On May 12, 2008 the Pastor of one of Tampa Bay's largest churches and his 13 year old son were killed in a plane crash near Asheville, NC, leaving behind a wife and 4 more kids. I did not know Forrest Pollack beyond an initial conversation when I first moved to Tampa based upon a mutual friendship with another pastor. He seemed (and from all accounts was) very friendly.
I had heard that his church was growing like mad (it was already one of the larger churches in the area) and had had no luck when trying to get them to support a ministry I had worked for a little later (though not through conversations with him). He, and his church, was a huge supporter of religious right causes, including the infamous Justice Sunday I and II and other such events. He was a major player in the SBC and an possibly an eventual President (he was only 44).
I am writing this because I cannot get one thing out of my mind. He was killed flying a single-engine Piper aircraft before dawn in rugged terrain, according to news reports. I am assuming it was a father/ son trip with his 13 year old.
Here is what I cannot escape...
Did he have a responsibility to his flock to not engage in risky activities or behavior? Have we ever thought about this with pastors? We think about moral and ethical issues, but what about physical dangers (not related to mission)?
I do not blame him or his church because I do not think it has ever come up. But, if 7,000 people depend on someone for leadership (and I understand it was a very 1 Man centered ministry) and follow him to build a $25 million facility based upon his vision and gifts, should they expect him to be careful in his time off?
In the NFL and professional sports there are clauses in contracts specifying activities they can engage in and those they cannot. Many players, including the Bulls Jay Williams and The Steelers Ben Roethlisberger have breached contracts when riding and crashing motorcycles (Pollack's wife smartly declared his Harley off limits). These teams depend on athlete's bodies and have a right to tell them not do anything dangerous. I would say that piloting a single-engine plane in the mountains before dawn is dangerous, especially by someone with a non-commercial pilot's licence that only flies occasionally. Interestingly, I have been told that two of the places in America with ridiculously high fatality rates among pilots are Lake Tahoe and Martha's Vineyard/ Nantucket (remember JFK Jr?).
Both of these places have many rich non-professional pilots navigating difficult terrain or sight lines paying the price when it would have been cheaper to put their lives in the hands of professional pilots. Such was the case with this pastor. I cannot say that I would have decided not to fly around if I were the leader of such an important ministry. However, I can assure you that if I were on the elder board of a church, I would (now) put it in the pastor's contract that there were certain activities that could cause discipline beyond moral or ethical issues (unless, of course, he were flying into the bush of Africa to deliver medical supplies- but I would still have issues).
Am I crazy or making any sense here?