In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi he instructs the church to have the “same attitude as Christ Jesus.” I think this applies to everything in our lives, yet there are many who would rather cling to and defend their defenseless positions than extend grace to church leaders who stumble and fall. I am troubled by the attitude that many in the church have toward pastors who are thrown off course by the snares of sin.
For instance, I have a friend who has been in ministry for many years. Until recently he had a wonderful reputation, but this all changed when he failed miserably as a pastor and elder. Yes, this shocked everyone around him, but did he somehow take God by surprise with all of this? Was God aware when He called him into ministry that he was going to flame out at some point? Has God’s view of this wayward child changed from what it was five years ago? Has God now turned His back on him, unwilling to have any contact with him? Has God said to him, “You can no longer fellowship with me”? Does God avoid contact with him? Let’s hope not, or we are all in trouble. God remains faithful to His children, even when we are faithless. Shouldn’t it be our aim to have this same attitude?
How can we allow ourselves the latitude to treat pastors with distain because they have “disappointed us” or sinned against us? Who is sin ultimately committed against? Isn’t it God? David, busted in the quagmire of his sinfulness, cried out, “It’s against you and you alone that I have sinned.” When someone like my friend sins and fails in his responsibility as a leader in the church, whom does he sin against? The people in the church? If that is ultimately true then why isn’t the opposite true? How about when a member of the congregation sins? Are they sinning against the pastor? Should we have a time each week in which the pastor forgives each of the members of the congregation who have sinned in the past week? I understand the importance of making an apology and seeking forgiveness on the part of the leader, but that never seems to be enough. In general people tend to pull away from the fallen leader, lest there be interference with the person experiencing the consequence of their sin.
It reminds me of the time when Nathan exposed David’s worst sinful actions through a parable. Not knowing that he was the “rich man” being referred to in the parable, David became indignant over the horrific behavior of this man. He was brought to his knees when Nathan said, “You are the man!” David was finally undone, finally humbled, finally repentant. Nathan approached David not only as God’s prophet, but also as David’s friend; being a faithful friend did not interfere with the heavy price that David had to pay for his sins. Nathan didn't pull away, but rather played a very significant role in David’s repentance and restoration.
As for my friend and many others like him, there will be people who will give him the help he needs, but it’s a shame that for the most part, it won’t be any of the ones you would expect. It won’t be the ones who he ministered to for decades.
If you know my friend, or know someone like my friend, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and reach out to this person. I promise that buying him a hamburger will not interfere with the consequence of his sin, honest!