Heath Mooneyham, formerly lead pastor of Ignite Church, is no stranger to controversy.
He has been at the center of that church’s unusual and sometimes controversial efforts to lure more young men to his services on Sunday mornings. A recent online article at vocativ.com referred to it as “America’s manliest church.”
But at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 16, Mooneyham was stopped by Joplin police after leaving a local bar. He failed a breathalyzer test and was charged with driving while intoxicated, according to a statement made by church officials on Sunday.
Mooneyham, who has led Ignite Church since 2006, has temporarily stepped down from his post.
Chad Isaacs, a member of the church’s executive leadership board, said Monday that Mooneyham has agreed to temporarily step aside from his full-time position with the church “for a time of discipline and reflection,” which will include mandatory counseling to help Mooneyham abstain from drinking alcohol.
“Our hope is to discipline and restore him to ministry,” Isaacs said in a written statement.
Isaacs — the owner of Stone's Corner Pharmacy — was quick to note that Ignite Church, 701 S. Maiden Lane, Joplin, is not inherently against alcohol consumption. During an interview this summer, Mooneyham said only half-jokingly that the church has set a late-morning start time to accommodate the arrival of members who may have been out late and had a bit too much to drink on the night before.
Rather, the issue with Mooneyham’s incident, Isaacs said, was a bad decision on his part.
“This was an error in judgment, not a moral failure,” Isaacs said.
Mooneyham, speaking in a video released Sunday, said he agreed to temporarily step aside because he found his leadership ability “vulnerable” in light of his recent arrest.
“I fully and completely understand the weight and totality that my actions have brought upon so many people that I dearly love,” he said. “It’s not just this one event, though, but rather a lifestyle of rebellion and unnecessary reckless behavior that has continually put the very mission I passionately love in real jeopardy.”
It has been Mooneyham’s unconventional tactics targeted at young men that have placed Ignite Church on the map and drawn many visitors each Sunday. The church drew national attention in June when it gave away two AR-15 rifles in a Father’s Day raffle in an effort to attract young males, ages 18 to 35, which Mooneyham called “the biggest black hole in our society.”
Church members also have gone on hunting trips and to gun ranges to create bonds, and Mooneyham said in June the gun giveaway was done in the same spirit.
The church not only has later start times than most other churches, but also has loud rock music and a black-and-green color scheme that is reminiscent of a video game. Mooneyham also sports a mohawk hair cut and tattoos.
In early 2011, the church also raised eyebrows when it put up billboards around Joplin with provocative photos to promote its series on sex and marriage.
Mooneyham said his decision to abstain from alcohol should not be misinterpreted as a call on other church members to abstain. For him, he said the decision was wholly personal — based completely in his concern that he was using alcohol to “self-medicate.”
“I use it sometimes to sleep, calm frayed nerves after a difficult day, and sometimes just simply to escape pain and reality,” he told the church in the video. “As a result, I have been leading from a place of very real weakness, hurt and vulnerability.”
The church as whole, however, will “continue to hold a stance of moderation and personal responsibility when it comes to alcohol, not one of abstinence,” he added.
Mooneyham and other church leaders were unclear on details or a specific timeline for his return to his leadership role.
Over the weekend, Ignite Church also announced that Shane Munn, an associate pastor, has resigned from his position. Neither Munn nor church officials responded to an inquiry about the reason for his resignation.
Attempts to reach Mooneyham on Monday were unsuccessful.
After giving away two AR-15 assault rifles on Father’s Day this summer, Heath Mooneyham said, “If we get people in the door, we get to preach the Gospel. If we can get more people to follow Jesus, I’ll give away 1,000 guns. I don’t care.”
Ignite Church Lead Pastor Heath Mooneyham has stepped down from his church position after being arrested for drinking and driving.
Mooneyham said in a statement released by the church Sunday that he was pulled over by Joplin police on Sept. 16 after leaving a local bar and was given a breathalyzer test, which he failed. He was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, he said.
In its statement, the church said Mooneyham will step down from his leadership role within the church.
The church drew national attention in June when it gave away two AR-15 rifles in a Father’s Day raffle and in early 2011 when it put up billboards around Joplin advertising its series on sex and marriage.
Check back with joplinglobe.com later today for updates to this story.