October 25th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

My take: How to scandal proof your church

Editor's Note: Jonathan Acuff writes the blog www.stuffchristianslike.net and recently released the book "Stuff Christians Like." He writes for the Dave Ramsey Organization and lives in Nashville with his wife and two children. Follow him on Twitter @prodigaljohn.

By Jonathan Acuff, Special to CNN

Katy Perry is the greatest “pastor’s kid gone wild," ever. It used to be Alice Cooper and we briefly considered giving the title to comedian Daniel Tosh, but at the end of the day, Perry crushes them both.

Of course, we Christians know Katy Perry as Katy Hudson, the gospel singer. But even though she’s left our musical realm, we’re ready to take her back. She and fiancé Russell Brand could be Christian music’s Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Think about it Katy, think about it.

Maybe I’ll spread that as a “Christian urban legend.” I’ll just start telling people that rumor until eventually enough people believe it’s actually going to happen, Katy Perry is coming back!

It wouldn’t be the first Christian urban legend though. We’ve had faith-flavored folklore floating about for years. (Christians hate using Snopes to disprove things. Look it up, that’s somewhere in the Old Testament.)

One of my favorite urban legends was the one about the Satanist and the pastor on the airplane. (Doesn’t that kind of sound like a “Satanist and pastor walked into a bar” joke?) In this particular urban legend, a pastor asks the guy next to him on a plane what brought him to town. The Satanist responds, “I worship the devil and was in town to pray for the destruction of pastors across the country.”

I don’t know any Satanists, but I have to assume they do have conventions from time to time. In Vegas, of course, you can’t hold a Beelzebub Ball in Branson, Missouri. But that urban legend seems way to crazy to be true despite the fact that I heard it a dozen different times when I was a kid.

But based on the number of big pastors that have been involved in some wildly public scandals over the years, you start to worry that maybe it’s true. Maybe someone is actively praying that. Or maybe we’ve just got some really unhealthy churches.

I tend to put my belief in the latter. I don’t doubt for a second that there’s opposition to ministries all over the world, forces of evil that make Christopher Walken’s “The Prophecy” seem calm. But I think we as Christians can do a much better job scandal-proofing our churches.

In fact, I think there are four ways we can keep scandal at bay in our congregations.

1. Create an environment where it’s OK for people to fail.
Sometimes, we Christians confess “safe sins.” We sit in small groups and say, “I’ve got to be real tonight. I want to be honest, I want to give it to you raw like ODB in the Wu Tang Clan.”

So you lean in expecting some deep honesty and instead someone confesses, “I don’t read my Bible enough,” or “I don’t do very long quiet times.” If you’ve got a big neon sin, if you’re struggling with porn or a drug addiction, it’s really hard to follow the “I don’t read the Bible enough” guy.

So you fake it a little. You shine things ups. You start to use what people call the “Christian F-Word,” which is “fine.” How’s your marriage? Fine. How’s your job? Fine. As Christians, we’ve got to make it OK to fail. Not to justify it or support it, but to allow an environment where grace reigns, not judgment.

2. Go first.
The challenge of creating an honest environment is that you have to go first. You have to throw yourself on the honesty grenade, which is difficult. Because when you go first, you don’t know the boundaries. You don’t know what’s acceptable or OK.

You have to step out into the gaping void of a conversation and be honest. But when you do, when you go first and share your story and your life, you give everyone in the room or your family or your community, the gift of going second.

You give them the opportunity to go second and follow your lead. They get to step into the space you’ve carved out with your honesty. We’ve got to give the gift of going second.

3. Hold pastors accountable.
According to the Bible, Solomon was the wisest person who ever lived. He asked God for and was granted more wisdom than we can possibly fathom. And he failed.

So why do we think our pastors won’t? Why are we surprised when we treat them like they’re perfect, never challenge their actions and then they fall? It’s classic “CEO Disease” or just another example of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

The pastor gets so big and successful that we don’t hold them accountable. We surround them with people who constantly tell them “yes.” We establish a different set of rules for them.

