There’s quite a smorgasbord of ways to refer to folks in my line of work:
- Holy Rollers
- Men of the Cloth
- Bible thumpers
- One particularly dear sister at my church calls me “Pastor Sweetie”
Whatever you might call us, I’m sure you’re aware that people of my occupation aren’t perfect. We are sinful. We doubt sometimes. We struggle, stumble, and fall. But my thoughts today aren’t about some secret sin being found out or a church leader publicly renouncing his faith. Today’s post is about moments like this:
Note: I’m not smart enough to make the video window smaller, and you’ll need to go to the lower right hand corner of it to unmute it.
Here’s a fellow preaching from the most warm and tenderhearted letter in the entire New Testament… publicly shaming a young mother, pairing it with pseudo-macho talk of being unconcerned with the offense some might take at truly offensive rhetoric. His words are contemptible and vomit-inducing, the absolute worst manifestation of corporatism elbowing out the biblical portrait of church as a tight-knit family comprised of individuals whose commonality is their childlike faith. His words are ugly, undignified, and totally void of the attitude communicated by the Apostle Paul IN THE EXACT PASSAGE HE’S PREACHING!
My question is this:
What is a God-honoring response when your pastor is a doofus and says something idiotic (or worse) for all the world (or your community) to see?
Acknowledge the Wrongness
The very best churches are those whose roots run deep and whose members have impenetrable bonds of faith and friendship. There’s a profound and healthy loyalty that develops among the sort of relationships that the world is dying to find.
But this does NOT mean that members of a church should develop a cult following of blind faith in the public figures and leaders. If your pastor says something contemptible, please (for the love of the Minnesota Vikings) don’t pretend like what he said is ok. Scripture has all sorts of examples demonstrating that it is right to call out those in authority or leadership when they are wrong – heck, it was basically in the first line of the job description for the prophets! John the Baptist rebuked the king’s dastardly deeds, Paul publicly and emphatically denounced Peter’s lunchroom shenanigans, and Jesus Himself called various religious big-wigs things like whitewashed tombs, brood of vipers, and Satan when they went astray.
Test your preacher’s words against Scripture, and say so if he comes up wanting.
Judge with Charity
Something quite dark took place in my heart following my first viewing of the video above. Sadly, when I saw that the pastor and the church were being eviscerated online by scores of people, I felt a sense of self-righteous glee:
This too-big-for-his-britches Mr. know-it-all preacher is getting what he deserves!
I happily “liked” several of the most biting and critical comments toward this man and this rant. I felt that my own convictions about family-integrated worship were fully and finally proven, not by careful exegesis and application of Scripture, but by this man’s foolish and boorish words, and I was thrilled that he was reaping what he had sown.
Then I remembered some of my own stupid statements while preaching, and I sure am thankful that my congregation is more gracious and understanding to me than I was toward this fellow. From the pulpit, I’ve make jokes in bad taste, accidentally committed Trinitarian heresies, said “Judas” when I meant “Jesus,” and even made a disparaging comment about small towns like mine that I claim to love so much. Without fail, the kind and merciful people of my church are quick to pass along the forgiveness that they’ve received from the Lord and give me a chance to fail again (usually the very next week). I couldn’t even imagine trying to explain some of my less flattering comments to a stranger from thousands of miles away who saw my worst two minutes online somewhere.
Anyone who speaks in public more than once is 120% bona-fide guara-darn-teed to say something regrettable on the record. Clips like the one above don’t show any context, may not reflect the true attitude of the leadership, cannot reveal how much sleep the speaker got the night before, and do not attempt to give any opportunity for him to acknowledge his wrongdoing.
I encourage you to take a moment next time some preacher is caught in a stupid rant, just ask if you’d want your least flattering moments of the past year to be viewed hundreds of thousands of time online by strangers who then immediately made assumptions about your character and entire life’s work based on a (less than) two minute video.
Watch the Response and Act Accordingly
This is the most important and significant step. Your discernment and observation must lead to action – either fleeing or forgiveness.
The speaker may double down, becoming entrenched in his own defensive position. Folks like this will massage or downright manipulate God’s holy word to suit their own agenda, and the worst of them will even frame your ability to identify their waywardness as a spiritual attack from the devil himself. Rather a humble self-evaluation considering where they may have gone wrong, they’ll begin with the assumption that they did no wrong and lash out against any who would say otherwise. A reaction like this uncovers a heart encased in the fully cured cement of pride, cut off and likely even embittered against the Christian message they claim to promote. You do well to SPRINT away from such a person, particularly one who has any spiritual influence or authority in your life – your faith will be a flaming highway wreckage if you allow yourself to be influenced by these types for long.
But if the speaker acknowledges his wrongdoing, confesses his sin without qualification, and asks forgiveness… we shouldn’t be more stingy than Jesus with our willingness to restore, as He does so freely and repeatedly with Peter (who was no stranger to foot-in-mouth disease) in John 21. The gospel is a message of utterly undeserved and eternally flowing kindness toward those who have done the opposite of deserving it. The messengers of the message need it as desperately as anyone – please show Christ’s kindness to your leaders when they acknowledge their need of it.
In the wondrous mystery of providence, the Lord often actually uses the failures of leaders to deepen a congregation’s understanding of the gospel. When these circumstances come along they serve to:
- Break peoples’ unhealthy trust in a man
- Provide an example of humble confession
- Offer opportunity to live out practical gospel forgiveness
- Deepen the bonds of peace between all involved
When – not if – your pastor (or man of the cloth) next says something stupid or downright sinful, recognize the opportunity before you. You can test his wayward words against the always-pointing-true-north word of God, and in so doing strengthen your own faith. You can preserve the integrity of the church by clearly and calmly demonstrating the contrast between your pastor’s words and God’s. You can be charitable toward him as the Lord and so many others are toward you. And you can use the opportunity to observe the presence (or lack of) genuine spiritual fruit in a way that is usually very difficult to spot when everything is running smoothly.