The recent shocking revelations about Ravi Zacharias’s deliberate and prolific sexual predation over many years should serve as a wake-up call to the evangelical church. In some ways, the modern church must be held to blame for the way we have allowed a ‘super-star’ ministry model to develop, where gifted Christian preachers and teachers are placed on pedestals far above any personal accountability structures.
No one in Christian leadership should be above accountability. Men, in particular, need it, because of their strong sex drives arising from their male sex hormones. Christian men don’t suddenly become neutered when they enter public ministry. In fact, for those who rise to the heights of Christian ‘stardom’ there is increased temptation and opportunity to sin. Indeed, Christian ‘fame’ adds four very potent and seductive factors to the scenario:
1. Adulation by many thousands of adoring fans. This is extremely seductive for the Christian leader who, as a result, can start to ‘believe his own press’.
2. Power imbalance in his personal relationships. Those under his ‘spell’ feel powerless to resist or say ‘no’.
3. A reluctance on the part of those who surround them to question them or hold them to account for their lifestyles. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” is a mantra that is adhered to all-too often.
4. Opportunity. High-profile Christian ministry often involves lots of travel and staying away from home in hotels, which creates significant opportunity for sexual misconduct.
These seductive factors have brought many Christian leaders undone. In recent years we have seen too many high-profile Christian leaders and mega-church pastors disgraced by the eventual unveiling of their sexual sins. It is a tragedy that rocks the faith of many people and brings the gospel into disrepute.
Of course, not everyone who reaches the giddy heights of Christian fame falls prey to its associated temptations. I am told that the great evangelist, Billy Graham, whenever he was conducting a crusade away from home, would insist that the organisers booked him a twin share room which he would share with another trusted Christian man on his team. In this way he kept himself accountable so that he would not be led into temptation during the long, lonely hours between speaking engagements. He did this because he was fully aware of his own sexual drive and his potential to fall into temptation.
I honour Billy Graham for this. He did not let his fame go to his head or give him a sense of infallibility. He remained very aware of the dangers of temptation and undertook stringent measures to protect himself from his own sinful desires.
Recognising the need for greater accountability for our Christian leaders, some parachurch organisations have begun to have weekly, structured accountability meetings for their leaders and staff, where very specific questions are asked. For example, within Chuck Swindoll’s organisation, Insight For Living, each staff member has a weekly meeting with a colleague where they are asked the following questions:
1. Have you been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
2. Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
3. Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
4. Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
5. Have you given priority time to your family?
6. Have you fulfilled the mandates of your calling?
7. Have you just lied to me?
Many parachurch organisations have now mandated this kind of regular interview for staff. These kinds of accountability questions, however, are not a recent phenomenon. In the 1700’s, John Wesley’s colleagues were expected to answer the following questions each week:
1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
2. What temptations have you met with?
3. How were you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?
While some modern parachurch organisations are now incorporating this sort of structured accountability, pastoral ministry in the local church is lagging a long way behind. Many local church pastors, particularly mega-church pastors, have little or no accountability at any deep, personal level. Sadly, this sometimes has tragic results. There have been several recent ‘falls from grace’ by megachurch pastors whose sexual misconduct has come to light. In each case, there was NO regular moral accountability structure in place. These megachurch pastors were seen as ‘untouchable’ and this, sadly, led to their downfall and resulted in great damage within their churches.
If we want to protect our churches, and the pastors themselves, from this kind of tragedy, Christian denominations must begin to formally structure accountability processes for their leaders to adhere to. Obviously, no structure will ever be able to guarantee that a moral failing will never occur, but the current complete absence of accountability structures is naïve and negligent.
Integral to the way forward, must be the tearing down of the pedestals upon which we have placed our Christian ‘super-stars’. There is no place for this kind of idolising in God’s kingdom. God’s people must cease their addiction to idolising their leaders, and the leaders themselves must resist the temptation toward self-aggrandisement. They must emulate the great Apostle Paul who, despite all his achievements for God’s kingdom, regarded himself with brutally honest self-appraisal:
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst of all.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
“I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin … For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do … I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh …” (Romans 7:14-18)
We must stop idolising our Christian leaders and viewing them as untouchable saints who exist on some kind of unreachable higher spiritual plain. Their great giftedness in a particular area does not magically remove sexual drive and their propensity to sin. We need our high-profile leaders to stop believing their own press and refuse to be placed on the pedestals that their adoring fans build for them. They need to agree with the Apostle Paul’s brutal self-appraisal regarding their own weakness and propensity to sin. And they, like Billy Graham, need to put in place structures and policies that will protect them from being led astray by the evil desires that are common to us all (James 1:14).
It is time to destroy the idols, to tear down the ‘high places’ (2 Kings 23:8-9) that we have built in our modern ‘rock-star’ church culture. It is time to hold each other accountable as brothers and sisters, for the sake of the gospel and the good of Christ’s church on Earth.
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, apologist and social commentator. He is the author of 12 books, and his latest, “7 Reasons to Believe”, is now available. Connect with Kevin on Facebook or his SmartFaith Blog.
Matthias Browning | Reporter