Churches need more ‘dark horses’

Two controversies that surround the church have been in the news recently.

The first surrounds Ted Haggard, former pastor of the New Life Community Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., amid allegations of sexual misconduct and drug abuse.

The other alleges financial impropriety and personal misconduct within the network of churches associated with nationally known Calvary Chapel and its senior pastor, Chuck Smith.

Christianity Today?s associate editor Rob Moll writes, ?As one pastor says, ?The Titanic has hit the iceberg. But the music is still playing.?

?Former members and some pastors say Calvary Chapel fosters an authoritarian culture, where pastors believe they are accountable only to God. It has enticed some leaders to become power hungry, avoid financial oversight, and, at times, become spiritually abusive, according to Calvary insiders,? Moll writes.

Of the two churches, Calvary Chapel has aggressively adopted the ?Moses? or ?top-down? model of leadership. He assigns spiritual oversight to a close-knit group of pastors and lay leaders, and in turn, demands unquestioned obedience by subordinates and laypersons.

The New Life Community Church has a board of directors that oversees the senior pastor?s activities. However, the top-down model exists here as well.

One interesting side note: Smith states his authority comes from God alone.

While Smith insists on unquestioned loyalty and accountability from the lowest echelons on up, he will not submit to the same rules that govern other leaders under his authority.

The leadership style that allows a dynamic, outgoing ministry reaching thousands with the gospel is also its primary weakness. Where there is little or no oversight, the temptation for misuse of power, financial mismanagement and sexual misconduct is too much for most celebrity-styled pastors.

One might question why I choose to write about this in a secular paper. In a rural community such as ours, church life remains an important part of the social fabric of Marion County.

We?ve already heard the news commentary from secular media, and yet most churches remain silent, perhaps hoping for some other sensational news flash to divert attention away from a painful topic.

It should not be a big surprise when a spiritual leader abuses his privileged position. For millennia, clergy have shown they are as human as those who sit in the pews.

An often overused but painfully true cliche says, ?Absolute power corrupts absolutely.? The leaders at Calvary Chapel display that tendency quite well. They assume that without their micro-management and dictatorial oversight, God?s work cannot be done at all, that by their special rank and privilege, they are above any standards of conduct.

How wrong that assumption is. In his book, ?The Dark Horse,? John Fischer writes: ?The dark horse has become the symbol of the ordinary person who comes out a winner due to the grace of God. But most importantly, the dark horse is an image of real Christianity… righteousness amidst human flaws.?

Fischer adds, ?The church is inundated with white horses. Flawless, successful, inaccessible leaders who only drive the average Christian deeper into frustration, guilt and failure. If we are to learn to follow Christ, it will be the dark horses, not the white ones, that will show us the way.?

From my early childhood, my parents were models of Fischer?s ?Dark Horse? metaphor. Years later, mother talked about the time when my father was up all night, walking nearby fields with an angry, desperate man in need of wise counsel and a compassionate friend. By morning?s light, instead of suicide, the man chose life.

While Dad was walking and praying with this friend, my mother was on her knees praying for them, asking God to flood those fields with his Divine presence and love.

Authentic Christianity implies living out one?s faith in a life surrounded with conflict, yet lived with an attitude of love, service and humility, even when it is inconvenient, intrusive and costly.

Our community needs more dark horses who are willing to demonstrate God?s unconditional love, not only from the pulpit, but also by ordinary people who have been forgiven and are willing to do whatever it takes to reflect his love.