An article in the Washington Post from March of 2018 underscores a continuing willful blindness of Christian leaders and their immediate supporters regarding personal accountability. The article, “In an age of Trump and Stormy Daniels, evangelical leaders face sex scandals of their own“, highlights the need to employ simple things that Christians who serve others must do. The article highlights the tragic personal failures of Frank Page, Bill Hybels and Paul Pressler, all in the news as the #metoo movement was taking on a life of its own. Sadly, there is a painful history of these episodes.
There are far too many evil stories of people who claim to be Jesus followers serving others, but in reality they are abusing the name of God for profit or perversion. The president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, 58, was outed as homosexual, much to the glee of anti-Christian LGBT supporters. Douglas Goodman of Britain’s Victory Christian Centre was convicted of sexually assaulting female church members. Gilbert and Mary Deya, of Deya Ministries based in Peckham, South London, stole at least five children from a Kenyan hospital, selling them as “miracle babies” for adoption in the UK. Counterfeits abuse the name of God, and decent Christians who try to live a life that is a positive testimony for God get painted with the broad-brush of hypocrisy.
Then there are decent Christian leaders who succumb to their humanity. Every week or two, Christians endure another media report of people in leadership who have failed. We live in a time when evil will attack your Christian walk and surface in new and tricky ways. Temptations have gone high-tech, and social media has made it faster than ever for people to: (1) gossip about others, and (2) spread falsehood as fact, and half-truths as the Gospel, and (3) connect with old flames leading to an extra-marital affair. The enemy has thousands of new ways and new people to test Christians who serve in leadership. Some call it making a “mountain out of a molehill” – today’s ministers call it Tuesday (figuratively).
It is because of the era of intense scrutiny that Christians need to add at least 3 must-do action steps to what they do as they take on the role of leadership: (1) Know you are right for the job (2) Put on the “full Armor of God”. (3) Adhere to the “Billy Graham” rule. The Bible has given us everything we need to navigate serving others, even in this frantic, ego-centric world of 2019. Historic figures of the Christian faith have also given famous advice for making the right moves as a Christian leader. Let’s take these moves one at a time.
1) Am I Right for the Job
If we are going to lead others to Christ, we need to work toward living a life that is like Him. After we have answered God’s call, and have grown close to Him, our lives begin to look like the evidence of God. Part of the evidence of God is that the fruit of the Holy Spirit becomes obvious in how we think and act, and we can also find our spiritual gifts. The Apostle Paul talks about the gifts God gives us to help us know what our role in His church will be. Paul writes to this very type of trouble and disorganization in the biblical church in Corinth about a partial “schedule” of spiritual gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12:28, the apostle Paul names them:
And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.
Prosperity gospel preaching appears to many as trading on God’s name and exchanging his power for someone’s money. A prosperous church is not measured by the opulence of the meeting house, but rather by the offspring of missions and church plants. If something is needed to reach a certain group, one’s congregation is called to reach, God will provide the funds. However, if the funds are kept in large endowments, excessive savings accounts, real property not used for ministry purposes or what many consider “luxury extras”, A ministry really needs to look prayerfully at God’s calling for the ministry and should be investing in the Greatest Commandment or the Great Commission. One cannot read the New Testament and find God blessing ministers with golden swag or fine chariots.
Examining your desire for special spiritual experiences or awareness can quickly lead to heresy an abuse. That’s not so say that God isn’t doing miracles or talking to His believers. God IS a God of miracles. Scrupulous adherence to well established principles of hermeneutics and even “sanity checking” message material is critical to keep one’s credibility. It is important to know that the passage reads as a real-time prescription for disciples alive 2000 years ago. Since then we have received a full canon of Scripture, making the gift of heteros glossias – “other languages” – no longer necessary (note Acts 2:4 & 2:11, these are known languages). The gift of prophecy invokes a different character today than in biblical times as well. As reflected in Scripture, prophecy is either foretelling of events to come, or forthtelling of applying Scripture.
