Last week I was shocked to learn the news of a pastor I highly respect was fired for several instances of pastoral misconduct. When I read the statement prepared by the eldership of his church, I couldn’t believe it. I just listened to this guy preach a deeply encouraging sermon at a conference I recently attended. I just bought his newest book and really found it helpful. How could he be the guy we are talking about?
For the third consecutive year, evangelicals are reeling about the moral failings of a prominent pastor. All different reasons, all different scenarios, but the peanut gallery feels all the same. There is an unhealthy amount of cynicism both in and out of the Church surrounding the issue; lots of speculation and accusation and assumption without a lot of clarity and humility and discernment.
I am not here to give my “hot take” on the matter. I have made that mistake already far too often in these kinds of situations. However, in these kinds of moments, I think this is a chance for us to reflect internally. Too often, when we see a figure like this fall, we jump at the gun to make external assertions instead of turning the focus inward. Instead of spending our time dialoguing on what he can do better, we should be talking about we can do better.
Last year, for the first time, I read the entirety of Augustine’s Confessions. It’s a book written by Augustine, about Augustine, for Augustine. The famous Bishop of Hippo chronicles the first 35 years of his life and his spiritual journey, making for one amazing read. Augustine spends a lot of time letting us peer into the deep and dark corners of his heart, revealing and confessing a variety of sins he found himself in, everything from stealing pears to sexual immorality. While many think the strong point of this autobiography is his riveting story of conversion, it is Augustine’s continual feelings of contrition that so intrigue me every time I read from this book.
I see an intersect here, especially since this pastor’s story seems to be filled with confession itself. There was confession in the early stages, and there is confession even now. The unhealthy reflex is to fall into discussing the genuineness of confession. What we should labor for instead is the golden opportunity we have to make confession our own, to see its value.
I began to type out some takeaways the reader could walk away from, but I deleted them, because I realized that, indeed, there is no 3-point equation, no “How-To” solution for avoiding these problems. As another popular blogger put it best, “he’s a brother, not an object lesson.” We cannot reduce eternal souls and their families to mere “morals of the story.” So, what do we do? And why do I write this at all? I hope from here we take a moment to see that God uses confession and repentance to put us back on the right track, for our brother pastor, for Augustine, for me and you. I hope we see confession as the process through which we see ourselves as equals, sinners in the hands of a gracious God who is a Redeemer and Restorer. I hope in our witnessing the confession of others, that we can learn how to make it our own.