Darrin Patrick commits to restoration process

Religion | Popular megachurch pastor admits he needs ‘deep healing’ after elder board removes him from pulpit
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 4/15/16, 03:20 pm

A years-long pattern of sin led to the dismissal this week of Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey, a St. Louis megachurch. While the reconciliation process is underway, an expert in pastoral crisis management who was called in to work with the church said Patrick’s restoration could take as long as his undoing. He does not expect Patrick to return to ministry anytime soon.

After confirming “substantive allegations of pastoral misconduct … combined with deep historical patterns of sin,” the elders of The Journey this week called for Patrick’s removal. He also resigned as vice president of the board of Acts 29, a church-planting network of congregations, which includes The Journey. 

Patrick is the second pastor in as many years to leave Acts 29 leadership following allegations of pastoral misconduct mainly associated with heavy-handed and unrepentant leadership tactics. Mark Driscoll, who co-founded Acts 29 and founded and led the 14,000-member Mars Hill coalition of churches based in Seattle, Wash., was removed from Acts 29 membership and resigned from Mars Hill in 2014. Driscoll recently announced he was launching a new church in Scottsdale, Ariz.

A spokesman for a ministry team tapped to work with Patrick in the “restoration process” is all too familiar with the pattern of sin exhibited by high-profile pastors.

Jimmy Dodd, president of PastorServe, a ministry providing crisis and preventative assistance to pastors and their churches, said it was obvious Patrick had become The Journey’s “brand,” not only as the founder and lead pastor but also as a popular conference speaker and author with a large social media presence. Dodd has been in communication with Patrick during the past month and will meet with church leaders next week to outline a process for moving forward.

“I think there is a longing to see this done right,” Dodd said.

In an open letter to the congregation that announced Patrick’s removal as lead pastor, the church’s elders said his pattern of behavior and failure to turn away from his sins reveals he “has not been pursuing a personal walk with Jesus in a manner that reflects his pastoral calling and position as an elder in the church.”

While the elders’ letter did not note specific sins, and explicitly ruled out adultery, they said their investigation found Patrick violated “the high standard for elders in marriage.” They also noted other “deep sin patterns,” including “refusal of personal accountability, manipulation and lying, misuse of power/authority, [and] a history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms.”

Because the initial sorrow over sin and its consequences looks a lot like repentance, Dodd said determining whether a wayward Christian is truly repentant only comes with time. Recent events involving former Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church pastor Tullian Tchividjian illustrated his point. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., church dismissed Tchividjian in 2015 after he admitted to an adulterous relationship. Willow Creek Presbyterian Church in Winter Springs, Fla., quickly hired Tchividjian in a non-pastoral role but fired him last month for failing to disclose another extramarital affair he kept secret during his dismissal from Coral Ridge.

Patrick apologized for his behavior in an open letter to the church.

“I am so deeply and terribly sorry for the pain that my sin is causing you, as well as the broken trust that my sin has clearly produced,” he wrote. “In short, I am a completely devastated man, utterly broken by my sin and in need of deep healing.”

Accountability is part of that healing process, Dodd said. PastorServe will work with church staff, the elders, and Patrick and his wife, Amie, for full restoration. But returning to the pulpit, for now, is “not even on the table,” Dodd said.

Looking past the “repentance process” to returning to the pulpit, speaking engagements, and publishing deals is not indicative of a truly broken spirit, Dodd said, noting the stage is a drug for a lot of people. And that drug, for a few pastors, can create conflicting “front stage and back stage” personas.

“Clearly Darrin has a massive front stage,” Dodd said.

The Journey elders said they had confronted Patrick during the past few years about the issues listed in their letter. They were met, initially, with contrition on Patrick’s part, but he “quickly receded into unfulfilled promises, reversion to old patterns, and broken trust with pastors/elders.”

