In the past few days, the national news has been abuzz with the story of Juan Demetrius McFarland, the now former pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. McFarland reportedly confirmed allegations that he “concealed from the church that he had knowingly engaged in adultery in the church building with female members of Shiloh Missionary Baptist church while knowingly having AIDS,” as reported by a deacon at the church, Nathan Williams, Jr. When the story first broke, McFarland was refusing to resign despite the formal efforts of the church’s lay leaders including an 80-1 vote to remove McFarland as pastor.
Of course, whenever things in the Church become such a mess that the national news picks it up, there are bound to be red flags everywhere. Like, how is it that this pastor of 24 years contracted HIV in 2003 and full blown AIDS in 2008? Was there no one in close enough relationship with him to tell that something was going on? Did the leaders of the church know of his misconduct in sleeping with anyone besides his wife but fail to act to remove the pastor? Did they try to remove the pastor unsuccessfully? The range of questions could (and should) go on but for today’s purposes, let’s consider what happens when churches get stuck with bad leaders and look at four reasons any church should be able to kick their pastor out.
1. When poor leaders remain in place, the sheep get abused.
In the present Shiloh MBC crisis, the pastor likely leveraged his spiritual authority to get access to women who respected his position and deferred to his morality to their own harm. Physically, these women may well have contracted the deadly HIV/AIDS virus. Emotionally, these women will find that the love and acceptance they hope for is farther away now than ever. Instead of discovering love, they have found selfish manipulation that will leave a deep gash in their souls. Spiritually, this pastor has forever changed how these women will relate to authority figures including God. Whereas a spiritual leader should make it easier for us to connect with God through their example and teaching, this pastor has tampered with the high and holy office of pastor and polluted the place of authority that God has given pastors for the good of the flock.
2. When poor leaders remain in place, the next generation gets confused and/or tainted.
Remember the story of Eli, Samuel and Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 1-4)? It’s the story of young Samuel growing up under the tutelage of the high priest Eli whose sons would regularly have sex with the women who worked at the entrance to the tent of meeting, steal food from God’s altar and blatantly dishonor the God they were sworn to serve. Imagine what it must have been like for Samuel to grow up learning the laws of the Torah from Eli while seeing his sons distort and/or disobey them each day. Surely, he went through many cycles of anger, hurt and confusion trying to figure out what was going on. While the facts have changed, the impact of poor leaders on the next generation has not. When a church’s leaders are compromisers who dishonor God, it leaves the next generation wandering as sheep without a shepherd.
3. When poor leaders remain in place, it strips the church of the authority Christ gave it.
The Apostle Paul made clear that Christians’ allegiance should be to the Word of God above any of God’s messengers. Consider his words in Galatians 1: 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
In another place Luke writes: Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11).
The Christian Church is established upon the authority of God’s Word and is the only basis of authority for the Church’s leaders. In any point that a church’s leaders stray from the Word of God, they are acting outside the authority delegated to them by Scripture. When poor leaders remain in place, they do so on their own authority, thereby usurping authority from God and the church.
4. When poor leaders remain in place, it brings shame upon Christ, the Gospel and the Church and hinders the forward advancement of the Gospel.
Every day, churches around the country and the world are doing fantastic things. Thousands of good pastors are serving faithfully in their communities. Many people are growing in their faith and relationship with God because of good pastors who love and serve them well. But, none of that makes it to the news headlines. Instead, the Church has to receive another black eye in the media because of the bad actions of one rogue pastor. Worse than no publicity, Juan McFarland has brought bad publicity upon the Church which only gives skeptics more food for fodder and slows down the forward momentum of evangelism that has been hard won by thousands of sacrificial Christians who model the Gospel each day.
Who knows how many thousands of congregations in America are led by pastors who have engaged in disqualifying behavior (see Titus 2) but remain in place despite the calls of leaders in their church for them to step down or be sat down. It is my hope that these poor leaders will be exposed and removed on the authority of God’s Word. Sure, “disgruntled” church members could just leave church were bad leaders are in place—and sometimes that is the best thing to do. But, if the New Testament Church belongs to God and is to be run by His rules then the leaders who won’t abide by God’s rules should have to go not the dozens, hundreds or thousands of church members who have invested years of their lives into building up their brothers and sisters at that local fellowship.
If you are at a church were the leader has engaged in a pattern of behavior that is clearly contrary to God’s character and Word, prayerfully consider what steps you and your family should take. You may need to leave or you may need to talk to your church’s governing bodies to remove leaders who dishonor the Bride of Christ. Your local church has a call toserve and witness to that local community so don’t let a poor leader disrupt everything God has called your church to. The poor leader is the one who should be put out, not the faithful church members! I’m glad that Juan McFarland has been uprooted and I hope his story will embolden congregations around the world to take action to remove corrupt leaders.