Back in March, I critiqued a newspaper profile of the St. Louis Cardinals' team chaplain — a pastor named Darrin Patrick.
My review focused on the lack of details concerning Patrick's actual faith and church background:
Well, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch followed up that earlier feature with an in-depth story on Patrick today.
The new piece made the front page, but it's not positive news:
ST. LOUIS — Shepherding a megachurch is tied in many ways to America’s celebrity culture. There’s a push for big-stage events and around-the-clock access through social media to a pastor’s life and thoughts.
It’s a formula that amplifies the message and multiplies the flock, in congregants who show up on Sunday for worship and in tens of thousands more followers online.
High visibility can also set pastors on a correction-course with humility that evangelical Christians call getting right with Jesus.
The Rev. Darrin Patrick, 45, of Webster Groves, is one of the latest on such a path. Elders at The Journey, a popular megachurch he founded with his wife in 2002, fired him a few weeks ago for what they viewed as pastoral misconduct.
Among the allegations:
• Lack of self-control.
• Misuse of power.
• History of building an identity through ministry and media platforms.
• Not adultery, but “inappropriate meetings, conversations and phone calls with two women.”
Reached by telephone, Patrick said he didn’t have more to say other than what The Journey outlined in a three-page letter to members, heavily footnoted in Scripture.
“I have four kids, little kids,” Patrick said, voice cracking. “I am trying to protect my family and figure this out.”
1. If you're looking for old-fashioned journalism that attributes statements of fact to named sources, the first three sentences certainly don't provide them. There's a lot of interpretation on the reporter's part.
2. In this particular case, I'm not sure I'm overly upset by that. The writer seems to do a nice job of setting the scene, then providing specific details about the pastor's circumstances. And later in the piece, the reporter cites named sources who provide expert analysis.
Perhaps the argument could be made that the attribution up top isn't missing so much as delayed? Or maybe I'm feeling overly generous after enjoying a piece of chocolate cake at lunch.
Remember that context-less "hip youth pastor" story that the Dallas Morning News published on its front page Sunday?
In sharp contrast, here's what I love about this St. Louis story: the strong effort by the Post-Dispatch to explain not just the who and the what but also the why:
Patrick had to give up all ministry affiliated with The Journey, including being chaplain for the St. Louis Cardinals and vice president at a high-profile church planting group called the Acts 29 Network.
Now Patrick and his family are being counseled and ministered to by friends, elders and PastorServe, a national organization that sweeps in to work with fallen church leaders and those still on the precipice.
“We live in the day and age of the superstar pastor,” said Jimmy Dodd, of Kansas City, founder of the organization. “We like pastors to have a big front stage. The more the front stage grows, the more pastors fear allowing their church or their friends to know the back stage of their life.”
Dodd, a former preacher, said a pastor might share 95 percent of his flaws and protect the rest.
“A lot of pastors have really learned to play that role well,” Dodd said. “I talk to multiple guys every day. They long to be real and open. There is just that fear — ‘If I do it, I might lose my job.’ It’s heartbreaking to hear these guys.”
I also applaud the writer for giving credit to colleagues — including former Post-Dispatch religion writers Tim Townsend and Lilly Fowler — whose previous stories helped in his research:
I was thrown by the newspaper's description of The Journey as an "interdenominational church that's affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention." If it's affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, wouldn't that make it a Baptist church? Maybe the writer means that it draws people from a variety of denominational backgrounds? Or perhaps I'm missing something obvious (not for the first time)?
Overall, though, the story impresses me as a fair, inquisitive treatment of the pastor's firing, particularly given the space constraints of a daily newspaper.