When Church Leaders Fail

Has your faith been rocked by the moral failure of a spiritual leader? 

Maybe you recall the 1980’s when televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker were in the headlines for moral failure; or maybe you were affected by the sex scandal that rocked the Catholic Church several years ago.  Spiritual leaders, politicians, sports figures and others failing to moral sins occur so much that it is common.  But when a spiritual leader you look up to and respect fails, what happens to your faith?  I’ve heard this as reasons for people to not put their faith in Christ, get involved in a church, or even drop out of church and the faith altogether.

This week I was told about the moral failure of a spiritual leader I have looked up to since I was a young teen-ager.  As I read the news, my heart just sank.  My heart was not hurt for me, but for him, his family, and the many people that will be affected.  As sad as this news was for me, this was not my first “rodeo” with this type of situation.

Many years ago when I was a young youth pastor, someone who was my friend and spiritual leader involved himself with sexual sin.  He committed adultery with another friend of mine, both of whom were married to other people.  He hurt a lot of people: his wife, his children, the church, and me.  There is a lot to that story, but to make it short, I discovered and confirmed the sin by contacting him, confronting him, and offering my help.  I then called someone of authority in the denomination hoping these leaders would provide help for both of my friends and their families.

As the truth about everything came out, I was very hurt.  He lied to me, lived a double life in front of me, and I felt like he had made a fool of me.  I wanted a sincere apology from him, only to never hear from him again.  Have you been there?  Do you have a life situation in which you can relate?  Did you react by dropping out of church?  Did your faith become shaken?

This took me some time to get over, and I believe if you allow God to work in your heart, your emotional pain can be healed. If your faith was rocked, it can be restored.

Here’s the truth, our relationship with Jesus must be just that, “with Jesus.”  If our faith with Christ is through our pastor, our church, or our denomination, then our faith will be shaken again and again.  I am not saying that a similar situation wouldn’t cause emotional pain, but our relationship with Jesus would remain strong regardless.   If our relationship is Jesus focused, then our attitude will be one of compassion.

Paul tells us in Galatians 6:1-3, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path.  And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.  Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.  If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” (NLT)

The part of Paul’s message I want to point out is that we are not to consider ourselves above the person who stumbled.  We ourselves given the right set of circumstances could find ourselves in the same situation.

You may be thinking, “But he was a pastor, doesn’t he have a higher judgment from God?”  Yes he does, but that is up to God to deal with not us.  “Doesn’t he have to pay a price?”  Yes he will; two of them:  He will pay the price of the natural consequences of sexual sin, with his wife, family and friends and then whatever consequences determined by his spiritual authority, but again that is not up to us.

If our relationship with Jesus is focused properly, regardless if our pastor or some other spiritual leader were to stumble; regardless if our church were to accept sinful behavior; regardless if our denomination were to go astray our faith in Jesus remains.

“Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (Hebrews 12: 1-2, NLT)

If you have dropped out of church because your spiritual leader failed, I encourage you to come back.  If you tried to give up on God because of the moral failure of a spiritual leader, only to become miserable, I encourage you to come back.  If you were a staff pastor and gave up the call because the pain was too much, I encourage you to pick up the mantel again.

Could your next pastor fail? Yes! Could your next church hurt you? Yes! I am not suggesting that these painful experiences may never occur again, but if they do, you will have a heart of compassion and your faith will grow stronger because it will be Jesus focused and you will know that if it were not for the Grace of God, you could be the one who stumbled.