On Christian Leadership Failures

The news of the downfall of a major Pentecostal Christian leader in Australia has most of the Christian community abuzz. And given that the story has been splashed all over the secular media, it certainly has non-Christians talking as well. For those not in the know, it concerns Pastor Mike Guglielmucci who has just been found to have fraudulently claimed to have a terminal illness.

I know nothing about the story except for what the media has been saying about it. Here is how an article in Thursday’s Australian begins:

“He preached to thousands about his terminal illness and tugged at hearts with a hit song. The problem is the pastor wasn’t dying at all. Michael Guglielmucci, who inspired hundreds of thousands of young Christians with his terminal cancer ‘battle’, has been exposed as a fraud. Guglielmucci, whose parents established Edge Church International, an Assemblies of God church at O’Halloran Hill in Adelaide’s southern suburbs, now is seeking professional help. Earlier this year, Mr Guglielmucci released a hit song, Healer , which was featured on Sydney church Hillsong’s latest album. The song debuted at No. 2 on the ARIA charts. It since has become an anthem of faith for believers, many of whom are suffering their own illness and were praying for a miracle for Mr Guglielmucci, who has claimed for two years to be terminally ill. In one church performance that has attracted 300,000 hits on YouTube, he performs his hit song with an oxygen tube in his nose. It appears Mr Guglielmucci, who was a pastor with one of Australia’s biggest youth churches, Planetshakers, may even have deceived his own family.”

Assuming that this is more or less an accurate account, how does one respond as a believer? We already know how most non-believers will respond. They will simply be further convinced that the Christian church is full of fakes, phonies, hypocrites and charlatans. They will simply see this as yet another example of a religious person using his influence to get rich quick, or to build up his own ego.

And they will be largely right in these assessments. Far too often Christian leaders have been in the ministry for all the wrong reasons: for financial gain, for making a name for themselves, to build up their egos, to control and manipulate other people, and so on.

And far too many Christian moral failures have given the church of Jesus Christ a terribly bad name. So in one sense, all we can do is repent, confess our sins, and desperately try to lift our game.

But there is more to it than this. The good news is, for every well-known Christian leader who blows it big time, there may be a hundred, or a thousand, or many thousands, who do not blow it, who are not bringing shame and reproach on the church of Jesus Christ.

Another truth in all of this is the fact that all of us are sinners. Sure, Christians are sinners who have been saved by grace, but we are still sinners. With the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are meant to be daily transformed into the image of the Son. Christian justification is just the first step. The rest of the story is lifelong sanctification, where we seek to die to the old man and put on the new man.

We are all capable of blowing it big time. But it need not be this way. A key lesson to be learned from all of this is that every one of us believers needs to be in some sort of accountability group, where we can be really honest with a handful of other believers. We need to keep short accounts, and to be honest with ourselves and others. The journey is too difficult to be undertaken on our own. We need each other.

We need to meet in regular accountability groups where we can confess our sins, share our weaknesses, and seek prayer and support. Sure, many believers are already in small groups. But far too often these are mere social affairs, where coffee, cake and small talk make up the bulk of the meeting.

What are needed are groups where people are encouraged to be transparent and honest. And it needs to be in an environment where each member can trust the others to keep things confidential, and not to be self-righteous. As I said, we are all capable of big time moral failings. It is only the grace of God that keeps us on the straight and narrow.

But God works through his people. He uses others to help us become what we are meant to be in Christ. That is what the Body of Christ is supposed to be all about. We cannot make it on our own. We desperately need the help, love, support and encouragement of others. And we also need their rebuke, chastisement and warnings, when and if needed.

Now is not the time to be soft on one another. It certainly is not the time to be soft on ourselves. The heavenly Father chastens those whom he loves (Hebrews 12:1-13). And we are called to encourage each other, warn each other, challenge each other, and seek the best for each other.

We have perhaps had way too much cheap grace and mushy notions of love in the church. We certainly have bought in to the world’s notions of acceptance and tolerance. But biblical love is not mushy or sentimental. It is hard as nails, yet soft as the heart of God.

Perhaps these very public fallings from grace are God’s way of seeking to wake up a sleeping church. Judgment must begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). We have perhaps been too slack, wishy-washy, and lukewarm. It is time to get serious with God.

We must get serious, for the glory of God is at stake. If the term seems too theologically nebulous, let’s just put it this way: When we blow it big time as believers, how does the reputation of God come out? Does he look better in the eyes of the world, or worse?

We should all be concerned about God’s reputation. We dare not bring further dishonour and shame on his name. It happens far too often already. Let us all resolve to press on in Christ, and let him have his full work accomplished in our lives. We dare not settle for second best. That is simply too damaging to the name and reputation of the Lord we claim to represent.

