John Ortberg resigns
Pastor John Ortberg preaches at Menlo Church in May 2020. Video screengrab via Menlo Church

Embattled Megachurch Pastor John Ortberg Resigns from Menlo Church

By Bob Smietana

John Ortberg, popular Christian 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.

Ortberg had first learned of the volunteer’s admission in July 2018. He did not inform other church leaders or the youth sports team that the volunteer coached. Church leaders did not learn of his actions until Daniel Lavery, one of Ortberg’s children, sent an email blowing the whistle.

The pastor returned to the pulpit this spring after the elders hired a lawyer to conduct an inquiry into the matter.

But controversy at the church flared up again after Lavery revealed that the volunteer in question was Lavery’s younger brother and the pastor’s son, a fact that had been withheld from the congregation. Lavery, former friends of the Ortberg family and other critics of the decision have called in recent weeks for the pastor to step down.

Questions were also raised about the inquiry into possible misconduct, as the lawyer the church hired did not speak to parents or to any children or youth whom the volunteer had worked with.  

No specific allegations of misconduct on the part of Ortberg’s youngest son have been made. 

Earlier this month, a spokesman for the church’s elders said that their pastor had betrayed the trust of church members and leaders. Rebuilding that trust would be difficult if Ortberg remained as pastor, the elders said in the statement Wednesday announcing his resignation.

They also said the church is organizing a new, more extensive investigation.

“Our decision stems from a collective desire for healing and discernment focused on three primary areas,” the elders said in a statement. “First, John’s poor judgment has resulted in pain and broken trust among many parents, youth, volunteers and staff. Second, the extended time period required to complete the new investigation and rebuild trust will significantly delay our ability to pursue Menlo’s mission with the unity of spirit and purpose we believe God calls us to.”

Church elders also said Ortberg will focus on reconciliation in his own family after leaving the church. Lavery and other family members have been publicly estranged since November 2018.

On Ortberg’s final days as pastor, he will address the congregation during an online service this weekend. He has served as Menlo’s pastor for 17 years. Before that, he was a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.

In his statement, Ortberg said he regretted “not having served our church with better judgment.”

“Extensive conversations I had with my youngest son gave no evidence of risk of harm, and feedback from others about his impact was consistently positive,” he said. “However, for my part, I did not balance my responsibilities as a father with my responsibilities as a leader.”

Ortberg tendered his resignation to the church’s elders this week. The decision to end his call as pastor has to be approved at the church’s annual meeting, now set for Aug. 30.

In consultation with denominational officials, church elders plan to bring on a transitional pastor. They also plan to add new elders at the upcoming congregational meeting. The church is affiliated with the denomination ECO, A Covenant Order of Presbyterians.

“The Elder Board acknowledges that it is ultimately accountable for creating an environment of trust and mutual respect which has been sorely tested these last few months,” according to the statement. “We feel called to provide stability to Menlo Church in this time of significant transition but are working to add new and diverse voices on the board.”

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

Bob Smietana is editor-in-chief at Religion News Service.

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12 thoughts on “Embattled Megachurch Pastor John Ortberg Resigns from Menlo Church”

  1. I often pray, “Lord, please don’t let me do anything that could cause someone to move further from you.” There have been so many highly visible mega-church scandals I understand why non-believers think Christians are hypocrites. I don’t think anyone “starts” with the intention of causing harm but one little step away from our calling can be followed by one more little step and another and the next thing you know….Fortunately, God is good, all the time, even in heart wrenching times such as this.

  2. I think pastor John being forced to step down from the Menlo pastorship is actually a needed step, hopefully for himself and for his family. So he can focus on his family’s brokenness before the Lord Jesus. Hopefully, that’s what he will do.

  3. The statement from the current Elder Board is sounding much like those statements of other churches where the Board itself has failed in its oversight. If an Elder Board truly believe its own statement, ““We feel called to provide stability to Menlo Church in this time of significant transition but are working to add new and diverse voices on the board.” where were then as this matter developed and festered for a long time. It is too easy for Elder Boards in churches of this magnitude in scope and influence to excuse their own failures. I pray for Pastor John and it sounds to our ear he has done more to being honest in this response than has those who had oversight.

