When Christian Leaders Sin

The church we used to attend has been through a lot. Several years ago there was a scandal after a pastor admitted to having an affair with another staff member. It was a difficult thing for this large church to navigate. It was plastered all over the news. A few months later that pastor committed suicide which, as you can imagine, made things worse. This is not the first time something like this has happened in a church and, sadly, it won’t be the last.

At the time of this devastating situation my husband, Andrew, and I were very involved in the student ministry. It affected us deeply. For me, as a newlywed, it made me look at my husband in a new way. I didn’t think (and still don’t) he would cheat on me, but I imagine the pastor’s wife probably felt that way, too. It changed how I looked at intimacy. 

We have since left this large church, not because of the sins of the former pastor but because, for many reasons, we just didn’t fit there anymore. We felt God calling us into a new community. We found a small house church and were starting to feel connected. For a while.

I was hurt by the house church’s pastor who failed to handle my conflict with another congregant well. This other congregant’s multple wrongdoings had a huge impact on our family and our business. It made me realize how deeply we sometimes rely on our Christian leaders to get all things right. When they fail, it has potential to really shake someone’s faith. To cause a person to wrestle with how an authority figure in the church could get things so wrong. How could God allow this?

The thing we need to realize is that, no matter what role they have among believers, these leaders need Jesus just as much as we do. They are faced with the same temptations. They are just as broken as we are, in need of a Savior to wash away our sins.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10: 12-13

Whether a pastor or a leader of any Christian organization, putting man on a pedestal as being somehow more Christian than their followers endangers one into the temptation of idol worship. Are we worshiping God or are we worshiping this human being whose role is to teach us about God? They come to the table of Christ with the same sins as we do. With the same need for forgiveness.

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

-1 Corinthians 10:14-17

I’m still on the mailing list of that large church and I recently got an email with the news that they are walking through another very difficult situation due to another pastor’s affair. My heart bleeds deeply for them. But I am thankful that God has prepared them for this situation after the indiscretion with the previous pastor. 

The situation has not made major headlines, largely because of the proactive way the church has handled the situation. They are able to grieve internally and walk out the situation as a church body. The name of the church or the pastors that let them down doesn’t matter. If you know me, you probably already know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then there’s no need to dwell on the details.

I’m saddened that so often we hear of Christian leaders sinning in such hurtful ways. I’m sorry that sin from these leaders affects each member of that community. I’m sorry when people walk away from the church altogether, and sometimes their faith entirely, because of disappointment in someone they looked up to. These are not the role models we want to be leading God’s people. I’m even more saddened to see people who don’t believe in God or Jesus see these things happen and allow it to push them even further away from the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

-Romans 3:22-24

If you have also been hurt by a Christian leader, I’m sorry. It’s a hard path to journey. But please recognize that they need Jesus just as badly as you do. They need forgiveness just as much as you do. God’s people are called to forgive. Forgiveness is hard, but seek the Lord to guide you. You don’t need to be imprisoned by someone else’s sin. Forgiveness will set you free.

This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
 on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

-Matthew 6:9-15