For those who want further insight into this whole case, one Pentecostal Pastor who is much closer to the action has some very helpful thoughts here, along with many comments: http://markconner.typepad.com/


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16 Replies to “On Christian Leadership Failures”

  1. Bill,
    I heard about this on Thursday morning 21st., (Radio 3AW) as I was doing my work.

    That night, I chased down the church’s website (planetshakers.org), found nothing and went Googling.

    Amazingly, the full text of the letter/email to the congregation was on the Wikipedia entry for planetshakers.org, AND it had been posted before the news was made public earlier that day.

    Something there smells a bit fishy, although I am not interested in ducking the problem of this betrayal of trust. As Neil Mitchell said, it is equivalent to the abuse cases which have happened in other churches.

    I agree with you that, as believers, we need to face up to it squarely.

    John Angelico

  2. Hi Bill,
    I really like the balanced approach of grace and truth here. Accountability and integrity are major keys.
    I often think of the Apostle Paul who had a transparent life and could say “Follow me, as I follow Christ” – 1 Cor. 11:1. It helps me reflect and take stock – can I say that to my family and community? If they followed me will they find Christ untarnished?
    Savannah Hill

  3. Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time will surely become disabused of the idea that church leaders are somehow way up there, super saints, beyond all temptation. In fact becoming a Christian reveals quite the opposite: the heart is desperately wicked and that we all, from the greatest to the least, have feet of clay. Why should we be taken by surprise over the recent revelations concerning Todd Bentley? May this disillusionment continue and instead be replaced by the sober truth about ourselves and a God whose is able to save, restore, and sanctify. Why should we think that once we become Christians, that‘s it; from hereon it’s all downhill into Glory?

    Part of the problem is that the church in the west has, like the rest of western society, become too individualistic. How many choruses do we sing that have only the word “I” instead of “We, or “me” instead of “us.” We certainly have moved a long way from Wesley’s accountability groups: http://www.christianitytoday.com/smallgroups/articles/doyoudesire.html
    …. or the command found in James 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed”

    But even transparency, lack of guile and accountability are no foolproof protection against the human heart. The show trials in Stalin’s reign of terror, with millions confessing their most secret crimes could never reach the furthest corners of the human heart. http://www.christianitytoday.com/leaders/newsletter/2006/cln61106.html

    The fight against our own wills is something that only each one of us can deal with, on a moment by moment basis – and Satan does not play fair. No one else can fight our battles. It is a road that each of us has to take – but in the company of the master. Matt 11:28: Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”

    Hebrews 4:15-16: But we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

    David Skinner, UK

  4. One of the many shortcomings of contemporary Christianity is a lack of emphasis on personal holiness. What this tends to translate into is an attitude that takes sin very lightly. The latest news item on this pastor reports that he has had an addiction to pornography for the last 16 years. Whilst almost every Christian would see this as a sin, how many would identify the Australian obsession with sports and entertainment as idolatry?

    A couple of other problems that this news highlights within contemporary Christianity is gullibility and the cult of celebrity. Within a church tradition that prides itself on the operation of spiritual gifts such as prophecy and discernment, how can it be that no one asked the right questions over this two year period of deception?

    We tend to make super-stars out of our charismatic church leaders and also tend to elevate high profile Christians who have done nothing of significance in the ministry sense except that they are famous for their sporting achievements or TV appearances.

    Hopefully some good will come out of this scandal if it causes a bit of a shake-up and a re-evaluation of some of what passes for Christianity these days.

    Ewan McDonald.

  5. I attended Planetshakers City Church in Melbourne from its inception in 2004 until a few months ago when I moved overseas; I’ve also been to a number of the Planetshakers youth conferences, including the 2007 conference when the ‘Healer’ song was released and Mike Guglielmucci’s sickness was told to the youth. Mike was then the youth pastor at Planetshakers; we (the church) had known about Mike’s situation since the second half of 2006.

    My testimony of Planetshakers, as one who still considers herself part of the Planetshakers church family: my relationship with Jesus, and growth and maturity as a Christian, had grown immensely when I got planted in the church and made it my spiritual home. I will testify that the senior pastors Russell and Sam Evans, and the core pastoral team, are of the highest integrity and godliness, and I’m still extremely thankful to have been under their leadership. (As far as fruit are concerned… I am one of their fruit!) And not only the church pastors, but also the leaders in my small group – I have learnt so much from and through them, received godly counsel from them, was challenged in various areas of my lifestyle and relationship with Jesus. Honestly, I would not be at this level of maturity and intimacy with Christ — I would not be where I am now if I had not become planted in this church and become involved in its life.

    I obviously can’t speak for ALL of Planetshakers, but I have been very blessed, and I have seen many others blessed through the ministry of this church, and as far as I know they are still growing in maturity.

