Handling discouragement when leaders fall
As leaders topple calamitously amid revelations of abuse it can depress us and even make us contemplate giving up on Christian ministry altogether. We can feel very discouraged as pastors. And it’s not just us. The fall of prominent men – for whatever reason – also discourages our people. They are tempted to think that maybe this Christianity they have pursued is a fool’s errand and perhaps the world has been right all along in saying the church is full of hypocrites. As good shepherds we need to protect for our flock and strengthen them as well as ourselves.
With Weinstein, Epstein, #MeToo, Prince Andrew (?) and unspeakable mistreatment in care homes for the elderly etc. in the background, abuse of whatever sort is flavour of the month in the news just now.
It does need to be highlighted. Some leaders have indeed truly abused people and deserve naming and shaming (which hopefully will lead to repentance), while their victims need to be heard and deserve loving, lasting and wise care.
But other leaders will be wrongfully caught up in the slipstream of all this. I was with a group of evangelical Anglican leaders and wives recently and some of the ministers were under CDMs. This does not stand for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, but for the Church of England’s ‘Clergy Discipline Measure’. No doubt sometimes such measures are required, but in today’s snowflake culture with some individuals so ready to claim victim status, even a mention of the reality of hell from the pulpit may bring accusations of mental abuse. It is open season on many church leaders. Guilty until proved innocent? Those leaders need our care too.
Three things to remember
But how are we personally to handle our discouragement when we hear of genuine examples of abuse in evangelical circles? Here are three suggestions.
First, keep things in perspective. Bad news has an ability to fill our horizons. But not every prominent leader is an abuser. There are good churches with good pastors. I have to bear this constantly in mind. Working for Pastors’ Academy in supporting leaders, often I am aware of a lot of bad stuff in churches. I have to remind myself that it’s not all bad. We can over-react. After Mount Carmel Elijah thought that everything was a disaster, that he was the last man standing for God. He felt like giving up. But he had got things way out of proportion. There were 7000 other faithful souls and the Lord yet had work for him to do. Always reckon on the fact that Jesus said, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’
Second, beyond the sinful circumstances, our God in his utter sovereignty may be allowing big names to fall precisely because the contemporary church has become far too dependent on its ‘celebrity’ leaders. It is not great preachers but the Lord Jesus Christ alone to whom we must continually look. We foolishly get drawn into idolizing those who look good, talk big and make things happen rather than trust in the invisible God. The gospels should have inoculated us against this. It was not just Peter who failed. All the disciples deserted Jesus when push came to shove (Matthew 26.56). Perhaps the Lord is warning us (again) of putting people on pedestals?
Third, although leaders fall, God is still on his throne. The Lord is sovereign even over terrible sins among his people. David fell in his adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband, the faithful Uriah. As he eventually repented there was forgiveness, but chastisement still came upon the royal household. It all began with Amnon’s rampant lust for Tamar which came to fruition in the innocent girl’s rape and devastating abandonment. Unaddressed by David this eventually led to the horror of civil war in Israel. It was an omnishambles. Yet out of this abominable mess God brought Solomon to kingship, the nation prospered as never before and the temple was built. Our God is greater than we think. He is Lord over every mess. He is sovereign. And time would fail me to tell of Joseph, Job, the destruction of Jerusalem, the days of Esther and the apparent appalling catastrophe of the cross of Christ. We may be shaken by terrible news but the throne of God is unshakeable.
These are painful times, dark days for evangelicals. But we are not to despair.