Over the years, the church in America has been shaken by numerous sexual scandals within the roles of its leadership. It has become an increasingly familiar story, with several high profile pastors being exposed for failing to live up to the values they preach. But it is not just big name televangelists that this happens to, it can and does also happen to Pastors and Spiritual Leaders from our own local churches, respected leaders that we know and trust. I am not just referring to minor offenses or flaws, but to sins that are either of a sexual nature or major crimes that could lead to jail time. But this is not a new problem within the church, these kinds of problems goes all the way back to the first century church and is documented in 1 Corinthians 5, and of course we can’t forget the fall of King David. This is exactly why we need to continually pray for our pastors and church leaders so something like this doesn’t happen. In fact, something like this can happen to any one of us if we don’t remain vigilant in our walk with Christ.
This summer my church was shaken by the fallout of our beloved Pastor that gave into a scandalous sin. We have had to live through the hurt caused by a respected leader letting us down. The good news is that my church is on the road to healing, renewed growth, and moving forward.
Just from my own experience, It is hard on a congregation when a respected pastor or church leader falls into sin. I can tell you first hand that there are all kinds of feelings that a church goes through when a respected leader has fallen. One of the first reactions to a fallen leader is a sense of betrayal. Some people may feel as though they have been personally deceived. It is natural for us to feel wounded in these types of situations. Everyone has the right to react and feel hurt. Everyone has the right to feel disappointed in the person they listened to, trusted, and loved because our leaders are expected to live exemplary lives. But unless we deal with the effect of a leader’s sin, it will always be a source of oppression to us. Sometimes our lack of forgiveness can keep us from moving forward.
As I was doing some research for this post I decided that I needed to share some statistics here because I think that is important to include. The most common addiction among many spiritual leaders is pornography, although substance abuse is just as gripping in its occurrences. A study by the Barna group that was released in April 2016 titled “The Porn Phenomenon,” commissioned by Josh McDowell Ministries surveyed 432 pastors and 338 youth pastors. In this study, 57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors struggled with pornography currently or in the past. 54% of youth pastors who currently struggle live in fear of being discovered. 41% of adult Christians think that pastors should resign if they are found using porn; only 8% of pastors think so.
While it may be true that anybody can fall at anytime, I must point out that people don’t just “fall” into sin, as if they were walking along a dark path and suddenly, through no fault of their own, poof they fall into a hole! There is a reason why this happens. We are all born with a nature to sin with fleshly desires that can distract us from living our lives to honor the Lord. But the biggest culprit here is the devil whose ultimate goal is to sidetrack Christians and steal the glory that only God deserves. People become more vulnerable to temptation when their daily lives are not lined up with God’s word. But, God has given us all of the tools that we need for living a pure life. I strongly believe that there can be a positive outcome to any situation, including a fallout of a fallen Christian leader. There can be redemption for a fallen leader or any one of us that has fallen into the trap of sin.
So what should we do in response to the fall of a church leader? Some Christians might resort to picking sides, speaking harsh words of judgement, and finger pointing, but is that how Jesus would want us to respond? I don’t think so! We should learn to respond with love, grace, and forgiveness. We should work toward extending forgiveness and grace to fallen leaders. A leader’s sin is no worse than our own. The blood of Christ covers and cleanses it all (Romans 3:23). The Bible also tells us that love covers sins and offenses (Proverbs 10:12, Proverbs 17:9, 1 Peter 4:8). We must remember to guard ourselves against judging fallen leaders (Matthew 7:1-2). God loves us so much that he will help us, keep us safe, and give us a time and a place to heal. Nahum 1:7 says, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”
“Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead make up your mind not to put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” (Romans 14:13)
And of course we must also pray. Pray for true repentance in the heart of the fallen leader. Pray that God will completely restore, heal, and rebuild the leader, their family, and each person affected by the fall. Pray for humility in the hearts of the congregation. Rather than taking sides or favoring piercing remarks, humble yourselves and pray.
One very important truth that the body needs to remember is that Christ is our ultimate leader. He is the head of the universal church, and the local church. Christ is the ultimate leader of our congregation and of all believers in the whole world and throughout the ages (Colossians 1:18). Jesus Christ is doing mighty fine in His role as mediator for all who have sinned. He is sitting on His throne, high and lifted up. He has not and will not ever fail us. He is the only leader in the history of the world that has never failed his followers.
The horrible aftermath of a fallen leader’s scandal may seem like the worst possible scandal known to man with no positive outcome, but don’t lose heart. God is still in control. God is good and is loving. He is above all things and holds all things together. He is not surprised by the fall of a leader. He is deeply saddened, but not surprised by it. He is fully aware of our weaknesses and He desires to make us strong. He calls each of us to come close to Him so that we can learn from him so that he can protect us in times of temptation. We must always stand firm and never let our guard down (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). This “guard” should be a regular commitment to prayer, the studying of God’s word, and to discipleship and accountability. As long as we have people in our lives that can hold us accountable and speak truth into our lives, then we are heading down the right path. Spiritual Leaders must have people in their lives that care for their soul. They need iron sharpens iron kind of friends.
Jesus knew that this world would be a corrupt place for us to live our lives for him, but he gave us this encouragement found in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”