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Leaving their flocks: Pastors bail out

Published: Monday, July 18 2011 1:43 p.m. MDT

"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run."

Big headlines have been made by pastors who had to leave their congregations for this or that obvious sin. Christianity Today, however, ran an article about how a pastor has left his position — not because of sex or money scandal, but because of pride: "C. J. Mahaney, president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a national network of nearly 100 church plants, cited 'various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy' in a July 6 statement explaining his indefinite leave."

As the Christianity Today article points out, this sounds like how in March 2010 author John Piper took a leave of absence from being pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Piper posted his reasons online : "I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. … I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with No? and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I'll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I'm sorry. Since I don't have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins."

Being a popular preacher and penning best-selling books would naturally take its toll on pastors. According to another Christianity Today article, some popular authors maintain their position in their churches — but mostly in name, letting other pastors do the heavy lifting: Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Max Lucado, Tim Keller, and Rob Bell.

Other pastors leave because they get that entrepreneurial itch. They planted a church and grew it, but really are best at growing churches. Safe success gets boring, and off they go to something else.

Christianity Today mentioned popular author Jim Belcher "decided to leave the church he planted, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif., to write his next book." Author Francis Chan resigned from Simi Valley's Cornerstone Church. N. T. Wright, Peter Rollins and Brian McLaren are leaving their posts as well.

Which brings us back to Mahaney. All of the ministers in this article have had immense success. According to a column titled "Most Risky Profession" in Christianity Today, Mahaney "has been president of the church-planting network Sovereign Grace Ministries, which according to its website now includes 'about 95 churches,' mostly on the East Coast. He is the founder of the megachurch Covenant Life Church, which he handed over to Joshua Harris after being pastoring there for 27 years. He is also one of the leaders of the Together for the Gospel Conferences, and one of the most popular speakers in the neo-Reformed circuit."

The column by Mark Galli suggests that the sins Mahaney admits — pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy — are the common lot of pastors. "The state of the modern American pastorate has been shaped so that these sins — especially pride and hypocrisy — are impossible to escape. For this reason, our pastors need not our condemnation, but our prayers. They are in a profession that is about as morally risky as they come."

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com, TWITTER: www.twitter.com/degroote degroote

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