows carefully tending and watching over their flock, making sure the sheep are healthy and safe. Maybe the problem with most leadership positions in church is that they rarely take on that role. They’re more concerned about CHURCH business than the actual sheep.

      Seems to me both of your experiences fit in line with an acknowledgment of the humility involved.

    • Then again, maybe a healthy fear of leading is a mark of a good leader. I haven’t worked it out yet.

      You just described Moses.

  22. The prime motivating factor in human actions is a desire to sit with the cool kids.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And grind your boot on the face of the uncool kids.

      After all, how can you be on top unless you push them down?