Evangelical pastor Roberts Liardon temporarily stepped down from his Irvine-based ministry this week after admitting to a "short-term inappropriate sexual relationship."
"As a minister of the gospel, I realize my moral failure has been inappropriate and wrong," Liardon said in a written statement. "I have asked God's forgiveness."
Liardon, 34, who is single, heads Embassy Christian Center church and the 275-student Spirit Life Bible College. He also has written numerous books, including "God's Generals: Why They Succeeded and Why Some Failed" and "We Saw Heaven," with a foreword written by Liardon's namesake, Oral Roberts.
In a statement, the church said Liardon is stepping down for at least three months because of the sexual relationship, an ongoing heart condition and a recent surgery that requires further recuperation. After the 90-day period, Liardon, along with his counselors and spiritual advisors, will "reevaluate his situation and determine the appropriate time for his return."
Michael Cantrell, a church lay leader, said people who attended a meeting Tuesday with Liardon gave him "a standing ovation--not for what happened, but because he's making it right."
A spokesman for Liardon said the pastor became convinced that he needed to repent for the inappropriate relationship with an adult and voluntarily started counseling 3 1/2 weeks ago--before word of the affair started to leak out at the church and college.
"I ask anyone affected by my actions to forgive me and to pray for both my spiritual and physical recovery," Liardon said in his statement.
Liardon's church, which draws more than 1,200 congregants each Sunday, is known for its charismatic services, where worshipers speak in tongues. Roberts Liardon Ministries has offices in England, South Africa and the Philippines and has 73 missionaries scattered throughout the world, according to the church's Web site.
In his biography, Liardon said his grandparents were pastors and started more than 20 churches, mostly Pentecostal congregations. As a child in Tulsa, Okla., Liardon read at least four chapters of the Bible daily, prayed in tongues and, at age 8, was called by God to be a pastor, according to a book written by Liardon.
He attended Oral Roberts University, where his mother was a member of the charter class in 1965.
Roberts Liardon Ministries moved to Irvine in 1991, and a year later, Liardon founded the Spirit Life Bible College. He said he got the idea for the college for would-be pastors after a nudge from the Holy Spirit while on a trip in Jerusalem.
"In the wind, many voices in different languages cried out, 'We want to obey God and run the race that He has called us to, but who will show us how?' " Liardon writes on his Web site. "Those words still echo in my spirit today. The cry of those words, and the command of God to teach and train the people to live in their high calling, have produced Spirit Life Bible College."
While Liardon is on leave, the church and school ministries will "continue under the leadership of the Embassy Christian Center board and staff leaders," church officials said.