August 10, 2022

An Honest Conversation About Scandals in the Church


This is an exerpt from the full podcast episode “Living a Worthy Life, In-Church Controversy, and the Spotlight Effect”.

I want to share some thoughts about all this in-church controversy. If you’re a Christian and you keep up with social media or keep up with the news at all, you’re not a stranger to all of this controversy that’s going on in the world right now.

There are scandals left and right – there’s the Hillsong stuff, there was SBC, Southern Baptist Church and all the stuff there; but I think we have to have a conversation about these controversies. I think we have to have a conversation about why these things happen in the church. If you’ll allow me to, I just want to share some thoughts in this episode on how we can keep these things from happening in church and maybe why they’re happening. Then I want to wrap all this up with some scripture at the end.

How Have We Gotten to This Point?

So, we’ve seen all of these people that we kind of held in high esteem: the Hillsong pastors, the SBC stuff, even Ravi Zacharias; when that stuff came out, you had a lot of people standing around saying, “I can’t believe these people would do this. I believed that these people were true Christians, I believe that these people really worked for the Kingdom. How can it be that these people have done these things?”

I think there are three main things that have kind of led us to this point, led us to the point where you can have these huge leaders get into these scandals and controversies. I think these are all things that every church needs to keep an eye on. I’m not God. However, from what I’ve seen, I think that there are three things that have led us to this point. The first thing is the pedestaling of pastors, leaders, and spiritual people that we put on stage, and then we put them on a pedestal, and we treat them like Jesus. The second thing is the lack of accountability in our churches today. The amount of people that kind of do what they want, and no one holds them accountable for anything. Then the third thing I would say that has definitely led to these controversies or just issues in the church in general is the fact that I think the church has forgotten that Jesus is the head of the church, and they have placed the church as the head of the church.

The Pedestaling of Pastors and Spiritual Leaders

First of all, I think that we’ve all put pastors on pedestals. I think that we’ve all looked at big spiritual leaders and we’ve started elevating them in a way that people were not supposed to be elevated. We started looking at large pastors as our Jesus and as our Savior. Even worse, we’ve started accepting everything that these pastors say as truth. We’ve started trusting these people more than we trust scripture. I can’t tell you how many people that I’ve seen online that all they do is listen to Steven Furtick sermons or Michael Todd sermons or even John Piper or Francis Chan.

If you’re only listening to these people’s sermons and you’re not listening to anything else or you’re not reading your Bible, that’s not true Christianity. You’ve taken someone and you’ve elevated them to a level of Jesus. You’ve said, this is my Savior. This is my idol. Even though I know people don’t actually say that, the way that you act says it.

What we’ve done is we’ve taken these pastors and we’ve elevated them onto a level of Jesus, and we treat their words as truth. We’ve forgotten that even those people are held accountable to the scriptures. The truth that’s in the Bible has to outrank our pastors, no matter how big they are. No matter how many people are in their churches, we have to always come back to the scriptures. We have to always come back to the Bible as our ultimate authority.

I think we’ve gotten to a point where we’ve left the Bible and we’ve started just trusting in what our pastors say, or what our mega church leaders say that we see online. We’ve put them in a position that they shouldn’t be in. Remember, the Bible calls you to have a relationship with God, not a relationship with your local or megachurch pastor. We have to remember that they are also just humans.

The Utter Lack of Accountability in the Church

That brings us to the second point, which is that there’s been a total lack of accountability. I mean, these are the pastors. Again, I’m on the outside. I see this stuff from the outside. I read the articles; I watch the videos covering this stuff. From my point of view, it seems as though in most of these cases, there are people around that person that care about them, that has let it go on for much longer than it should have gone on. I mean, if you are a church elder and you find out your lead pastor is doing scandalous things and things that they should not be doing, brushing it off and sweeping it under the rug to protect the name of the church is the worst possible thing you could do. There has been zero accountability in these situations.

It seems to me in many of these situations that most of the time, the only times that there is any accountability is once it’s out. Then people have to deal with PR and press, and they have to try to scrape the church off of the ground because their name has been sullied by a pastor doing this or a church member doing this or whatever. We have to have better accountability in the church. If you come across leaders and pastors doing things that are not right, we have to speak out about it. That’s biblical; that’s a biblical concept that we have to keep our pastors accountable. We have to keep our leaders accountable.

