It happened yet again. A popular ministry leader fell into sin. Over the years, I’ve sadly seen this happen so many times. Each time a ministry leader falls and has to resign from his position it breaks my heart breaks. I’ve also sadly seen people who come down overly hard on ministry leaders. These are the same people who I’ve also seen not take their sin seriously. Let me be clear my intention is not to point the finger and say, “I’m better than anyone” because to wave that flag is to commit a whole host of doctrinal and theological errors. Instead, my goal in this article is to help us to pray for the ministry leader and his family, encourage you if you know this ministry leader to come alongside them, repent of your indwelling sin, and lastly to commit yourself afresh to the grace of God and the work of the local church.
Pray for the Ministry leader and his family
Christians are to be a people of prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We have been invited into the throne room of God (Hebrews 4:16). Ministry leaders fall for many reasons. Every situation that involves a ministry leader falling into sin is unique. What isn’t unique is that every ministry leader has remaining indwelling sin. Sin is deceptive and cunning. It also deceives and leads us to think we are better than we are.
I remember a situation in high school where an elder was removed from his position. He had failed to live up to the biblical mandates of an elder described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. This elder was removed but not disposed of. I’ve heard horror stories of elders being removed and then deposed of never to be heard from again. They left the church. They walked away from God. I’ve also heard stories of elders staying, walking through a process of restoration, and in time beginning again to serve the Lord once again.
A few years back I was talking to an elder about his work as an elder. The conversation was encouraging, and in the middle of this conversation, I made the observation that at the heart of the qualifications for being an elder is the gospel. Elders are first and foremost to be gospel men. Without the gospel, there is no way that any man can be an elder for one second.
Tim Keller is right the gospel is the A to Z of Christianity. We have been transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus. Our salvation is not of ourselves. If it were, we would boast. When we point the finger at a ministry leader and seemingly celebrate when someone falls because we “didn’t like them” such an attitude reveals if not a willful rejection of the gospel then certainly perhaps an implicit denial of God’s grace.
All of this to say rather than casting the stone, pointing the finger, or anything else, let me urge you, friends, to pray for a fallen ministry leader and his family. It’s often missed that the ministry leader’s family has already been suffering. My heart hurts for ministry leader’s families who are hurting. My heart also hurts for local church’s who are being devastated by the fall of ministry leaders. We must pray for ministry leaders whether they are serving in the local church or some other ministry. We all need prayer. We are all, after all, involved in a war for the souls of humanity.
If You Know, This Ministry Leader Befriends Them and Come Alongside Them
You may not know the ministry leader that has fallen into sin. If, however, you are in proximity or in any place of influence to speak into their lives let me encourage you to do so. As Christians, we are to come alongside one another and bear each other’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1). Over fifty times in the New Testament we are told to one another. These one another passages fill out our understanding of what it means to be in community with one another.
Joe was an elder in a local church. He was very much struggling in his walk with God. Over time cracks continued to appear in his life. Joe was a dear friend. I viewed Joe more than just as my brother in Christ. I viewed him as my brother and as part of my family. Joe continued on his path of sin. His life begins to become a mess. Eventually, Joe was removed. During this time, I continued to warn Joe and encourage him that if he continued in this pattern of life, his ministry would end. His double life would be exposed. I urged him to repent and seek help and to step down. Joe continued. Eventually, because of Joe’s decision to continue, he was removed as an elder. My heart was devastated, and yet I remained steadfast in Joe’s life. I prayed earnestly for him and urged him to follow Jesus in the midst of this situation.
Take Your Own Sin Seriously and Repent of Your Own Sin
It’s hard to walk with people who are struggling with a variety of issues in life. I often receive emails and counsel ministry leaders who are dealing with sexual sin in their lives. My heart breaks every time I receive these emails. It saddens me to no end. As Christians, though instead of walking away from people who are struggling we are to walk towards them.
Some people will think that it is a negative for the Kingdom that a ministry leader was exposed and removed from his position. Instead, I think we ought to rethink that view. It is a win for the Kingdom when a ministry leader is exposed or has the integrity of heart to resign because he has disqualified himself. It takes integrity to recognize the error of one’s ways and to step aside and enter into a process of restoration and healing.
