Friday, September 26, 2008

Harsh lesson - stern warning

This last week has been murder for pastors everywhere. There are parallels to the fire service in that when a firefighter falls in the line of duty, firefighters everywhere feel it. They mourn the loss, but also feel as though the great beast they battle on every call has somehow dealt them a blow. They kick hard at the "dragon" at every structure fire. This time, the dragon struck back. Fierce hatred for the beast arises within the ranks. New resolve is conjured to defeat it. The brotherhood laments the tremendous hole it its ranks, but presses on in its mission sobered by the grave outcome that can result.

The difference is that it's not merely the "brotherhood" of ministers when a pastor falls apart in a moral tailspin, the cause of Christ suffers the blow at every level. The victims are too numerous to fully account for. A pastor found to be possessing and exchanging child porn violates first and foremost those children featured in the material he had. After that, his family suffers immeasurably. Rippling out, the moral violation flashes over his congregation. Disillusioned and hurt, those who do not abandon their faith are the miracles; the rest are tragically understandable. The shock of the pastor's fall then sweeps out across the community like a brush fire. The surrounding neighborhoods are blown back on their heels by the betrayal of a respected spiritual leader, whose visible ministry was a special source of hope for a city. The news travels fast via paper, TV and internet that a Christian minister has an evil alter ego. Anyone who can't process the reality of fallen humanity in the pulpit will simply think Christ implicitly to blame for allowing such a man to be in that role.

The Bride of Christ gets an undeserved black eye for a time until the wound heals (for some it never does).

The whole event serves as a harsh lesson to ministers everywhere. Though those in vocational ministry are as human as any other, the consequences of their failures are not like that of any other human's. The inter-connectivity of people is a bond ordained by God. We're called to belong as well as believe. With this single design "flaw," God leaves us vulnerable to untold harm at the hand of those who violate moral codes. We could be spared a variety of pain categories if only we didn't need one another so much.

What's worse? Our need for God's presence and our need for one another overlaps in the person of the minister. God's seems near because the "holy man" came to dinner. I'm often uncomfortable with this reality, but at every turn it seems unavoidable. My conduct, temperance, self-control, mercy, etc. all give people impressions regarding the Lord's love and care for them. I hate that God so often must overcome the baggage of my humanity to convince people of his love.

Nevertheless, this harsh lesson of a pastor's fall serves as a stern warning for the rest of us. How sobering to know that the visibility of my job also creates the same megaphone with which to broadcast my failures. Will I remain faithful, guarding over my integrity and Christian witness? Will my fallen humanity remain within acceptable parameters and spare those that I'm connected to the pain of betrayal? Why did God allow another pastor to implode in moral failure, yet has seemingly spared me from so many opportunities for personal destruction?

This harsh lesson is a tough pill to swallow. It's a stern warning to stay vigilant about my character, and thank God for directing me away from self-erosion. Such failures remain within the field of potentials as long as God continues to use humans to lead pockets of the community of faith.

God, protect me and my people from the depravity resident in me that required Christ's redemption from the beginning, and still needs redeeming until the glories of Heaven envelope me.

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