The fallout from the public release of Ashley Madison users continues. I have not personally viewed the list but I know those who have viewed it. It has come to my attention that guys that I know and have served with can be found on the list. Ed Stetzer estimates that over 400 pastors and staff members are among the website users which means over the past few weekends several churches have experienced deep betrayal, hurt and confusion. While we want to throw stones at these men we also recognize that God’s grace and forgiveness is big enough to restore and redeem. The shame is not that 400 ministers were caught, the shame is that 400 minister and countless more Christians neglected the most basic biblical truth found in 1 John 1:6. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” We can fool our family and our church, but our actions are never hidden from the eyes of God. He sees into the darkness and ultimately exposes our darkest secrets through the glorious splendor of his light. Long before the “hackers” ever revealed the names, God knew each name and the hurt that would come from their ill fated decision. How thankful we are that following verse 6 comes verse 9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If a person can willfully log into a website with the tag line, “Life is short, have an affair”, there is something seriously wrong, seriously missing within that person’s heart. But God can restore! In light of the tragic news of NOBTS professor John Gibson’s death it is important for me to clearly state, God can restore, he will forgive and there is life after moral failure. The earthly consequences will be steep but the joy of forgiveness, restoration and grace point us to the love of Christ and the hope that never fades. I pray for my brothers whose “secret” has been made known. God can turn this failure into an amazing testimony of his faithfulness and transforming power.
But what of the church members, the sheep, who have had their hearts ripped out by the indiscretions of their shepherd? The minister’s family isn’t the only ones struggling through the fallout. If Stetzer’s assumptions are true, over 400 churches are dealing with the indiscretions of their shepherd. It is likely true that shock waves are reverberating through hundreds of churches and communities today. Feelings of pervading sadness, betrayal and confusion are common in times like this. What are the sheep to do when the shepherd fails?
- Do not take part in the gossip. As the story is retold it only becomes blurred and often the truth is lost. I know of at least one pastor whose name was found on the list not by his own doing. A church member used the pastor’s name to log on to the site. Thankfully, the church member confessed and the pastor’s name was cleared but the rumors and gossip mongers were already doing harm before the truth was actually revealed.
- Your shepherd may have failed you, but the Great Shepherd will never fail you. Any church member who lifts up the shepherd over the Great Shepherd is destined to be disappointed. No man is above sin and every man will disappoint. As pastors we must not lead people to depend on us. Every pastor must take on Paul’s mindset of ministry, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves as bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” 2 Cor. 4:5. If a Christian falls out of church because their pastor or minister fails that person was likely not in a good place spiritually before the minister’s failure.
- Churches are called to take care of those who are hurting. The pastor’s family is grieving and they need faithful friends. His wife will need someone to listen to her. His children will need friends who will walk alongside them. They will need some financial assistance in the coming weeks. The pastor and spouse will need marital counseling and the church leaders can help to make that happen. Keep in mind that as devastated as you feel, the family feels it much more. While the minister has failed, his family shouldn’t have to suffer neglect from their church. Minister to their needs.
- The church needs time to grieve together. It is a mistake to just “move on”. It will feel as though a death has occurred and there will be a grieving process. Church members need a chance to express frustration and disappointment. The church is vulnerable in times like this and Satan knows it. Spiritual warfare will be intense and the church will need to come together in prayer and unity. Church leaders must give the church time to heal before moving ahead.
- The leaders failure shouldn’t diminish what God accomplished through them. I remember speaking with a man several years ago who was doubting his salvation. When I asked him what led to his doubts he shared how the man who led him to faith ultimately cheated on his wife and left the ministry. He assumed that since the man wasn’t real the faith that was passed to him couldn’t have been real either. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If God could use Balam’s donkey to give messages to his people, then obviously the vehicle for the message is not the most important quotient. God works through broken people every day, all the time. It would be a mistake for the church to throw out every victory for the sake of one defeat.
There is life after the failure of a minister, both for the minister and the church. It is a shame that so many of God’s shepherd’s have failed, but it would be a greater shame for his church to fall back in defeat because of it.