When we think that we are okay and all is well in our walk with God, that is when we need to reexamine our lives post haste. In other words, we immediately need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. Sin is deceptive. Our enemy, the devil, is strolling around the Lord’s vineyard looking for whom he might devour. Our King, the Lord of the Harvest, the Chief Shepherd—the Lord Jesus Christ stands at watch over His Church. Jesus expels the darkness. Jesus calls us to put our sin to death and put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Every Christian must take their sin seriously and see it for what it is otherwise they will be deceived.
1 John 1:8 is helpful here. We can so easily believe that all is well. I know this well. At various times in my walk with Christ, I have to admit I’ve walked through the motions. I’ve walked the journey of burnout and came out on the other side. At times in my life, I’ve struggled with a variety of issues and have had to see the ugliest parts of my heart. Thankfully during such times, I haven’t turned away from the Lord, and He graciously granted me repentance. These seasons of life were often painful, but also glorious.
Ministry leader take your own sin seriously. You say you believe the gospel. Now apply the gospel to your own heart and life. Then you won’t fall and harm the Lord’s church but instead, be a blessing and a model of faithfulness in the Lord’s church.
Commit Yourself Afresh to the Grace of God and the Work of the Local Church
All of this is hard. It’s hard to see a ministry leader fall into sin. The fall into sin which leads to the removal of the ministry leader doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens over time. It happens as they don’t take their sin seriously one day. One day becomes a week where they never repented, which leads to months and months and then years of no repentance and thus, no serious progress in holiness is being made, along with no urgency in praying for the people they are ministering to. As a result, they have no passion for studying the Word of God or engaging in any of the other spiritual disciplines.
Whenever I hear about a ministry falling into sin, I immediately repent. Not because I think I’m so righteous because I’m not. Instead, I repent because I know that could be me. Rather than pointing the finger or casting judgment—we should point the finger at ourselves. We should cast ourselves upon the grace of God. We should also commit ourselves afresh to the grace of God and the work of the local church. The local church is the hope of the world.
Instead of viewing the fall of the ministry leader as an act that will harm the gospel—instead, we should view such an act as a work of the gospel. The gospel requires that we take not only our sin seriously, but all sin collectively, seriously. The gospel commands us to this because of the cost Jesus paid on the Cross. The costly sacrifice of Jesus requires now that they who have had their heart of stone replaced with a new heart, with new affections, walk in a manner worthy of the calling we’ve received. The local church is the place where we as Christians are to do life with one another. We need each other, so we don’t become deceived, and so we can continue to point each other to the finished work of Jesus, along with continuing to repent of our sin and grow in His grace.
As I write this article, my heart is heavy right now. In recent days we’ve seen many ministry leaders falling into sin. Even in the midst of this, the work of the gospel will go forward. Instead of cowering in fear or rejoicing in this person’s removal from the ministry, we need to be reminded again of the seriousness of sin and the hope of the gospel. The same gospel that has called us out of the darkness and into the light is the power of God. This gospel is the means by which you and I can put our sin to death and grow in God’s grace. There is hope and much to learn from ministry leaders who have fallen into sin.
Instead of taking your sin less seriously let me urge you to take it more seriously immediately. We are to put off our former ways and walk in a manner worthy of the calling we’ve received because of and by God’s grace.
By taking our own sin seriously, we will learn to respond properly when a ministry leader falls into sin and is removed from ministry. When a brother (if you are a guy) or a sister (if you are a lady) comes to us with a sin issue in their lives instead of casting judgment on them—respond in a gracious and gospel-focused matter. Then we will see people open up about the issues in their lives. We will also see God raise up healthy church leaders who are transparent about their struggles from the pulpit instead of pretending like everything is all okay and sweeping their sin under the carpet. Instead of doing that ministry leader simply come out into the light of God’s grace. There cast yourself wholly upon the ocean of God’s grace and commit to the work He’s called you to do—to believe the gospel first for yourself so that you will grow in Him. Only then you will be able to declare the glory of God’s grace loudly not only in mere words but also in deed to the glory of God.