Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sky Pilots – Bishop Long and Preaching Scandals

Over the last few weeks, I have carefully pondered how to respond to yet another scandal involving the alleged sexual misconduct of a high profile preacher. Many friends have asked my opinion on the matter and I have remained relatively silent until now. Unfortunately, the subject is not a new one and I have posted my thoughts on pastoral misconduct on other occasions. However, as I grow older and more wary of ministry pitfalls, I am increasingly concerned that I not address such an occurrence in a spirit of arrogance, smugness or self-righteousness. With this consideration in place, let me share some thoughts on the matter at hand.

Bishop Eddie Long has been accused of having an inappropriate and sexual relationship with young men for whom he was serving as pastor and spiritual mentor. He has denied all of the accusations and has publicly introduced other young men who stand by him and deny the possibility of any sexual misconduct on Bishop Long’s part. The veracity of the charges remains to be seen. Nevertheless, what has brought even more scrutiny to the Bishop is the opulence of his lifestyle and the level of power and influence he seemingly has over the congregation without any visible corresponding accountability. His possessions include a Bentley, a private jet and a $1 Million home. Perhaps the most telling insight into Bishop Long’s thinking on the matter of his lifestyle comes from his own words. When challenged to consider that his standard of living is not the best representation of a Christian leader, the Bishop responded:

"We're not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can't talk and all we're doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair. I deal with presidents around this world. I pastor a multimillion-dollar congregation," Long told the paper. "You've got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that's supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering."

The Bishop’s words are a challenge to swallow, especially when one considers the avalanche of Scriptural support calling for pastors and other church leaders to be defined by humility, service and a laser-like orientation to the well-being of others. Here are 2 well-known examples:

1 Timothy 3:2-6
“Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.”

Matthew 20:25-28
“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

These two passages place a premium on leaders possessing solid moral character, a gentleness of spirit, a freedom from the love of material wealth and a dedicated heart to serve others These are not the characteristics that seem readily apparent in Bishop Long’s life when one considers his words and deeds.

Perhaps part of the problem can be found in the lack of accountability that characterizes Bishop Long’s ministry and the ministries of many others in pastoral service. In the Scriptures, we see a very strong emphasis placed on this aspect of church life. The New Testament presents a clear call to accountability through the bearing of burdens, sharing of sorrows and joys and the mutual confession of sins for members as well as leaders. There is no Biblical basis for a church leader who is not in some way connected to people who have the ability to speak truth into life situations and offer guidance and support for the maintenance of Biblical standards of leadership. It seems that in the light of having achieved numerical greatness and public acclaim for his ministry, Bishop Long developed a confidence that may have caused him to forego precautions that might have provided accountability and protected him from situations and choices that even appeared to be unrighteous. One well-known evangelist never travels alone and from the beginning of his ministry has surrounded himself with a team of friends who are able to ask him any question regarding his lifestyle and to challenge him in every aspect of his life. This strategy has protected him from set ups aimed at discrediting him and helped him to maintain a reputation of trustworthiness and honesty that has lasted for more than half a century.

Another major problem contributing to shaky moral church leadership is mistaking verbal giftedness and the ability to entertain and maintain a crowd for a call to ministry. Just because someone can speak persuasively is not to say that they can preach effectively, when one defines preaching a bringing froth a Biblical message about Christ. Skills of elocution and an uncanny ability to charm are not necessarily measures of a call to spiritual leadership and may be nothing more than the heralding of feel good, motivational speaking. Granted, we all like to feel good and motivational speaking has its place, but it is not by definition preaching and it is not necessarily challenging the listener with a word about Christ. There are too many gifted speakers who have not been vetted sufficiently to truly see if they are qualified to be pastoral leaders, and the reputation of Christians and the Church is suffering as a result. We see too many instances of stylish, self-appointed “preachers” who have placed themselves behind the “Holy Desk” without one meaningful endorsement from a mature body of leaders who have had the opportunity to scrutinize them, verify the call on their lives and guide them through a rigorous path of preparation before unleashing them on a needy flock. We are truly sending out too may wolves in the midst of God’s lambs.

Consider this. Would you board a plane with a pilot who looked good in a uniform and could make the science of aerodynamics enjoyable and entertaining to the point of brining the passengers to emotional euphoria but had not been to flight school and had crashed a significant number of the planes he had flown? If not, why are we Christians continuing to entrust ourselves to fly the hostile skies of life with people who claim to be “sky pilots” leading to Eternal Life, when they are in reality exhibiting behavior aligned with the culture of death? It’s time for us to stop seeking to be entertained and to start pursuing the goal of being Biblically trained. Don’t check your brain at the church door. Be sure the people you honor as spiritual leaders are worthy of the title. Don’ let the size of the church, big or small, lull you into laziness or tempt you to forego the due diligence of personal Bible study and spiritual discipline. If your only preaching is via a TV preacher and you’re not a shut in, repent, get up and go out and find a church with godly leadership and sound Biblical teaching. There are truly called people, dedicated to serving the Lord and others that need your gifts, talents and your involvement. The guy with the Bentley will do just fine without you. After all, consider that he might be doing just fine without God.

Until next time…