Monday, August 31, 2015

Seeking a Foundation in the Midst of Pastoral Failures

I don’t know about the rest of you, but it’s honestly been a tough summer. For me, it started with the news of high profile pastors (some in my own denomination, even) who had committed adultery. Then it seems like over the summer more and more news has emerged about various pastors and Christian leaders needing to leave the ministry because of serious moral failings. All that time, even through that news I kept my head up, I encouraged myself that these sorts of things are sad realities in our fallen world, even among Christian leaders, but I told myself that I would somehow remain untouched by it all.

However, in a very real sense, the whole house of cards came falling down for me when it was discovered that a close friend and mentor was part of this number of men whose sin had disqualified them from the ministry. At that point, I couldn’t keep up the ruse that everything was fine and the house would stay standing. The last week has been…upsetting and more difficult than I'd care to admit. I still love my mentor. I still love this man. And at first I thought I had no right to be upset…after all, he isn’t my spouse. It was his wife who had been betrayed, not me. I fought for stoicism and failed. The hurt started to leak in. It started to weigh on me, and I decided to just let the sadness and the tears come. The truth is, it hurts to see men falling around you like dominoes — especially when you’re about to become a pastor yourself. There’s no denying that it is encouraging to see men doing what you will be doing, fighting the good fight, standing up under temptation. But this experience has shown me that if you begin to feel secure and ready for what’s coming because other people are doing it successfully, you are setting yourself up for some serious pain. Such an attitude shows that you’ve lost your way; your emotional and spiritual compass is all screwed up.

The great thing about preaching lectio continua straight through the Bible is that you don’t get to pick the texts, the texts are given to you. That’s how it was for me this past Sunday. I traveled 2 1/2 hours to the far reaches of Mississippi, and it was a long drive. It was a hard drive. Here I was someone who was going to preach God’s Word, and I was so discouraged — I truly felt beaten down. I prayed as I drove, but was frankly having a hard time finding any reason for hope.

Now, I had prepared this sermon a couple of weeks ago and hadn’t looked at it much in the days before, so when I went into the pulpit and read the text, I was being fed by the Word in a way that I badly needed. The text was from 1 John 1:5-10. While there is so much in that text that ministered to me (v. 9 in particular is a verse I probably repeat to myself every day), the passage that stood out the most was verse 5: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

This message is a message about God. God is light. Whereas the world around us is mixed and mingled with darkness and light, various shades of gray and ambiguity, moral failings mixed with successes, there is one who is untainted by it all, and it isn’t my mentor, and it isn't your pastor.

The failure of Christian leaders is sad; incredibly sad. There is destruction and sorrow and broken hearts and trusts that aren’t easily repaired. God is mocked by unbelievers and perceived to be insufficient to meet our greatest needs in situations like these. Churches are in turmoil, and no doubt some on the fringes will decide that church maybe isn't for them. But if you’re like me and you find yourself leaning maybe a bit too much on the faith and perceived spiritual success of others — including the leaders in your life — you need to hear this message from John. John says that the message that Jesus brought was not, at its core, a message about you and me. It’s a message that starts with God. This means that the anchor of your life, of reality, of your existence isn’t your pastor. Yes, he is important, he is used by God in incredible ways to edify and build you up (thank God for him!) but he isn’t your rock. He isn’t your salvation. He isn’t the one in whom you trust or rest on.

You know this, probably, but you might have forgotten it. I knew it intellectually, but over time it becomes second nature to lean on things that just work without being aware that you're doing it. If you are one of those Christians who find yourself deeply discouraged by the sins, failures, and failings of Christian leaders, let me invite you to be reminded of who it is that is at the center of all of this. I don't have the silver bullet to solve every problem when it comes to working your way through messes like this, but I do know where you need to start. There was one who came and led and stood up under temptation. There was one who, when faced with every form of temptation (Heb. 4:15), came away clean, but it wasn’t your pastor — it was Christ himself. Make him your rock. Make him the one on whom you lean and rest and find your hope. I know of no other rock (Ps. 18:31).


  1. Well said Adam. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  2. With repentance can come a new ministry, as with David. Although not an easy path, I pray the same for my pastor and friend.

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