    I just read this post by Bill which was my first news of Mike’s deception… I am shocked, and I wonder at his motivations for propagating this deception; my heart sinks as I read the news surrounding the situation. Also wondering where God’s hand was and is in all of this. (To put things in context, Mike and his wife left Planetshakers to go home to Adelaide in early-mid 2007, and since his departure we as a church had heard virtually nothing about him from the leadership.)

    However, there is a part of me that also welcomes this shaking. Ewan said:

    Hopefully some good will come out of this scandal if it causes a bit of a shake-up and a re-evaluation of some of what passes for Christianity these days.

    Indeed, I am praying for this. John 15:1ff says that God prunes the vine, to remove unproductive branches and make the branches that are fruitful become even moreso. Planetshakers is definitely affected by this, so I pray that all in the church, and leaders at all levels, will examine themselves and come to their knees in humility and repentance and prayer; and this shaking will serve to bring many out of man-following into an encounter with Christ, where He becomes their sure foundation of faith.

    I also believe this is a great opportunity for Planetshakers, AOG Australia, and all the other leaders and churches touched by this issue to demonstrate humility, grace, wisdom and responsibility in this matter to the world. I pray that the Spirit will give the leaders discernment and wisdom in their judgment of Mike, and also godly words to speak to believers and to the world – no excuses or vacillations or platitudes, but the truth. I pray fervently that the many teens and young people who feel hurt and betrayed will not be left hanging by the church but loved, and that God will pour out his Spirit and bring the hurting to a deeper encounter with him.

    Personally, I think Mike Guglielmucci has done a lot of good – I still listen to the songs that he wrote and the sermons he preached, and they still speak to me. ‘Healer’ is a wonderful song: I’ve been encouraged many times through listening to it. I can’t understand why he got trapped in deception; it’s a terrible thing to hear how an influential leader has fallen, and I would appreciate a full confession of this whole situation to be made public. But I also have a great sense that even though Satan intended this for evil, yet God is still sovereign, and more good will come out of this shaking of the church than any ill. Let us pray that this will be so!

    Olivia Tan, formerly of Melbourne, now in San Diego USA

  6. Bill… You offer a great perspective… this information was handled quite well by the churches involved… Planetshakers and Hillsong both sent out an email to everyone in their congregations… before the article was run in the news…. this was great, all those who knew Mike personally was given a pastoral phone call to see how our reactions were… after they ticked the pastoral box with me, I began with anger … at all the young people who will be effected and his family, Moreso his wife that was left in the dark…. now as a christian I AM WALKING IN FORGIVENESS.. I forgive Mike…. I love him…. we can still learn from this…. If you look at the church today we see “CELEBRITY CULTURE” has crept in…. I believe we need to go back to the AZUSA STREET way (Where modern day penticostalism began early 1900’s) they had chairs in a circle and preacher was in the middle… however anyone could share a word…. CHURCH Should be about ministering ONE to Another …. not about “THE SHOW” lets get back to the heart of what church should be…. and Christians please forgive Mike— we should be leading the way with forgiveness.. THE WORLD DEMANDS JUSTICE – We should CRY FORGIVENESS.
    Dave Reid

  7. Forgive me Dave if I have misunderstood you but you seem to be suggesting that church should be without hierarchy, that it should be a democracy. The abuse of a position by a church leader should not, by my reading of the bible, be a signal to scrap leadership, otherwise why would Paul in the Epistles lay so much emphasis on describing the church as being like a human body and give instructions and warnings to those in authority. Everyone in the church has a post to man especially the watchmen on the wall ( Ezekiel chapters 3&33); we all have responsibilities laid on us according to GENDER and gifting. We all need to be constantly reminded that we live in a state of war in which accountability and faithful servant hood, both vertical and horizontal, is a minimum requirement.
    The danger lies in our constantly wanting to elevate and glorify our leaders, instead of Jesus Christ. The veneration of the saints practised by the Roman Catholic Church is not peculiar to them. Protestant churches with their superstar teachers fall into the same trap. It is right and proper to celebrate what Christ has done in this or that life, but it is how they end and whether they complete the course that is important. When we arrive in Heaven we will be in for some surprises as to who is there and who is not – and who receives crowns and who does not. There may well be some up on the podium of whom there is no recorded history.
    David Skinner, UK

  8. It saddens me to hear of another fall from grace of another Christian leader. It reminds me of the warnings of Jesus, and in the epistles, that in the last days many false leadership, prophets and deception will arise.

    Too long has the Body of Christ forgotten what happened to Ananias & Sapphira. Jesus was also quick to condemn the scribes, pharisees and their like for their lies and deception. The message of salvation has for too long been watered down for fear offending people. Alongside this has been acceptance of sin in the church. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own sin. The tragedy is the casualties we leave in our wake long after we have sought and received forgiveness from God.

