How should we handle sexual sin in the church?
A week ago, I received a message that our church was holding a “special” meeting, and parents were asked not to bring their kids. It was one of those uh-oh-something’s-going-down-and-it’s-not-good emails. The meeting felt like a funeral…The news? There was sexual sin the church. In fact, our founding pastor of 14 years was removed due to long-standing sexual sin.
It was crushing.
It was also confusing. How did the man we loved so much keep this hidden for so long? So many questions, few answers.
Sexual Sin in the Church
Sadly, sexual sin in the church happens so often I think we could label it an epidemic.
As my wife and I wrestled with the news and experienced a wide range of emotions, we started to discover something—no one talks about how the church should respond and heal when its leaders fall. There are tons of online articles about restoring a fallen leader and handling the situation, on a leadership level, but little-to-nothing out there about guiding everyday people through the tragic loss of a key leader.
So, I felt like it could be helpful to share the things we’re learning, both from our elder board and from our church community that might help others who are wrestling with the loss of a leader.
1. You don’t need to know all the details.
I fought this when the news was first announced. The description of the sexual sin was so generic that it was hard to process. I wanted to know more. I felt like I had a relationship with the pastor and I needed more details to work through the loss of the relationship. I mean, if my kid came home from school after getting in trouble—I would want to know the details. A general, “You know, dad, just guy stuff,” wouldn’t cut it. But the truth is, the lead pastor isn’t my kid, but the Heavenly Father’s. More detail doesn’t always help and often isn’t necessary—and it can even hurt at times. I had to learn a tough lesson to stop speculating and trust what God was doing through the leadership.
2. Your leader’s sin doesn’t disqualify past ministry.
When a leader falls due to sexual sin, they disqualify themselves from their position, but they don’t disqualify their past ministry. Through 14 years of leadership, our pastor brought multitudes of people to faith in Christ, performed hundreds of baptisms and weddings, restored marriages through counseling and pointed the church toward Christ every week. That’s not erased. That’s not tainted. Why? Because God can and does work through anyone he wants to accomplish his purposes. God wasn’t surprised or shocked by our pastor’s sin—he knew it all along…and used him anyway.
3. The confession is an act of grace for the pastor and the church.
Our pastor‘s confession to sexual sin was an act of grace by God—something our wise elders consistently point out. He is no longer living a secret life of sin and he’s free to receive the forgiveness and restoration that only Christ can give. But this confession was also a grace for our church. We’re no longer moving forward with a leader who’s hiding his sin—and we’re free to receive this amazing grace as well. It stings, but the consequences are a symbol of God’s work in and through us—his pruning work. And his gardening of our church has a much bigger goal than growing our attendance. It’s about the magnificent glory of Jesus.