I have to admit, I’ve only listened to a couple of Haggard’s sermons during his time as Senior Pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and I thought Haggard appeared much more transparent (an embarrassing scandal destroying your career will do that to you), more down-to-earth, and more pastoral in his humble spot on Oprah than in the sermons I heard from his heyday.
Some people will roll their eyes at Haggard and call his mega broadcast on the most powerful talk show in the world and film as a desperate attempt to climb back to the communication world at the expense of the church that disowned him in 2006. Some people will not like the content of his conversation with Oprah.
I don’t want to get into the content of the show itself or of the 2006 incident. Here’s something to consider: Would Haggard’s life over the last 3 years have been different had he been more transparent from the beginning? If he had sat down with trusted members of his board or another leader or coach and said, “Look, I’m a married guy who really loves my wife and kids, but I feel drawn toward men? What can I do to keep my marriage in tact and my career from falling out from under me?” would that have helped his situation? It didn’t help that drugs were involved, and in a church environment that doesn’t support gay rights, he would have probably been asked to step down anyway. Still, a large part of the case against Ted Haggard was that he repeatedly lied about the allegations.
Maybe the transparency wouldn’t have helped…at least from the church’s side.
Many mid-to-large sized churches have adopted a business/CEO model of leadership and growth. Led by megachurch superstars like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, these churches tend to operate on a staff/volunteer/committee platform that looks more like a MacWorld conference than St. Paul’s Cathedral (for that matter, even the Vatican is looking like Wall Street these days!). Many modern suburban churches have followed this example. They read the right books (including those by Dr. Warren and Dr. Hybels, among others), attend the right conferences, and showcase the right gadgets and podcasts. I actually think most of these ideas are well-enough in themselves. I love podcasts, love going to conferences, and have certainly been inspired by the writings of Warren, Hybels, John Maxwell, and Andy Stanley.
In the wake of all of these modern conveniences, one message that has sunk into the heads of many pastors of this model is that leadership requires self-confidence and that transparency is dangerous and may cause church members and seekers to look elsewhere for answers to their questions. As I’ve heard more than one CEO-style pastor say, “Fake it ’til you make it.”
I agree that too much transparency and second-guessing can be dangerous. After all, if a leader doesn’t know where he/she is going, how can he/she expect others to follow? Still, I wonder if we’ve pushed this macho leader image too far? Have we become such experts in our fields of spirituality that we’re actually pushing people away rather than drawing them in?
In early 2005, I was let go from a church that operated under this CEO model. While the layoff was largely due to a tragic church-split that I happened to walk into unknowingly (and only lasted six weeks – and which was followed by the departure of every other staff pastor and the senior pastor), one thing was used by a small group of angry parishioners who were out to run the church and take it back to the Dark Ages: a blog. At the time, my 7-month-pregnant wife was getting close to the birth of our first child, and in my oblivion toward the church’s problems within itself, I blogged one night that I was nervous about being a father and didn’t know how I was going to get a baby to adulthood in one piece. Many young parents can relate, I’m sure. This church found the blog and used it to showcase my inability to lead due to showing weakness. In other words, why should a parent trust his/her teenager to a man who shows weakness?
I have since survived my short time in this church, and am grateful for the experience as it later allowed me to experience some great ideas and dream some new dreams.
My point is, maybe the Corporate CEO hasn’t done as much favors for the local church.
In 2006, I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit
. At the conference, one of the keynote speakers, Jim Collins
, author of Good to Great
, warned the church about this type of model. “Churches shouldn’t want to run themselves like a business for two reasons,” Collins said. “First, most businesses aren’t very good….Second, in churches, your export is completely different. In business, that export is money, but in churches, that export is people.”
People. Relationships. How do relationships grow? By being honest and transparent with each other. Many churches today are learning to operate under an entirely different approach. They’re building house-churches: churches that are centered around relationships.
Perhaps transparency couldn’t have saved Ted Haggard in 2006, but judging by the Twitter posts and blogs out last night and this morning, his transparency and admission of uncertainty of all answers helped much of America to begin a new respect. Whether his HBO documentary will allow that respect to grow remains to be seen, but the new Haggard did seem happier. And isn’t that really the point?