The Megachurch Pastor

It’s being reported that Isaac Hunter committed suicide.

For those of you who don’t live in central Florida, Isaac was the 36-year-old former pastor of Summit Church, a megachurch in Orlando.  His father, Joel Hunter, has been the pastor at Northland, a Church Distributed, since 1985.

Isaac Hunter was in the news last year, and not in good ways.  He confessed to his church leaders that he had been engaged in an affair with a church staff member.  Then his wife filed a domestic violence petition against him, claiming that he was involved in drug and alcohol abuse.

I don’t know the behind-the-scenes details of this tragedy, but stories like this make me wonder if the modern megachurch has become one of the most dangerous places a pastor can find himself.  Isaac Hunter is one of three megachurch pastors in the Orlando area who lost their ministries in 2012 because of a moral failure.  A fourth was divorced and eventually left the ministry altogether.

We love our megachurches.  We celebrate their success, study their methods, and rejoice in their influence, as well we should.  But I wonder if Satan doesn’t love them, too, because of the unique opportunity they offer him to seduce pastors.

Having spent the last 1o years writing books, I’ve gotten to know a lot of very influential people in the Christian publishing industry.  I can tell you that publishers scout around for megachurch pastors whose profiles are on the rise.  They look for a guy with a growing platform who can sell a lot of books, hoping that he might become the next Rick Warren or Joel Osteen.  In fact, the pastor doesn’t even have to be able to write a lick.  They’ll find a writer to put the words on the page if the pastor’s name creates enough buzz.

Don’t think for a moment Satan can’t use that.

I’m not a megachurch pastor, but I once had an experience that taught me how seductive the life of a megachurch pastor can be.

First, you need to understand that pastors who write books are just assumed to be megachurch pastors.  I learned that early on.  People see that I’ve written five books for the number one Christian publisher in the world (Thomas Nelson) and they just assume I’m a big shot.

So, I got this call from a major Christian magazine.  The editor had read The 10 Dumbest Things Christians Do and wanted to interview me.  We met in Denver and sat down for a chat.  Right out of the box, she said, “So how big is your church, five or ten thousand?”  When I told her we were running around 500, she looked at me like I had just spit up on myself.  She couldn’t believe it.  “You mean you don’t serve a megachurch?” she asked.  “No ma’am,” was my reply.

From that moment on, the whole tone of our interview changed.  In a matter of seconds I went from being a celebrity (in her mind) to some bozo who got lucky and found someone to publish his book.  In truth, her opinion of me was much more accurate after it did the nosedive, but that’s not the point.  The point is that as long as she thought I was a megachurch pastor, she treated me like royalty.

Don’t think for a moment Satan can’t use that.

Even in the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, we glorify megachurches and their pastors by listing them in the Christian Standard.  (I’m not sure the intent is to glorify them as much as it is to celebrate God’s blessing on our movement, but this may be a distinction without a difference.)

This much I know: with a larger profile comes a larger bullseye.  Satan loves it when any pastor falls, but especially a megachurch pastor.  The more collateral damage, the better.  It’s why the 911 terrorists attacked New York City instead of Podunk, Illinois.

And it’s why I pray for our megachurches and the people who lead them.

With all the talk about head injuries in football, I hear a lot of parents discussing whether  they would want their kids to be football players.  As I reflect on the tragic life of Isaac Hunter and the seemingly increasing number of fallen pastors, I wonder if there will come a day when parents will not want their kids to become preachers.

 

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2 Responses to The Megachurch Pastor

  1. buddy Harris says:

    I have seen enough non-mega church preachers have a moral failure that leads me to believe that it can happen to anyone. It is probably not the size of the church but the size of the preacher’s faith and obedience to Jesus. It does does make a bigger splash when it happens in a bigger church. Let’s pray for all of our preachers not matter the size of the congregation.
    Blessings Mark!
    Buddy

    • Mark says:

      I agree, Buddy. It’s all about the heart. (Pr. 4:23) I do think, however, that megachurch preachers face some unique pressures. Some of this issue boils down to the fact that some people’s gifts exceed their spirituality. They are gifted to lead and organize and speak (thus, they end up in megachurches), but their spiritual depth lags behind (thus, they don’t handle those enormous pressures very well). Ideally, our spiritual commitment should exceed our gifts, regardless of the size of the church.

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