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Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

When Ministers Fail

by Stephen Roberts posted March 21, 2022

One of the most painful things a Christian can endure is the failure of those in spiritual authority—whether a parent, teacher, or pastor. Such people are meant to reflect the character and authority of God, and when they fail, they tend to diminish God’s glory in the eyes of those entrusted to their care. These failures seem all too common in the present day. Whether infidelity, lying, bullying, stealing, or something else—it all feels like betrayal to those who trusted the one in authority.

Perhaps you’ve been wounded by the failure of a minister at some point in your life. Here are a few tips to help you heal and rebuild, by God’s grace:

1. Be honest about your pain.

If left unspoken, our emotions can direct our paths instead of the shepherd who leads us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Ps. 23). But the Bible sets a precedent for sharing our honest emotions with the Lord in the psalms. We can honestly cry out to him in our pain, and take comfort that Christ knows our hearts, delights in our prayers, and strengthens us by his Spirit.

2. Seek mature Christian counsel.

God also grants us a family of fellow sinner-sufferers who can share our burdens. Even as we share our painful emotions with the Lord, it’s better to talk about our heartache with trusted brothers and sisters in Christ than to privately stew in our own depression and anger.

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that there’s nothing new under the sun. Older generations of Christians have seen their share of ministry failures. Why not seek them out and lean upon their God-given wisdom? Perhaps they’ll share with you biblical or personal examples of how the Lord has worked through such betrayals to glorify his name. Or they might lift up your plight in prayer when you feel like Hannah, offering your own incoherent mumblings on the temple steps (see 1 Sam. 1:9–17). We need fellow Christians who remind us of the shepherd-care of Christ in this present wilderness, and who direct our eyes to that great eternal city that God has prepared for us.

Sometimes, it may also be wise to seek out additional, professional care and insight in the form of a counselor or therapist. This step might be necessary if regular mentorship and fellowship are not offering relief. If you’re losing sleep, feel your life slipping away, experience uncontrollable anger, or are living in a state of perpetual anxiety, it might be time to see a counselor.

3. Don’t allow others to minimize your pain.

Sometimes, fellow Christians are just really bad at caring for one another. They can be disinterested in your pain and throw out clichés, or they can stand in self-righteous judgment like Job’s friends,  spiritually “man-splaining” your pain away. Remind these brothers and sisters that we’re always in need of advocates who remind us of Jesus, not accusers who remind us of our adversary. Don’t let such ill-speakers further drive you from the grace you need from Christ and his people.

4. Lean back into love.

Sometimes, these careless interactions reinforce the pain of failure we’ve already experienced, but seeking out other believers isn’t merely a means to an end; it’s also an end in itself. We’re tempted to withdraw after being hurt and to forsake relationships out of fear. When you open your heart to others, Christ will use that to rebuild your trust in the eternal family he has placed around you. You can also use painful seasons to examine your heart before the Lord (Ps. 139) and cry out “See if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the everlasting way!” Maintain your own integrity and conscience before the Lord and be used by him to help heal the wounds of others.

Scripture is filled with men of God who have failed dramatically—Abraham, Moses, and David to name a few. But it’s also filled with incredible stories of redemption, not only for these men but for those who were entrusted to their care. The history and sheer brokenness of God’s people has also begged for a Good Shepherd—one who would never fail his people, who would love them at the cost of his own life. In Christ, we have that Shepherd. Every faithless act reminds us of his faithfulness. He alone is the true healer of hurting hearts, and he will remind you in the midst of your sufferings, Christian, that his love is better than life.

Photo of Stephen Roberts

Stephen Roberts

Stephen Roberts is an Army chaplain and also writes for Modern Reformation and The Federalist. He is married to Lindsey—a journalist—and they have three delightful and precocious children.

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