Last spring, my family and I went on a weekend trip to look at a college for our oldest child. While in this college town, we decided to visit a church in which we knew the lead pastor and several staff members. We let them know a few weeks in advance we would be visiting their church and looked forward to seeing familiar faces in a new setting.
The Saturday of our trip (the day before church), I received a text from one of our friends on the church’s staff saying we were still welcome to come visit, but they would be dealing with some “church family business” and didn’t want us to be surprised by the nature of the discussion.
Without probing too much, I asked if the subject would be appropriate for our youngest child who is 13 years old. While I could tell he was troubled by what would be shared, he believed our 13-year-old could handle it.
I began to eagerly anticipate our visit to the church the next day.
I think it would be helpful for me to pause here and give a little background…. I wasn’t eager to go listen to gossip or hear devilish details about a church scandal. At that point, I didn’t even know what would be shared. However, I was spilling over with curiosity as to how this information would be presented to the church body.
You see, I’m quite interested in the way Christian churches/institutions handle scandals (i.e. sin) among their leadership. Again, not because I’m entertained by it or want gory details. Quite the opposite – I love the Church and pray she thrives as she follows Jesus. But of late, I’ve noticed a clear pattern surrounding Christian churches/institutions/ministries as they face a scandal – at least the ones that make headlines. There is a tendency to try to hide sin as a first response and only address it publicly as a last resort. I wondered if the church we were about to visit would fall into the same pattern. Spoiler alert, it did not, and I’m not one bit surprised given their leadership. But… I’m getting ahead of myself.
We entered the church that Sunday morning and heard a powerful sermon on anger stemming from unforgiveness. After the sermon, we sang a song and the lead pastor returned to the pulpit, but the mood was different. He said he needed to share information with the church family about a situation he had been made aware of days earlier.
The lead pastor shared that a married pastor on staff voluntarily came to him and admitted to having a months-long affair with a woman who was also on staff at the church. The married pastor oversaw several key ministries at the church and was well-known among the members. The lead pastor was obviously burdened as he spoke directly and specifically about those involved, not to slander, but so no one would speculate or potentially falsely accuse other members of the staff who were not involved. He spoke resolutely that he wanted to be open with the congregation – the congregation that had been entrusted to him and trusted him. The lead pastor said the two staffers involved in the affair were no longer employed by the church as they were not in a position to lead others in a Christ-like fashion. However, the church would continue to provide for the family of the pastor and were providing ‘round-the-clock care for his wife and children. The lead pastor concluded by preemptively answering questions the congregation likely had – not only did he feel they were owed answers, but he said he also wanted to take away opportunities to gossip about this hurtful situation.
As soon as we were dismissed, I told my family that as hard as the information was to digest, I was encouraged to witness a church dealing openly with sin within its leadership. The way this church handled it was, dare I say, beautiful. It was like drinking from a spring after years of muddy water.
Given all the church scandal headlines of late, witnessing sin handled rightly was refreshing. In my life, I’ve known shattered souls who have suffered at the hands of churches/religious institutions trying to hide sin, instead of following the example laid out for us in God’s Word. I can’t help but wonder how different things would be if every church handled flagrant sin among its leaders this way. If people knew that it wasn’t just “other’s” sin the church was concerned about, but also their own. What if churches never settled for “playing church” (going through the motions of gathering, singing, serving, etc. while allowing sin to course through its leadership in order to “save the reputation of the church”)? God does not need us to save His reputation, but He does want us to BE THE CHURCH.
Hiding sin is as old as Adam and Eve, so this is not exactly a new problem. In Genesis 3:8 Adam and Eve knowingly ate the forbidden fruit and promptly decided to hide their sin from God. Most churches, most pastors, or ministry leaders are not out to hide sin. However, when a church/pastor/ministry makes headlines due to hiding sin, it can seem like it’s an epidemic. Hiding not only hurts those involved but casts a shadow on all ministries. But again, we need only look to God’s Word for the roadmap to deal with sin among ministry leaders.
When King David sent his messengers to bring Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, to him so he could sleep with her, she became pregnant (2 Samuel 11). David, bent on hiding his sin, made one horrific decision after another in order to hide his sin. He hatched a plan that ended up with the murder of Uriah, one of his most trusted and loyal soldiers.
But David wasn’t just a king, he was anointed and called by God to be king of the Israelites, His chosen people. David was called “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). In our human terms, God had a lot riding on David, to say the least. Wouldn’t it be better for God’s reputation and Israel if God just dealt with David quietly and didn’t make a fuss? God didn’t think so.
God did not give David a pass, He didn’t hide David’s sin, nor did He blame Bathsheba. God called what David did evil and there were consequences. He made sure it was recorded for all of us to see and learn from – and also to see God’s beautiful character even in the midst of our sin (2 Samuel 12:8). God didn’t include David’s transgressions in His Word in order to shame him. Instead, God was showing us that walking in sin and leading His people are incongruent.
I’m not sharing the story of the church we visited because I’m in favor of broadcasting sin for sport or finding entertainment in seedy details. Instead, it’s a clear picture of being who we have been called to be in Christ – both as individuals and as the Church.
The key take-away I had from witnessing that church’s “family discussion” is this: I didn’t think less of the church because there was sin among their leadership. Quite the opposite – my respect and admiration for them grew because of their Biblical response to sin among their leaders.
How different would it be if every Christian church/ministry refused to hide sin among their leadership?
Dear Lord, it’s You, it’s all You. It has only ever been about You. Please forgive us for taking our own sin so lightly. May we not be so prideful to think repentance is for everyone else. May we again make holiness a first priority – no longer deceived that holiness is a negotiable endeavor for the Believer. May we deal in truth for Your Name’s sake and take seriously the charge of being Your ambassadors. May we not even flirt with evil. May we not be content “playing church” — what an affront to You, Lord. May we BE THE CHURCH. Lord, we love You and thank You for saving us. Stay near to us. Maranatha! Amen.