"I'm way better up here than I am in person," Gil Jones told his congregation from the stage at the Village Church last spring. Many critics of the controversial preacher -- the subject of this week's cover story, "The Prodigal Pastor" -- would agree with that assessment. Jones, who was instrumental in launching what's now the state's largest megachurch, is widely viewed as a powerful messenger in the pulpit, with a strong appeal among young seekers -- but his personal conduct has come under fire at three churches over the past eight years.
As detailed in our article, Jones resigned as lead pastor at Flatirons Community Church in 2005 after an extramarital affair with a woman in the congregation. Since divorced, Jones moved on to Pathways Church in Denver -- where he came under scrutiny for allegedly "inappropriate" relationships with women in the congregration. He stepped down at Pathways last fall and has since launched a new church, the Village. But turmoil over his dating practices -- including a recent breakup with one girlfriend that landed in court, thanks to some alarming text messages -- persists.
Many religious leaders try to keep their personal foibles under wraps. Not so much Jones, who speaks frequently about his own relationship missteps and failures in his weekly message. His supporters praise his honesty and willingness to "own" his mistakes. But others are less impressed with Jones's candor, saying his eager admissions are his way of defusing criticism for a disturbing pattern of misconduct.
The first clip, from June 2012, features Jones confessing to his Pathways congregation about the affair he had at Flatirons seven years earlier. He reads some text messages from his ex-wife, discusses repentance and forgiveness, and insists the experience has made him even more qualified to lead a congregation of fellow sinners: "I've got a better story now than I ever had."
Continue for more Gil Jones sound clips. The second excerpt comes from the farewell address Jones made at Pathways before his departure last October. Barely three months after declaring he would not be defined by the relationship follies that cost him his marriage, he concedes that he's still struggling with the effects of his divorce, has "messed up" and possibly hurt people in his current dating mode, and has been advised to "go get married and then come back to the ministry."
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The final clip comes from a talk Jones gave at the Village a few weeks ago. He talks about struggling with intimacy and admits to having sex outside of marriage while at Pathways. "I didn't want to tell the truth because I knew I'd get fired," he says. He also talks about struggling with alcohol -- when stressed and lonely, "all I am thinking about is going and drinking.... I hate that about me." But, he insists, "I'm not a player and I'm not an alcoholic."
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Again and again, Jones stresses that he isn't the kind of preacher who's going to wag a finger at anybody else. But those former associates who are disinclined to give Jones another chance suggest he's already had several. For them, the tune may be disarmingly raw, but the refrain remains the same.
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Photos: The seven biggest megachurches in Colorado."