Critical Reminders for Pastors from Ted Haggard’s Fall
by Greg Stier, President
Dare 2 Share Ministries
I remember the first and only time that I ever met Ted Haggard. It was just over a year ago. TBN had invited me to be a guest on their “Praise the Lord” show. Ted, who was scheduled to host the show, was the President of the National Association of Evangelicals and the highly respected senior pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
Having lived in Colorado all of my life, I was very familiar with New Life Church and Pastor Haggard’s vast influence, not only in the Christian realm, but in the secular world as well. More and more Pastor Haggard was representing evangelical Christianity on primetime news shows. When I heard him on these programs I found myself increasingly impressed by the man. He handled himself well in front of a camera.
When Ted interviewed me I found him to be affable, witty and kind. Little did I know that brewing under his smiling façade was a secret that was, in his words, “so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life.”
The news of Ted’s scandalous fall hit me like a freight train, as I’m sure it did you. The pain of seeing another brother in Christ fall so fast and so hard combined with the tremendous loss of credibility that the church in America is suffering in the mainstream media, once again, is enough to make any follower of Jesus sick. What adds to the nausea is, not just that sins were committed (whatever the actual transgressions were only Ted and the Lord fully know), but Ted’s initial denials. It sounds like this cover-up had started, not when the first camera and microphone was jammed in front of his face, but several years earlier when a young and visionary pastor named Ted launched a church plant at the base of Pike’s Peak.
From Ted’s own resignation letter it seems that Ted has preached, counseled, taught and led his church with these tremendous struggles simmering behind closed doors. His own letter to his adoring church members at New Life read,
“The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach. Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn’t want to hurt or disappoint them.”
Ted, I’m sure, felt forced to live a lie for so many years because of all that was at stake in his life, family and ministry. And now, in the span of less than a week, his ministry credibility has been shattered.
I think that this whole scandal hits pastors especially hard. No matter how much you have worked to establish and maintain credibility with your congregation, for the next several weeks many, if not most of your church members, will be wondering what dark secret sins you are battling with when the sermon is over, the lights are off and you are all alone. They’ll be wondering what secrets you are keeping from them and your family. Love it or hate, it this is part of the aftermath that scandalous falls of prominent Christian leaders force on all of us in professional ministry.
We must learn from this tragedy so that we don’t make the same mistake as our brother Ted. Here are a few critical lessons for every ministry leader big or small:
1. We are not above it.
The fall of our brother Ted is a clarion call for each of us. It is a call to repentance and restoration. It is a call for accountability and authenticity. It is a call to you and to me. Why? Because we, like Ted, are not above falling into sexual sin. Maybe our category of sexual temptation is not homosexuality. Perhaps our nemesis is internet pornography, lustful thoughts toward a co-worker or congregant or a relationship with a member of the opposite or same sex that has crossed that invisible line of appropriateness into the realm of a downward slide into irreparable compromise.
If David, “a man after God’s own heart,” could aggressively pursue Bathsheba and kill her husband in the aftermath of a quick cover up, we could, too. Our Bathsheba may not be bathing in full view of our second story window, but her bubble bath is ready to run hot on that computer screen late at night or anytime of the day on the movie screen of our depraved minds. No wonder the great Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:14-25:
“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who does it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
I thank God for this passage because it reminds me that even the Apostle Paul had nagging sins that he constantly battled against. If one of the greatest figures of the Old Testament (David) and New Testament (Paul) battled against sin, we can be sure that we are not above the battle. As a matter of fact, as soon as we think we are, that’s when we are most vulnerable. Paul gives this warning to us in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"
You and I are not above any sin. The same robe of depravity clothes us until the day we exchange them for robes of righteousness on the other side of eternity. Speed that day Lord Jesus!
2. Choose to be completely accountable and authentic with somebody you trust.
You’ve heard the verse, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Notice what this verse is not saying. It’s not saying that we should confess every sin to everyone. But it seems that this verse is quite clearly saying that there should be, at the very least, one trusted person in our lives who knows all of our dirty laundry.
For me that man is Jim Malouff. He is a pastor at my home church. Jim knows all my categories of struggle. He keeps me accountable, prays for me, rebukes me from time to time and encourages me all the time. He is my friend, my confidant and my nemesis at times. But I thank God for him. I praise the Lord that there is someone in my life that I can be totally accountable to on every level.
What about you? Do you have someone you completely trust with whom you can be 100% vulnerable? If not, you need to seek that person out right away. Ideally you need to find a godly, close friend and ask them to hold you accountable. Give them specific questions to ask you (whatever your area of weakness or potential struggle). Give them permission to ask you the tough questions anytime. This kind of no-holds-barred accountability is a must for every minister of the gospel.
3. Remove as many sin opportunities as possible.
As a former preaching pastor and current traveling evangelist I am very aware of the sin opportunities that ministers can allow themselves to get into if they aren’t careful. Counseling members of the opposite sex is dangerous enough. Add to the mix an empty church office, emotional connection, tears and pastoral comfort, and then the recipe goes from dangerous to disastrous in nothing flat.
