In praise of valid news angles

megachurch 02Can you believe it was less than one month ago that we first discussed coverage of Ted Haggard's fall from prominence? As November has progressed, we have seen quite a few stories related to the ordeal. The early days of the story focused on the hypocrisy angle, about which I highlighted an alternate view. The schadenfreude/gloating stories thankfully were kept to a minimum and many outlets -- Denver media in particular -- have done an excellent job of finding valid news angles.

Old Man Mattingly highlighted an excellent piece that ran in the Rocky Mountain News last week on Gayle Haggard. Eric Gorski at The Denver Post began considering the story of New Life Church and Haggard's future:

Even under normal circumstances, replacing the charismatic founder of a successful institution is a challenge. The circumstances behind Haggard's fall are extraordinary, but the road ahead for New Life Church is not one it alone will travel.

Just as the country braces for societal changes with the aging of the baby-boom generation, the American success story that is the evangelical megachurch also sits at a crossroads, facing a future without the leaders responsible for its success.

Gorski takes New Life's succession plan -- or lack thereof -- and puts it in a larger context. He looks at how other megachurches have replaced their charismatic leaders, with greater or lesser success. My favorite part was the sidebar with details on the process by which a new pastor will be found. Apparently New Life Church held its first membership meeting in its 21-year history on Monday night.

megachurch the gameThe Post also had an interesting story addressing Haggard's path to recovery. Gorski spoke with Larry Magnuson, chief executive of SonScape Ministries, a retreat for pastors:

"We are not very good as a church with knowing how to do restoration," Magnuson said. "We either want to sweep it under the rug and say it's no big deal or we want to make it impossible.

"Evangelicals are great at doing. We are those who are working in the world. As evangelicals, we are not very good wrestling with the inner life, who we are and what's going on in the inside."

This theological statement could be explored much more. Veteran Courier-Journal religion reporter Pete Smith had two pieces on Kentucky megachurches on Sunday. One article dealt with the political activism of some churches. Consider the following from the second article on the increase in size and number of megachurches:

Some ministers credit part of the success of such churches to sermons that carry a practical message.

Natalie Anderson of Georgetown, Ind., said she attends Northside in part because it provides "a real-life message that you can apply."

Juxtapose the last two excerpts against each other. Interesting, eh? Perhaps some enterprising reporter will explore the tension between practical messages and the tendency to avoid the inner life.

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