Instead, we need to surround our pastors with people who love them enough to tell them things they don’t want to hear. To challenge them and embrace the Biblical model of iron sharpening iron.

4. Look out for Aaron lies.
No one wakes up on a Tuesday and says, “I think I’ll wreck my whole life, throw away my ministry and destroy my marriage.”  We all take small steps toward the big, dumb decisions we make. And along the way, we justify the things we’re doing with the craziest excuses and lies.

Like Aaron telling Moses that he just threw gold in a fire and a calf magically popped out, we’ll create wild lies. We’ll say, “Oh that, that’s just what guys do!” Or, “That’s not an emotional affair, I just have a flirty personality. That’s nothing.”

We’ll pile lie upon lie until eventually the whole stack topples over. Scandals should never really surprise us. There’s a veritable ginger bread trail of lies the whole time. Seek truth and celebrate truth and don’t for a second accept that golden calves magically appear.

I don’t know what will happen with the latest scandal. I don’t know that minister. I don’t know that church. But I do know we’ll keep having scandals if we keep creating environments where people can’t be honest and we act like our pastors are perfect.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jonathan Acuff.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (279 Responses)
  1. jeff

    ISIAIh 41 BRING forth your IDOLS did they PREACH to you see they can’t speak they can’t DO ANYTHING all they do is cause confusion. Jeremiah 10 they nail their IDOL down like a scarecrow it can’t move can't speak can’t move must be carried these are nothing but the WORK of CON men. spalms 115 and spalms 135 thier IDOLS are FALSE cant speak can't hear cant smell and those that make them shall become like them. john 10 jesus christ sais his sheep hear his voice and another voice thy will not follow and if another person tries to preach to them they WILL FLEE from him. jeremiah 5 the priests bear rule on their own authority what will you do when your judged my word is not inside them. Now here is the kicker john 5 son of man voice goes back in time mathew 16 jesus christ claims to be the son of man.‎1 cor2 mind of CHRIST preached internally and john 16 sais the spirit of truth comes in the future. Ezekiel 13 lying prophets of ISRAEL my word is not inside them saying god sais god sais god sais wrote hoping mankind would CONFIRM their WORDS. all of this is EASILY verifiable

    April 2, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  2. KC

    "we need to surround our pastors with people who love them enough to tell them things they don’t want to hear. To challenge them and embrace the Biblical model of iron sharpening iron." When I did that, I was run out of the church, blackballed, and slandered with false accusations. The minister wasn't willing to hear his shortcomings. I will note, however, that when the story got around, he was "requested to resign", which was long overdue.

    November 13, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  3. victor mena[father of alex]

    if the christians are allowing this then let them its ther fate dont let all these people who are complete strangers let the people decide what they can or cant do this statment that every body is posting you should not make there decision how would you like it if everyone controlled you for a change i would not like that because everybody has a choice to do what they want.

    November 8, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
  4. WWRRD

    Christian's are normal people just like everyone else. They are not infallible. People always throw the H word out at them, 'They are such hypocrits". However, this is the kind of point of the piece, fear of hypocrisy is why Christians tell these "lie's and half truths to each other. They are fallible, yet they believe so greatly in the standards that are set which are incredibly high, that when they fail they will lie about it and do everything to hide the truth because they know the judgement and the 'H" word is just around the corner. Not to mention that the guilt of not living up to God's wishes is torture enough. I believe the christian faith actively practiced makes us better people than we would have been had we not followed Gods word. It doesn't prevent us from being human. Luckily, God's grace and forgiveness is there for all to recieve, even if we aren't up to His standards. Because of His grace, we just need to keep trying our best to honor Him in all that we say and do.

    November 2, 2010 at 9:49 am |
    • victor mena[father of alex]

      why would you say that the christians cant do what they want?