If you struggle with internet porn late at night in your study, why not choose to avoid computer use late at night? If you are attracted to a certain woman in your church that needs counseling, why not delegate that counseling opportunity to your women’s ministry leader or associate pastor?
The bottom line is this: don’t give the flesh an opportunity to sin. When I was a pastor I wouldn’t counsel a woman alone and now that I’m a “traveling evangelist” I have even more self-imposed restrictions (travel policies, etc.). Why? Because this is how I choose to apply Paul’s warning in Romans 13:14 (NKJV), “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”
My goal in my ministry is to not give my flesh an opportunity to sin because if I do it very well could. The flesh is like having a pet cobra; give it a chance to bite you and it probably will. The poison can kill our ministry impact and destroy our families forever.
4. Don't trust in accountability and personal rules to keep you pure.
Fifteen years ago or so I went to a pastor’s conference in Colorado Springs. There were about 200 pastors packed in a small church auditorium to get trained and equipped to be more effective in ministry.
The man who was training one plenary session was not a pastor; he was a famous Christian clinical psychologist. By his own admission he had counseled thousands of pastors who had fallen into sexual sin all across America.
I’ll never forget when he asked us, “How many of you pastors have some sort of accountability and/or personal rules (won’t counsel a woman alone, etc.) to keep you from compromising sexually?” Almost everyone in the room raised their hands.
To be honest I felt pretty good about myself at that point. I had both personal accountability and rules to keep me from being in a position of moral failure.
He then shared something that I will never forget. He said, “I have counseled countless pastors across America who have fallen into sexual sin. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE PASTORS WHO FELL HAD SOME SORT OF ACCOUNTABILITY AND PERSONAL RULES TO KEEP THEM FROM SEXUAL COMPROMISE.”
I was stunned, along with the other pastors in the room. He went on to exhort us that the only way to truly maintain sexual purity over the long haul is through continuing to passionately cultivate a relationship with Jesus (#1) and our wives (#2).
He then took us all to Colossians 2:20-23,
"Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’…These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”
Human rules, “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” only go so far. As soon as we trust in our accountability partner more than Jesus we are destined to fall. As soon as we put our faith in our rules of personal holiness than we do in Jesus, a moral catastrophe is ready to befall us.
Why? Because no matter how many ways you seek to padlock your purity, lust will pick a lock. Lust will find a way in unless we allow God to keep it out. There’s only one sure way to maintain your holiness, and that is through the only One who is holy, Jesus Christ himself. The more we learn to walk in a daily declaration of dependence on Him, the more we are safeguarding our personal purity, ministry and families. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have accountability and rules of personal conduct. But it does mean that, above all else, we trust in Jesus to keep us on the path of righteousness.
A Closing Challenge
We need to pray for New Life Church in their time of struggle and recovery. We need to pray for Ted Haggard and his family as they seek to restore what has been shattered through years of sin and cover-up. We need to pray for the watching world, whose cynicism has been accelerated by another moral failure of another famous Christian.
But more than anything else we need to pray for each other. I’m convinced that ministers of the gospel are at the bull’s-eye of Satanic attack. The devil knows that when a preacher falls, then the congregation is fair game. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. Famous Puritan preacher Richard Baxter wrote these words five hundred years ago: “Satan will seek to do the most harm to those who seek to do his kingdom the most damage.” He’s talking about you, pastor.
As you preach the Word of God, know that you are being targeted by the Evil One. But as you keep your eyes riveted to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith, you can finish the race pure, strong and victorious.
Greg Stier is the founder and president of Dare 2 Share Ministries, International (D2S) based in Denver, Colorado. Over the last decade, Greg has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of Christian teenagers across the country through Dare 2 Share conferences. His goal is to train and equip 1,000,000 Christian teens across America to share their faith with courage, clarity and compassion. Greg is well-known for his ability to inspire teenagers to action by communicating Biblical truth through amazing true-life stories and side-splitting humor. His driving passion to reach the lost erupts from being raised in a tough, urban family of "thugs" that one by one was transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Greg is also the author of several books: Ministry Mutiny…A Youth Leader Fable, Dare 2 Share…A Field Guide to Sharing Your Faith, Outbreak! Creating a Contagious Youth Ministry Through Viral Evangelism, Last Chance...A Survival Guide for End-times Evangelism andBattleZone...Arming Yourself to Wage War with the Devil.
Prior to D2S, Greg was the preaching pastor at Grace Church in Arvada, Colorado. After the Columbine tragedy, Greg resigned from the pastorate to pursue training student evangelists full-time through D2S's weekend evangelism training conferences. Greg graduated in 1988 from Colorado Christian University with a degree in youth ministry. He and his wife Debbie and their children, Jeremy and Kailey, live in Arvada, Colorado and attend Grace Church, the church he helped plant.
Visit Greg’s blog at gregstier.org. For more information on Dare 2 Share Ministries, please visit www.dare2share.org.