The Fallen: What to Do When Pastors Fall
“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
1 Timothy 4:16
There seems to be no shortage of attention drawn on men who once held the office of pastor who had fallen, and at times leaped, into disqualifying sin leading to their removal from these churches or ministries. These men include pastors of large and small congregations, televangelist and seminary professors, authors and radio personalities. Every time I hear of any man falling, I am shocked, saddened, and yet not surprised.
Growing up, I remember hearing stories of pastors in our community and sometimes in our own churches who had been removed due to moral failure. This moral failure ranged from sexual sins, addiction, an angry and abusive demeanor (usually privately), or financial misappropriation. At times these men were repentant, pulling back from their public life to privately pursue reconciliation and restoration sincerely. Other times these men pridefully and persistently held to their innocence, despite apparent evidence proving otherwise.
The picture above is of books, once sitting on my shelf, who written by the men who have been accurately accused, found guilty, sometimes convicted, and removed their churches and ministries. While browsing my shelves, these books never fail to capture my attention, grip my heart, flood my mind with questions, and leave me wondering, “What do I do when men, men I respect, men I’ve looked up to, give themselves over to disqualifying sin?” Maybe you have asked this question as well.
What do I do when a pastor or ministry leader falls into disqualifying sin?
First, we pray. We pray for these men, their repentance, their families, their churches and ministries. We pray for their victims, those who have been directly harmed, and for those who have indirectly been harmed. We also pray for those who may be tempted feeling justified in abandoning the church and Christ because of the hypocrisy of fallen leaders.
Second, we weep (and pray). While some may feel the need to celebrate such removals, we must remember every time justice is served it is because pain was once experienced (or repeatedly experienced). We weep because sin is devastating. We weep because shepherds, men called by God, should never give themselves over to these sins. We weep because the name of Christ is blasphemed among the unbelieving world watching and often celebrating their fall.
Finally, we remember apart from the amazing, restraining grace of God…it could be me. This is in no way meant to minimize the sin of these men, but it also in no way maximizes the holiness of those of us who have not fallen. Not one man is beyond falling into these ancient sins. Every time we hear of another pastor fall, it should humble us and remind us it could've been me. Never assume it won’t be you.
What do I do as a pastorate not fall into disqualifying sin?
If you are a pastor or ministry leader, remember first and foremost your personal holiness is more important than your public reputation. If you have given yourself over to disqualifying sin, you may fear what will happen to your ministry if you confess. Philippians 2:12 tells us, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Our fear should not be of losing our ministries, but rather our fear should be of thinking we have salvation when we do not. Your relationship with the Lord must come before all. It is far better to be a faithful church member who was once a pastor than an unfaithful pastor who has no business being one.
Second, if you are a pastor or ministry leader, get accountability. In almost all of the situations I am aware of when a pastor is removed, the man failed to have true accountability. He either placed himself above accountability, where asking questions were out of bounds and the authority to do anything was out of reach. Or the man placed people around him who did not care to ask or even catered to the man’s sin. We must surround brothers in Christ who can ask us the hard questions, hold us to truly accountable, and help us drag every sin out into the light. Here forgiveness can be found.
Finally, cling close to Jesus Christ. Hold your relationship with Him near and dear to your heart. Prioritize Christ in your time, your mind, and your energy. For when you cling to Christ, sin becomes detestable, forgiveness and eternal life become personal, worldly success becomes undesirable, holiness becomes beautiful, and true ministry becomes possible.
One Last Word
When a pastor falls, we must turn our eyes to our own hearts and souls. We must consider our own calling. We must pray for God to hold us and to keep us faithful to the end. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Be faithful every day that you may be faithful to the end. Let not your life be like a tangled mass of yarn, but keep it ever in due order on the distaff, so that, whenever the fatal knife shall cut the thread, it may end just where an enlightened judgment would have wished” (Spurgeon, Only a Prayer Meeting: Studies on Prayer Meetings and Prayer Meeting Addresses, 230).
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