    The other issue many have lost sight of is that revival will bypass those who condone or cover up sin. Jesus is yearning for a pure Bride. I am slowly coming to the conclusion that the established church will not be the vehicle for revival unless and until sincere repentance comes from its leadership for what it has allowed the western church to become, and in Australia particularly. Otherwise, the event portrayed in Acts 5 will not be an isolated incident when revival comes. vs 11 says ” So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things”. God will not be mocked or lied to. A timely reminder for us all to flee sin and seek righteousness instead.

    Glenda Morgan, WA

  9. Bill, indeed we need to do away with today’s wishy washy worldly ideas, but you are far too kind about what has transpired. Also please be careful, the idea that there are hundreds if not thousands of Godly pastors and leaders compared to the false ones is not a biblical perspective of the last days but a wishful thinking of today, the modern popular church is not in such a bad state because good biblical pastors outnumber the bad ones, the opposite is true.

    Regarding Todd Bentley, the Scriptures (often disregarded by the Charismatic high priests of today) clearly state that it is “a wicked and ADULTEROUS generation that seeks for a sign” Mathew 16:4. But many who were deceived by this mans manifestations will no doubt excuse the public realization of his pagan state and claim that “it’s an attack of the devil”. But it’s not these deceived individuals I am grieved for, it is those that now reject God because they have relied so heavily on deceived men who believed a lie and not the Bible, those who rather trust their dreams and feelings, emotions and thoughts and attempt to wrest scripture to fit their presuppositions as opposed to allowing the clarity of scripture to speak of itself.

    “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Matt 24:24

    Iniquity such as adultery and deliberate deception will abound and turn those seeking truth away from God, but those that are deceived within these Churches may be further handed over to deeper deception because they refuse to search the scriptures, they do not have a love for Gods words but trust blindly and unquestioningly in their leaders as well as today’s so called “Christian TV”, they trust still in the very same deceived individuals who unwittingly turn others away from God and feed their flock will gaul.

    The distinguishing heart of a Child of God is one that hears and loves Gods words, those not of God reject His words.

    “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” John 8:47

    But will people, held captive in this manner, wake up to the Todd Bentleys and Michael Guiglimuchi’s of this world, joyously ALL can, speaking to the Laodicean Church, the Church of the last days (today’s Church) Jesus says; “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” Revelation 3:20

    Many pastors and Church leaders have been deceived for so long and have such a large investment in what they have taught and believed, and are so afraid of being clearly shown their error, they shy well away from the light. One thing is sure, it will take the greatest level of humility and brokenness before a holy God for any man so deceived to come to the light of Gods words. I personally believe it is never too late for such a man, “a man shall never stand so tall than when he is on his knees”, great men as this are not easily found, but pride is a prison that does not easily let go.

    Edi Giudetti.

  10. Glenda your words are well received, i fully agree as i note above.
    Edi Giudetti.

  11. Mr Skinner…… to clarify… I mean an oppurtunity for all christians to MINISTER ONE TO ANOTHER… we still need order and leaders…. refer to 1 corinthians….
    Dave Reid

  12. While it really saddens me that this has occurred we should realise that God will not be mocked. Maybe this will encourage more churchgoers to question why they attend church, what Christianity really is about, and what their exalted leaders actually stand for. The recent events are just the tip of the iceberg, not the exception.

    We live in pagan times, where our politicians claim they believe in God and act the opposite, where even from the pulpits many ungodly things are perpetrated and tolerated, and much is done and said in the name of God that He would not care to look upon. Unless we personally are intimate with God and His undying and unfathomable love for us, personally strive for holiness and stand up for Christ and the word of God, and are willing to count the cost, then our Christianity is largely hollow and will be shown as such – this is from someone whose Christian walk was no less shallow. There is a real cost to dying to self and living for Christ, but it’s better than the cost of living for oneself.

    Garth Penglase

  13. I have been a Christian now for 33 years, having been saved out of the hippie scene in far north Qld.. Of all the times I have heard that scripture quoted (in church) of how they overcame, by the blood of the Lamb etc. (Rev. 12:11), around 2/3 rds of the time, the last of the 3 ways they overcame is left out. (and they loved not their own lives, even unto death). I think this speaks volumes on the condition of the Church today. Of course, I am not earning my living from the Gospel, so I don’t daily face the temptation to water-down and sugar-coat and just not mention some of the more unpalatable sections of scripture. The problem is, unless we present the full counsel of God, we leave ourselves vulnerable to all sorts of problems, like we are seeing. Psalm 15.
    Ian Brearley

  14. I personally believe it is never too late for such a man, “a man shall never stand so tall than when he is on his knees”, great men as this are not easily found, but pride is a prison that does not easily let go.
    Stephen McGhee

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