      November 8, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  5. koga

    There will be no scandal when religion is gone. Move away from the church; move away from the pastors. Hold yourself high and say to the world 'I Am Sufficient as I Am'. You don't need a god whether or not it exists. We no longer need the crutch of deities. They are the old way. They are dead. Only the ignorant and the violent continue to clasp religion as a goal.
    Free yourself.

    October 31, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
  6. girl

    hey jonathan – I think your article rocks 🙂

    October 30, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  7. bobkiddy

    I read this article... I freaking love it a lot and hate it just a little at the same time... because i find God is challenging me to go first and not last in some stuff and its not so comfortable... but its good at the same time...awesome!!!

    October 30, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  8. Lance

    I don't understand why many of you are here reading articles about religion. You obviously don't believe in God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit.... I don't understand the sick sense of pleasure you derive from making derogatory comments about something that is very important to many people, myself included.. Christianity is about belief in something we can't see. But we can feel it, and know that it is true, because God will make himself known to those who truly seek him. While I don't know why you are here, keep coming back, maybe you are searching still, and maybe God will reveal himself to you through what you read. God is crazy in Love with you and waiting for you to invite into a relationship with you. I pray for your search...

    October 28, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
  9. Gary

    religion is all about faith and fiction.....Science is based solely on fact and experiments. As an agnostic I feel the need and calling to be a good person and treat others as I want to be treated.

    October 28, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  10. Austin

    I enjoyed this article. I don't know why people find a CNN article's comment page to be an adequate forum to argue the existence of God, but I do know that Jon made agreeable points about what is wrong within his own religion. He is challenging the practices of other believers in a healthy way, and I do not understand how this could ever be a bad thing...
    It's a dismal thing to see hate driven individuals plugging into the internet only to quarrel. It benefits no one.

    I'll take this article at face value & learn from it what it offers. I could be the first to get angry and try to defend my beliefs- but would i be arguing for the truth, or would I be arguing for my own sake?

    I will just stick with living right & not running my mouth off.

    October 28, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  11. Lazy Silly Girl (Polly)

    One of the problems I've encountered is that people don't really want to know how you are. They want to hear the word "fine" and anything more descriptive than that and they're running off to help with children's church. I've been the one to go first and instead of creating a safe, caring community for everyone to share their vulnerabilities, my sharing makes me the "unclean" one that nobody wants to touch (good thing I'm a loner). I've had friends that I had to write off who couldn't handle my "sharing". There has been a focus at my church lately on the very idea of making the church a place that no one cringes when the truth is told. It's something I long for as someone who would rather be real and I'm grateful for small steps, but I still think we're along way off.

    October 28, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  12. Jana

    A lot of what I'm reading here that is in disagreement is based on people blaming pastors and other people for not being perfect, or even being really screwed up. I'm not going to deny that this is the case, because I know it's true. We do have scandal in churches as well as in politics, in school systems, in the workplace... because people aren't perfect.

    But don't project the characteristics or faults of imperfect people onto a perfect and holy God.

    October 27, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
  13. Iqbal khan


    October 27, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
    • Darin ga

      But of course the Quoran has 'scientific insight', IT WAS partially COPIED FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT!, or else how do you explain that:
      (a) Many of the Suras are prety much either a literal or a semi-literal copy-and-paste from the Torah
      (b) There are manuscripts that confirm that the Old Testament was written at the very least ~400BC; on the other hand, there are NO ARCHEOLOGICAL evidences for the Quoran -that is prior to ~700AD when written.

      Besides, you can pull science from many sacred books (we are not going to mention here that the Quran argues for the placement of the sun in a muddy lake of sorts) and that doesnt proof tey are of divine origin necesarily bu tht we al come from a divine creator and designer.

      October 27, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
  14. brad

    Anywhere human nature is found, there is scandal. It's particularly easy for religions because in church people actually believe something which can then be violated.
    But I wonder: when some reasonable, scientific, person recieves a Nobel Prize, how many careers did he destroy to get to the top? In a den of snakes, the inhabitants get along okay. But in academia and science labs, someone is always trying to squeeze out the other to make a name for himself.

    October 27, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.