Roger Olson has an interesting post entitled Evangelical Superstars and Why They Fall. It may be disappointing in its simplicity, but it may well hit the nail on the head. The big problem as he sees it: lack of accountability.
Olson touches on something of the heart of the problem in terms of both the unquestioning trust often given to leaders and how power corrupts. There needs to be ongoing accountability. We all need that, but particularly those in high positions of leadership and responsibility.
Another important factor is something not confined to evangelical circles. But it especially can be a problem among us evangelicals. We tend to put the pastor on a pedestal and we make the sermon the most important part of a service or church gathering. My own experience in this is that unless the church was good in the music part, I was more than ready to hear the message. Or even give it. The other stuff was mere preliminary to that. The sermon is in the spotlight and often dictates whether or not visitors will continue to come. And because of that the preacher being the pastor tends to have extraordinary power, provided they can give a good message.
Sermons are important and a gifted pastor is vital to the health of a church. They need not be charismatic in personality, but God’s gift for pastoring which includes teaching needs to be on them. But we would be far better off if instead of the sermon in the preaching of the word being pretty much the end all of most evangelical churches, it would instead be one major part. In fact I would prefer that it be a major part of the main thrust: to keep Jesus Christ and the gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in him front and center. Liturgically and in everything else. Instead too often the church is driven by whatever the sermon might be and that is driven by one person, the pastor. So that everything centers around that and around them. Churches which major in both word and sacrament I would think tend to do better in this way. But to get back to the main point of this post, that does not necessarily mean that proper accountability is taking place.
The bottom line whatever other variables is to recognize and be committed to ongoing accountability. Not in terms of popularity as to whether or not the pastor is making people happy. But in terms of what is spelled out in scripture as to qualifications for leaders in ministry. Perfection is not the standard, but maturity and growth. Can we say that we can follow the leader even as they follow Christ? Are they following Christ? Of course that involves ongoing humility in confession of sin. The best leaders will be transparent and quick to confess their sins. If we’re all to be accountable, looking out for each other, leaders ought to show the way in that. On some level everyone can participate in that, but there ought to be leadership in place in churches, including godly lay members who can help in that way.
Not an easy subject, but an important one for us to grapple with.