Many of us groaned collectively back in November when we learned that Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong’s New York City congregation, had been fired because of a moral failure. The 42-year-old preacher, known for his hipster style, admitted in a public statement that he had engaged in an extramarital affair.
“This failure is on me and me alone, and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Lentz said in the Nov. 5 post on Instagram.
Lentz and his wife, Laura, and their three children have reportedly relocated to California to seek therapy and healing. Meanwhile the Hillsong network of churches must deal with the fallout, along with the larger body of Christ—which has been shaken multiple times recently by high-profile moral failures.
A church scandal is not just traumatic for the leader at the center of the storm; it also destabilizes everyone around them. Whole churches or ministries can be shaken to their foundations when a leader makes poor choices.
During my 18 years at Charisma I had to cover many stories of moral failure—sexual scandals, financial scams or horrific abuses of power. My trust in the people involved was shattered. In fact, my trust in all leaders was tested. Fortunately, I never walked away from my faith because a leader failed. But many people do.
You may have been tempted to pick up a few stones to throw at Lentz. It’s certainly understandable to feel some anger in this situation. And the Lord knows we didn’t need another reason for the world to call us hypocrites. But this situation is not about what the world thinks of us. It’s a family matter, and Lentz is a brother in Christ who needs our compassion right now.
Here are a few steps I always recommend in the aftermath of a moral failure in the church:
- It’s OK to grieve. Jeremiah wrote an entire book of the Bible—Lamentations—to process his grief over Israel’s unfaithfulness. He cried out: “Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers … Our fathers sinned and are no more” (Lam. 5:2a, 7a). Jeremiah did not minimize the impact of the sins of Israel’s leaders. But he didn’t sit in judgment; rather, he cried for them—and for the effect their choices had on others. Sin has huge implications. It is appropriate to shed tears over it.
- Extend mercy to the leader who fell. The apostle Paul often had to bring correction to first-century leaders who failed God. He wrote: “Brothers, if a man is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore such a one in the spirit of meekness” (Gal. 6:1a). That means we shouldn’t be harsh or vindictive, even if we must remove the person from leadership.
Biblical gentleness is not cheap grace. Being merciful doesn’t mean we overlook sin or minimize its consequences. (In Lentz’s case, Hillsong fired him.) But gentleness does require us to recognize that if it were not for the grace of God, we could have made the same mistakes the offending leader did. Treat the fallen brother or sister as you would want to be treated!
- Forgive from your heart. I’ve met Christians who still nurse the same grudges 30 years after a pastor hurt them. They keep their pain alive by reliving the offense over and over. As a result, they are stuck in a time warp, and no one wants to be around them because their sarcasm is so toxic. You must learn to say what Jesus said on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34a).
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SOURCE: Charisma News