Ed Stetzer: The Moral of Moral Failings of Christian Leaders

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The character of Christian leaders is in question. We need to ask why and work for change.

The past few months (and if we are honest, the past few years) have been hard for Christians, and evangelicals in particular. I’ve felt it myself as I’ve had to deal with some good friends confess to failures, and the aftermath that has occurred in their wake.

It’s certainly been much harder on those directly hurt, but it’s impacted many of us.

My love for Christ and his church, and the calling he has given all of us—not just leaders—to represent him well and live lives of integrity has pushed me into places of grief as of late.

When Donna and I were in California in March, we had lunch with Rick and Kay Warren after church. We talked about a Saddleback conference from 2010 where Rick, Kay, and I spoke. Since that conference, about half of the speakers have stepped down from the churches they were serving due to some personal issue.

Half—in eight years.

That’s not right, but it is real.

And, it requires some self-reflection.

Secrets Come Out

One of my best friends recently resigned due to a “morally inappropriate relationship.” He’s still my friend, but before we were friends in ministry, and now we are friends in lament.

One is too many, but there have been far too many moral failures in a world where Christians often claim to be guardians of morality.

Sometimes it’s been more than a moral failure. Sometimes it is an abusive situation, as I’ve written about often. And, it is there where the church needs to stand with the victims—and we have seen that all too often they do not.

Yet, Luke 8:17 of the New Living Translation says this: “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.”

So true.

A Time of Purifying

Christ is purifying his church, and it hurts. And, there is more to go.

It pains us to know that too many have been victims at the hands of those in power—the very ones who should have been the protectors of the marginalized and the vulnerable. Silence that many have kept for months, years, sometimes decades, ought not to have happened under the care of those of us who have committed to lead the fold of Christ.

We have failed far too often. That has deeply saddened me and many I know who take their calling seriously.

Lest we move from disappointment to despair, however, we must remember this very, very important fact: We look to Jesus as our model of faith. No man or woman ought to be lifted to places of idolatry, lest they crumble under the weight of sin.

And let’s be honest—they will always crumble to some degree, because we are sinners.

Of course, being a sinner does not mean that we give people a pass. This is why structures of accountability are so important. But it does mean that we do not place our ultimate hope in one another. We should together be looking to someone who can save us all.

It is critical now more than ever before that we cling to Christ as the foundation of our faith.

Let me share a few thoughts I’ve had during this season as we all sit with disappointment.

First, pastors and leaders at any level in the church must always be held to the highest level of integrity and purity.

Pastors and leaders must seek to remain above reproach. That’s not my idea— that’s right in the biblical text.

Look at 1 Timothy 3. We teach those under our care how to be faithful and hold fast to scripture while winsomely engaging culture. We model integrity in thought, word, and deed. We seek to be people of integrity, but too many today instead have earned the label “hypocrite.”

We don’t like to be called hypocrites, but that’s what it is when you preach morality and fail to live it.

Years ago, when Pat Buchanan was running for president, he encouraged us to buy American while driving a foreign car. What he said and told people to do was not what he did. The press pointed out the hypocrisy.

Now, when we look at the continual stories of moral failure of those in church leadership today, that’s hypocrisy as well.

It’s not the fault of the press when they point out our hypocrisy.

And, I know that it is just a small percentage, but the hypocrisy is what gets the coverage.

As such, it is time for a re-engagement and re-commitment to integrity at every level of the church.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today | The Exchange – Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.