Superstar pastors pose challenge

By RACHEL ZOLL, AP Religion Writer Fri Nov 10, 3:29 AM ET

Pastor Ted's influence was felt everywhere in New Life Church: in the videos shown at worship; in the New Life bookstore, which stocked books he recommended; and in the story of the church itself. He started New Life in his basement, building it into a 14,000-member nationally known mega-church. As the Rev. Ted Haggard's fortunes rose, so did the church's


So when Haggard fell spectacularly from grace in a scandal involving drugs and allegations of gay sex, many wondered if New Life, so tied to his public persona, would crash with him.

The answer has significance far beyond the Haggard tragedy. As evangelical mega-churches have sprung up around the country, concerns have grown over whether superstar pastors help or hurt faith communities.

"When you get to these top 25 or 50 of the largest or most influential churches, these pastors are clearly celebrities. They were the founders, they created much of the growth and they are, in some sense, a brand in and of themselves," said Scott Thumma, a professor at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, who specializes in studying mega-churches. "It's just like a business where the name of the founder is, in fact, a trademark."

America has always had big-name preachers — from Billy Sunday, the pro baseball player-turned-evangelist, to Billy Graham. But the two were not closely tied to a single church. Among today's best-known pastors, Rick Warren has Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., Joel Osteen has Lakewood Church in Houston and Bishop T.D. Jakes has The Potter's House in Dallas.

Graham and Sunday also worked in a vastly different media environment. Modern-day celebrity pastors have Web sites, where they promote their books, along with the DVDs, TV shows and films they produce, while preaching internationally. With such high profiles, word of any wrongdoing will spread quickly, intensifying the damage to them and their congregations.

Haggard felt the impact firsthand last week. On Nov. 2, Mike Jones of Denver came forward saying he had drug-fueled homosexual trysts regularly with Haggard over the last few years.

The claims spread through the Internet, where they were placed side-by-side with video and past news articles in which Haggard had condemned gay marriage and had presented his family life, with wife Gayle and their five children, as a model.

Haggard, 50, immediately resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group for about 45,000 conservative churches, and within days was fired by New Life in Colorado Springs, Colo. In a letter read Sunday at New Life services, he did not address the specifics of Jones' claims, but confessed he was guilty of "sexual immorality."

New Life's reaction was swift — yet most mega-churches don't have such effective oversight. Many have boards stacked with relatives, friends, personal lawyers and hangers-on who wouldn't dare contradict the pastor, said Bill Martin, a Rice University expert on evangelicals.

Nearly all mega-churches are independent from a denomination — an asset for their flexibility, but a liability when it comes to checks on power. By contrast, mainline Protestant denominations vet clergy credentials and have elaborate systems of church tribunals, similar to civil courts, that discipline errant ministers.

"The pitfall with the mega-churches, the personality driven churches, is it's so easy for a person to consider him- or herself above accountability," Martin said. "If that accountability is absent or reduced, then trouble is on the way."

Some mega-church pastors are aware of the risk. They allow independent audits of their finances and have elaborate rules meant to minimize any chance of sex scandal. For example, some only allow male staff members to counsel women if someone else is in the room or if the door is open. And in a highly unusual practice for pastors, Warren, who has sold millions of copies of his book "The Purpose Driven Life," gives 90 percent of his income to the church.

"Money is a difficult issue with mega-church pastors," Thumma said. "They're accused all the time of fleecing their flocks and using that money to buy fancy cars and homes when their members have less."

With Haggard gone and the crisis he created easing, New Life members face a different challenge: They must decide whether they wish to belong to a church without the charismatic leader. (Charisma is not a qualification for ministry – it is a qualification for actors, entertainers, showmen, and coveted among politicians. –We have said before elsewhere that there will be an increasing amount of these type of scandals  -- it is the exposing of God to a willfully blind and perverse church that has turned its ministry over to earthly and worldly entertainment professionals, inn churches on radio and on television.)

Nancy Ammerman, a Boston University sociologist who researches congregational life, said the mega-church might be saved by its extensive programs that create social groups within the church. New Life uses the small group model, where churchgoers meet regularly with just a few others, sometimes based on common interests outside of worship.

"That also gives them a forum within which to deal with what happened," Ammerman said.

