Fallen pastors can still lead: here's how

When a pastor or elder falls, it affects all of us and it hurts because it is such a reproach onto Jesus. I understand the pressures and the temptations, and that we are all standing on the same blood-soaked ground and it could happen to any of us. But Pastors are held to a higher standard (James 3:1) for a lot of reasons, one of which is that he is supposed to lead by example. (1 Corinthians 9:27, 1 Timothy 3:2).

A pastor who fails the doctrinal, moral and behavioral purity expected in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 disqualifies himself and he may not lead a flock again. He may be restored to fellowship, he may be forgiven if showing repentance, but not restored to leadership. He destroyed his integrity and that leadership kind of trust cannot be regained.

So what do I mean when I say a fallen pastor may still lead? He can lead by showing a good example of how to handle himself biblically in the aftermath of his scandal.

A fallen pastor can still lead by example in the aftermath by choosing to be spiritually mature, displaying honest repentance, sorrow, humility and a servant-like attitude. And not just the kind of sorrow that is sorry he got caught! We can tell the difference, you know. He can be honorable in showing how to honor Jesus while he is attempting to emerge from the sin by taking the expected biblical actions expeditiously and honestly. He can actively ask for forgiveness for his sin, and doesn't call it anything else.

My issue with Tullian Tchividjian in the recent adultery scandal is two-fold. It's not just that he fell, which is sad and a reproach, but that he continues to fail- this time in displaying how to humbly handle the fallout.

First, let us examine his press release statement to The Washington Post. A press release/statement given to the media in advance of or during a scandal is always a well-thought out, carefully constructed piece of writing. Mr Tchividjian did not make this statement verbally, under pressure, off the cuff, or any other way we can say was spontaneous and thus can be taken with a grain of salt. Apparently Mr Tchividjian had been struggling for months in leading his family. He had met with his elders several times and had met with another (famous) pastor who was flown in for counseling. Tchividjian apparently had not revealed his own adultery at that time but only days later when specifically confronted. This is what he released to the public:
“I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who are committed to walking this difficult path with us. Please pray for the healing of deep wounds and we kindly ask that you respect our privacy.”
In his press release he chose to call his act an "inappropriate relationship," not what it was: adultery, (1 Corinthians 7:2, Matthew 5:27-28) or at the least, a "sinful relationship". They separated, which is not biblical. He blamed His wife (a la Genesis 3:12). He used the passive tense for his resignation ("It was decided"), thus distancing himself from the decision by linguistic deflection. You just might as well say "Mistakes were made." Then there were all the "woe is me" tweets and activity on social media, indicating a lack of humility in being mindful of how he hurt his church, his wife, his readers, and his Savior. His focus should have been on Jesus, and his wife, not himself.

In my own world, this is the kind of statement I'd love to see a fallen leader make.
I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to my sin of adultery. As many of you know, recently I informed our church leadership of my ongoing martial issues and had requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. Subsequent to that time, I wrongly chose to seek comfort from another woman. Last week I confessed this to my church leaders. I know that I have harmed my marriage, my church, and most of all my Savior. I failed the moral standard and I now step down, knowing I can no longer lead by example. I am heartbroken over my sinful actions and I seek your forgiveness for this hurt I've done to our church, my family, and to the name of Jesus Christ. I ask you to pray for us and our family. I know that that God gives us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm, a storm of my own making. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who have counseled us. I thank them for their love, diligence, and example during this time."

Instead, we get drama.

Mr Tchividjian is playing the grace card here.

Oh, such dramatics...
 And on Facebook-

No you don't have to be perfect, but you do have to be above reproach.

There were some other tweets and Facebook comments. I didn't post them all. Absent from any of his public statements was asking for forgiveness. This is significant.

Falling into sin is one issue, how you handle it after exposure is another. So it is a #fail on two levels, he failed to lead by moral example in purity by remaining above reproach, and Tchividjian failed to lead in being an example of humble repentance afterwards.

When I was doing research on the rampant plagiarism from pulpits, I came across a 2006 report in the Christian Index of a Georgian pastor who plagiarized few times. Plagiarizing is a disqualifying offense, just as adultery is. Here is the CI account (the page at the Christian Index has gone dead, or I'd link to it).

One misstep can be disastrous. Consider the case earlier this year of a mid-Georgia pastor who was struggling under stress of personal problems and had trouble focusing on weekly sermon preparation. Over a six-week period he preached several sermons verbatim without giving attribution. When confronted he confessed and shared his problems and asked forgiveness from the church. It was not an act of laziness but pure survival, he maintained, trying to hold his ministry together in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties. While the church apparently extended the forgiveness, the pastor did feel his ministry had been severely damaged and resigned from the church. 
He is an honorable pastor. He explained why he did it, he didn't make excuses, he did the honorable thing, the biblical thing, and resigned. He had integrity in understanding he had fallen below reproach, didn't blame his wife or whoever his personal problems were with, didn't go on a drama ride on social media saying woe is me, he asked forgiveness, and he resigned. I'd be likely to trust this man much more than I would Mr Tchividjian.

Any fallen leader can lead by example, from a biblically advised position of repentance that's genuine, honoring Christ above all, taking responsibility without blame-shifting, and stepping down without fuss, drama, or a fight. Go quietly, humbly, knowing that-

we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)


Further reading

(UPDATED) Tullian Tchividjian: It's not the celebrity pastor, megachurch model that is the problem


  1. Very interesting also how Coral Ridge went from "Conservative" under the D. James Kennedy era to the COMPLETE opposite of "Liberal" under Tullian Tchividjian... That "reversal" was quite stunning to casual outsiders.

    1. According to this article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/june/tullian-tchividjian-resigns-after-admitting-inappropiate-re.html

      “Tchividjian’s tenure at Coral Ridge had been troubled from the start. In the spring of 2009, the church named the then-36-year-old as its senior pastor. At the time, Tchividjian led a young church plant which later merged with Coral Ridge.

      Within six months, a group of church members led by Kennedy’s daughter, Jennifer, called for Tchividjian’s ouster. Those dissidents were banned by the church.

      At issue were a change in worship style and Tchividjian’s rejection of culture war politics.”

    2. Thanks for this, Anonymous. I knew of the difficulty in the congregation's acceptance of a new pastor. Kennedy had led for 50 years, and was one of the architects of the Moral Majority. He was fiery in politics and this brought a global notoriety to the church. Apparently Tchividjian wanted a more biblical perspective and eschewed politics from the pulpit. I heartily agree that culture war politics from the pulpit is to be avoided, so I laud Tchividjian for that.

      It's natural for a congregation to transition with bumps after a minister leaves who had held sway for a long period. Spurgeon's church had a difficult transition, also, lol. I read that leading the coup was Kennedy's children. So I noted the news with an eye to benefit of the doubt

      However, Tchividjian's overemphasis on grace v. law to the exclusion of other doctrines and attributes was a negative signal, his rising celebrity status, his ouster from the Gospel Coalition, plus his constant travel and the LIBERATE website/movement, were more strong signals to me that something was very wrong.

  2. Donald Miller, whom he quoted, is the author of "Blue like Jazz" an emergent book of nonsense. I read it years ago. I was dying over his constant social media posts. I kept thinking, "someone needs to tell the man to be quiet". I was embarrassed for him. It shows one of the root problems: his love of fame. It was screaming: "don't forget me.....I'm used to being in the limelight" That is where his allegiance was/is. To being adulated. Great post Elizabeth. This is the kind of thing the Christian community needs to be thinking/talking about.


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