Today’s post is heavy on my heart.
I’ve just learned that a leading evangelical pastor has resigned due to “moral failings” that have compromised his marriage. This, after I discovered yesterday that the director of a camp I served in high school also stepped away because his marriage has been wrecked by sin.
Like pawns falling on a chessboard, these men join scores of others who have publicly lost credibility due to pornography, affairs, embezzlement, pedophilia and other heartbreaking sins.
It’s enough to make one wonder, “How could this happen? Who can I trust now? If even my pastor failed, how can I live a godly life? Where is God in all this?”
As someone who’s experienced a public ministry fallout in my own family, here’s how I’d suggest you respond:
1. Remember that no one is immune to sin.
We like to put leaders on pedestals. But each of us faces the same temptations with the same battle against the flesh. Our enemy is cunning, and he prowls our communities, seeking people to devour. I believe pastors are in the enemy’s crosshairs in hopes of ruining their ministries.
As you process your pastor’s spiritual failings, remember that you could have done the same. We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God, and whenever we try to live life in our own strength, we will always fail.
(Here’s how I learned to forgive my father and mother.)
2. Trust in Christ alone.
When someone you trust disappoints you, it’s easy to start doubting God too.
But God is not like humans. Remember that He is perfect, He is faithful, and He will never fail you.
For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.
If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
1 Timothy 2:11-13
Take your grief, anger, bitterness, and desire for justice to God. He can handle all of our emotions, and not one takes Him by surprise. This may take some time, but return to God each time those emotions threaten to overwhelm you.
3. Care for the hurting family.
Enough with the lambasting and mud-slinging and Facebook-sharing! We are called to be people of Christ, to belong to each other, to bear one another’s burdens, and to cover each other with love. It’s been said that Christians are the only ones who shoot their wounded. Dear ones, this should not be so.
I’ve experienced the isolation, condemnation, and indignation of those who were disappointed when my family resigned from the mission field due to our family crisis.
It was ugly. It was hard. It was lonely. And the ones who suffer most are the children.
If you can, reach out to the family and offer your support. Don’t pry. Don’t pester. Don’t ask questions. Just be available to serve.
Bring meals. Take the kids out to ice cream. Offer them a shoulder to cry on. If you’re in a place of spiritual authority, restore him. And keep on praying. Never stop praying. Regardless of whether the pastor is repentant or not, he or she needs your prayers desperately. Keep bringing them and their family to the throne room of God. He hears. And He will answer.
4. Keep in mind that God makes beautiful things out of brokenness.
We tend to slap a label on people and place them in neat categories. “Failure.” “Lost.” “Anathema.” Done and taken care of.
But God specializes in using the broken and contrite to glorify Himself (Isaiah 66:2). He turned a liar and a cheat into the nation of Israel. He turned a prostitute into the hero of a nation. He turned an adulterer into a man after His own heart. He turned a betrayer into the leader of the first-century church. He turned a murderer into the first global missionary.
You and I can insert our own stories here.
Consider how the broken pieces in your life pointed you to His inexhaustible grace. No one is outside of God’s reach. And this chapter in your pastor’s life may lead to an even greater opportunity to showcase God’s grace.
5. Examine your own life.
This one’s the longest, because here is where it gets personal.
Galatians 6:1 pretty much covers the previous points, but there’s an interesting twist at the end:
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
As we hear of pastors’ moral failings, let’s not point fingers. Let’s invite the Spirit to point into our own lives and reveal what we haven’t surrendered to Him.
Am I flirting with my coworker? Am I reading erotica or viewing pornography? Am I keeping secrets from my spouse? Am I lying about where I spend my time or money?
Don’t skip this part.
It’s the single most important thing you’ll do today.
Ask yourself this: When’s the last time I’ve confessed my sins to the Lord?
I’m not talking a general, “Forgive me God, for I have sinned” prayer, but a specific, personal, pin-point “Forgive me, Father, because I binged at the graduation party yesterday and that was gluttony. I was hiding my anxiety with food instead of being filled with Your Spirit.” Those kinds of prayers. The ones that reveal the hidden sins in our lives that we prefer to ignore.
If you do only one thing today, make it this:
Set aside your next mealtime and go away with Him in prayer. Sit down with a piece of paper, and ask Him to bring to mind your sins. Then write. And as you write, pray David’s prayer of confession:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
And receive the wonderful, glorious, bountiful grace of God in your life as He forgives your sins and washes you clean (1 John 1:9). Burn the list. Flush it down the toilet. Throw it in a river.
Then go, and sin no more.
As you allow the Spirit to reveal sins in your life, you may see that you’ve hurt people in your sinning (like when I discovered that the pharisee in my life was me). Ask for forgiveness and seek reconciliation. Make changes necessary to stay out of sin’s path. Get accountability. Find someone who’s walked this road before you and can guide you along the way.
I’ve found this Christian leader’s response so helpful in processing my own disappointment recently:
If you need more guidance on this topic, I highly recommend Beth Moore’s book, When Godly People Do Ungodly Things. It was a game-changer when I read it in college.
Have you experienced disappointment because of a pastor or spiritual leader’s failures? How might you respond differently next time?
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