Initially this post was going to be titled: “The Pastoral Art Of Committing Adultery And Getting Restored Within The Year” but that proved to be a bit too specific and I wanted to go a bit broader. But tell me if this scenario sounds familiar to you:
You have pastors and speakers who have been promoted across a broad spectrum of Christendom. They do the circuit of all the big conferences, talking to hundreds of thousands of people a year and live streaming the last-day panels to everyone who couldn’t make it. These men are quoted in sermons alongside Charles Spurgeon or Billy Graham, delivering brilliant snippets from their top-charting, best selling books.
The big websites feature Vimeo videos of them being interviewed about their thoughts on what it means to be gospel-centered or their thoughts on this or that pressing issue. They have their own podcasts, head up parachurch ministries, and if other fledgling podcasts can get them on to interview, they are great at driving traffic and exposure to that show. Their books are given away in conference welcome kits and they are made the fodder of bible studies and christian book clubs.
These are men who have a very public ministry apart from that of their local church, whose material is very public apart from their local church , and whose teaching is very public apart from their local church.
And then one day seemingly out of nowhere, Twitter blows up and is alight with chatter about a breaking scandal. A quick Google search reveals that Christianity Today has their hot little hands on a curt press release from the church stating that the public pastor/ teacher has stepped down from ministry for the foreseeable future.
And that’s it.
That’s pretty much what we get.
We don’t hear anything more at all, other than maybe we are told that they’ve been squirreled away by their overseers for counseling and to respect their privacy. I’m not one who particularly cares to know the details of what happened to these men, but half the time we are not even told why they’re out of the game. We get that line ” The pastor has fallen into sin and has disqualified himself” and then we’re left to fill in the blanks- which invariably is revealed to be committing adultery or some other gross sexual immorality.
Over the next few days and weeks more sordid details are released, but all queries regarding them are left unanswered.
A few months pass in relative silence, then some industrious discernment blogger posts a Tweet: the disgraced pastor is going to be speaking at a small conference in a few weeks. Or that he’s started up a parachurch ministry. Or that he’s been invited onto a podcast to do some teaching and answer questions about an area of theology he is particularly well-versed. Reports of budding ministry-ish activity start to trickle in, slowly at first, then with more frequency and with more high-profile gigs.
Then we receive the happy announcement eight months after the news broke:
“We would like to announce that pastor/teacher has been meeting with the elders these last few months and has gone through a season of discipline and teaching which has been painful but rewarding for him. Throughout the whole process he has shown himself to be gracious and humble servant. He is repentant and God has forgiven him and has given him a new spirit and zeal for gospel-centered ministry. For this reasons, we believe that it is in the best interest of the flock for him to use his gifts for God’s glory, to the end that he has been restored to full-time ministry.”
Cue breathless congratulatory Facebook statuses.
And that’s the end of that.
We’re not told how he was restored or why it took only a few months to do so: from sweating under the sheets to sweating under the hot stage lights in less than a year. We are not told the people involved in restoring him or what the process was for being restored. In fact, half the time we’re not even told what happened to necessitate the need for restoration in the first place.
It’s one thing if the pastor has a small congregation whose ministry extends to his church and community, and that’s as far as it goes. Then yeah- I can see how that doesn’t affect me, and the Church and his elders can lead him to repentance and the forgiveness of sin without me being involved. Cool. I’m good with that.
But when you question the specifics of those with the public ministries, you are told to trust the process. These gatekeepers have passed judgment and all us consumers of ministry resources need to accept it and not be ungracious or have an unforgiving spirit.
The message is loud and clear: don’t worry, he’s been restored.
No. He’s good to go. You can buy his books again and let him into your home again and download his sermons again and take a selfie with him while he signs your Bible when you see him speak at Passion conference next year.
These public pastors and teachers who are christian content creators for the masses are free to ply their wares in the open market again. Whenever you question how it is that they’re back so soon after gross moral failing (or how is it that they’re even coming back at all?!) , or the wisdom of being promoted again as a ministry we ought to pay attention to, or ask any specific salient detail that would help you determine whether or not this someone that you want to have out there and listening to, or have your family or friends being influenced by, or your church being influenced by- or you know, some specific understanding that would give you peace of mind and take away that cloying, clawing feeling that hurts your stomach and makes you feel uneasy when you think about how neat and tidy this was all wrapped up in such a short period of time- you are told that it’s not your concern, that it’s a church matter, and the people in his life restored him so you need to accept that and move on.
Nevermind that old niggling theological conviction you have that pastors who have sex with their parishioners or other women who are not their wives have disqualified themselves from ministry because they no longer meet the requirements for elders- No way! God needs these people too much to let their talents go to waste. How else will he grow his Church…
And that’s usually the best-case scenario for how these things go.
What is worst case?
You could have it come to light that the well-known pastor/teacher that you’re been retweeting and promoting to your friends- whose sermons you have been listening to and conferences you’ve been attending- well , he committed adultery, broke his marriage covenant to his wife, had sexual relations with his own parishioner, threatened another mans life, sent out wrathful and vile texts to involved participants, was kicked out of his church, and then was restored back to pastoral leadership 6 months later at that very same church, and you had no idea it even happened!
All those things went down the whole time you were sharing his memes and Facebook status updates and telling your friends how much you’ve grown in the faith since being challenged by him, and it was decided for you that his sin wouldn’t affect you, and didn’t concern you, and so there was no need to tell you. With the aforementioned scenario, at least you know more or less what went down and you can weigh the effects on your spirit and can decide whether or not you want to continue to support these men and promote them.
With the latter, you’re not even given the choice. This message is made clear: you don’t have the right to know the character of the people you are listening to because this is a private church matter.
No- it stopped being a private church matter when they broadcasted their church services on three hundred stations.
It stopped being a private church matter when they charged other churches two thousand dollars to watch a live webcast of him waxing eloquent on personal holiness.
It stopped being a private church matter when the men’s group spent the last three months watching the DVD’s during their Monday meetup.
It stopped being a private church matter when people have been giving ten dollars a month sacrificially for the last three years to help their public ministry expand and reach more people.
It stopped being a private church matter when their sins and stupidity broke the hearts and shook the faith of tens of thousands of people.
It stopped being a private church matter when their hypocrisy resulted in men and women leaving the faith and declaring that this gospel that changes lives couldn’t possibly be real.
But hey- what am I saying? Forgive me for venting this way. I’m told they’ve been restored and I need to accept that, and it’s really not my business so I probably shouldn’t stay mad at them. Where can I join their emailing list?