The last week has been a PR nightmare for The Gospel Coalition. Two very public figures, C.J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris, both very popular speakers and authors, stepped down from TGC amid an on-going and progressively uglier revelation of a cover-up of child abuse within the ministries they led (neither is directly implicated to my knowledge).
Meanwhile another TGC contributor, Tullian Tchividjian was asked to leave/forced out/whatever over the issue of sanctification and grace/law distinction or something. It sounds like there was some conflict over the whole handling of these abuse accusations but I also note with caution that his brother Boz runs a "ministry" that charges churches and other ministry groups in investigating claims of abuse and conducting preventive measures. That whole group with its cutesy name, Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment, strikes me as an opportunist way to make a buck off of tragedy.
So what is going on? How can this sort of thing be going on within a group that gets the Gospel right? In spite of my regular criticism of TGC propping up extra-biblical ecclesiastical traditions, by and large they get the central teachings of the Scripture right on the money, a welcome contrast in a world full of dumbed down doctrine and outright embrace of all manner of errors. So what I think is going on is pretty simple:
Too much money.
Too much influence.
Too much pride.
The "celebrity pastor", conference sponsoring, book selling machine where "pastors" somehow have the time to pastor "their" church while churning out book after book, has taken such a hold on parts of the church and the side effects are predictable. The more people have to protect, the more protective they become. I don't ascribe any devious motivations to these men and I am wholly disinterested in using their public humiliation to score points for my pet positions. I am mostly grieved because this culture has swallowed up many a Christian and promises to do so more in the future.
We have inverted our concept of pastoral ministry from Scripture. Scripture presents a ministry that is non-professional, intimate in the sense of not just proximity but relationship, one that operates best (and really only) on an interpersonal level between Christians that have an established relationship. We have embraced a model where the most charismatic and/or well educated are elevated again and again until they are so distant from the church that they cannot possibly pastor anyone. Yet many people refer to these (mostly) men as "pastors" because their talks and books have been educational and profitable. This should be obvious but a man you have never met (other than a handshake at some conference) and wouldn't be able to pick you out of a police line-up is not a pastor to you. A teacher sure and that is important too but a public teacher with a global platform cannot, must not, replace the pastoral leadership of a co-laborer in Christ who is not above you but beside you, leading through example and equipping you for the work of ministry.
Sin will happen in the church. We must not compound that sin with a culture that circles the wagons at the first sign of trouble. We must reject a culture that fosters this response, a culture that makes men like these brothers into Reformed rock stars, adored by religious groupies from a distance. I sincerely hope that these men will be used in a different, hopefully more humble capacity, in the future. I especially hope that we jettison the culture that elevates men to levels that make problems greater when they happen outside of the familiar relationships that should be central to the church.