I recently read an article about Ted Haggard, the Colorado Springs pastor who in 2006 was forced to resign from the megachurch of 14,000 that he planted 22 years earlier. He resigned because he had been engaging in sexual conduct with a male prostitute while using meth. They usually have to make up news that good.
I didn’t find this story all that interesting, as I had never heard of Ted before. Rather, I find the after-story to be quite interesting – of Ted’s path to healing and restoration.
Ted was given a severance package from New Life of 14 month pay (totaling well over $100,000!), though he also had to agree to leave the state of Colorado, not speak with the media and not involve himself in other ministries. He had a sort of recovery team assembled to walk with him through the process of counseling and moving forward.
After calling it a prayer meeting he soon announced he was founding a new church called St. James. It’s nothing like his former glory. St. James meets in a school gymnasium – stark contrast to the enormous New Life campus which includes an auditorium that can fit 8,000 people. During one round of layouts Ted’s old church had to cut over 40 jobs (imposed because tithing dropped dramatically after the scandal), which was 12% of their workforce – meaning the church employed several hundred people. New Life was an elite sort of suburban church. St. James is more for the spiritual struggler, the less than perfect or ideal parishioner.
When the reporter of the article visited Ted’s old stomping grounds, he was accompanied around campus by a church media escort (whatever that is). When the reporter visited Ted’s new church, he met a recovering meth addict, a guy living out his car and a man whose wife just left him.
Though Ted is pastor to a fraction of the number of people, I would venture to say Ted is now experiencing real church. I don’t want to make it sound like a megachurch isn’t a real church, but let’s be honest – there’s a lot of fluff (and a lot of wealth) in that realm and you can hide behind the numbers, the soaring worship sets and the powerpoint sermons. Now Ted is in the trenches, pastoring people we would call the least of these. Ted’s church probably more closely resembles an AA meeting than it does a church by 21st century standards.
But maybe Ted is seeing church in the flesh for the first time at St. James. He is not surrounded by perfectly dressed smiley people who arrive “on campus” in the top of the line cars. He is not at the head of an elaborate production each week that wows the crowd and inspires checkbook scribbles. He is just a guy with some problems among other people with problems – which is a better definition of church than a $30 million campus in my book.
Some think that Ted lost it all in that scandal, from notoriety and the glitz of leading a thriving church, though it sounds like Ted has actually gained a far more transformative and beautiful version of church among 200 or so not-good-enoughs.
What do you think of Ted’s rise, fall and semi-rise?