Popular theologian and pastor James Emery White recently warned that conflicts within thechurch regarding fallen leaders--such as Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll--is not simply a problem for the individual congregation, but for the universal church.
"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 an article titled "Your Pastor and Public Messes."
"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, who is the pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina and President of Serious Times, fears other church leaders will "get painted with the same brush" by the secular world.
"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 references the Biblical structure 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.
Christian leaders, White asserts, 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 adds. "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."
Christians should be far more concerned with a "watching world" and "not what your particular fan base may or may not find acceptable," White says.
"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," he adds."
In concluding his post, White references "the countless numbers of leaders who aren't creating a mess," and urges Christians to remember four 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.
Pastor White's article can be found on his blog, Church & Culture