When Tall Men Fall

When pastors fall it can set off a lot of emotions, but let it remind us to keep focused on God.

Less than a year into my first pastorate, I was deeply shaken when a co-pastor walked into my office and confessed a grave sin. This was not just a transgression against God, but a betrayal that reverberated through our community. I was left reeling.

Lamentably, this was not the last time I would have this experience. 

Long before I entered the ministry, pastors were falling. And they will continue to fall long after I leave. From preachers whose names are known to allto those who serve quietly, what should you do when a pastor falls and you find yourself grappling with a mix of emotions?

The Four Stages of Fallen Pastor Grief

One of the immediate reactions to a public fall is a sense of betrayal. If we have benefited from the pastor's ministry, we can feel as if we have been personally deceived. 

It hits close to home when it is my pastor—the one who baptized me, did my premarital counseling, and visited my dying mother in the hospital. When this man falls, we can feel as though we were personally lied to (sometimes we were).

The feeling of betrayal often leads to anger, which is understandable. After all, God has called leaders in the Church to be above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2). God warns those who profess to be leaders that they will face a more harsh, strict judgment (James 3:1). Yet, we must remember that these leaders are mortal. At the end of the day, they are just men (sometimes women). Preachers are not divine, even though they hold a divinely called office. Pastors are capable of falling into temptation. Like you and I, pastors are capable of sin. Scripture teaches that we need not be prideful lest we fall (1 Cor. 10:12-13). Why does the Bible repeatedly warn us against a litany of sins? Because we are vulnerable. All of us.

Just because a pastor knows better doesn't mean he acts better. Too often, we assume that the strategy for fighting sin is cerebral, as though a knowledgeable and capable teacher is somehow exempt from falling because he knows the content of Scripture or has taught others so effectively. Wrong. Sin is rarely a cerebral issue. Sin always involves the heart.

Also, do not forget the Church did not hurt you. A person did. I hear so many speak as if they are angry at the Church. "The Church betrayed me." "The Church hurt me." Wrong. The Church is the Bride of King Jesus. She cannot hurt you. She only heals. She cannot betray you. She only befriends. A person(s) hurt you, not the Church. If you must be angry, do not let your anger be misplaced. 

The sins of others are always more shocking to us than our own. We can always "contextualize" our sins, find justifications for them, and measure them against the sins of others. That's the power of deception. We miss the log for the speck (Matt. 7:3). 

The fact that we play shocked, in a way, condemns us. It proves either our ignorance or naivety. The Bible does not have a rosy view of human nature. Leaders, prophets, kings, matriarchs, and apostles, their stories are not the stuff of fairy takes. Moses saw the glory of God in the flaming bush, saw the fire of Sinai, and still fell. Peter heard the Sermon on the Mount first-hand, washed his beard out in the streams of Judea alongside Jesus, and then denied Him, not once but three times. The fact that we are shocked when our leaders fall is a demonstration that we are not nearly as realistic about human nature—and about spiritual warfare—as the Bible is.

Loss of Faith
When a pastor falls, there is a great temptation to lose faith. Again, this hits home when it is my pastor. It is good to remember that there is a spectrum of fall. Some pastors experience temporary stumbles. Like Peter, they are restored after discipline and care. 

Because of certain sins, some pastors are permanently disqualified from ministry. Like Moses, they enter God's kingdom but don't carry on their vocation. 

Other pastors prove themselves wolves in sheep's clothing—predatory false teachers—like the ones Paul warns about in 2 Timothy 3. The Church [you and I] must be wise and brave to know the difference between these scenarios and respond accordingly.

In all these cases, the faith entrusted to the saints can weather the falls of sinners. The Church is not reliant on any individual, including pastors, no matter the size of their personality or their followers on Instagram. The Church's foundation rests in Jesus' promises, which He will uphold, with or without us.

And that, friend, is good news. 

Pastors will sin, but He can't. 

Pastors will disappoint, but He never does. 

Pastors will fall, but His Church won't. 

Tall men will fall. But He shall carry on.

Some advice to my friends in ministry… Satan is patient. He has patience in spades. Satan has no problem waiting 30 or 40 years to bring down your ministry. Your marriage. He has no problem waiting decades to undo the Kingdom work you've done. I am amazed at the number of men in the Bible who fail in the second half of their lives. 

Brother, press on. Your greatest battles are probably in front of you. You may age, but Satan does not. You may grow tired, but Satan does not. You can't outwork him; he never sleeps. You can't out fast him; he never eats. The only area you can beat him in is humility, for he has none. 

Stay alert. Stay humble. Press on. 

- Harp