  4. Richard Cameron

    John Ortberg is a fine, Godly preacher and Pastor. Sure he made an error of judgement, he was wrong, but as a father he wanted to protect his younger, troubled son. The wrong call but understandable. Daniel Lavery sounds like a piece of work. Trying to destroy his own dad. Nice! I hope God gives John and his wife the strength to move on. He has so much still to give the church. God bless him.

    1. Difficult situation for any father. Parents naturally protect their children. This is a difficult situation but God has a way of revealing truth in His timing. I hope no one was physically or emotionally injured in this mistake. God will repair what man has broken. grateful for Julie Roy’s ministry that keeps us wise to these church happenings!

    2. I’d just like to remind everyone that we’d know none of this had it not been for Danny Lavery, who is despised by Julie Roys and her fan club. You all would be completely ignorant that John Ortberg was letting his son Johnny work with children he had a sexual attraction to, except for Danny Lavery. But, because Danny’s transgender, he’s somehow a worse person, the most horrible sinner and the cause of the Ortberg family’s problem.

      Danny is NOT the problem. Your attitude towards sexual minorities is the problem and you all need to apologize. Remember, you would know nothing, had Danny Lavery not come forward. And, given the way you all see Danny, it seems to me you wish he hadn’t come forward. *scowl*

  5. We attended Willow Creek when John Ortberg taught there. What a great teaching pastor! In my 70 years of “church” John was the best Bible teaching pastor of all – and his self-deprecating humor was always fun. I am so sorry for what he has had to go through; for the trials he, and his family have been given.

    Certainly John made an error of judgement. However, most of us would probably have made the same one, especially if our child – as an adult – had a history of being truthful with us, and there had been no evidence to suggest he had ever acted inappropriately.

    The issue John’s son (John) is dealing with is certainly genetic – such feelings are not a choice. And yet it appears that John Jr. has sought help outside the family, sought help from within the family, and most importantly, had never acted on those sexual impulses that would have been so destructive to others. A family can be proud of a son like that.

    I pray that God will protect, bless, and walk with the Ortberg family in the days ahead.

    V. Sutton

    1. V. Sutton – I sincerely hope most of us wouldn’t make that same error of judgement for the precise reason you mentioned: this proclivity is not a choice but is more like a compulsion. If you can’t trust the senior pastor and the elder board to put the safety of children first, how can you trust them in anything? JO should have removed him from ministry immediately then dropped to his knees in gratitude to God for bringing it to the light before any transgressions had happened. Instead, JO chose to protect himself, not Johnny, the church or the kids.

      I don’t mean to diminish the range of emotions that JO must have felt when his son confessed this but, again, HE IS THE LEADER. He needed to lead for the good and protection of the congregation especially those kids!

      This is what has maddened me over the past 2+ years as a 12-yr member of Willow Creek. The old saying, “Money talks and BS walks” is so applicable lately as so many pastors have walked away from their ministries under the guise of protecting them, and getting paid, rather than literally practicing what they preach by way of confession, repentance and restoration. It’s beyond disappointing, disillusioning and cowardly. But they all seem to get their payouts and their genteel farewells.

      1. Yes I remember Ortberg at Willow. It was a good time. It seems Pastors and leaders of Christian organizations do not follow the basics. Here are just a couple guidelines:

        1. Do not hire your kids in your ministry. There are tens of thousands of other churches they can work.
        2. Do not have drinking parties on yachts or sailboats

    2. No prayer for the families and children whose trust was violated by John’s “error in judgement?” You really have no way of knowing if the son has ever acted on his pedophilia or not. Prayerfully he did not but even if that is the case not molesting children isn’t a virtue. This is an appalling and truly sad story. No one involved has anything to be proud of.

  6. First of all, in the Word of God there are elders – plural. It seems God never meant for our churches to be led by one man/woman who has been elevated to celebrity status, authors numerous books and makes millions of dollars off of preaching. Paul still made tents as he preached the Word of God and in the synagogues many men spoke and led. The qualifications for an elder outlined in 1 Timothy also includes “manages his own household well.”

    I think as Christians we should re-evaluate how ALL of our churches are organized and run and compare them to Biblical principles.

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