No pastor is immune to the heady draw of church leadership, but the structural organization of a church can exacerbate a pastor’s isolation and enable sin. Dodd said churches that self-identify as “staff-led” put the lead pastor in the role of “boss.” And pastoral accountability measures, like The Journey’s elders, can be a double-edged sword. The same elders who can keep a pastor on the straight and narrow can also fire him for straying off course.

Pastors soon learn to maintain accountability with the trusted group of leaders, hide their failings, or appoint a board of elders that can be easily manipulated.

“It becomes easy to not let folks know you,” Dodd said. “[These pastors] are very isolated. Sin loves isolation. Sin thrives in isolation.”

Patrick said he is committed to placing himself and his family in the care of the elders and the “restoration and reconciliation” process set forth by PastorServe and the elders, who will address the congregation during worship services this weekend.

“The elders are being extremely gracious toward Darrin,” Dodd said. “He will be loved.”

Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital.

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  • TonyB66's picture
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:22 pm

    Unfortunately, the church is not immune from the celebrity culture we live in today. As RCR pointed out there are qualifications for those whom the church would place in leadership positions and therefore reasons to step down. A pastor friend I have great respect for once stepped down from ministry for a time due to issues with a child in rebellion. Once that was resolved he was able to pastor another church. Thankfully it is not a certain pastor's church, or my church, but Christ's Church.

  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:23 pm

    It is also worth noting that our astonishing lack of judgment in this regard is not actually pervasive. If a local pastor of a little church is caught sleeping around (or whatever the sin is), he's finished, no questions asked. We just have a different rule book for celebrity pastors. They are allowed to "repent" (after being caught, of course), and then immediately jump into the "restoration" process, because God forbid that he shouldn't have adulterous (I mean, repentant!) celebrities headlining his cause!

  •  cimach's picture
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:26 pm

    Is anyone ready to ask the question:   Are megas really churches?

  •  Peter Allen's picture
    Peter Allen
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:26 pm

    Such scenarios will continue to happen.  And is one of the main reasons I returned to a bible centered denomination with an authority structure that goes beyond the church board.  A structure that includes not only a district president (bishop by another name) but also district counselors and pastors that can step in temporarily at a moments notice until problems can be addressed and solutions found.  Independent churches, and their church plants will always be at risk of strong personalities with the potential to stack boards. 

  • Bob R
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:26 pm

    Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless, not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  Titus 1:7-8

  • GraceCase
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:26 pm

    I agree with Becky and Hans.  Pastors are shepherds, not CEOs, nor celebrities, nor "brands," to be marketed to the highest bidder.  The point of Christ-centered leadership is to lead by example, not agenda.  Too many of those removed from ministry for various reasons are those A-type driven individuals who should take notice that the Apostles weren't driven, they were LED by the Holy Spirit.  Seminaries today should be called to task for creating occupational pastors as many pastors are there for the pay and benefits package, voice of experience.  I shudder when I hear the word "mega-church" because it's not the church that matters, it's the REASON, as in Matthew 28:18, to go out and make new disciples -- not stick around for the programs, style, entertainment, compelling message, and the whole inwardly-focused package.  The church and its existence is about service to others, especially the disadvantaged.  Until we get that point, we're sinning too.  Ultimately, folks, we need to get on our knees and pray for these men and leaders like them, who need the Holy Spirit's conviction in their lives as they will undoubtedly be held to a higher standard at judgement time.

  •  Becky F's picture
    Becky F
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:26 pm

    Pastors that have such personal moral failings should not be allowed to be pastors again or serve in any church leadership role. Pastors should also realize that their calling is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners. If a pastor is not preaching and shepherding his congregants then he is not doing the work of a pastor.

  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:26 pm

    It's always a little sad to see how quickly these guys discover that they are "broken" and need "healing" when the consequences finally hit the fan after years of being confronted about their problems privately. I still fail to understand why churches are so eager to "restore" these guys to leadership positions. Just because someone repents and should be restored with rejoicing to the church body does not mean that they should ever be restored to the ministry.