When Church Leaders Let You Down

February 21, 2019
It is a sobering time for the church right now. As a Southern Baptist, I am sickened by the details of the recent Houston Chronicle report on sexual abuse, cover-up, and inaction within our denomination. Even locally, we have seen ministers leaving their posts suddenly for reasons ranging from criminal acts to moral failure to personal weakness, leaving their churches to figure out how to pick up the pieces.

The Bible tells us that the devil shoots at us with flaming arrows (Ephesians 6:16). The reason a warrior would set fire to his arrow is to not only kill his enemy, but to burn down everything around him. When a pastor or other prominent Christian is hit by one of these arrows, it threatens to burn down the church, his family, and the reputation of Christ in the community. How do we keep the flames from spreading? How do we keep our own faith from burning up when our spiritual leader falls?

It’s Not OK

One impulse we might have is, out of love for the person, to minimize or dismiss the sin. None of us is perfect, after all, and we all sin. We might write it off as a “mistake,” and, in the name of “grace,” restore the offender in short order. We might even help him cover it up. This course of action is the worst we could possibly take. It’s not truthful or helpful to deny the seriousness of the sin, the hurt that it caused, or the damage it has done to the minister’s spiritual readiness to lead. Often these cover-ups cause the innocent to leave the church, unhealed and without help, while the perpetrator becomes the target of sympathy. It is vital to fully acknowledge the sin.

And if you are angry, it’s important for you to understand that your anger is justified. God is angry, too. Jesus’ words for those who cause people to fall away couldn’t be any stronger (look at Luke 17:1-2). It’s not OK for church leaders to act this way.

Look to Jesus

The Bible tells us that sin, when it is full-grown, leads to death (James 1:15). Many pastors who sin are good men whose sin went unchecked, grew into a monster, and destroyed them. The Bible also warns us that some who pass themselves off as ministers are wolves (Matthew 7:15, Acts 20:29); such men are deceivers and manipulators who gained their position with false motives.

Regardless, you need to know that the truth and your faith are not invalidated if the person you heard the gospel from turns out to be a fake. Paul knew that some preachers were selfish troublemakers, but he still rejoiced that Christ was preached (Philippians 1:18). The one who called you to faith was not some pastor but the Holy Spirit himself, and he is the Spirit of truth, who has the power through the Bible to speak to you even through the mouths of imperfect or even fraudulent preachers.

Look to Jesus. Ask him to remind you of the truth of your relationship to him. Ask him to heal your hurts. And don’t forget to turn to others.

Minister to the Hurting

When a church leader’s sin comes to light, a lot of attention often goes to damage control—how to save the church institution from catastrophe. The ones that often get lost in the shuffle are the ones who are hurt the most. Jesus will heal us as we concern ourselves with ministering to those in pain. Who is caring for the abuser’s victims? What about the family the adulterous pastor left behind? Who is left most alienated and hurt by the minister’s departure? When a church rallies around the hurting, showering them with grace and love, we show ourselves to be true disciples, the Body of Christ in the world.

Light is good. When light hits and evil deeds are exposed, it is painful, and our impulse is to hide or flee (John 3:19-20). But if we dare to fight through the pain, stepping into the light instead of fleeing, there we find healing and glory as God works through us (John 3:21). The redemption that comes through the cross of Jesus is powerful enough to overcome any sin, even the sin of church leaders. When a leader falls, we can see plainly that the only legitimate head of the church is not any sinful man, but Jesus Christ himself, and he is always faithful, always trustworthy, and always able to heal our deepest hurts.

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