I never really liked James McDonald from the get-go. It wasn’t that his preaching was “bad”–the few times I heard him preach, he was decent–it was that so many others were so high on him that they thought I was out of touch for not being on their bandwagon.
But at the 2013 Act Like Men conference in Indianapolis, something about his demeanor just wasn’t right. There was something about his presentation that screamed of heavyhandedness. He wasn’t “loud”; he just seemed like someone trying to be all tough, as though that somehow made him worthy of being up there.
(Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll also preached at that conference. Chandler was excellent; Driscoll was good–say what you want about his leadership style–but McDonald did not strike me as a credible pastor. Like I said, it wasn’t that he was teaching anything erroneous; he simply did not come off with pastoral gravitas.)
TWW has this piece on his “resignation”. And, for all my issues with Deb and Dee, I can’t say I disagree with their assessment of McDonald.
It really seems to me that some of these high-profile conservative preachers–Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, McDonald, Mahaney–are falling for the same dynamic that defined the televangelist disasters: a combination of (a) heavyhanded leadership with no accountability, (b) a love of money, and (c) along the lines of (a) and (b), a sense of entitlement.
I’ve long-observed the ministry in America as a corporate ladder. You go to college or Bible School, then on to seminary to get the MDiv (and perhaps even a doctoral degree). In ministry, you may start out as a children’s minister, a music minister, a youth minister, or even work interim pastoral roles (also called “pulpit supply”). Of course you get married, because singles generally have very limited opportunities in the ministry.
When you get out of school, you start out at a small or medium-sized church. If you have good speaking and social skills, and manage not to piss off the wrong people, then you go places.
Even better, if you are innovative, then you can start your own church. You might have the charisma to attract a small following, and then–through word of mouth–others start coming to your church. People are attracted to charisma: a pastor who can operate like a CEO projects “E.F. Hutton”-level gravitas, and we all know what happens when E.F. Hutton talks…
But here’s the problem: charisma is not character!
I’m going to say it again: charisma is not character!
Guys like Driscoll, Tchividjian, McDonald, Mahaney, and even Chantry, have strong charisma. They have the qualities that you expect in Alpha Males, at least with respect to the Church: no matter which church they are in, they are going to be sought out as leaders.
But were any of these guys ever vetted for character? And if so, to what extent? Many denominations will place great emphasis on sound doctrine, and rightly so.
But what about character? What about leadership style? What about financial expectations? And yes, what about sexual baggage?
(Yes, the latter is fair game. If you’re a would-be overseer, it is fair to expect that you are not perverted: you are not into porn, or sexually-attracted to the same sex or to children. It is also fair to expect that you are not the type of person who supports leaders who are, and that, if accusations surfaced, you are predisposed to transparency and reporting to the proper authorities.)
If no one in McDonald’s–or Driscoll’s–inner circle had the presence of mind to notice a problem, then shame on them. And if they did, and refused to confront them–then they were derelict in their duties.
Ultimately, your sin will find you out. As I often put it, you will never outrun your character: that will always catch up with you.
And if you are a bully, you will find that, once a church wakes up, you might be in for a rude awakening.