Lessons from the Disqualified
Bryan, Michael, and I are praying and waiting on God to lead more men to become overseers for WestHIll Church. It is a high calling. We understand this decision takes time and deliberation. As we wait, we want to inform all the church about why it's important to have godly leaders.
The Bible teaches that spiritual warfare is real. Our goal is to make mature disciples and our enemy uses deception to stop us from reaching that goal. To help guide the church and discern the devil's schemes, God commands us to appoint elders in the church. When elders are faithful, they bring many to salvation and maturity. But if they are drawn away into sin, they lead many into a spiritual shipwreck. The stakes are high.
Three major Christian leaders were exposed in 2020. Their stories are stark reminders of why God wants the leaders of his church to be self-controlled, faithful husbands. Their failures prove why the Bible holds elders to a high standard.
Carl Lentz, the megachurch pastor of Hillsong New York, was fired after his ex-lover revealed their five-month adulterous affair. Subsequent investigation showed that Lentz’s church had a toxic culture of lavish partying, bullying volunteers, and misusing church funds.
Ravi Zacharias was a prolific and popular apologist who died in May. But recently, his long-term pattern of sexual misconduct has been exposed. A private investigation conducted by his ministry organization, RZIM, found he had a pattern of, “sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape."
Another noteworthy Christian leader, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, was forced to resign due to sexual immorality, lewd social media posts, and unethical financial dealings during his term as Liberty’s president.
In each of their fields, these men were well-educated and accomplished. Christian people regarded them as highly influential and successful.
Lentz was a master at being culturally relevant. He formed relationships with "A-list" celebrities like Oprah and Justin Beiber. His popularity made Hillsong New York attractive to thousands.
Zacharias was a master of academic rhetoric. He could remember endless stories and quotes from experts as he made his arguments for Christianity.
Falwell was a lawyer for two decades before replacing his father as president of Liberty. To many, he seemed to carry the torch of "Christian culture-warrior" given him by his father, Jerry Sr., who was an architect of the "Moral Majority" in the 1980s.
By a human standard, these men achieved as much success as a Christian leader could hope for. But in God's eyes, they have failed at their task. As you consider the fallout of their hypocritical ministry, don't merely think about the shame these men are presently bringing on the church. Think about the decades of ministry during which millions of Christians looked to them for spiritual steak, but were given cat food.
Think about the sermons and lectures these men could have preached if they had treasured Christ enough to repent and ask for forgiveness when sin first surfaced. Think about the reverence for God such a leader would instill in those led by him. Think about the volunteers and staff who joined their organizations in hopes of serving God. Think about the discouraging effect these leaders had on their spouses, children, and extended family.
God doesn’t require a church leader to possess popularity, academic rhetoric, or prominent spiritual pedigree. He doesn’t need attractive leaders. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). That means the church grows through Jesus sovereignly saving people, not leaders attracting large crowds.
God doesn’t require spiritual leaders to be impressive; he wants them to be self-controlled. Look at the requirements of elders in Titus 1:6-9. Self-control, not attractiveness, is the central test. An elder should have a lifestyle that is blameless, monogamous, humble, temperate, sober, and self-controlled.
The reason for this is, “…so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.” The purpose of having self-control isn’t to gain the respect of others. That's earthly thinking. Rather, the Bible says that a self-controlled Christian elder can do two crucial tasks:
First, he can encourage the church with sound teaching. That means that he can think systematically about the Bible to help people mature in their relationship with Christ.
Second, a godly elder can, "rebuke those who contradict sound teaching." That means he can identify people who are misinformed about God or the Bible. He can patiently explain their error to them. He does this so they can have a relationship with God without that error getting in the way. He can also teach others to discern false teaching when they encounter it. This helps to purify the church in its teaching, worship, and conduct.
1 Timothy 3:1 calls those two tasks "noble work". It says some men will "aspire" to do this kind of noble work. Perhaps you aspire to step up in this way and be an elder. Perhaps you know a godly man at WestHill whom you'd like to encourage. You can also be in prayer that God would bring the right men at the right time.