Friday, December 5, 2014

Train Wreck at Coast Hills Church: Rick Warren Defends My Ex-Pastor Ken Baugh

I was kind of shocked at the way my Coast Hills Church parted ways with my pastor Ken Baugh just last month. Ken is an extraordinary fellow, a true leader in the effort to adapt the church to better meet the needs of Generation X and the Millennials. He is the co-author of at least two books which I believe to be essential reading for anyone seeking to grow the church among young people including The Quest for Christ: Discipling Today's Young Adults (2002) and Getting Real (2000).  He is also a wonderful person to hear preach or to meet with one-on-one. He is a soldier for Christ who has brought decisive vision to our community and launched missionary efforts around the globe.

Given his remarkable strengths, I startled to see that Coast Hills Church removed him from his position as Senior Pastor without first arranging a new strategic plan, planning for an interim pastor, or even providing for a smooth six-month transition. The way the Board of Directors handled the process of removing him from the church – abruptly and in great secrecy – made it look as if Ken Baugh had done something wrong. Despite the tearful remarks made by Board Member Doug Armstrong expressing compassion for Ken and his family, it was clear to me that the Board of Directors lashed out at Ken Baugh and perhaps sought to damage his national reputation by letting him go in such a startling, precipitous manner.  

In this context, the Board of Director’s appeal for unity looked like a political gimmick designed to prevent shocked members from going to other churches or else discourage what might become a string of mass staff resignations. (The Board of Directors has made similar pleas for "unity" when it has made highly visible mistakes in the past.)

For a quick look at what Ken Baugh is doing for our community right now, please check out the website for his The Institute for Discipleship Training. This website will show you the wonderful creativity, compassion for others, and intense scholarship which informs Baugh's ministry even today.


I was pleased to see that our nation's most successful pastor, Rick Warren, quickly came to Ken Baugh's defense and invited him to preach "Surprised By Hope" this weekend at Saddleback Church. My wife and I will be going to the 4:00 p.m. Saturday service to hear Baugh's Christmas message. You can also catch Baugh's signature style at the later 6:00 p.m. service or on Sunday at 9:00 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. or 6:00 p.m. 

Rick Warren has nothing but unbridled praise for Ken Baugh and it made me proud to see that he was willing to step up and help protect Baugh's reputation in the community. Rick Warren, for example, went out of his way to remind the local Christian community of the historically significant work done by Ken Baugh through Frontline, a cutting edge young adult ministry which he established at McLean Bible Church, an extremely successful non-denominational evangelical Christian church which now has campuses throughout the Washington, DC area.

Following Rick Warren's lead, I am happy to use whatever modest influence I have on Twitter and social media to defend Baugh's reputation and encourage others to hear him speak at Saddleback Church this weekend.

Due to my work as a grant writing consultant, I have had a chance to learn a great deal about the perils of ministry and the often cruel treatment that Board of Directors unleash on their pastors. I have even worked with an agency in Colorado, QuietWaters Ministries, which has made a name for itself in helping pastors recover from the mistreatment of the lay leadership. 

As a political scientist, my only suggestion is that those of us who are fans of Ken Baugh need to speak up
and kindly suggest that it is unhealthy to have an ineffective, stuck in the mud, Board of Directors. 

Scanning the website, it appears to me that many of the Board members at Coast Hills have been holding on to their volunteer jobs since the time when the founding pastor, Denny Bellesi, was there which is at least nine years ago. For example, the Coast Hills Church website indicates that Gary Luke has served as the Chairman of the Elder Board for over 12 years. This is despite the fact that Elder Board members are supposed to be limited to only two (2) three-year (3) terms. I do not care how much of a genius you are as a church Board member, it seems like common sense that after a while the entire church is better off without your continued Board-level service. 

My recommendation is that Coast Hills Church enforce its existing term limits for every member of the Board of Directors. 

I think all of us will be better off if Elder Board members who has been there over six (6) years simply resign and make way for a more adept and humbly compliant group of leaders. 

I am confident that a new Board of Directors will have fresh energy, better emotional IQ, and more common sense. Without changes at the top, I am afraid that Coast Hills Church will decline, lose members, lose staff, and fail to realize the promise it once provided to the community. After all, it will undoubtedly be difficult for the community to respect the legitimacy of a Board of Elders that functions in a manner inconsistent with its own by-laws, by-laws that should be interpreted as the will of God for Coast Hills Church.

In the meantime, I am also confident that Ken Baugh will go on to bigger and better things.This was certainly the case with Denny Bellesi. I was pleased to see that he is working with the extremely successful folks at the rapidly growing Mariner's Church. Even Bellesi's wife, Leesa, has garnered some national attention by ministering to the needs of contestants on American Idol. I remember I was in church on the last day that Denny preached there. He did not look happy on his last day of service after 20 years, but at least the Board of Directors gave him the dignity of going out in style in a respectful and organized fashion

At any rate, I am expecting that more of us will catch on to the sometimes dysfunctional way volunteer boards treat their pastors. Too often, these boards chew up the young pastor's energy and enthusiasm and then tosses them out in a way that damages them for life.Thanks to the support of Rick Warren, however, I am sure that Ken Baugh will remain as a bright, prolific, skillful church leader. He has done a great service for the Lord and I thank him.