“How do you stay humble?” the interviewer asked the megachurch pastor. The pastor said he looks for ways to minister with no pay or recognition. He does this by volunteering alongside the police as a chaplain in his city. When he receives a call from emergency workers, he’ll go sit with people who have just lost possessions and loved ones. He listens to them and prays with them. Those are the things, he answered, that keep him well grounded and remind him why he does what he does.
The pastor being interviewed was James McDonald. Everything I’ve ever heard from Pastor James has always been encouraging. I considered him a spiritual mentor from afar.
So when I recently saw the headline, “James MacDonald Fired From Harvest Bible Chapel in the Wake of Shocking Alleged Comments,” I sighed with grief.
The fall of well known Christian leaders is, unfortunately, a regular occurrence. In 2014, the most influential preacher in my life, Pastor Mark Driscoll, resigned as pastor of Mars Hill church because of major character issues. Another pastor I greatly respected, Darren Patrick, followed suit in 2016, as did Reverend Billy Graham’s nephew, Pastor Tullian Tchivadjian. Not to mention almost 400 Southern Baptist ministers who were recently implicated for sexual scandal. Now the spotlight hovers over Pastor James MacDonald.
If you convince yourself that you’ve finally found someone who won’t let you down, it won’t just be painful when they do disappoint you, it will be devastating.
These men were all well-known pastors. But many of us know, or have even been taught and discipled by, local leaders who were caught in scandal as well.
When a respected minister falls, their followers start asking hard questions. Some of their followers even experience a crisis of faith.
So here are four ways to keep your faith strong when your spiritual heroes fall.
1. Be honest about your hurt and take time to grieve.
You have permission to ask tough questions, to struggle with what you believe, to feel betrayed and even to be frustrated with God. The Psalms are full of inner struggles of people who wrestled with their faith. Psalm 55, in particular, deals with the pain of betrayal from someone David trusted.
Asking difficult and honest questions is an important part of the healing process.
2. Don’t resent the truth you were taught.
It’s ok that you’ve learned a lot from a pastor who let you down. Pastor Mark Driscoll shaped much of my faith, and I am still thankful to him for that.
It’s wise, of course, to look with a fresh lens at what you’ve learned from ministers you once trusted. But often what you’ll find is that much of what they taught was true, even when their lives didn’t align with the truth they taught. God always has and always will speak to us through imperfect people.
3. Examine your own life.
When a pastor I respect falls, I try to imagine the day they graduated from seminary, or were ordained, or were hired as a pastor. What I know for certain is that on their first day they couldn’t imagine the day they would fall.
Jesus is the only one who will never fail you.
And if a pastor who preaches the Word of God every week can slip into deception and sin due to a lack of accountability, so can I. None of us are above failure. Saint Paul says, “If you are thinking, ‘Oh, I would never behave like that’—let this be a warning to you. For you too may fall into sin,” (1 Cor. 10:12).
So when I see someone I respect fail, my first response is not judgment, it’s repentance. I ask myself where I’ve slipped into deception and lack accountability in my own life.
4. Remember your faith is not in a pastor.
If you convince yourself that you’ve finally found someone who won’t let you down, it won’t just be painful when they disappoint you, it will be devastating.
Jesus is the only one who will never fail you. The rest of us are sinners, and we’ll act like it from time to time. If you want your faith to survive the storm of betrayal and disappointment, you have to put your trust in the only one who will never let you down.