What Makes for “Immoral” Leadership?

Mark Driscoll, pastor of mega-church Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, resigned from leading his church in October. The overseeing board of Mars Hill Church concluded Driscoll had “been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.” But they were careful to say he had “never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy.”

The board’s statement really caught my eye. Think about it for a moment. Without a doubt, “immorality” here is a code word for sexual wrongdoing. The sometimes-prudish New American Standard Bible would at times translate the Greek word porneia (fornication) by the word “immorality” (see 1 Corinthians 6:16-18 and 7:2 in the NASB).

But this will not wash! Pastor Driscoll, it was said, had arrogance, a quick temper, harsh speech and a domineering manner. These all are forms of “immorality.”

Arrogance, temper, domination? “The overseer [pastor, church leader] must be…not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome” and not conceited or overbearing (1 Timothy 3:2-6; Titus 1:7). If, on the contrary, you want to lead Jesus’ way (HWJL – “How Would Jesus Lead?”), read Matthew 20:20-28. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them… Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

A mega-church pastor once wrote a book on leadership. One of his staff members told me the book should have been titled, Leading By Intimidation!

Harsh speech? The tongue, scripture says, is “a fire, a world of evil among all the parts of the body.” “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” With our tongues we bless God and curse people, all made in God’s likeness. “My brothers, this should not be” (read James 3:3-12).

Today “the tongue” includes what we post on (un)social media. Many teens, especially girls, use this form of communication sinfully when they speak with malice and slander and with little regard for truth. One of three teens (32%) have been “cyberbullied”—via mean texts, photoshopped pictures, fake profiles, fight videos, rumors and gossip, embarrassing pictures, threats, and harassment.* All these are forms of sinning by tongue, aka immorality.

No wonder we are told in scripture, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up” (read Ephesians 4:29-32).

The Evangelical world often seem to be fixated on “immorality” in one specific sense, but not on the range of matters the Bible considers immoral. Every Christian leader needs to confess immorality in the light of a wide range of issues and strive for improvement. Only then are we following the realism and personal redemption of 1 John 1:5-10 (“If we claim to be without sin [for example, through narrow definitions], we deceive ourselves… If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive our sins…”)

Let’s stop giving a pass for sins of the tongue and temper, arrogance and domination and conceit, especially when these are manifest by leaders.

* ”Social Media” by Detective Chad Morris, Regional Training Seminar, International Conference of Police Chaplains, October 15, 2014

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