I’ve taken a chance to sit back, pray, and think about this. I’ve scoured many commentaries of what others have to say. And I’ve decided there’s more. More to say.
Recently, a prominent pastor of a large church confessed to a “moral failure” and resigned his position.
There has been, understandably, a ground swell of hurt congregants, shocked Christians, church criticizers, peace-makers, grace givers and grace takers-away.
One man I greatly esteem stated we should pray for the pastor and his family and look inward rather than use the occurence as a platform to criticize spiritual leaders, pastors, and the church. Because the world is watching.
And he’s right. They are. But… there’s more.
There is a devastated wife, two crushed kids, a whole community reeling that needs prayer, love, and compassion. We need to pray, love, and support them, while looking humbly at the sin (and its potential) in our own lives. And not test the wind and take pot-shots from 400 yards.
But still… beyond our need to look inward, there’s also a need for the church to look inward. How can we not, and be honest about loving and discipling people out of the world and into the grace and holiness of God?
Can we ignore what’s happened in light of what the Bible says and, dare I say, discrepancies we may observe in the church?
There is more.
And, you know, I think non-believers respect that. I think they want us to look at ourselves in a critical light that improves us, after we’ve castagated them for the sin we so quickly expose. If it brings thoughtful introspection and is measured with grace and compassion, perhaps even that is a witness.
If it causes us, instead of clawing each other’s eyes out, to look inward.
And so — at risk of being insensitive or causing discord in front of unbelievers, which I think will become respect when they see us being honest about ourselves, I’m going to do it.
I’m going to say there are things we need to consider, weigh, pray about. And if we hear God leading, things we need to change.
I believe God is gently nudging us in a couple areas.
1. I am concerned we do not have an appropriate fear with awe and reverence for the gravity of God’s commands of who should lead the church, which reveal his Holiness.
Now, this man might have been the right person — that’s not my call, but I have a growing concern over what we value in our choices.
It is important to respect this particular man’s dignity and his decades of labor for the church, and instead focus on the issues, but some details must be shared. I cannot avoid this.
This leader was a self-described cocaine user and womanizer (read: sex) until quitting the lifestyle in the beginning of 1981. By 1985, he was sent to Florida to be the head pastor of a new church, with the full commission of his church governing body behind him. He’d already served as an assistant pastor in some capacity at his church in Las Vegas, upon conversion.
Does anyone else notice this? Four years or so, 1981-1985, from practicing habitual patterns of sex and drug addiction as an unbeliever to becoming the pastor and discipler of spiritual maturity for an entire church?
Paul, in 1 Timothy, has words about this:
“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),
and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.
And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Tim. 3:2-7)
Now, it matters what we define as a new convert, but with a bit of wisdom — there is no reason a man struggling with engrained patterns of drug abuse and sex with many women (including working at a nude girls show) should be made into a head pastor in four years. I don’t think a man working through those character patterns should be an assistant pastor in four years, but this became one immediately.
You have to realize — every Christian goes through spiritual phases of being a baby Christian, a young adult, an adult Christian, and a father or mother in the faith. An assistant pastor is a father in the faith spiritually. A head pastor is certainly a father in the faith, if not grandfather. So you’re saying he progressed from baby to young adult to adult to father in the faith in four years? That’s not possible, for anyone. It takes perseverance through trials, obstacles, pain, and experience to mature through all those phases.
And this isn’t the disciplined, ordered life of a person who merely doesn’t believe. Habitual sexual sin patterns are dysfunction. I say this with grace and compassion, because multitudes of men deal with this, but serious dysfunction.
Do we trust those engrained patterns and all the practice it took to build them were just completely re-written for life inside of four years? Ridiculous. That is exactly why Paul warned Timothy not to make new converts pastors — it brings condemnation. Can you imagine how much this man has been living under the last year? And what do you think the church is experiencing in front of the world now?
But I think this stems from a misunderstanding of what God values most in pastors. We often value talent, charisma, and dynamic preaching. God values character. Maturity. Season after season of ripe fruit in one’s own vineyard before one tends the church.
Notice Paul says “able to teach” — not “is a dynamic preacher” or “extremely charismatic, able to get really serious, then lighten the mood.” God wants a man who can teach, but that isn’t his primary focus. The rest of the list is: maturity, maturity, maturity, qualification of maturity, and uh, maturity.
Character. Boring. Unsexy. Time-tested. Challenge-approved. Deeply engrained character.
We often look up to cool, funny, witty, engaging, and charismatic. God is looking around for a life we can follow, not words.
Because church isn’t about who can preach best, which often boils down to our own immaturity in judging the message by the shape of the vessel. It’s about maturity producing maturity.
Now, I’m not implying anything derogatory about this leader, one who’s taught and blessed so many. One who is revered, even now. I’m grateful for the messages I heard and incredibly grateful for the lives he discipled that God transformed. And yet, there’s an itch I can’t scratch in a not-so-funny bone in my church Body when I see us take a man from a drug-addicted, sex-consumed lifestyle, hastily make him a pastor (inside of four years), and after decades of profoundly ministering to thousands in genuine power, he’s found to have a long-term porn addiction that spiralled out of control in acting it out in a physical affair with at least one woman. And we’re shocked.
