In the last 10 years, my faith in Christian celebrities has completely crumbled. My favorite Christian songwriter of all-time cheated on his wife, then publicly declared himself an atheist. My favorite megachurch pastor retired early amid multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. Another one of my favorite megachurch pastors now denies the existence of hell while preaching a strange mix of best life now theology and politically correct feel-goodism on tour.
In other words, if you wanted to put money on the next great Christian celebrity to fall, you might want to take a gander at my current list of favorites. To quote Jim Carey’s Grinch, “Nice kid… Bad judge of character.” While I’m not the most perceptive guy, I’m also not the only one who was blindsided.
My Family’s Celebrity Pastor
Last Thanksgiving, my family sat with tears in our eyes at the kitchen table. My uncle and aunt held back sobs as they slowly recounted the fall of their pastor – the first megachurch pastor I mentioned. At one point my uncle left the room out of embarrassment because he couldn’t control his emotions any longer. When my uncle re-entered the room, he barely could explain how much it hurt him personally. The pastor’s preaching had played a part in my uncle giving his life to Christ. My aunt and uncle were married in the pastor’s church. My uncle and aunt read his books, volunteered for events, and participated in the church for over 20 years.
As my uncle talked, personal memories of his pastor and the church rolled like a film projector over the nostalgic canvas of my mind. Leadership cd’s I listened to on repeat. Books I had read through in a few days. An evangelism conference in high school. A marriage conference with my wife. Worship concerts, holiday services, and normal Sunday mornings. I even walked down the aisle of the church as a 5 year old ring-bearer when my aunt and uncle married each other. When one pastor fell, it not only wounded my family. His fall wounded me.
Was my faith shaken? Honestly, this might be a better article if I said, “Yes.” But the honest answer is “No.” My faith in Christ was not shaken, but my faith in Christians was demolished.
If you’re starting to anticipate my big critique of the Church or the American Church or organized religion, I’m going to disappoint you right now. I have no critique of the Church. I only have a critique of me.
When I’m The Leader Who Falls
In high school and college, I battled a pornography addiction while leading school Bible studies and worship teams. After college, I chose to dismiss God’s will from my dating relationships and did what I wanted, while at the same time I was leading a small group of junior high guys. Even after these last seven years of being married, my ugly self-centered pride surprises me every time my wife and I fight.
In my Bible study, my worship teams, my small group leading, and in my marriage, I’m the leader who has fallen. I may not be a megachurch pastor with sinister secrets, but I’ve been the leader with deep unconfessed sin. I’ve wrapped my selfish ambitions and sinful pursuits up with creative justifications and moral comparisons. “I’m not as bad as that woman’s husband or the last leader who fell,” I’m always tempted to tell myself.
The Beauty of Confessing Sin
Over the past six years, my wife and I have become involved with a church in Nashville. It’s Presbyterian. Sidenote: My parents raised me in a small-town Charismatic congregation, so Presbyterian equals a large departure in worship style for me. I went from dancing down the aisles and being slain in the Spirit to singing modern hymns in a congregation where clapping is viewed as a bit eccentric.
One of the most beautiful Sundays of my life came on a day when one of the founding pastors of our church and his wife told their story. A year or two before, our founding pastor confessed to our team of pastors, “I don’t want my marriage anymore.” One of the other pastors looked him squarely in the eye and assured him, “That’s okay. We’ll want it for you.” Throughout the next year, the church eased his pastoral load and paid for he and his wife to go through marriage counseling. After about a year of intense work and healing, their marriage was restored.
In the past, I thought if I admitted my fallenness, I would make other people fall too. I thought Christ would forgive me, but He and the Church would most likely discard me from ever being useful to His Kingdom again. I also believed most Christian friends, leaders, and celebrities lived close-to-perfect after giving their lives to Christ.
But it’s not true.
The Unbearable Expectation
In college, my belief in the near-perfection of Christians let me down multiple times. I attended a Christian university and left after my freshman year because my supposed Christian utopia quickly devolved into a sinful dystopia. I wrote off multiple churches because I mentally recorded slight moral flaws in the pastors or worship leaders. And I chastised my parents for all of the hypocrisies in their parenting.
In many very practical ways, I was a jerk. I was self-righteous. I was mean. And I was unforgiving. Why was I so hard to be around? I placed an expectation of perfection on other people, and no normal human can bear that weight. My friends can’t bear it. My leaders can’t bear it. And my favorite Christian celebrities can’t bear it. They’ll always let me down.
Only one person can bear my expectation of perfection. His name is Jesus. He’s perfectly good- so good that He died for all of the imperfect, self-righteous, fallen leaders like me, like _________, like _________, and like _________. You fill in the blanks of the people who have let you down, but remember, you’re on the list. And I’m on the list. Jesus sacrificed Himself for men and women who denied him, abandoned him, gambled for his clothes, and sentenced him to death.
In 1 Corinthians 13:6, Paul says, “Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.”
When I see the truth come out about another Christian celebrity, I don’t celebrate the evil they’ve done or their denial of Christ. I rejoice in their chance for repentance. They may never hold another leadership position. They may never be as famous or as respected. They may be discarded by some and sneered at by others. But Jesus doesn’t discard them or sneer at them.
Instead of closing the door on fallen Christian celebrities, Jesus, in His perfect goodness, opens His arms and invites them to come back home. That’s good news for them. How do I know? Because it’s good news for me.Instead of closing the door on fallen Christian celebrities, Jesus opens His arms and invites them to come back home. Click To Tweet