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Local megachurch's charismatic leader resigns
Original post made
on Dec 22, 2009
Paul Sheppard, the beloved pastor who led the monumental growth of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship for 20 years, resigned last week after confessing "moral failure" in a letter to church elders.
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posted Tuesday, December 22, 2009, 11:35 AM
Posted by ALCF Attendee
a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2009 at 2:52 pm
The preacher and moral failures
By Joe Bob Mizzell - Aug 28, 2007 - 17
Let's face it, the minister of a Baptist church can be forgiven of almost anything, if he repents and changes his ways, except sexual sins. If a minister gets involved in a sexual sin (adultery, child molestation, homosexuality), he might as well resign and look for a new occupation. Well, maybe not every time, but almost every time. Even if he stays in the ministry, he usually has to move to an office other than senior pastor. Once a diamond is chipped, it may be reground, but it will never be as large as before.
Many are aware of the past history of outstanding preachers who have fallen to the sin of David. The movie about Elmer Gantry, the fictional preacher who fell to moral sin, made many people aware that preachers are human. In more recent times, the moral failure of Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, and in our state the failure of a large church pastor and successful evangelist, has created news events that reflect poorly on all ministers. Even sadder is the fact that there are hundreds of ministers who fail morally that we never hear about.
In a recent conversation with Dr. H.B. London of Focus on the Family, he told me of serving on the restoration committee of Ted Haggard and then he said, "When you hear the names of these great preachers who failed, you never think of their accomplishment because it is always overshadowed by their moral failure."
What is wrong? Why are so many preachers failing morally? Can we trust any minister? What can the church do to make sure they do not call an immoral minister? Is there anything the church, association or state convention can do to keep ministers from failing morally? There are a lot of questions, but there are also some answers.
First, not all ministers are anywhere close to moral failure. Most pastors and staff serve all their lives and never do anything questionable related to moral conduct. The number of ministers who commit adultery is much, much lower than that of the average male population. Today we are made aware of the sexual sins of ministers more so than in past years. The failure of a well-known evangelist was on the first page of the Birmingham News, on the "Rick and Bubba Show" and even on Paul Fienbaum's sports talk radio show.
The church can do a much better job making sure they do not call an immoral minister. Churches must check out the minister before extending a call. They should run references, talk to directors of missions, check with former church members, and question other ministers who know the prospect. Don't hesitate to ask any question about the prospective minister. Listen carefully to what the reference may tell you.
The church can do some things in a preventive way to help their pastor when temptation comes. They can give him time off for family. The deacons or others can warn him if they see signs of over-involvement with a particular woman.
The minister is the one who can do the most to avoid sexual failure. He can guard his thoughts. Ultimately, the battle for sexual purity is won or lost in the mind. Those things that could erode your thought life should be avoided. He should make sure that his best time goes to his wife and family. Only great husbands and great fathers can be great pastors. He should resolve never to be alone personally or to be involved emotionally with a woman who is not his wife, sister, mother or grandmother, or at least old enough to be his grandmother.
The minister will do well to remember the cost of sexual sin. A big house may be attractive, but the payments are huge. He should recognize his vulnerability. No one is above sexual temptation. No pastor should destroy his call to the ministry for a moment of pleasure. An effective minister must be a holy minister.
The morally failing minister is usually a loner. He may be in his late 30s in a highly successful church, receiving a huge salary with praise coming from all directions. He may rationalize that he is so capable that God will overlook his moral sins and that he deserves a second or third woman, but he is usually a loner. He may be in his 50s with a troubled church and an unhappy family life, but he is usually a loner. We all need accountability!
We need to attend the associational ministers' conference. We need to have minister friends. We need to have close deacon friends. We need to rely on our director of missions. We need accountability!
The minister should value his family. It is more important than the church, more important than money, and more important than pleasure. Outside God, family is the most important thing in a preacher's life.
Most importantly, the minister must stick close to God. Pray, read your Bible, love your family, minister to your people and please keep your life clean.
Mizzell is director of Christian Ethics/Chaplaincy Ministries of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
Posted by ts
a resident of another community
on Dec 31, 2009 at 5:24 pm
As a sometime attendee at ALCF, I am grieved to see the difficulties that a wonderful church is going through due to the failings of one man. Such failings should come as no surprise to anyone who is human and who has ever hurt others by their own shortcomings and acts of self-centeredness and disobedience to the Lord that we serve to the best of our abilities (give or take).
I am, however, disturbed by the opportunism of some individuals who find it necessary to promote their own church (thusly implying that they have a better track record). Making the claim to being the one true church with the one true edition of the Bible (incl. some books unused in Protestant faith traditions--for good reasons, although other faith traditions may feel free to disagree) is plain ludicrous.
All throughout history, there has NEVER been a single true Christian church. Even during the times that the catholic church was reigning supreme in matters of the Christian faith, the faith landscape can hardly be described as united. There were always times of competing creeds, sects, factions, popes and emperors. Many councils and other efforts remained inconclusive, and life went on with factions that were catholic (as in "universal") in name only (for the most prominent example, what of the Eastern, or Orthodox, church?). Bolstered by their own sense of importance, these factions were often quick o excommunicate each other, or much worse.
Furthermore, when disussing the subject of "moral failure," I would not want for one minute to be put in the position to defend the conduct of catholic clergy. 2000 years brought a lot of bad stuff.
Yes, the world is a much better for its acceptance of the Christian truth and its values. True humanitarian and cultural accomplishments were made, as a result of the presence of the church in the world (catholic, Eastern, or Protestant alike). But there is also the fact that "God loves humans so much as to entrust us with his reputation." On that account, our humanity has given countless black eyes to the God and Faith that we claim to represent. So whether it's Pastor Paul, some pope, postor, elder, or priest, we all come up short. It's about Christ's perfection and our desperate need for him, as we all fall short and need His forgiveness and grace.
So you may continue the catholic propaganda and post links to some cheesy video all day long. It doesn't change a thing: Every denomination has its shortcomings and downfalls, and includes those people ("all of us") who at times just did not do the true faith much justice in their conduct. The true church of God is not made up of "one true church" represented by a single denomination--it never has been in two millenia! The true church is in the heart of believers, of all truly Bible-based Christians, who are seeking God in their Spirit--Eastern, Catholic or Protestant.
I wouldn't claim that having all of these factions is the greatest aspect of Christianity. But at the same time, we're talking about the pursuit of an infinite God; it's no wonder that our inability to fully comprehend such a being would lead us to disagreements in our finite understanding. So while we may worship where we feel most at home with regards to our different understandings of minute aspects of the whole Truth, we should always respect those whose understanding differs from ours in some aspects. The greatest of all virtues, after all, is Love. Claims to being the only right church are typically the mark of cults, that typically don't operate within the absolute boundaries of the Gospel message anyway.
I am not a member of ALCF, or even all that close to that church, but I believe that for all who love and seek God, this is a time to support that church along with its former Pastor in prayer, and to petition God to turn our mess into His message. There's too much at stake to make this into an opportunity for gossip, finger-pointing or unjustified confidence in our church's or denomination's superiority.