This past week I came across news about another Mega-Church pastor who has been forced to leave their congregation. Leadership and moral issues were mentioned. I don’t need to tell you who, the leader’s name isn’t needed, the details and circumstances are unnecessary. I assure you it reads much the same way similar stories in the past few years have read. Nothing is as unoriginal as sin. Same story second verse. It happened. It’s happened before, and it will happen again.
However, we need to remember this is more than a story. Real people are affected. When Christian leaders fall there is fall-out. My heart aches for this leader’s spouse and children. I weep for them. Then there are his parents, his friends, and the members and attenders of his church, not to mention how the unchurched and skeptics will respond. I’m sure they are all processing wounds that will hurt for years to come. Some of them, sadly, will never recover.
Of course, on a personal level we know God forgives. God redeems. God heals. By means of the cross God rewrites the story of sin-shattered lives in beautifully unexpected ways and in that we can all take comfort. Still, we’re left with unanswered questions.
It won’t be long until someone I know reads the same article and my phone will light up with questions. They will be asking me how something like this could happen, and to a pastor. They will wonder what it means. They will be tempted to make their own easy conclusions. It is an all too familiar drill – big churches are fake, well known pastors are just in it for the celebrity. Christian leaders are all hypocrites.
These reactions are natural enough, yet I find them flat. Simplistic explanations aren’t enough to help us understand pastoral failure for what it is.
So, I thought I would offer some thoughts. I hope they are helpful.
The reality is that for every pastor with name recognition who has fallen, there are dozens of lesser known pastors from smaller churches who have also exited the ministry. They too leave a path of broken people and tarnished reputations.
If you’ve snuck past the election coverage to non-political news lately, then you are aware that I could have easily called this post Why Teachers Keep Having Affairs With Their Under-aged Students or Why Employees Continue to Steal Time and Money From Their Companies or Why Plumbers Take Unfair Advantage of their Customers. Humans are susceptible to temptation’s snare and sin’s stain.
Any time we hear of moral failure it should flash as a warning for all of us. Inasmuch as we would like to think we are above it, we’re not. The statement God makes to Cain before the murder of Able in Genesis 4:7 is a statement for all of us, “…sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Which leads us to the next thought.
The most important part of the above paragraph for anyone who wishes to walk in obedience to God is the humbling act of submitting ourselves to the people and the processes God provides for our growth as well as our protection. This is an area where pastors must be particularly mindful.
Pastors spend a great deal of their time in charge of everything related to the church. This puts them in a position where out of habit they can find it difficult to submit themselves to anyone or anything. It may be a factor of personality or a lack of wisdom concerning the limits of authority or just plain-old-pride. Whatever the reason it’s a reality. So…
Since churches of any size can experience pastoral moral failure, and given that moral failure is a common temptation to everyone, and because pastors don’t have an added or magical safeguard against temptation and sin – it would be wise for churches to create structural ways to graciously but firmly evaluate the moral and spiritual health of those we call to pastoral ministry.
By structural I mean formalized relationships that carefully, graciously, regularly monitor how the pastor is doing. Far from micromanagement this is the loving thing to do. Pastors need people who care about them enough to extend the grace of wise judgment and correction especially when it comes to out of balance work habits, self-centered behaviors, or poor relational boundaries.
This is a difficult if not uncomfortable issue to tackle. The issue no one wants to talk about, but we need to. Besides, there is one thing more uncomfortable than talking with your pastor about their moral well-being, and that is reading about it in the news after it is too late.