Broken Trust

[I]f my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. II Chronicles 7:14~

Another admired Christian leader has fallen. He wasn’t the first. He won’t be the last–unless the Church makes some big changes soon.

Among those who’ve gone before are abusers accused and proven in the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal that resounded around the world shortly after our new century began. Every few months, the remains of scandal resurface with fresh accusations.

What happened in the twentieth century, when we were less prone to speak of such things, as well as less apt to be believed, was unparalleled in its magnitude but it was not exclusive to one denomination.

In the 1980s Jim Bakker went to jail for misuse of donated funds. Amid a sex scandal. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison. He served less than five.

He was, perhaps, an aberration. Not many pastors who start out on a small local television station ever see the material success Bakker saw. Not many get the chance to sin at such a level.

The ministry grew too large too fast, and Bakker forgot that he was to minister, not be ministered to.

Yet there were those we knew we could trust. Billy Graham at the top of the list. In heaven now, he did not topple into scandal, financial or sexual, on earth.

We knew there must be others. Charles Stanley suffered a divorce–apparently not because of impropriety. He continues in the ministry.

Over the years, we would occasionally hear of the pastor who “ran off with” a church secretary or a congregant. They were shameful, but singular incidents. And as far as we could tell, were consensual–except of course, for those left behind.

Then came Bill Hybels’s scandal. He had led the Willow Creek Community Church for more than 40 years. The church grew to seven campuses with 25,000 in weekly attendance in 2015–before accusations took Hybels down.

Finally, Ravi Zacharias. Considered so far beyond reproach that his staff dismissed accusations of a few years ago until Zacharias died of cancer earlier this year. His devices showed the truth. He’d failed to delete “hundreds” of pictures.

But the horror wasn’t just in photos.

The Zacharias scandal is especially insidious. Ravi was said to never travel alone. He boasted about the care he took to protect his marriage vows. About his efforts to be pure.

Now he is accused of a range of offenses from sexting to rape, including the abuse of massage therapists. The term “sexual misconduct” doesn’t cut it.

The RZIM ministry had dismissed the “misconduct” allegations until his death and the discovery of photos on various devices of his. Now they’re apologizing.

I remember a story Zacharias told. A Christian and an atheist were conversing. The atheist could not believe in God since so many Christians misrepresent Christ. The Christian posited a situation in which a good man is robbed of his coat. Someone commits a crime wearing the coat. The good man receives the blame. The atheist admits that the Christian telling the story “wears [Christ’s] coat well.”

Pretending he wore the coat rightly, Zacharias wore it badly. All our sin tarnishes others’ view of Christianity. The “sexual misconduct” in leaders like Hybels and Zacharias tramples the name of Christ itself.

If my people . . . called by my name . . . will . . . turn . . .

We must never again look away when a wolf wears a sheepskin or worse a shepherd’s cloak. And we must do a better job distinguishing wolf from sheep.

We need to ask hard questions.

Is there such a thing as a ministry too big? Too rich? Too influential? A minister too trusted? Or tenured too long?

Is anyone beyond the reach of sin?

Christ founded a small church. Persecution kept the church humble.

Now some are big, famous, and rich.

We are covered in tarnish and worse.

Christ’s name trampled.

As the lost point to and jeer at the man wearing the wrong coat.

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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30 Replies to “Broken Trust”

  1. My heat breaks when these scandals and evils happen. We must remember these are people …none perfect. But as Christians, we need to watch our behavior and point to God always.

  2. I’ve been thinking and praying through these things a good deal. It’s motivated me to pray harder for friends who are in public ministries. If the enemy can take them down, a lot of collateral damage is done.

  3. How sad. Yes, we all have feet of clay. It’s up to each of us to pray daily that we will live pure lives, with pure motives. And when we fail (as we all do), may we keep short accounts and go running to the Father for forgiveness and restoration.

  4. It’s hard to understand how people can live such dual lives. We must pray for our Christian leaders that they will be continually on their knees guarding against Satan’s attacks against their ministries.

  5. As Melissa said, we are called to follow God, not men. As Christians, we need to diligently pray for pastors and church leaders.

  6. These examples cause pain to all of us who represent Christ. My husband and I worked at Jimmy Swaggart’s ministry in the 80’s and were there when the disaster with him happened. Our kids were in school there. Because of that mess, the ministry had to downsize and my husband’s job went away. I pursued another job and we moved our kids to another school. All these episodes affect so many people’s lives and mostly it hurts the example of Christ. Unbelievers point fingers and judge all ministries according to those who fall.

  7. Sigh. The external “coat” is meaningless if it does not reflect the internal spirit, and can actually do damage to the cause of Christ.
    But we also bear the responsibility of not lifting leaders to celebrity status.
    Double sigh. May God save us from ourselves!

  8. You post did really make great points. Seeing such shepherds tarnish the name make me so sad. It also makes me see why some people will never trust the church. And, we are left trying to finds way to reach such people. Thanks for this great post.

    1. Thank you, Yvonne. You’re so right: it’s situations like this one by which some won’t trust the Church. May we be better. God bless!

  9. Impropriety, words, attitudes, and actions have a ripple effect. Sometimes they are publicly noted and sometimes in personal ways. None is insignificant-words and actions hurt others directly and indirectly. Praying for ourselves to guard our minds and hearts is critical to avoid such influence and shattering others and ourselves along the way…

  10. Scripture reminds us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Whenever we sin, others are affected. It is tragic when those of powerful influence break their vows of faith because more are affected by their fall. However, it is important to always remember, that we, too, have influence and our path shows our commitment to our Lord. Your message is a reminder that we always must be alert for the devil’s schemes so that we do not succumb.

    1. Thank you, Katherine. We are all susceptible to sin. I pray I am not remembered for sins of failure at the end. May we live faithfully and end well. God bless!

  11. Nancy, it’s heartbreaking when well-respected pastors break trust with believers and nonbelievers. Christians are watched, and we should all be doing our best to live reflecting Jesus in our public and private lives.

  12. Accountability. Never traveling alone. People who know our passwords. Others who have been given access to what might otherwise be private. There are many ways to guard a ministry and the leader of a ministry from the failures a sinful nature can pursue. But it takes humility on his or her part in order to see the wisdom of being above reproach by allowing the access of others to all the private corners and hidden spaces.

  13. Nancy, when a Christian leader falls it shakes a lot of people. No sin is private. How sad this is for the whole body of Christ.

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