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When the church fails itself

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This morning a sad news story broke about the leader of a megachurch stepping down because of “moral failure.” This article will not mention the person’s name. It will not identify the church. It will not specify the location. No, this article isn’t about one person’s failure, but about a general failing in the body of Christ when dealing with leaders who have failed us

Over the years church leaders have fallen. When it happens, heads wag, teeth are tisked, and magazine and news articles are published ad nauseum. A question to ask is, “How should believers respond not if, but when, they are confronted with such a situation?” Paul advised the early church on similar matters of moral failure: 1) discuss it with the person privately; 2) if they don’t repent, take it before the leaders; and, 3) if they persist in the behavior, then and only then bring them before the church. The announcement of the leader’s resignation came in a special church meeting. Did they attempt the first two steps before they reached that point?

Yet there is a more important question one must consider in the unfolding of this event. “How did the information disclosed in a private meeting get out to the public so quickly? The meeting was at night, but the story posted the next morning. Within hours there were 371 comments, many of them negative.

Was the reporter a church member who was present at the announcement? Did a church member contact the media? Did the church give the story to the press itself? However it was revealed to the outside world it broke a cardinal rule of Scripture, “Thou shalt not gossip.” Gossip means talking idly about the affairs of others. The tragedy of the individual’s behavior was between them and the church they served. Once believers learned of the resignation, speaking about it outside their immediate circle became gossip. Gossip would include telling other church members who may not have already heard. And gossip is perpetrated when one speculates with others on the exact nature of the “moral failure.”

A lesson to learn in all this is how to handle gossip so that we don’t become “the bearers of bad news.” First, when someone tells you bad news, gently ask them not to. Second, when you learn of an unfortunate event first, second or even third hand, then resist the temptation to repeat it. Finally, when all is said and done, pray for forgiveness, healing and restoration for all who are involved.

One last thing – when we witness the public failure of others, it is a time to reflect on our own position. We can remember that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We can realize that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

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