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Jan 26

Sally Morgenthaler: Does Ministry Fuel Addictive Behavior?

SallymorgenthalerIn view of the recent sexual failures of male Christian leaders in churches of all sizes, we thought it might be helpful for readers to hear from a pastor’s wife whose husband’s longtime secret double life fell apart when he was arrested and charged with molestation. Sally Morgenthaler, author of the book Worship Evangelism is telling her own tragic story publicly and imparting some valuable lessons through an article at Christianity Today Leadership Journal entitled Does Ministry Fuel Addictive Behavior?

An excerpt:

For over two decades, the entrepreneurial, multi-programmed church has been altering what people expect out of a church. The music they hear when they settle into their auditorium seats must compete with what’s on their iPod. High-end visual technology during the worship service is, for many attendees, a given. In short, churchgoers expect a Sunday morning worship service to match their aesthetic experiences in the broader culture.

It doesn’t stop at worship. It extends to the quality of childcare, children’s and teen’s programs, and adult education. The consumer-driven, felt needs-based ministry has redefined what church is and does. The concept of the church leader has also changed.

Entrepreneurial church wisdom is that pastors must be visionaries, risk-takers, and innovators, as well as spiritual guides. They are expected to be top-of-the-heap speakers as well, their stage skills honed to the highest cultural standards.

Realistically, very few pastors are cut out for this kind of leadership.

The average pastor may be at his best as teacher, coach, or theological guide. He might shine as a catalyst: a convener of collaborative vision and process; a facilitator of deep community. If he tends toward the empathetic and intuitive, he may excel as a nurturer, counselor, wound-dresser, or heart-holder.

But he is not megachurch material.

Still, he makes the trek each year to the mecca-church of his choice. He takes copious notes in workshops, hoping to find the secret passage to "church success." He leaves these multi-million-dollar facilities with eyes big as saucers, telling himself that he, too, if he tries hard enough, can take his church of 90 or 200 and make it a 2,000-attendee destination point.

And what if he doesn’t have the assertive, sole-visionary style? He’ll learn it. He’ll even fake it. He’ll become someone else, invalidate and dismiss his own gifts, his own unique, God-given leadership style and strengths and passions, all in order to emulate the large church pastor he’s admired from afar.

The profound irony is that, in the past decade, the wider culture has been steadily moving away from its love affair with power and authoritarian leadership personas. The toppling of Dan Rather by a rag-tag group of bloggers was not an anomaly. In the same spirit of organizational deconstruction, corporate America is accelerating its shift out of 1980s, hierarchical systems toward collaborative, webbed approaches to decision-making.

As the trend toward flattened hierarchies escalates, pastors who now consider themselves misfits in the world of entrepreneurial ministry may be dumping the very skills and personality bents most needed in the new landscape of engagement and empowerment.

Tragically, some of these so-called misfits will turn to an addiction, an escape out of what they see as a no-win proposition: become someone else, fit the mold, or fail. Instead of pushing back on leadership stereotypes that have long deserved questioning; instead of focusing on their strengths and becoming who God crafted them to be, they cave in.

Addiction, whatever the substance or behavior, then becomes a welcome oblivion, especially to those who have visited that oblivion before.

In the article Morgenthaler writes extensively about addictions and the demands of pastors, exposing how the sense of failure resulting from unreached goals and unrealized dreams among small-church pastors sets them up for sex addictions.  Take the time to read this one. 

Also available is an interview with Morgenthaler in which she talks forthrightly and personally about the experience and the toll that was extracted on her life, faith, family and ministry as her marriage unraveled.

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