Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mega-Morality - Sightings (Martin Marty)

We who serve small congregations sometimes give ourselves over to gloating when we hear about the downfall of mega-church pastors. The reality is that we all face the prospect of failure, both in terms of ministry and in personal life. We are human after all.  In any case, Martin Marty lifts up the complexity of downfalls in this story of former mega-church pastor Darren Patrick.  Take a read, offer your thoughts!

By MARTIN E. MARTY   MAY 9, 2016
Darren Patrick, 46, founder of the church "The Journey."             Image: Screen grab from YouTube
The scope Sightings uses can be “tele-” (with a focus on the global) or “micro-” (for scoping on things close-up.) Today we focus on the parochial, a word related to “parish,” because often the most revealing themes of religion occur on that local and intimate level.

Regular readers may have noted that I have a slight bias toward covering local religious gatherings and doings. Most synagogues, Protestant churches, and many Catholic parishes involve a few hundred people. What happens among them is worth watching, for what it tells about the larger picture. Think “precinct” in a world of macro-politics—and think of what each precinct can tell us.

Then what do we do with, and where do we classify, the newish Protestant form, the modern mega-church, which our culture has been noting for a half century? Think of one that is in the news, as some are every week, this time in St. Louis, covered last Tuesday by Jesse Bogan, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Bogan wrote of the recent firing of the Rev. Darrin Patrick, inventor of a church called “The Journey,” which is related to the Missouri Baptist Convention, a form not related to any specific denomination. The responsible and suffering leaders there specified charges:

Patrick lacked self-control, he was manipulative, a misuser of power, who built his own identity through ministry and media platforms, and—oh, yes—“not adultery, but ‘inappropriate meetings, conversations, and phone calls with two women.’” With the last charge he did himself in with his mega-parishioners, and found himself “mega-ly” in the press. To his credit, we note that Bogan did not dwell on that dooming factor. He listened carefully to the larger testimony.

The event and the story played into the hands of eager critics of the mega-church, who know that most of these charges come up in the almost-weekly stories of mega-church pastors’ downfalls. The scale of Patrick’s ministry by itself quickens curiosity: pictured with St. Louis Cardinal players at prayer and as listeners to his sermons, he and his team had built up from a seed of 30 people to a crop of 4,000 worshipers per Sunday at one of the church’s several outlets, served by 100 “employees.”

For testimony, Bogan calls in Jimmy Dodd of Kansas City, who founded PastorServe, which is called to the scene when almost predictable scandals and schisms erupt. Dodd knows some causes of trouble: “We like pastors to have a big front stage,” but when they build one, the backstage, such as personal ministry, spiritual growth, and family life suffer.

Many, says Dodd, fall into trouble out of fear—fear that they can’t keep attracting ever-bigger crowds and rosters. He recognized some good intentions in Patrick’s ministry, including, of course, the desire to attract young people, who evidently stay away from conventional worship in mega-numbers.

Patrick’s elders found that, while he was expert at diagnosing the sins and wants of others, he was blind to his own faults. But, lest readers think I will sign off with merely one more focus on the ills of the mega-church, Bogan provides context by quoting William Willimon, the noted writer, pastor, United Methodist bishop, another expert diagnostician and sorrowful but honest reporter.

Willimon, who had been in charge of 600 clergy in northern Alabama, where he spent “half his time protecting congregations from toxic pastors, the other half protecting pastors from toxic congregations,” had had to remove 30 pastors in eight years. Many of the dismissed had demonstrated creativity, but we learn that this feature, through their “innovative spirit ... got them into trouble.”

Willimon, the leaders of PastorServe, and of the Missouri Baptist Convention, plus many reporters, historians, and reformers find some features of toxicity in most human forms and inventions. Perhaps this week’s sad story, of Pastor Patrick, will lead many of them also to note signs of creativity where it has not led to trouble, but to generosity, surprises, and grace.


Bogan, Jesse. “Fired megachurch preacher in St. Louis illustrates familiar journey.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 3, 2016, Metro.

Hochman, Benjamin. “Chaplain works behind the scenes with Cardinals.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 22, 2016, Sports.

Website of the church, The Journey:

Website of PastorServe:

Shellnutt, Kate. “Darrin Patrick Removed from Acts 29 Megachurch for ‘Historical Pattern of Sin.’” Christianity Today, April 13, 2016, Gleanings.

Image: Darrin Patrick, 46, founder of the church, The Journey; Credit: Screen grab from YouTube.

To comment: email the Managing Editor, Myriam Renaud, at If you would like your comment to appear with this article on the Marty Center's website, please provide your full name in the body of the email and indicate in the subject line: POST COMMENT TO [title of Sightings piece]. For Sightings' comment policy, visit:
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at
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