As the calendar year turns from 2023 to 2024 one of the constant sad realities in Christian News is the perpetual, continual, and repeated reality of pastors and well-known ministry leaders being exposed on a seemingly weekly basis for their chronic, ongoing hidden sin. It grieves all of us, but it is not a new phenomenon.
Thousands of years ago, the prophet Ezekiel dealt with the exact same things we are dealing with today. The people of God had become obstinate to the voice of God and the leaders responsible for turning them back had grown numb to the voice of God and had given into their own secret practices of sinfulness.
God spoke this to Ezekiel in his day - Ezekiel 8:12 "...Son of man, have you seen what the Elders (pastors, bishops, presbyteries) of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, 'The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land.'"
If it sounds familiar, it is because it is. I am currently in my 100th reading of the Bible as a pastor. My wife, Tosha, bought me a John Maxwell Leadership Bible to read through this time. John Maxwell says this about Ezekiel 8: "When leaders believe they can do whatever they want in private even if it contradicts what they do in public, they violate their calling. Leaders who last commit themselves to personal integrity, even when no one is watching, because they know it will pay off in public, when many may be watching."
I needed that reminder, maybe you do too.
I am a good Southern Baptist pastor, so please bear that in mind as I share what I am about to share. Twenty-three years ago, starting in February of 2001, God woke me up at 1:23am and showed me a repeated vision of Pastor Ted Haggard doing things he shouldn't be doing. It freaked me out. Remember, I am a Southern Baptist! I ignored it for a time, until I no longer could. I finally told it to my wife and eventually to the Vanguard Church Elders, where I pastor in Colorado Springs. Five years later, it eventually all became public, sadly. It didn't have to go the way it did, but Ted's refusal to deal with it privately led to massive rippling effects at a global level. Many years later, I wrote about it in the book, "The Mystery of 23: God Speaks."
Fast forward to now. In July of 2017 while speaking at a Christian Missionary Alliance camp called Beulah Beach, I had a second encounter with the Holy Spirit. He showed me another pastor who is doing things he shouldn't be doing and amid it said to me, "A network of pastors will fall." The weight of this statement has just about done me in over the last almost seven years. The number of pastors and ministry leaders who have fallen publicly is massive and almost uncountable at this point and as we notice in the news, it continues.
Well sadly, there is still more to come!
I know this disheartens us and certainly discourages us in our walks with the Lord. It does me. It makes me want to give up and give in to my own temptations to sin. When we stare long enough at other's sins, we ourselves become susceptible to the same things, especially sin that seems to have gone undetected thus far.
But at some point, we must take our eyes off the sin of others, even the sin that has not been exposed yet, and turn our attention to the fact that we must be responsible for ourselves and in God's time allow Him to do what He is going to do in their lives.
God is a long-suffering God but eventually He acts and exposes sin, especially hidden sin in the leader's life.
Ezekiel captures the heart of God in Ezekiel 18:30-32: "...I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die...? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!"
During Ezekiel times and now during our time, God is calling His leaders to account, to repent, to turn, to live! All of us sin. All of us wander. All of us from time to time leave the God we love. God tells Israel in Ezekiel to turn their faces back to Him and not to turn their backs on Him and His forgiveness of them. We must heed this same warning in our own lives today.
In my devotions I am reminded that I better hear God's voice when I am in God's Word. John Maxwell once again says it best, "There is no leadership without self-discipline. Since the 'princes' of Ezekiel 19 lacked the discipline to lead their own lives well, they also failed to lead anyone else well. Leaders must first lead themselves and earn the right to attract followers. The best leader serves as a model for others."
Sadly, there are more leaders who will fall in 2024 and beyond. As they fall, know that God sent His prophets to them privately long before and they ignored it. Don't you and I do the same.
Where in my life is God speaking to me about my sin? Where in your life is God speaking to you about your sin?
As the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:7, "Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts."
Remember this solemn reminder from the Lord in Ezekiel 15:7, "...when I set my face against them, you will know that I am the Lord."