I read this week of another major ministry, Elmbrook Church, that is going through deep pain over the resignation of their senior pastor for infidelity and addiction. I am sure there is a range of emotions including sadness, anger and betrayal - and other emotions and responses. I am sad for this pastor, his family, the church and the reputation of Jesus. 

This blog post may be controversial but I want to address some issues related to how the offending leader is treated in circumstances like this. I know his family will be taken care of, they usually are. I know the church will heal, they usually do. I know it is a time of confusion and maybe conflict in the church, it usually is. I am not going to use the pastor's name since what goes on the internet stays on the internet and can easily get in the way of healing in the future. But I have some thoughts on how he and other fallen leaders are seen and treated.

First, don't forget that all of us are broken. Perhaps he is more broken than some and certainly he is too broken to be in ministry at this time. His life is now open for all to see, even the parts that are really messy. Before you cast stones, gossip or pass on second hand information, think of your own life, your areas of brokenness that are known only to you and to God and ask how you would be faring emotionally if it were suddenly all known. I suspect that the response of Jesus toward all parties here is one of great compassion even as He is making it possible for this pastor to get the help he needs. Whenever a story like this breaks I wonder how many individuals say to themselves, "wow, if people only knew of my own sin and brokenness, I would be in a bad place." Pastors, ministry leaders and church leaders included. We all belong to the society of the bent and the broken.

Second, do not assume that this pastor or those caught up in sin don't love Jesus. I am sure they do love Jesus and they love Him imperfectly. I intentionally used "and" rather than "but" here because the ampersand is a powerful word. I can be broken and sinful in an area of life and still love Jesus. Both can be true. Certainly that love is imperfect but it is for every one of us. I can love Jesus and be a gossip. I can love Jesus and bring division. I can love Jesus and....(you fill in the blank). 

Third, remember that patterns of sin and addiction are often rooted in early childhood trauma that has not been resolved. The sin and addiction is medication for the pain of that trauma. Does that statement excuse the addiction or sin? No. But it can explain it. As our society becomes more broken these situations will happen more often. Family of origin issues and circumstances over which a youngster has little or no control often play a large role in future sinful patterns. I will make a prediction: I bet that this pastor will indicate in the future that the day his sin became public was the best day of his life. Yes, there was a large price to pay but now he does not need to hide, he can get help for the sin, everyone knows the worst about him, the pain he has carried for so many years can be resolved and he can find personal freedom perhaps for the first time. That is a good day!

Fourth. We evangelicals are really good in emphasizing truth and very bad in these circumstances in showing grace. We say we want the Jesus balance between grace and truth but it is much easier to err on the side of truth and judgement than it is to err on the side of grace. What do we typically do in these cases? We vilify the individual, we want them to pay their pound of flesh for their sin, we help their families but rarely the one caught in sin, we isolate them, tell others not to communicate with them, and we push them out of our lives and ministries as fast as we can.

We leave the sinner - alone, isolated, full of shame, without advocates, often without a plan for restoring them, and for many fallen leaders on the verge of physical harm. Well we think: "they deserve everything they got and we owe them nothing." Of course that may well be true from a human perspective but it is true for all of us. We all deserve nothing but God in Christ Jesus extends His amazing grace regardless and every one of us who knows Christ has been the recipient of that grace. 

In the parable of the 100 sheep, Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to find the one that is lost. It is a powerful passage in Luke 15:1ff:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Any one of us could be that one individual who is lost, sinful and broken. Jesus does not abandon them. He pursues them. He rescues them. In fact he "calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 
One of my convictions is that "Grace is inconvenient sometimes," and showing God's love and grace to a fallen leader who has disappointed many is certainly inconvenient. It is also what Jesus teaches. Under the guise of "We need proof of repentance," we do just the opposite of Christ, pushing people away rather than moving toward them in grace and mercy. None of this means that fallen leaders should lead ministry in the future. It does mean that we should care as much about them as Jesus does. Aren't you glad He cared enough to extend his mercy and grace to you.

Ironically in many cases fallen leaders will tell you that the only grace they received was from Jesus and a tiny handful of friends who did not abandon them. The rest of the body of Christ seemingly abandoned them.

Fifth, Jesus came to redeem and give life and that applies to both non-Christians and Christians. He is a God of Redemption.

One of the most remarkable verses in Scripture is John 10:10. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

Jesus came for situations like this! He came to find and heal lost sheep. He came to bear our sin. He came to bring us to true personal freedom. He came to bring us to fulness of life. He came to rescue us from the thief whose only goal is to steal, kill and destroy. The heart of God is a heart of love and redemption. There is no sin and no person who is beyond His ability to redeem.

The central question for us in cases like this is whether we have the same heart of love and redemption that God has. Is our heart full of judgement or redemption? Will we abandon or embrace? Do we wish the worst or the best? Will we restore or denigrate? Do we desire the offender to walk in future shame or freedom? Will we give what the offender deserves or what they don't deserve - mercy and grace? That last one touches close to home for each of us who have received the undeserved mercy and grace of Jesus. 

If you google Elmbrook church there are many blogs with the word scandal attached. Is not the real scandal that Jesus forgives and restores those who don't deserve it? That is the scandal of each of our lives. The scandal is not sin (terrible as sin is) but that Jesus redeems us from our sin through his death and resurrection. And when God's people respond in grace and mercy to people who don't deserve it (do any of us?), that will be the true scandal at Elmbrook, and elsewhere.

I hope that this pastor's experience will be different from what often happens. He too needs grace and compassion and help.

  • Oct 14, 2018
  • Category: News
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