Well, God bless him. Seriously, I give him the benefit of the doubt in other areas of his life — only God knows if there’s more to it. But isn’t it possible an incredibly gifted man and excellent teacher wasn’t spiritually mature enough yet to fully overcome his past sex issues, as we happily handed him the church? I know this is treading on sensitive ground because he’s done so much for so many, but is it possible in a deeper place that matters to God, he wasn’t ready?
In a way we should’ve noticed?
I mean this in love. Deep love for a man I’d hug and hold if he were in front of me. Love for a guy who deserved to be discipled for years in restoring mental pathways and practicing purity in the well-worn paths — in sitting under godly leadership while establishing character, not working his way up it.
For character is forged not in big moments, but in the little, unnoticed repeated ones over the course of years. Do we understand this?
Some say, “Well God can do miracles,” and I absolutely believe in miracles. But I would never risk the church on a miracle in someone’s mind, without seeing it proved in one’s life over the long haul.
I mean this in love for a wife and two teen children who deserved not to be devastated and disgraced before the church, the world, as their father bent and collapsed under the weight of it.
I mean it in love for a church that’s hurting, but also needs to look itself in the eye and be able to say we’re really doing this the way God desires best.
Because Paul says it matters. Like, really matters:
“Do not lay hands upon anyone (choosing pastors/leaders) too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.” (1 Tim. 5:22)
Are we aware if we too quickly send a pastor, the guilt — the sin of the damage done — lies with us?
2. I am concerned we minimize the gravity of sins like adultery by endorsing the full restoration of ministry and taking too lightly the responsibility of the Body of Christ.
I know we all love this pastor — I and many others — and we’re rushing to give grace, redemption, and restoration. But can we slow down for a minute?
Any of us can sin at any moment. But we need to be honest about sin. A long-term addiction to porn is not a slip. It is a lifestyle. Or better stated, a mindstyle. It’s a set of behaviors practiced, engrained, over a long period of time. And when they’re acted out in a real, physical fantasy, it’s not a slip. It is the inevitable consequence of a well-established mental pattern.
One’s lips don’t stray too close to the tractor beam of a woman’s chemistry and get sucked in. The mind goes. Repeatedly. Emotional boundaries are crossed. The body follows.
Look, we can all fall. I can. You can. Really.
But we need to be honest when serious sexual sin happens about the seriousness of entrusting that person again with the highest responsibility of guarding the spiritual maturity of Christ’s Bride.
Let me say it another way. When I was looking for a wife, I met women who’d been in patterns of sexual relationships for years, and I asked myself — can I see this woman only have sex with one person for the next 50-60 years?
Isn’t it fair the church ask itself that before giving the Bride to a man? Isn’t it wise?
We have to think with that kind of vision. (It got me a godly woman who’d never kissed a guy.)
And these are all awesome men, but the stakes are so high, shouldn’t our standards be?
However, I think we assume at some point every former pastor should be able to pastor again, no matter what he’s done, because we see it as a gifting, a calling, an entitlement for those who are “supposed to” be pastors, and we believe in redemption.
But Paul is more practical.
“It is a trust-worthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer (pastor), it is a fine work he desires to do.” (1 Tim. 3:1)
No special anointing is mentioned — any man can do it, but he must aspire to it based on the character qualifications that follow. Above reproach, husband of one wife, temperate, prudent…
This is a trust-worthy statement, according to Paul. Aspire to spiritual maturity to pastor.
Oh, he says “some are called to be prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” but that isn’t an entitlement. It’s how we fit together in the body. The role of overseer (a pastor today), however, is based on spiritual maturity and character.
So, which is the wise choice — not from the standpoint of an individual’s right to redemption of ministry or calling, but from the church’s right to trust they will be led to maturity in faithfulness:
Should the church choose someone who’s already fallen back into strongholds of grievous sexual sin while leading the people of God, decades after being redeemed from it, or another leader who’s shown a pattern of faithfulness throughout his life?
Which would you recommend your daughter marry for the next 50-60 years?
Doesn’t that give you your answer?
A few years of restorative counseling isn’t a do-over card. The church still has to use wisdom.
I say this with deep compassion and love for men who fall. I say this out of deep reverence and love for the church, and fear of God for the calling of pastor.
And I know we all could fall. We all sin. Praise God there’s grace. Arms wrapping around us, holding us, accepting us, loving us in ways too awesome to fully understand.
And I’m not talking about perfection. But wisdom. And the maturity of a Bride God guards jealously. Fiercely.
We should extend grace and mercy, running over into the lap of the beloved who has hurt us. Heartfelt forgiveness. Friendship. Love. And there is still an essential part in the Body for this one.
But we should reverence with fear and trembling the ministry of heading the church. We should guard it, as God does.
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a [church] sows, this [it] will also reap.” (Gal. 6:7, adapted)
Around the world, tens of thousands of people are praying for a man and his family right now. Maybe more. Especially for the children and wife whose lives have been torn apart. Please join them.
And if as many think about God’s Bride and all He desires for her to shine for all time in his glory, and even now — despite our failures — I think it’ll be a benefit to us all. And I think we’ll find in it something trust-worthy, after all.