But Randall Balmer, a Barnard College historian of American religion, said mega-churches are so wrapped up with their pastor that New Life inevitably has hard times ahead. Without any creed or denominational identity for the church to cling to, attendance will eventually drop by half or more, he predicted. (This is a statement by a “blind, worldly, and unregenerate man” whom most saved and sprit filled Christians would declares to be ignorant and unable to discern anything of God – and yet here he nails on the head what exactly this church and Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are increasingly being founded on –The Charisma, Personality and pomp and ceremony of men and not upon the rock of Jesus Christ. These people personal relationship with Christ, they have no personal grasp of scripture so as to feed themselves, they have no personal prayer life that they can hear from God for themselves, and we could also add they have no vision in all of its manifold ramifications. So this is once again a sign to specifically bible believing Christians on the things that are shortly to come to pass – and as Christ prophesied

The perils and perilous times that Christ is speaking of here are not deceivers from without that supposed teachers of end time truth speak of all the time. Christ and the Apostles are warning of treacherous hirelings, and ravenous wolves, that are able to move freely about within the church, devouring where they will. And with this age of radio ministries, television ministries, Internet ministries, and the coming of net meetings, and satellite teleconferencing the day of a shepherd being able to simply block who comes in his church and speak to his assembly is long dead. So the war of deception has moved from the blinding of denominations or churches has moved now to deception by radio by television waves, by cable connections, or by Internet or satellite connections so that all can be hot wired in to deception without the pastor or elders of a church ever even knowing it.  

Matthew 24:4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. (The taking heed here is not a quiet sitting back and watching and praying while those around you are having their souls ate out from them.The first commandment of Christ to shepherds is that they must stand up and defend His sheep not just the members of a local flock with his very life against the greivieous wolves within and wolves without. And this means directly warning the people day and night in tears as Paul did about corrupt and evil men and their ministries and their disciples that are hidden among you that say let us go after strange God’s. )


Matthew 24:12 And because iniquity (Of these wolves and hirelings within) shall abound, the love (and faith and trust in Christ and the Gospel) of many (believers) shall wax cold. (They did not have refrigeration. So this is speaking of a warm vibrant love of Christ and the brethren becoming tepid or lukewarm.)


Matthew 24:24-26 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, (This again is clearly speaking of corrupt and evil Christian ministries.) and shall shew great signs and wonders; (And it the heart and desire of all true believers to see the sick healed and made whole and for the world to see the true unveiled power of God.) insomuch that, (But this has become a weak point or a stumbling block to all of bible believing Christianity) if it were (is at all) possible, they (Plural or collectively) shall deceive the very elect. (It is critical to understanding this passage to see that this is not the Antichrist doing the deceiving here or his minions. This is occurring beforehand within the church.) Behold, I have told you before. (Behold I have foretold you. – Behold I have prophesied unto you.)


It is universally agreed that we are in the end times the end of the end. It is universally agreed that this is the Laodicean hour, or that we live in the day of the Laodicean church. But not a single pastor or ministry can see any of what Christ himself prophesied of that would be in our midst in this very day.  And therefore we cry against this great dereliction of duty and unfitness for service of these preachers and ministries that speak not with great boldness and defend the flock of God within and without.


2 Thessalonians 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means. For that day (The day of the Lord) shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and after that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Paul here prophesies also that this great falling away of those being seduced by false prophets false apostles and other false ministries that would seek to have the church build upon them, their charisma, their personalities, their great swelling words, and their signs and wonders when they would suddenly be revealed as men of sin – this would cause a collapse of the outward Ekklesia and in the midst of the church being shredded the antichrist would be revealed or exposed. We have been locked onto a mindset on these passages largely by “the rapurists” so much so that no one can read a single word written in them any more.  Those in the world can see the wolves in our midst, but the church cannot because as prophesied in Revelation the church of this hour is blind deaf naked and wretched. (Meaning these cannot, and have not, any relationship or fellowship with God period, because He is holy and is repelled by sin.)

 You have a kind of cult of personality that confuses the faith” with (regard to) these particular individuals (when they fall,) said Balmer, author of "Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America." "I just think it's very difficult (for those who have been taught to put their faith in men over Christ.) to (ever really) recover from this sort of thing."