When #ChurchToo Happens at Your Church, Too

Over the years, I knew I should pray for God to keep my pastor from disqualifying sins, but my prayers almost felt disloyal, like I didn’t trust my pastor. I had seen pastoral sin happen at my cousin’s church and my friend’s church and all those churches I read about online. But I didn’t believe it could happen at mine. 

Until it did. Sometimes the revelation of #churchtoo happens with lots of noise and headlines, thousands of congregants and just as many tweets. Sometimes it happens quietly, with a quick resignation and whispers in the back pews of a small congregation. Old or recent sin, once kept hidden, comes to light. The fallout affects everyone. 

When it happened at my church, I was caught up in a swirl of emotions: hurt, anger, disbelief, fear for the future, disappointment, and distrust. My pastor was removed from the ministry, but the effects of his sin didn’t go away swiftly. The fall of a pastor can make it feel like the world is falling around you.

The fall of a pastor can make it feel like the world is falling around you.

Throughout the congregation, responses varied. While some downplayed the significance of the pastor’s sin, others crumbled under it and were tempted to question God. Church isn’t a building or a social club, but a family—the body of Christ displayed through our soul-deep dependence on each other. When a family leader falls, something foundational in our lives shakes beneath us, and the new terrain is hard to navigate. 

The day after the announcement of my pastor’s fall, while I was still dizzy from the shock and uncertain how to respond, I spoke to another pastor at my church. His words were an anchor: “God knew yesterday would happen, and he knows what tomorrow will bring.” 

Because God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and unchanging, we can respond with humility in the face of church turmoil. These five practices will help rebuild your church community in the aftermath of #churchtoo.

1. Pray without ceasing.

As much as you may wish to move forward with some sort of concrete action—defending your pastor or church online, removing your membership, calling everyone you know—make prayer your first response. The elders, pastors, staff, and congregation need the comfort and wisdom only God can provide. He will use even this hard situation to draw you nearer to himself, but that intimacy grows through dependence and prayer. 

When thoughts of this situation consume your mind, see them as summons to pray. Ask yourself: What needs in my own heart and my church should I bring to the Lord in prayer?

2. Grieve sin.

In the wake of these revelations, hidden sins of both the pastor and the congregation will be brought to the surface. One holy response to sin is grief, even anger. The world is broken, our pastors are broken people, and we are full of brokenness ourselves. Our gross sins stand in stark contrast to our holy God. 

We should beware of looking at someone’s fall and thinking, That would never happen to me. Reflecting honestly on our humanity will produce humility. Only God is above reproach; we are all susceptible to the deceitfulness of sin. 

We rightly grieve the sin of our pastor. Pastoral sin is rebellion against a holy God and failure to love others. It brings public and far-reaching shame on the cause of Christ. It is horrible.

We should also grieve the hidden sins that surface from within our own hearts, including pride, gossip, and anger. Ask yourself: What sin have I hidden and excused rather than repented of?

3. Love fellow members with compassion.

Now is not the time to give up meeting with your church, even though differing opinions and responses can make fellowship hard. Remember that everyone in your congregation is hurting in some way. Some are confused, some are grieving, some may have old wounds reopened by this fresh hurt, some may be directly wounded by specific actions of the pastor. It’s safe to assume all the members of your church family are hurting. 

It’s safe to assume all the members of your church family are hurting.

All the commands that apply at any other time—“comfort one another” (2 Cor. 13:11), “love one another with brotherly affection” (Rom. 12:10), “pray for one another” (James 5:16), “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2)—are especially important at this time. 

What’s more, the command to cover “a multitude of sins” with love becomes essential (1 Pet. 4:8). Hurting people don’t always speak and act with grace. Other church members may say thoughtless things, and it will be tempting to retreat into bitterness. Instead, you have an opportunity to display Christlike love by overlooking their offenses. Humility allows you to have compassion for another person’s pain, even if you don’t understand it or agree with their response. 

Make sure your brothers and sisters in Christ know you’re committed to the good of their souls. Ask yourself: What does it look like to consider others as more important than myself today?

4. Respect your elders.

Your elders are imperfect people, just like you. They’re also the leaders God has given you for the good of your soul (Heb. 13:17). They may make mistakes as they traverse this unexpected territory, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they deserve your condemnation or that you could handle it better. Instead of exalting your own wisdom, though, humbly seek God for guidance in your own actions and pray for your leadership. 

Ask yourself: How can I model respect to those who are over me (1 Thess. 5:12), even when I disagree? 

5. Stand firm in the faith.

For some people, it might feel like your fallen pastor was the only person who could help you grow spiritually. But the Lord’s ministry to your soul is not limited to the ministry of one man. No matter how charismatic, gifted, or wise the fallen pastor may have been, God alone is the great treasure of our souls—and knowing him is the ultimate goal of any gospel ministry. In the weeks and years to come, the Lord will raise up others to proclaim his Word to you, and you can receive their ministry gladly, knowing it is from a loving Father (1 Thess. 2:13).

For others, the hurtful and horrible revelations about your pastor might tempt you to reject the faith entirely. But only Jesus, fully God and fully man, lived a perfect life to be our perfect sacrifice so we could live in fellowship with a perfect God. This is the gospel, and it gladly does not depend on the perfection of your pastor. 

By the help of the Holy Spirit, stand firm in what you’ve learned from God’s Word, trusting in the work of Christ alone. God has cared for you throughout your life—and will continue to shepherd your soul now. Even if your church crumbles and everything in your life changes, your God remains a firm foundation. He who has called you will keep you (1 Thess. 5:24). 

Ask yourself: How can I continue to seek God even in this difficult time? 

The gospel you believe is gladly not dependent on the perfection of your pastor.

Dear brothers and sisters, I’m sorry you are walking through this season. It’s painful, disappointing, and uncomfortable, but in God’s hands it’s also good. It’s good for hidden sins to come to light and brokenness to be revealed, so they can be repented of and redeemed. It’s good for the church and the watching world to see sin addressed and justice invoked, affirming Christ’s reign over his creation. It’s good for your church to feel its desperate need for an infallible God in the face of a fallible pastor. It’s good to learn to grieve sin, to pray continually, and to follow the leadership of your church. It’s good to place your faith on the firm foundation of Christ’s work alone. It’s good to for you and your church to be humbled, so God may be exalted.