Recently, the Charismatic church has been rocked by the unveiling of a well-trusted leader's sin. Now, I have never been the kind of person to follow a minister like many do today: I am not the person who reads the latest books or listens to the latest podcasts; I am not the one who must have the latest album or who even listens to that many sermons. But this ministry was one that I had walked very closely to, the one I have given to the longest - well-over15 years. In fact, once when I was eating with another minister who knows this fallen leader personally, I asked him if I was right to be trusting the other as an authentic man of God, to which he asserted an affirmative, "Yes. Absolutely." So, to say that I was shocked and heartbroken when this leaders sin was exposed is an understatement. I spent many, many days searching my heart, seeking the Lord with wordless sorrow, wrestling with the question, "Can the church even have heroes?"
This is the question that my heart has been faced with for most of my life. I was only12 years old when my father, who was serving as an associate pastor at our growing church, chose to leave my family for the woman with whom he was having an affair. The after math of that one decision is still felt today. Additionally, I had a very unhealthy youth pastor who treated me horrendously, yelling at me and embarrassing me in public, all because I was dating his "star student" and they weren't (and I quote) "getting to spend as much time together". When I was 19, I encountered Jesus in a new, fresh way, as God was pouring out His Spirit in revival. I threw everything away to be a part of that movement and joined their bible college. Jesus was healing me and cleaning me up, and so I came forward to get help with my own sexual sin. I wasn't caught in it, I wasn't keeping it secret: I truly wanted help. The leadership's answer? I wasn't allowed to stay on campus one more night as I was considered unclean and defiling. They gladly and proudly told me, "You are excommunicated." So, I slept on the beach that night and got a flight home the next day. Today, I have been working in full-time ministry for over 20 years and in that time, I have seen and been personally effected by child-abuse being covered up by leaders, pastors divorcing their spouses, leaders having affairs, church staff stealing from God's house, open alcoholics serving in ministry, not to mention the countless power plays I have had to endure by men and women who vie for authority. So, yeah - I have wrestled with these questions for most of my life: "How will I live when the church and its leaders fail me? What do I do with a Bride that is nothing like Jesus? And in light of all of this: Can the church even have heroes?"
The above heartbreak is just a snapshot of my journey of being wounded by leaders, so because of my years of wrestling with these questions and being a church leader myself, I do feel I am in a position to address them. Because of this recent exposure of leadership's sin, I am seeing a lot of social media posts from Believers about having faith in Jesus and not in leaders. This is an excellent sentiment. Well-said. It is so full of truth. And yet, it has bothered me at the same time. Let me explain why:
After wrestling for years with these questions, I have come to this conclusion: I believe the Bible is very clear about what leaders are called to be. Perfect? Absolutely not, so don't put your faith in them. But are they called to be blameless? Absolutely. So you should be able to put your faith in them.
Titus 1:6-8 says of church leaders they must be, "blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a leader must be blameless..."
I Timothy 3:2 says it again, "a bishop must be "blameless" and repeats it in verse 10 and 5:7 - leaders must be blameless.
So what is the difference between being perfect and being blameless? Perfection is something no one will reach until the day our "imperfection puts on perfection" at the coming of Christ (1 Cor. 15:53-55). In other words, because we are all still working out our salvation (Phil. 2:12-13), our souls are still being made holy and will be until the Day of his return. We will all have certain things that trip us up on occasion, but those occasions should grow LESS and LESS the longer we walk with Jesus. Why? Because we are being "transformed and conformed to His image" (Rom. 12:1-2). So, leaders will never be perfect this side of eternity but, just like all of us, they should be growing into that perfected state (1 John 1:5-2:2). So, yeah - don't expect them to be perfect yet, and in that regard, don't put your faith in them to be perfect, for only One Man was perfect.
But, what of the nature of the things that cause leaders to fall? Should their sins be lessened? Many people teach and believe that "a sin is a sin" but the bible actually says the exact opposite. 1 John 5:16-17 says, "If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death." So, while all unrighteousness is sin, there are some sins that lead to a greater penalty/cost/consequence, and some that lead to lesser; there are sins that are abominations, and sins that aren't (Lev. 18:27); sins against your own body, sins that are not. Jesus, himself said that causing a little one to sin carries a far greater punishment than if you sin alone (Matt. 18:6) and that sinning against the Holy Spirit is the greatest sin which means Jesus has a scale of sins, from least to greatest (Matt. 12:31).
The bible is very clear: there are certain sins - the "greater sins" - that should never be found in a leader's life: sexual immorality, a quick temper, greediness, and alcoholism, just to name a few (Titus 1:6-9). Let me say it again and please read it slowly: the overt sins of the flesh should never be found in a leaders life. In this regard, leaders should be blameless. In Greek, the word for blames is anegklétos, meaning "making legal charges against someone in a court of law [and yet] not convictable when a person is properly scrutinized." In other words, you absolutely have every right according to scripture to look at MY life as a leader and, with a fine-tooth comb, not find obvious, outlandish works of the sinful nature. You have every right to not find pornography on my phone. You have every right to not find gossip spilling out of my lips. You have every right to not find hatred or rudeness or compulsion or anger or greed or any other unclean thing producing fruit in my life. 1 Timothy 3 says, "1 This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.” 2 So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. 3 He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. 4 He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him."
Saints, the Word of God is clear: church leaders, like Paul, should be able to say, "Follow my example as I follow Christ (Phil. 3:17; 1 Cor. 11:1)." In other words, we should be able to put our trust/faith in the leaders we are under. In all of their imperfections, we should still be able to trust that their life is lived above reproach. We should expect it. We should cry out for it. We should know that God calls us to come under the covering of people He has entrusted to be trustworthy with His word, our hearts, and the state of His Kingdom.
I have spent my life wrestling with these questions and I am convinced, now more than ever, the answer is simple:
We should have heroes.
And by God's grace, I intend to be one