Anaheim SDA Church
Mid-week Pastor’s Update
April 13th, 2022
Oh, how the mighty have fallen! 2nd Samuel 1:25, 27
I don’t know if you have heard about the factors I am going to be discussing today: while both of them are related, and have been in the news recent weeks, neither of them rose to the prominence of ‘first-line headlines’.
They both have to do with the falling of once inspirational leaders: those of Tony Hsieh, the head of the “Zappos” shoe corporation, and of Carl Lentz and Brian Houston, 2 prominent pastors and leaders of the “Hillsong” Pentecostal church, largely known for their wide dissemination of praise & worship music.
While I hadn’t heard of Tony Hsieh before, apparently he was known in the business world as a hero of both profitability and positive corporate culture. He founded the internet advertising company “LinkExchange”, rocketed the “Zappos” online shoe company to huge profitability, revitalized Las Vegas’ downtown area (where the company is located) via investments from his own finances, and wrote an award-winning corporate culture book called “Delivering Happiness”.
But, while Tony exuded happiness and success externally, the pressures apparently began to mount, and the image began to be more of a brand to keep maintained externally than actually lived and maintained healthfully. Toxicity crept in among leadership of the company, drugs and alcohol increasingly entered Tony’s personal life, and he sadly ended his life in suicide in late 2020 (with the pandemic and its secondary effects likely exacerbating Hsieh’s mental state, as it was surely difficult for all of us). His death was a shock to the business world.
Then there’s the recent ‘implosion’ of Hillsong’s network of churches amid scandals & resignations among two of its prominent leaders. Carl Lentz, the lead pastor of the New York Hillsong church, and Brian Houston, the CEO of the International network headquartered in Australia, have both recently been publicly stained in admitting to financial and sexual scandals. In the past several weeks, the group has lost the majority of its branch churches here in the U.S., and the viability of the continuation of Hillsong as a whole is in question.
Both of these situations left me saddened (obviously particularly the religious one), because I often want to be an optimist and have inspirational leadership examples to look up to as well! But the Bible’s phrase “oh how the mighty have fallen (2nd Samuel 1:25, 27) seems to continue to be repeated time and time again.
And it got me thinking: I wonder if pedestalization, and the elevating of the mythical hero-leader figure could be a big part of these downfalls. Obviously, not everyone who gets elevated to national or semi-national attention ends-up falling, but a significant proportion of them do.
Obviously the temptations of success are real, and are just as lethal as the temptations that surround the ‘gutters’ of failure and poverty in society. Having nearly unlimited wealth, fame, and respect and responsibility can warp one’s view of the world, including what is and is not possible. Sex, drugs, and corruption offer themselves tantalizingly before the successful, and these figures, figuring they can continue handling their leadership roles while dabbling in indulgence, often find it knocks them from their pedestal.
While I, personally, of course want to be successful in ministry, and have my work valued & appreciated, I’m personally glad to not be ‘pedestalized’ & spotlighted’ like that. I take it as an extension of the ‘do not covet’ commandment (Exodus 20:17): be happy with where God has placed you/permitted you to be. Don’t long for greater positions than you’ve been given.
I for one am glad to be part of a religious system that doesn’t include glorification of the individual over a unifying message (of theology and destiny in eternity with God). Obviously we have some pastors who get more ‘known’ and influential than others, but in terms of pay-scale and employment expectations, they are the same. I’m glad there’s an overseeing organization keeping the reigns on pastors getting rich and exposed to risk through success.
I think, whether being in ‘plenty or in want’ (Philippians 4:12), the key is to remain level-headed, with Jesus as the focus. It is only to our own peril that we take our eyes off Him, and inevitably falter (as Peter frightfully learned in Matthew 20:29-31).
May God bless you and your families this week and beyond.
Pastor Mark Tatum
* For articles on both of these organizations’ leaders and their downfall, check out the following links.
* Interestingly, though I’d heard about both of these cases separately before, there was a single morning talk news program that discussed them both in the same hour. Here is the link to a recording of that:
(go down the list and click on April 4th)