Hey, Calvary Fremont –
I was asked at our Wednesday evening service about how the Church should respond to the ongoing revelations of pastors, youth pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and various church workers who have committed adultery, molested minors, embezzled money, and emotionally abused the churches they served. Social media has made it hard for abusers, molesters, and thieves to hide. Almost every day I receive notice of someone failing and being fired, arrested, or sued – or all three at the same time!
Just this morning I read of a pastor in South Carolina who has been arrested for molesting a minor child. Let me run through the emotions and thoughts I had in response to that and enumerate three ways that I respond to and process this kind of thing. I’ll also address negative responses to these revelations and how we can give a gentle answer to those who are shaken by the revelations of moral failure in the ministry.
My initial response to this latest report of pastoral moral failure is one of grief. I read the headline and just groaned within myself. I grieve for this man and his sinful choices. I grieve for his wife and children. I grieve for his church and the havoc his sin has released. I grieve for a community so desperately in need of Jesus, but now another roadblock has been thrown in their path. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the man inappropriately involved with his stepmother, he rebuked them for not grieving and mourning. He says in another place, “Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” 2 Corinthians 11:29 This is a season of grief for the Church.
Not only do I grieve, but I also examine myself. Is there anything in my life, any path I’m going down, any ungodly thing that I’m nourishing? Am I touching a woman not my wife? Am I taking the Lord’s money? Am I touching His glory? Am I being a jerk? I cry out, “Lord, keep me from sinning and damaging the Church like this.” The failure of others should lead us to grieve and examine ourselves. This is a season of self-examination for the Church.
Anger, too, can be a godly response. “Be angry and sin not.” While grieving the sin and the damage it has caused; while examining myself – I am also angry with those in places of visibility who bring shame upon the name of Christ and damage the Church and its witness through their pursuit of money, sex, and power. But it is an anger without judgment – the judgment they have just received from the Lord by the revelation of their sin is more thorough and cleansing than anything I could ever visit upon them. If you’re angry with those who have violated their sacred trust, you have every right to be. But let your anger be without judgment, tempered by grief and self-examination. This is a season of anger for the Church.
There are some in the Church who are so offended and wounded by the moral failure of their spiritual leaders that they leave the Church, never to associate with the Church again. There are even some who walk away from the Faith. How should we respond to them? Consider two approaches. 1) Point them to Jesus. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The leaders who fell don’t love you nor did they die for you, nor do they have a covenant with you. They never conquered sin, hell, and death and the grave and the devil. Jesus is still worthy though the whole world walks away or cries out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” 2) Social media highlights the sin of those who have fallen. If social media highlighted those who have remained faithful to Jesus and endured temptation and have stood against the snares of the devil – the internet would crash. If failed leaders offend you, the multiplied millions of faithful saints living lives of humble righteousness, quiet obedience and faithful witness to Jesus should steady your soul and put the wind back in your sails. How is it that one failed saint outweighs the influence of a million faithful saints?
What do we say to those in the world who roll their eyes, cluck their tongues, and condemn the whole Church for the behavior of the few? What of those who chortle and snort and reject all Christianity due to those who broke trust? I heard a story of a pastor and a plumber who sparked up a conversation. The plumber told the pastor that he would never consider Jesus because when he was a child, the pastor of a church in town ran off with the secretary. “You can’t trust pastors and you can’t trust Christians,” was the conclusion of the plumber. The pastor then told the plumber that he would never again trust another plumber because the last one that worked on his house did shoddy work and overcharged him. “All plumbers are crooks,” the pastor said. “Wait a minute,” said the plumber. “There are a few bad apples, but we’re not all like that.” The pastor met the plumber’s eyes, and the plumber immediately saw his error. To judge all by some is the lazy man’s way of not having to think through an issue. Though social media tells the story of failed Christians, the gospel tells the story of the triumphant Christ who never failed, who stood firm in every temptation, who, for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God! More than ever, the world needs to hear the gospel. Yes, there’s a lot of bad news – but we’ve got the Good News!
So, here’s how I respond to and process the reports of failure in the ministry. I grieve. I examine myself. I am angry. I point shaken believers to Jesus who has made a covenant with them, and to the multiplied millions of faithful saints who have endured greater temptation and hardship than those who have fallen. I continue to point unbelievers to the Christ who has never failed, who is enthroned on high, and who is calling them to repentance.
Be blessed and stay healthy and follow Jesus – Pastor Tim
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