James MacDonald’s Exit: Lessons from another spiritual sucker punch

James-McDonald-e1544470915749I’ve spent more than a little time trying to understand how and why some men and women in all kinds of leadership positions get themselves into trouble, whether the issues be moral, financial, or the abuse of power and ego.

The latest is James MacDonald, a 30 year founder and pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel. I am not here to share the details of his firing mostly because they are readily available on line. I personally have learned a great deal from his Biblical teaching over the years. I have enjoyed his candor, his creativity and his ability to communicate truth. I know many churches who have used his curriculum, people who have benefited from Walk in the Word and even know a brother in Christ who has worked for Harvest ministry. But what he is accused of is disheartening.

We all know that there are additional preachers or bosses that abuse their power and commit sexual sin toward the very people who trust them. It is heartbreaking for everyone involved when these things take place.

It seems to me that when people become leaders the very drive that propels some leaders toward extraordinary levels of achievement is a drive that often keeps expanding even after reasonable goals and objectives have been achieved. They want more. Sometimes that more is corrupt.

Like a river that breaks its levy that drive often strays into areas of excitement and risk that can be dangerous and destructive. Sometimes the drive appears to be unstoppable. This seems to have been the experience of the Older Testament David and his wandering eyes, Uzziah in his boredom, and Solomon with his insatiable hunger for wealth, wives, and horses. They seem to have been questing—almost addictively—for more thrills or trying to meet deeper personal needs, and the normal ways that satisfy most people became inadequate for them.

When I see a leader who becomes stubborn and rigid, who is increasingly less compassionate toward his adversaries, increasingly tyrannical in his own organization, who rouses anger and arrogance in others, I wonder if he is not generating all of this heat because he is trying so hard to say “no” to something surging deep within his own soul.

Are his or her words and deeds not so much directed against an enemy “out there” as they are against a much more cunning enemy within his own soul? No doubt, there have been many pastors and leaders, as example, admittedly spend hours immersed in pornography and then gone on to preach their most “spirit-filled” sermons against immorality a day or two later. That disconnect is what boggles the rational mind. Yet it continues!

No amount of accountability seems to be adequate to contain a person living with such inner conflict. Neither can it contain a person who needs continuous adrenaline highs to trump the highs of yesterday. Then add in there seven figure incomes, an enormous pension program and almost zero accountability you have a machine sure to be controlled by greed. Maybe this is one of the geniuses of Jesus: he knew when to stop, how to refuse the cocktail of privilege, fame, and applause that distorts one’s ability to think wisely and to master self.

More than once we’ve seen the truth of a person’s life come out, not all at once, but in a series of disclosures, each an admission of further culpability which had been denied just a day or two before. Perhaps inability to tell the full truth is a sign that one is actually lying to himself and cannot face the full truth of the behavior in his own soul.

But then again, all sin begins with lies told to oneself.

I guess in a strange way, the fall of a Jesus-follower or leader can point us back to the unshakeable hope our faith rests upon. He repeatedly says, “Follow me”, not follow my followers.

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