James MacDonald: 5 Lessons for Every Pastor

Last week, megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel fired its founder, Senior Pastor James MacDonald, after a lengthy season of grievances with current and former church members. And yesterday, Harvest announced during its services that sweeping changes are on the way for the ministry.

Much has been said—and will likely continue to be said—about MacDonald’s public fall from grace as leaders around the country analyze what could have been done to prevent it.

In the meantime, here are 5 lessons for every pastor—

1. Pursue humility.

Humility always recognizes God as the only reason for any success, especially in ministry.

King Uzziah experienced impressive military success, but 2 Chronicles 26:16 says, “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.” After achieving success as a king, he attempted to complete tasks reserved specifically for priests. When he was confronted, Uzziah lashed out against them. His health failed, and he lost his leadership.

Good leaders (in and out of ministry) identify and safeguard their human limitations, recognizing God’s omnipotence in all of it.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).

2. Seek peace.

One of the most often overlooked qualifications for a pastor is found in 1 Timothy 3:3—”gentle, not quarrelsome.”

Another way of saying this: Pastors must pursue peace. And how is that done?—”Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:17).

History is not kind to pastors who are quick-tempered. While this doesn’t mean a pastor is immediately disqualified if he has a temper, it means he could quickly become disqualified if he doesn’t control it. The only anger Jesus showed in Scripture was over the abuse of people at the hands of false religion or poorly motivated religious activity.

Good leaders do not consistently misdirect their anger.

3. Reject greed.

In an article published in 2005, Christianity Today defined greed as, “an inappropriate attitude toward things of value, built on the mistaken judgment that my well-being is tied to the sum of my possessions.”

It’s never been God’s design that the Church or its leadership be distracted by things that will not last into eternity. This isn’t to say that churches should be naive, reckless, or stingy with financial resources, but a pastor’s unguarded preoccupation with financial success can create a quick path to failure.

When Nathan the prophet confronted King David about his sin of adultery and murder, he identified greed as a root cause. Nathan first listed many things God had given David and then said, “And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more” (2 Samuel 12:8).

Good leaders must proactively reject greed.

4. Be sincere.

D. Marin-Lloyd Jones defined “preaching”as, “the communication ofGod’s truth through human personality.”

Good pastors do more than speak the truth—they represent it with their lives. Long before a pastor stands in the pulpit to preach the sermon he has prepared, he should have preached the sermon to himself a dozen times. And in so doing, he should be changed by it. James 1: 22 says, “But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

Sin cannot gain a notable stronghold in the life of someone—including a pastor—who is devoted to prayer, Bible reading, and obedience to Christ.

5. Accept accountability.

One of our country’s founding fathers, Thomas Paine, said, “A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

And this is especially true for church leadership.

Accountability isn’t perfect because accountability usually requires flawed people to hold other flawed people responsible for their actions. But accountability is a God-given safeguard to help prevent public and disastrous breaches in trust.

Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Whatever your chosen accountability—whether it’s a group or an individual—the point isn’t just “checking boxes.” The point is desiring to live in a way that pleases God—and then listening to people who love you enough to tell you when you’re wrong.

Conclusion

If history has taught us anything, we know that leaders are susceptible to failure. The Bible bears a conveyor belt of illustrations, including Moses, David, and Peter. Thankfully, in these cases and many others like them, we learn that failure—for any of us—doesn’t need to be fatal.

Bottom line: The only perfect leader is Christ. Let’s purpose to lead others as we seek to follow Him.


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