For the last few years, it has felt like a number of prominent Christian leaders in churches and ministries have found themselves in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Our denomination watched one of its heroes dismissed, we've seen megachurches implode when domineering pastors were finally pushed out, and the Houston Chronicle blew the door open on an issue that should have never been allowed to happen.
For a number of these, the sinking ship was obviously taking on water. Abusive leadership, nepotism, financial mismanagement, firing critics, lawsuits, and more only showed that there was a serious issue that had to be addressed. Because these leaders are in prominence, their shortcomings are wide open for everyone to see, and to comment on.
Whatever our opinions are on whether or not a well-known leader has been disqualified or has rendered themselves unusable, it's imperative we avoid one response: mockery.
Like Nelson from The Simpsons, it can be so easy to watch someone else fall (who very likely had it coming) and laugh. We can share memes, we can make light of it, we can sit back and point the finger and give all the reasons we wouldn't have done what they did. Behind so much of our response is a mocking, laughing, making light of what's tragic.
Proverbs 24:17 tells us "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles."
Instead of mockery or moral grandstanding, our response to any instance of a Christian's fall should be grief. We should be glad for justice, especially in cases where justice is warranted and necessary. But behind our appreciation of justice should be an overwhelming sense of grief.
We grieve for those wronged. Before anything else, we grieve for those who have been wronged. We grieve for those whose pain and suffering went unanswered for years. We grieve for those who were generous and were betrayed by embezzlement. We grieve for those who trusted a friend or a leader and were let down. If anything, the last year has taught us that victims deserve to be heard.
We grieve for the shame of the church. Leaders who blow it don't do it on an island or isolated in an empire somewhere. They blow it in churches or ministries surrounded by real people, in a real community or city that is left to pick up the pieces of something that should have been trusted. Sometimes those churches never recover. Sometimes it takes years. Regardless of how long it takes, those churches bear the shame of the fallen leader.
We grieve for the Gospel's witness being harmed. The message's power isn't lost, but its witness and trustworthiness is. People become (rightly) skeptical of a church who tells them one thing but did something completely different. We don't grieve because attendance numbers might go down or giving might drop. We grieve because eternity hangs in the balance of people Jesus loves and gave his life for.
We grieve for the fallen leader and their family, who will be on the receiving end of the Internet's unceasing outrage. Whatever the faults were, and no matter how much pain has been caused, we should grieve for the family of that fallen leader. They didn't (usually) sign on to be a meme or caricature. We grieve because the fallen leader often cannot make restoration or redemption, they're simply shamed to the point of no return.
So fellow pastors, let's grieve for a bit. The Church has taken its lumps this week. Quite honestly, we deserved it. And we've got our work cut out for us for our witness in our communities and in our culture. But let's get back to work. Jesus promised the Church would endure. And endure we will.
But for now, let's grieve.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.