Since there is a full canon, foretelling prophecy of God is no longer present, and none has come forth that passes the 9 biblical tests for validity which can be viewed in this article by David Watson from Bible.org. Forthtelling is usually seen today in preaching from the pulpit that contains encouragement, education or exhortation from existing Scripture. Prosperity gospel, unsubstantiated “miracles”, or other synthesis of new experiential claims will most certainly bring disgrace to one’s ministry.
2) Put on “the full armor of God”
The Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesian and the Roman churches:
Ephesians 6: 13-17 (NLT)
“Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Romans 12:1-3 (NLT)
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.
Many of those who were “churched” as a child were given drawing or paper-cutting projects to represent each piece of the Armor of God’s righteousness. Accepting Christ at age 25, I learned these pieces of armor, and the power of each from Bible reading and Sunday School publications, but never explored the depth of each piece. In seminary, I went back through these passages again and again, and I realized how encompassing they really are. With exception of the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, all the pieces are defensive, and we have to wear it all the time, in public and in private.
It sounds like there is no refuge from the attacks of the evil world, but in fact the armor is our refuge. We are properly operating our personal ministry all of the time by fortifying each piece that we always wear. The only weak place in our armor actually comes from behind if we turn our backs to the enemy. Matthew Henry’s commentary puts it like this:
The different parts of the armour of heavy-armed soldiers, who had to sustain the fiercest assaults of the enemy, are here described. There is none for the back; nothing to defend those who turn back in the Christian warfare…
3) Adhere to the “Billy Graham” rule
Google “church leader sexual harassment misconduct” and you will get digital acres of stories about how church leaders have been accused of, admitted to, were charged with or sued over sexual impropriety. Something amazing is that, in his 99-years on the planet, the late Billy Graham, world-renown evangelist, having preached for and served literally millions of people, was never pursued for any such impropriety. Rev. Graham’s conduct in ministry had everything to do with it, but for him and those connected to the ministry there was a rule that kept them insulated from the scourge of sex-related scandals.
One needs only pull up a quick Wikipedia search to find out about the Billy Graham Rule…
It is named after Billy Graham, a proponent of the practice, although recently has also been called the Mike Pence rule. It is adopted as a display of integrity, a means of avoiding sexual temptation, to avoid any appearance of doing something considered morally objectionable, and to avoid being falsely accused of sexual harassment, but has been criticized as being sexist.
While a sexual misconduct scandal, true or false, is almost always a ministry and reputation killer, the Billy Graham rule is attached to further rules of his ministry that insulate from many accusations and types of impropriety. Ministries can suffer accusations and temptations of financial impropriety, minister plagiarism and many others. The key is to keep sunlight on everything done by the ministry and it’s participants.
One can extract from the Billy Graham Rules a formula for general health by avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. Here are a few starters that would be useful for a ministry plan:
- Never be in a room alone alone with someone of the opposite sex, or with children not your own.
- Vetting is essential. Every leader of every ministry, anyone who would be in contact with children other than their own, and anyone operating any kind of vehicle or machine all need to be vetted. Whenever possible, vetting should be done by a dispassionate third-party, such as criminal background checks or credit checks. On hiring, call all former employees and check all references to detect any potential inconsistencies from past employers or character references.
- Seriously limit the handling of finances to a small, odd-numbered committee of unrelated and well-vetted members. Odd numbers assure there is a) never a tie-vote, b) it guards against temptations or claims of nepotism, and c) vetting proves due-dilligence that a person of known financial impropriety doesn’t manage ministry funds.
- Be scrupulous with accounting of everything. Time, attendance, donations, expenditures… all of it should be in writing, scanned, photographed or any other appropriate means of recording.
These are 3 must-do actions we need to accomplish as we approach ministry. Being attacked for the offense of the Gospel is what we signed up for. Being attacked because we invited wrong-doing is an unnecessary byproduct of being unwise, which can be a gross disservice to the Lord we serve. We often learn of our the effectiveness as we surrender to God, thereby seeing the enemy attack us. Jesus taught us exactly why we should be attacked for His sake, and that is a great passage to leave this post with to search our hearts. I look forward to your comments.
Matthew 10:16“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me