One more high profile resignation has shocked the megachurch community of star churches with equally well known star preachers and teachers. This time it is Tullian Tchividjian who resigned from his pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian after marital difficulties that included an affair on the part of his wife and himself. We all well know the fall of Mark Driscoll (for another moral failure) and in Florida alone three high profile pastors of three high profile megachurches have resigned for moral failure. Once honored as pastor of one of America's "10 healthiest churches" David Loveless resigned after confessing that he committed adultery three years ago. In the past six months, two other pastors, Summit Church's Isaac Hunter and The Gathering Place's Sam Hinn (brother of Benny Hinn) also resigned. Last year Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's popular founder and leader, Pastor Bob Coy, also resigned due to moral failure. Add this among the list of megachurches whose very existence has been threatened by succession issues when the popular founder retires, resigns, or dies. The news is not good for megachurches dealing with problems with life after their pastors got in trouble.
For Lutherans the Tullian Tchividjian resignation is a bit more close to home. He came to Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church after a self-indulgent young adulthood that found him back in the Christian faith. Coral Ridge was looking to polish up its star after the death of found D. James Kennedy had left the congregation in decline. Tchividjian was restoring some of that luster but not without controversy. Some Coral Ridge folks tried to oust him and he himself acknowledged that he was changing. Having hit upon the Lutheran distinction of Law and Gospel and sounding almost Lutheran, he went through a public breakup with The Evangelical Coalition and became a star to many Lutherans (a featured speaker a short while ago at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis).
In any case, the problems of the pastoral ministry are many, the temptations great, and the life rather lonely (despite the appearance of many friends). All of this combines to create an environment ripe for moral failure under even the best of circumstances much less for the average pastor who has no celebrity following. My point in all of this is that no matter how sad this news is, it was avoidable. The problem for us today is that we dare not deny our desires and even in the church it is hard for people (and pastors) to say "no" to their wants or to practice the lonely discipline of self-denial.
A key question for the churches will be what to do with folks like these whose moral failures seem to have disqualified them from serving as pastor. Once in the LCMS such moral failure was an automatic path out the door of the parish and the roster. Today many remain and not only those who have been found "innocent" parties in such situations. On the one hand, the policies and decisions of the churches have been dictated fear of legal liability, by insurance programs, and by the inability to know what to do with such folks should they truly repent. In the LCMS I am told that moral failure (a euphemism for a variety of sexual sins) has become an automatic dismissal. So what role does forgiveness have in all of this? And if the church exercised the same no tolerance policy then as we often do today would we have ever had people like Augustine?
I must admit that I have no answers here. I know, as do all pastors who acknowledge their sinfulness, that I am unworthy of the office. My own sins of thought and word and deed are a weight upon my own soul and push me to find refuge in Christ's healing wounds. As Luther put it: I am, indeed, unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known Thy glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation. And again: Oh, Lord God, Thou hast made me a pastor and teacher in the Church. Thou seest how unfit I am to administer rightly this great and responsible Office; and had I been without Thy aid and counsel I would surely have ruined it all long ago.
Oh, Lord God, Thou hast made me a pastor and teacher in the Church. Thou seest how unfit I am to administer rightly this great and responsible Office; and had I been without Thy aid and counsel I would surely have ruined it all long ago. - See more at: http://pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com/2012/07/anniversary-day.html#sthash.e30erqXq.dpuf
I am ever so glad that I am not called upon to make such decisions for the larger church over pastors caught in moral failure. I am also comforted in my own flawed service to the Lord that He takes my mistakes and forgives them and reminds me in my successes that it was not me but His grace and power that made it happen. Yet no pastor worth his salt ever thinks such ruin cannot happen to him. It is always sad when this happens, it is most always avoidable, but it requires of us to do what is against our sinful nature -- deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. God help us to do that -- pastor and pew sitter alike!