Most nights I can look up and identify Orion, Cassiopeia and even the Big Dipper fairly easily. Some nights I can even see the brightest sections of the Milky Way, faint as they may be. I sort of hope that the promise of heaven that there will be no night will be more figurative than literal because I can imagine myself spending countless hours searching the night sky for all of the other constellations. Something that is figurative are the number of Christian stars that have begun to fade or fall from grace in recent years.
I don’t ever really remember being into any particular televangelist or pastor’s teachings. I never followed anyone’s ministries or set aside time in my schedule to watch television shows that featured Christian families living atypical lifestyles or even the Christian channels. But lots of people did. And it’s nothing new. Long before Billy Graham had a following, believers traveled far and wide to hear Johnathan Edwards or George Whitefield during the Great Awakening revivals. They were our brightest stars. Other stars from their time were regular people who lived quiet lives. They are stars that have gone out.
I can’t imagine that the scandals in recent years are unique to our day and age, human nature being what it is, we have to recognize that the same sort of things that have happened did happen decades ago and centuries ago; the difference is that information technology makes it much more difficult to hide, whereas a pastor could easily draw up a letter of recommendation, go to another area, and serve there without so much as the slightest suspicion of his past. Perhaps that’s why there are so few historical examples of a spectacularly disgraced pastor, most took their secret sins with them to the grave.
Today it is getting harder and harder for pastors, televangelists, or otherwise famous Christians to hide their faults. So when (not if) they do something wrong, it takes almost no time at all for everyone to hear about it. Thanks to the Ashley Madison hacking, there will be a plethora of falling and fading spiritual leaders in the coming weeks and months. Some will be forgiven and restored, others will be unable to climb back up to the heights from which they’ve fallen.
I think a contributory factor is that we expect our spiritual leaders to stand ‘in the place of Christ’ – as human representatives of a flawless being. We even have rules about which people are worthy enough to serve in which capacities but we forget that our pastors are just as much of a regular person as we are. Many often sacrifice family time to serve the needs of the church members in their care. Statistically, it’s a job that strains marriages, challenges finances, and burdens families; it’s no wonder that so many lose their way while trying to maintain an impossible image of holiness.
Sometimes ministries just get too big than is good for them. A pastor who used to know all fifty people in his church cannot be expected to be as familiar with all of them when suddenly his ministry grows to five hundred people. On top of his regular obligations, he might be asked to fly to another city and speak at a conference or write a book about spiritual matters. Most big ministries tend to delegate some of the responsibilities to associate pastors to help pick up the slack, but having the primary pastor on such a high pedestal is certainly not good for him.
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that when we demand perfection from our spiritual leaders that they cannot help but fail; they are as human as we are. And that’s why we ought to choose carefully which stars ought to be lighting our way along our spiritual journey and which ones ought to be supported during the restoration process. Some may be gifted speakers, but unsound teachers. Some might have magnetic personalities, but are driven to collect money for their own use from their followers. Perhaps people were never meant to stand in the place of Christ or have followers chasing after them rather than Jesus. I can’t help but wonder how many more stars will fade or fall in the years to come – but I worry that too many will be restored only to fall one again – and even further from the heights of fame.