This article is adapted from a speech delivered by Tim Loftis at the 2018 FECA National Conference.
I must tell you that while I rejoice in the blessings of ministry in my church, I would be foolish if I didn’t acknowledge that the enemy is on the prowl, and he is working hard to destroy as much of the work of God as he can. We are experiencing much blessing and growth in our church and are excited to be on the verge of multiplying through planting. But I also must honestly tell you that it has been one of the hardest times in my 40 years of ministry. I am feeling attacked on several fronts in my life, especially in my family.
Just recently we all have heard of the downfall of a prominent evangelical, Bill Hybels, and all of the accusations by multiple women concerning his inappropriate sexual behaviour toward them. I was hit hard by this news! I went into ministry not long after Hybels started Willow Creek in 1975 and I have been blessed and somewhat ‘wowed’ by the ministry of Willow Creek. I visited the church in Chicago in 1997 to attend the Global Leadership Summit, and I was challenged and blessed by the conference. In fact, I was especially impressed by the authenticity and integrity of Hybels himself as he presented. While deeply disappointed and sad, this scandal causes me to ask some questions: How does this keep happening to high profile pastors/ministers in churches like Willow Creek or in any church for that matter? The secular world seems to have some answers if we are willing to listen.
The Chicago Tribune wrote this in a report on the scandal at Willow Creek and the fact that the two replacement Pastors and the entire Elder board have resigned over the scandal. The writer was comparing it to other sexual scandals which have been uncovered this year in the US. He writes:
“The same questions now haunt all of these institutions: How did we allow this to happen? What can we do to rebuild trust? The answer starts before the scandal. And it applies as much to large corporations and megachurches as to mom-and-pop businesses and the tiniest parishes. Groups, large or small, have best practices. Or not. There’s a culture of vigilance, not just to detect sexual abuse but misconduct of all sorts. Or not. People are encouraged to speak up if they see something, or suspect something. Or not. Victims can come forward feeling assured that they’ll be heard, not dismissed. Or not. Leaders deal vigorously and preemptively with allegations. Or they shrug off reports and rely on protocols too tepid to ferret out wrongdoers.”
As I read this article I thought to myself that these are important and true words that we dismiss at our peril!
In all of these events and the culture surrounding them, I felt that it was important for us to talk about this as a fellowship. In my time as a pastor, I have met some very talented and high capacity young leaders who are doing a great job in church planting or pastoral ministry, but sadly we have also seen a few of those young pastors who have lost their ministry because of the failure of their marriages. As a senior member of FECA of sorts, (with 40+ years of ministry experience), I want to sound a warning to us all. I don’t know about all of you in the fellowship, but I want to finish well!
Paul did a great job of challenging us about that in his letter to the Ephesians and the first letter to his son in the faith Timothy. Here’s what he said:
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
1 Timothy 4:11-12
11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
In light of these scriptures, and the current culture and situation which we are all ministering in, I would like to leave you with some principles which I think would be helpful in doing just what Paul said for us to do in 1 Tim. 4:16, “keep a close watch on yourself…”. So here are 10 reminders or helps in keeping watch over yourself.
1. Discipline yourself to godliness! Practice confession and repentance regularly and honestly in your life. As Martin Luther said, “All of a Christian’s life is one of repentance.”
2. Cultivate a strong devotional and prayer life. Study the Word and pray much. Do those things for your own feeding and spiritual health, not just for ministry.
3. Be accountable! Find someone (or several people) who will be honest with you and ask you the right questions.
4. Stay humble, don’t listen to those who would build you up profusely, find some people who will tell you the straight truth...and listen to them! Don’t read the ‘press’ about yourself.
5. Be willing to change and grow! Remember that the Lord is not finished with changing you, that is going to keep happening until you get to Heaven.
6. Love and nurture your wives. Build your relationship with her in every way, including spiritually, emotionally, relationally and sexually. Read 1 Cor. 7:1-5 - Take note that your body belongs to her...she should satisfy you sexually, no one else (including anyone online or onscreen)! Have frequent conversations with your wife about your weakness in these areas. Don’t let it be said of you that your Church is your mistress, in other words, don’t neglect this precious gift God has given you. Wives - (I asked my wife about what I should say to you...), communicate with your husbands, if you are struggling let him know, and don’t be afraid to ask for help even from outside if you need it. You are not exempt from the attack of the enemy, in fact he will often target you because he knows that if he gets to you he gets to your husband. Read 1 Cor. 7 and Eph. 5 together and make sure that you are caring for each other in every way. Both of you please remember that your marriage is the ‘first’ gospel message that you preach.
7. Make sure that you build some strong safeguards into your ministry and personal habits. DO NOT neglect this area! Let your wife see your phone, IPad, computer and any entertainment you watch. Do not have a password on any of those devices that your wife/husband doesn’t know. Give them permission to look at them anytime they choose
8. Treat all women with respect and dignity as equals! Keep an absolutely strict no-go policy against sexists jokes, remarks or innuendo of any kind...just don’t do it! Do not have any inappropriate contact physically or emotionally, with a woman who is not your wife.
9. Guard yourself during times of stress and tiredness! The enemy knows when and where you are vulnerable, don’t let him get a foot in the door!
10. Remember your identity is in Christ, not in your role as a Pastor or Church leader! It’s not in your preaching or Biblical knowledge, only in Christ! It’s not in your ability as a Counsellor, or as a prayer warrior, or as a spiritual leader, your identity is only in Christ! Don’t listen to the enemy who will try to tell you otherwise, remind yourself often of Paul’s words, “For me to live is Christ!.”
I trust that you will take these challenges and suggestions in the spirit that they are given. I speak to you humbly with a very clear understanding of my own weakness in the flesh and a commitment to listen to and practice these things in my own life and ministry as well. Please be assured that Tammy and I will pray for you regularly, and we will always be ready to help if you call on us.
I Love you all in Christ,