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When Leaders Fall: Ted Haggard vs. Tiger Woods

Whether it’s Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, David Letterman, Robert Downey, Jr., or even Martha Stewart, one thing is certain—we love a good comeback story. Second chances often provide a powerful opportunity to model grace, recapture humility, and experience redemption. However, the process is often complex, especially in the Church. 

In the United States, we lose a pastor a day due to immorality. We see it in the news all the time–allegations, denials, confessions. Right now the church is holding its breath with the recent allegations against Bishop Eddie Long. Other alarming stats: 70% of pastors do not have close personal friends, and no one in whom to confide; 35% of pastors personally struggle with sexual sin (according to Focus on the Family). 

And I have to wonder—how should we respond to fallen church leaders? Is it tougher for a church leader to get a second chance?

If you’re a church leader or are familiar with the church world, all I have to say is two words to let you know what I’m talking about: Those two words are “Ted” and “Haggard.” It’s been nearly four years since the Haggard scandal broke, but with the recent launch of Ted Haggard’s church, St. James, there are still issues to discuss.

I decided to catch up with Ted Haggard to ask him some questions about his life, healing through hurt, and his view of restoration. 

I was able to engage Ted through a series of e-mails and phone calls. We discussed the church today and what it looks like to restore a fallen ministry leader. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything, and at times the conversation became tense, but I’m thankful for the time he spent discussing important issues. 

I asked Ted how he felt about the scandal now, looking back. He answered, “When the November 2006 crisis happened, I was praying, reading the Scriptures, meeting with believers, etc., and the crisis was the Lord answering my prayer to ‘do whatever was necessary to set me free.’ That set a chain of events in place where I have found the freedom that I had been seeking.” 

When I asked Ted about the process of restoration, I knew I’d hit a hot button. He felt like the evangelical community left him with little hope for encouragement and healing. “The Scriptures, the Lord Jesus Himself, and a few courageous people restored me. Some of them were Christians, most of them were not. I now know, with confidence, God can love and heal us through anyone He chooses,” Ted said.

I challenged Ted on this point. Yes, God can use anyone as an instrument for healing in our lives, I told Ted, but the Body of Christ is the primary tool that God uses for spiritual formation, restoration, and recovery for sinners. Ted felt like there was little hope for seeing a strong process of recovery in the local church. He was adamant that most churches are too pharisaical—wrapped up in their own self-righteousness—to be capable of restoring a fallen leader properly. Again, I disagreed with Ted and we debated this fact over the phone. Many churches have failed at restoring their fallen pastors and there’s a vast sea of broken leaders who have been kicked to the curb by the Church, I said, but I also believe that there are churches that understand what it takes to walk with a leader through brokenness to healing. I’ve seen in it my own church, and it’s powerful—messy, but powerful. Ted was skeptical.