An Empire Falls Only To Discover It Was Made of Marshmallow, Or The Ted Haggard Story

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.

New Life's $50 million campus

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?

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6 Responses to An Empire Falls Only To Discover It Was Made of Marshmallow, Or The Ted Haggard Story

  1. David says:

    It is easy to look at Ted, now or even then, and decide what is good or bad. Just because you don’t care for mega-churches with well paid pastors and PowerPoint presentations, don’t mean that God didn’t, or can’t use it.

    The truth is that you don’t have to look any farther than your own heart to find sin.

    Is St. James real church because it has people in the midst of intense life struggles? Real church is where 2 or 3 come together in His name and do His will.

    The reason that American flirts with real church is because they are basically rich. Sure we have homeless folks – but many can go to shelters and get some care. We have money to take care of many elements of society that don’t have it so well. There are a lot of poor countries that have little, if anything. People are dying in droves from all types of things from starvation to disease and government sponsored genocide. From welfare to unemployment – come one, our criminals have more creature comforts than seniors breathing their last in nursing homes.

    Americans get ticked off when the Internet goes down for a few hours, or that power is out for a day of so. In fact in Massachusetts, people sued the power company when it went out for an extended period. Perspective is everything.

    If you want real church, even selling everything that you have and giving it to the poor won’t do. You must hear God and and do it. Sure, brokenness like Ted’s brings folks closer to God out of need, and that is the way it should be. People don’t want Jesus, because they don’t need him – yet.

    We often for get that King David was left in power, and Moses and Paul was used in spite of murder.

    I don’t think that Ted’s anything is really important. What matters is people that engage God, and not empty religion. If Ted gets it, awesome.

    • I knew I wasn’t being totally fair with bashing the mega-church, I just found the story compelling and saw the possibility that Ted is seeing Jesus much more raw and unfiltered and unfluffed than before. Man I should just edit my post.

  2. Jeff says:

    Fool me once it’s your fault. Fool me twice it’s my fault. I never take the bait twice. I could support the man but not the scheme. Seems he is reneging on his agreement with the last group he dealt with.

  3. Su says:

    I was definitely impressed with New Life’s response at the time– there are plenty of religious groups that would have thrown him (and his family!) out on his ear. Instead, they acted like Jesus (imo). And for Ted to use his own experience with sin to reach out to others– that’s great. This is why Jesus put us in a church.

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