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When Pastors Fail Their People

When Pastors Fail Their People

What happens when pastors fail their people?

Very recently, another two high-profile pastors were exposed for moral failure in their ministries.

I share this essay more as a reminder to myself than anyone else that this could happen to anybody — including me. Whenever I hear a story like this, it scares me as much for myself as it does for anybody else. There have been times and seasons when I, too, have been — or at least felt — on the edge of moral compromise. In my worst moments and seasons, I have had the abrasiveness of Moses, the victim posture of Jonah, the wrongful ambition of Simon the sorcerer, the self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, the cowardice of Peter, and the cluelessness of the twelve disciples.

In almost 25 years of ordained ministry, I have been fruitful and faithful on the one hand, and have failed the people around me (even this past week!) on the other. Over the years, I have offered as many apologies to those I have failed as I have received apologies from those who have failed me. No doubt, there are many blind spots in addition to this, making me as much a sinner as I am a shepherd.

We pastors fail. And especially this pastor, bear not only the trials and transgressions of our congregations, but also the trials and transgressions within ourselves. We are walking contradictions, broken and frail, like partially blind beggars trying to help other people see clearly and feast fully.

Sadly, this walking contradiction reality of ours has sidelined some of us. At the same time, we remain carriers of the promise given to every believer, that he who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6).

As you consider my words below, will you also pause and pray for us pastors, those who serve alongside us, and the congregants whom we serve? For what Paul said of himself — “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” — we could all very confidently say of ourselves.

It is a great mystery, why God chooses such flawed sinners like us to tend to his beloved sheep.

May the very worst things about us not lead us out of ministry, but into greater humility, deeper repenting, more love, and less wrongdoing in this sacred trust that God has put into the hands of flawed leaders.

Lord Jesus, give us all grace to endure until the end, and all the while to grow in, and never to shrink back from, the Spirit’s virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. For such virtues offer healing to all whose lives we touch. And we want to be healers, even as we look to you, Lord, the one and only Perfect and Good Shepherd, to tend to our own wounds and countless imperfections.

May Jesus have mercy on us all.

“His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God.”

(2 Chronicles 26:15-16)