I was just watching a video the other day where The Chosen flew out five or 10 Gen Z non-Christians to have them binge the show. They shared some thoughts afterwards on their experiences with church and why they do go to church or why they don’t go to church. The one girl talked about how when she went to a church with her mom, the church staff started sexually assaulting her and raping her in the church bathrooms. The worst part about it was that she said that one of the times that this happened, they were in the church bathroom and one of the elders of the church walked in and did nothing. They didn’t do anything about it.

This is what I’m talking about. I’m not saying this is in every situation. I’m not saying in every church, people are getting raped, and elders know about it and all that stuff. However, I’ve seen many cases where there is zero accountability for pastors and leaders. I’m saying this as a leader in a church, myself. I’m a leader in my local church. There has to be accountability, I have to be held accountable as a leader for doing things that I shouldn’t be doing. There has to be accountability. Otherwise, we get all the way down the line and all of a sudden, these things have been happening. Meanwhile, they could have been stopped all the way down the road.

If you’ve been abused or if you’ve been assaulted by a church pastor, it’s not easy to speak out. I’m not saying it is. Yet that’s part of the problem. The fact that it’s not easy for you to speak out is a problem in itself. We have to be creating a community where we’re accountable to one another, where we are confessing our sins to one another and bearing one another’s burdens in that sense. So that’s the second thing. We have to be holding each other accountable, especially big pastors that get on this pride trip.

The Replacement of Jesus as the Head of the Church

That leads me to my third thing which is that I think the church has become the head of the church rather than Jesus being the head of the church. We see in Colossians 1:15-18:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”

Colossians 1:15-18

It says that Christ is supposed to be the firstborn, and he’s supposed to be the head of the church. We as the church are Jesus’s body. We have to recognize that we are taking the name of Jesus upon ourselves as a church. The church is meant to be the hands and feet of Christ, so we are representing Jesus on this earth.

I think what has happened is the church has taken Jesus off as the head and put the church as the head of the church. Churches have started functioning completely apart from Jesus. It goes back to John 15. We have to be connected to Christ. We have to be getting our energy, our life, and everything that we do has to come from Jesus or else the things that we do are not going to be eternally significant.

We’ve put ourselves as the head of the church. So we get to decide how things are run, we get to look out on a crowd and say, “Oh, look! look at all these people that have come to see me!” Obviously, that’s a huge problem. I think that there are huge problems in the fact that with these mega churches and even in the smaller local churches, we make church an organization. We make it a business. We have brands, we have logos, we have merch, all these things. I’m not saying all these things are inherently bad, but when we make ourselves the head of the church and see it as our business, our organization, and are worried about getting numbers in and worrying about PR and all of these things, we take ourselves on a pride trip.

We’ve seen this happen to many big pastors. They get themselves on a pride trip. All of a sudden, people are coming to see whichever pastor instead of coming to see God and instead of coming and having an experience of Jesus.

We have to be careful that we don’t replace Jesus as the head of the church. The head of your church is not your pastor, it’s actually Jesus. We have to be holding ourselves accountable to Jesus and to his word, rather than just to ourselves.

A Possible New (Old?) Model

So because of all these things, we have lots of controversies. I think all of these things have contributed to these controversies. I think we have to work on these things. As a church, we have to stop elevating people, we have to stop putting people on a pedestal, we have to stop throwing accountability out the window. When things are going bad, we need to not sweep them under the rug. We need to deal with it as the church. We need to remember that we’re taking the name of Jesus upon ourselves as the local church, being his body on this earth.

If you asked me, honestly, I think a lot of these things would be solved if we went back to the Home Church model in Acts 2 where we just have people gathering together in the week and looking at what scripture says and praying together. I think a lot of these things would be solved. Again, I’m not Jesus, I don’t have all the answers. However, I would love to see a church trying out the Home Church model and just really coming together as small groups and seeing what Jesus has to say. We should be going out and sharing the gospel in our communities, and just having fellowship and community within that; I think that would be cool.