It’s been a rough week for the folks at Fellowship Church in Dallas. One of the local television stations produced an eight minute long “expose” of Pastor Ed Young, raising questions about his financial relationship with the church. They seem most excited about a supposed “secret” Fellowship corporate jet.
Ed and the Fellowship board responded during services over the weekend. The remaining question is how will the affect Fellowship going forward.
I’m not going to bother to link to the TV piece itself. You can find it, and Young’s response easily enough if you’re interested.
I do have a few thoughts and reactions.
First, the story itself was pretty weak. It rested on a single interview with an anonymous person who clearly doesn't like Fellowship Church.
It included inflammatory language, and unsubstantiated conclusions and statements, including stating that attendance has declined at Fellowship. I haven't been there in about six months, but the last time I did make it to Dallas, the auditorium was full on both Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Particularly outrageous was a statement that Young is perhaps “violating the covenant of honesty with his congregation.” That’s about as close to libel per se as I think you can get. To call a doctor a quack… a lawyer a shyster… or a pastor dishonest? I’m going to guess the TV station’s lawyers didn’t approve that statement ahead of time!
The interview with an SMU “expert” was interesting. He stated that the church should own the intellectual property created by the Senior Pastor. He called it outrageous that the Pastor would want to control that.
Well, he may not like it, but it is pretty common and accepted practice. Sermons become books. Do you think Max Lucado has ever used sermons to flesh out an idea that eventually became a book? Do you suppose Rick Warren used the phrase 'purpose driven' in a sermon before the book came out?
Who owns the rights to that intellectual property is more correctly part of a discussion of employment terms between the church and the Pastor.
It's the same with questions of compensation. You may not like the fact that a Pastor makes a lot of money and can afford a big house. I, personally, try to be pretty careful about attaching motivation to actions I observe. Discerning fruit is one thing. But there's also that whole judging thing, too. Be careful.
The only REAL question raised in the entire story was that of the airplane. That was addressed by Ed and two of the members of his Board of Directors at Fellowship over the weekend. Sort of.
They indicated, but did not state directly that the plane is leased.
They said that the board approved of the use of Ed's use of private aircraft, for much the same reason that corporate CEO's make use of them. Their time is quite valuable. To leverage them, and to take care of their health and family lives, a judgment is made that the expense of corporate aircraft is justified.
Again... a decision for the Fellowship BOD to take carefully.
My counsel for Fellowship and Ed Young? I have no idea what is actually happening behind the scenes. I don't know if there is actually a problem or not. Based on what I've seen and read this was a bit of a hatchet job by the television station.
I do know this. For pastors, a private life is a dicey concept. Like public officials, they have chosen a position where conduct in private has far greater impact that for the average person.
It is time for a season of radical transparency for Fellowship. Do not allow this wound to fester. Open books. Open meetings. Open minutes. Over communicate and over disclose. There should be virtually nothing under wraps. If a reporter wants to know how much you make, get in the Hummer, and drive over and meet with them.
Not at least meeting with the reporter in this case was a mistake. It carries the appearance of impropriety, and not a little bit of fear of disclosure. That is like chumming the water for a reporter. On the other hand, sitting down with them, off camera at least to start with, and talking about all of their questions will disarm all but the most rabid of reporters.
Radical transparency and telling the truth, even when it might not be comfortable is the only response going forward that will keep this from becoming a millstone around the neck of the church.