Theologian and pastor James Emery White argues that turmoil within churches regarding the pastor, such as what has transpired at Mars Hill Church with Pastor Mark Driscoll, is not just a problem for the individual congregation, but for all churches.
"Without going into the saga that is Mars Hill Church … let's just say that it's a mess. And not just for Mars Hill," White recently wrote in his blog, Church & Culture. "It's a mess for all churches as such things unfold before a watching world. Every time something like this happens locally, or nationally, I groan. Not simply because it grieves me, not simply because of the damage to our collective witness, but because it makes it so much harder for so many men and women in ministry who don't create messes."
White, the founding and senior pastor at Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, fears that others will "get painted with the same brush."
"And let's be clear: we're not supposed to be leading in a way that creates a public mess," he writes, without incriminating anyone in particular.
White points out that the Bible lays out certain qualifications for church leaders, "most notably that they have demonstrated capable leadership of their own family (I Timothy 3:4-5, Titus 1:6)."
"The idea is that the church is a family, so how can someone lead the church if they can't seem to handle their own home life? There are other qualifications as well, including being self-controlled, not quarrelsome or greedy (I Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-9)," he states.
White believes that the heart of the matter is that Christian leaders should be "above reproach," which he says "points to an absence of behavior in public settings that would harm the reputation and ministry of the church."
"As John Stott aptly noted, 'This cannot mean 'faultless,' or no child of Adam would ever qualify,'" White quoted. "Instead, he argues, it means 'blameless reputation' and has to do with 'irreproachable observable conduct.' In other words, above reproach in the most public aspects of daily life."
It is a "watching world" that White thinks Christians should be more concerned about, "not what your particular fan base may or may not find acceptable." White adds, "And sadly, while that lesson may have been learned on such glaring matters as sexual fidelity, it seems to be increasingly lost regarding such issues as pride, ego and greed."
In his post, White turns to "the countless numbers of leaders who aren't creating a mess," and asks Christians to remember four "very important things":
1. Don't lump them in with whomever is creating the latest negative headline, or become suspicious without warrant.
2. Don't confuse the normal, everyday sin you can see in any of their lives with the kind of sin that disqualifies them from leadership.
3. Don't penalize them when others get taken to task for taking good things too far. What I've noticed with many recent church leaders in the news is a pattern of taking something many leaders do with integrity, but taking it over integrity's edge.
For example, there is nothing wrong with a nice house,
...but not million-dollar mansions.
There is nothing wrong with writing a book,
…but not using church money/resources for its promotion.
There is nothing wrong with strong leadership,
…but not becoming autocratic and dictatorial.
There is nothing wrong with a church structure that frees up the leadership gift,
...but not creating structures devoid of internal accountability.
4. Don't forget to pray for them. Most are working hard - faithfully, sacrificially and selflessly. And they are probably praying for you, too.