MinistryWatch’s Top 10 Stories for the Month of July
The following stories had the most page views at the MinistryWatch website during the month of July. We present them here in a “countdown” format, from 10 to 1. The first few sentences of each story are reproducted below. To read the entire story, click on the link.
Last week, megachurch pastor John Ortberg claimed his congregation had “extensively investigated” concerns about his son and found “no misconduct.” Now elders at Menlo Church, a Bay area congregation of 5,000, say their initial investigation fell short and have announced plans for an additional “supplemental” investigation.
John Gray is senior pastor of Relentless Church in Greenville, S.C. He’s known for his fiery preaching and his lavish lifestyle. He recently bought his wife a $200,000 Lamborghini Urus as an anniversary gift. With the release of data by the Small Business Administration last week, he is now also known as the leader of a church that took more than $1-million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds. Gray’s Relentless Church is not alone. Religious organizations, including churches and Christian non-profits, received at least $6-billion in COVID relief funds.
John Powell, a church planter and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in New Caney, Tex., was killed in a highway accident Sat., July 18, reportedly as he was helping a driver who had stopped in the traffic lanes. According to television station KXII, a truck driving north on U.S. Highway 75 was struck by a car on Saturday. The car caught fire and Powell and another man pulled over to assist. Initial reports said Powell, 38, was struck by a semi and killed. Later reports say Powell was struck when he saw the semi coming toward him and the other man who had stopped to assist, and Powell pushed the other man out of the way. Jason Allen is the president of Midwest Baptist Theological Seminary and was a friend of Powell. He called Powell “one of the best men I’ve ever known” and said he was not surprised Powell “laid down his life for a stranger in distress.”
Grace Community Church congregants in Sun Valley gathered indoors and sang hymns on Sunday, July 26, defying California regulations that aim to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“This is a very special day in the life of our church family. It is for us a return to what we love the most, the fellowship of the saints and the worship of our Lord,” said Pastor John MacArthur from the pulpit, in a video posted on the church’s Facebook page. The video stream of the service shows people singing and sitting near each other, many without masks. MacArthur said the congregation has galvanized behind Grace Community Church. Those outside the church have not. “Many people don’t understand why we would do this. We understand that. We understand that the world does not understand the importance of the church,” MacArthur said.
The Rev. Tim Blackmon allegedly referred to a colleague repeatedly by a racial slur and had “The Idiot’s Guide to Kama Sutra” left on a female colleague’s desk while he was chaplain at Wheaton College. Those are among the allegations that led to Blackmon’s firing late last month, according to a statement Wheaton provided to Religion News Service Thursday, July 9.
Wheaton, an evangelical flagship school in suburban Chicago, initially declined to comment on the details of Blackmon’s firing, referring only to “inappropriate comments and actions of a racial and sexual nature” that the former chaplain made toward other staff. The college’s written statement comes in response to what it called Blackmon’s “recent public attempts to exonerate his behavior and suggest that the College has treated him unfairly.”
Megachurch pastor Darrin Patrick’s cause of death has officially been ruled a suicide, according to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department. Patrick died May 7 in Pacific, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis. The cause of death was a gunshot wound and the medical examiner ruled it a suicide, Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton told Religion News Service. Patrick was a teaching pastor at Seacoast Church, a multisite megachurch based in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and the founding pastor of the Journey Church in St. Louis, where he lived.
Wheaton College last week fired its chaplain Tim Blackmon for “inappropriate comments and actions of a racial and sexual nature towards specific staff members” in violation of the school’s policies. Wheaton President Philip Ryken emailed the announcement to faculty, staff, and students Friday, July 3. “While Reverend Blackmon did not engage in sexually immoral relationships or physical sexual misconduct, the investigation revealed conduct inconsistent with Wheaton’s policies and commitments,” Ryken wrote. “Following this investigation and adjudication, as well as a Trustee review process, Tim Blackmon is no longer employed at Wheaton College.”
John Ortberg, popular author and speaker, has resigned as pastor of Menlo Church, a megachurch congregation outside of San Francisco. His resignation is effective Sunday, Aug. 2.
“I have considered my seventeen years as pastor here to be the greatest joy I’ve had in ministry,” Ortberg said in a statement. “But this has been a difficult time for parents, volunteers, staff, and others, and I believe that the unity needed for Menlo to flourish will be best served by my leaving.” In November, Ortberg was placed on leave after Menlo Church elders learned he allowed a volunteer who had admitted being attracted to children to work with kids at the church and in the community.
In the summer of 2018, a volunteer at Menlo Church came to the Rev. John Ortberg seeking help. The congregation member, who volunteered with youth and children at the Bay area megachurch and in the community, had been experiencing “an unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors” and needed the pastor’s support. After hearing this admission, Ortberg asked if the volunteer had ever acted on that attraction. The volunteer said no. Once Ortberg was convinced the volunteer was telling the truth and was not a danger to others, he prayed for the person and offered a referral for counseling and then allowed the volunteer to continue working with children.
Religious organizations, including churches and Christian non-profits, received at least $6-billion in COVID relief funds. The funds were a part of the Paycheck Protection Program run by the Small Business Administration, according to a list released by the SBA this week. Some well-known names are on that list, including Willow Creek Community Church, Reformed University Fellowship, Mission Aviation Fellowship, prominent evangelical publisher David C. Cook, and Joyce Meyer Ministries. In order to receive PPP funds, an applicant must affirm: “Current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.”