I am grieved.
Someone I know, respected, in ministry had a moral failure. It saddens me. He was a hallmark of faithfulness in ministry. He had served the same church for more than 30 years. He had a heart for people and evangelism. Whether it was a wedding or a funeral, the gospel was always on the tip of his tongue. I love people like that, they are the one's that can go to the deathbed of someone who's heart is stone cold toward God and lead them to the cross and personal faith in Jesus Christ.
One of the negative things about being in pastoral ministry is that our screw ups not only effect our marriage, our families, but most times we loose our jobs as well. I understand why it happens. Churches see it as the ultimate in hypocrisy. We weren't practicing what we preached. I get it.
I am not picking up a stone. It's not my place to judge him. I will pray. Pray for reconciliation, restoration and renewal. I will love. Love because that is my calling, it is God's identity (He is love) and I want to be like Him. Loving unconditionally and with grace. I am hopeful that some day he will be able to return to full time ministry, but for now, I will pray.
When something like this happens on closer examination an issue often rises to the surface: Accountability. Most local churches function autonomously and independently. They usually have some kind of structure or hierarchy supporting the local church, but it is often a very loose connection. I have often joked that “I have enough rope to hang myself.” Meaning that unless I make a major mistake I am left to function on my own. Performance is evaluated by boards, but most times personal and moral accountability is left up to the individual.
A friend of mine used to work for an organization called the Dam. At the Dam they worked with high risk youth and tried to give them the necessary skills to be able to succeed in life. The name came out of their desire to see people not destroy their lives. The organization had seen many people shipwreck their lives because of drugs, alcohol and wrong relationships. They discovered that picking up the pieces of people's lives after they had been dashed on the rocks was extremely difficult. They determined that it would be better to help people before the catastrophic damage had been done, rather than afterward. Hence, the Dam! A place to attempt to help people by giving them the skills in order to avoid future pitfalls. But, here in is the quandary…most people don't change until something bad happens.
It reminds me of a story I read in Gary Smalley's book Making Love Last Forever. Gary's family had a history of heart disease. His father had died at fifty-one from a heart attack, his brother had died from the same problem at the same age. At the time the book was written Gary was 55* and for years he knew he needed to start making better choices about his health. He noticed in the heart doctors office that there was a picture of the Titanic, the unsinkable ship, on the wall. When the doctor came in the room, he questioned him on it. He asked why he had such a depressing picture in his office.
“Do you know much about the Titanic, Mr. Smalley?”
“No, I don't,” I admitted, walking into his trap. I know it's at the bottom of the ocean; that's about it.”
the Titanic was warned six separate times to slow down, change course, and take the southern route because icebergs had been sited. But he ignored all six specific warnings
“Well, he explained, “the experienced captain of the Titanic was warned six seperate times to slow down, change course, and take the southern route because icebergs had been sited. But he ignored all six specific warnings because he was captain, and he thought, This ship is unsinkable…
“I had no idea the ship received that many warnings,” I said, still not seeing where he was leading me.
“…then rip – the ship hit an iceberg. It went down quickly and disastrously,” he said. Then he leaned across his desk and looked me straight in the eye. “And how many times have you been warned about your heart?” he demanded.
“Lots of times,” I replied weakly as his point struck home.
“And when will you take it seriously and change course? he asked. 1
I think this is one of strongest principles anyone can learn from the Titanic. If you change course when warned you can avoid disaster. I don't think any of us want to fail in such a way that we loose our jobs, families, marriage and/or ministry. But many times, although we have been cautioned about the importance of accountability, we don't heed the warnings. We do it alone. We begin to lower our moral principles. We keep the dark areas of our lives hidden. Scripture encourages us to live in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7)
The unaccountable life has the potential to do great damage. Better to heed the warnings, get into an accountability relationship and enjoy the journey. That way we can echo the apostle Paul's words in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” and hear Jesus' words, “well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)
Proverbs 16:20 “Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.”
1 Gary Smalley, Making Love Last Forever, (Word Publishing, Vancouver, 1996), p.6
* Gary Smalley died on March 6, 2016 at the age of 75. (he changed his course!)