In the late 1980s, I came across Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald. To this day, it’s one of the most impactful books I’ve read. I still remember entire sections of the book, including one of the best chapter titles I’ve encountered (“The Sadness of a Book Never Read”) and his description of what he calls the sinkhole syndrome: when our private worlds can no longer support the weight of events and stresses from the outside.
I began reading everything I could of MacDonald’s writings, and even remember going to hear him speak when he came to Toronto.
That’s why I was surprised to hear that, around the time that Ordering Your Private World was published, that MacDonald had engaged in an adulterous relationship.
It sounds naïve now, but I’d never encountered a pastor I respected who fell into adultery. I was especially surprised that someone could write so compelling about ordering his private world even as his inner world was inner world was in disarray.
A few years later, MacDonald released another book called Rebuilding Your Broken World. I felt cynical at first, but to this day it remains a book that informs my response to scandals. I haven’t read it in a while, but I think I’d still recommend it.
I’m no longer naïve. I’m not surprised when I hear of a Christian leader falling into sin. I have, however, learned three important lessons on how to guard my own heart when I hear of another leader who’s fallen.
Every scandal is an opportunity for me to evaluate the condition of my own heart and my own vulnerability to danger. I am not above falling into sin. The more I think that I’m immune, the greater that danger may be.
When we hear of scandals, Char and I often have an honest conversation with each other about the state of our own souls. Where are we tempted? How are we handling those temptations? What secrets are we hiding?
Each scandal is an opportunity to remember passages like 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 and Jude 20-23. It’s time to refocus our commitment on fearing God and taking sin seriously in our own lives.
I’m alarmed at how we seem to react to the sins of others.
On one hand, we see mobs of people online ready to judge and sentence the person. It’s easy to assume the worst before knowing many of the facts. It’s easy to rush to judgment with no hope of redemption.
On the other hand, others seem quick to gloss over sin, minimize the damage, and restore the person before repentance has taken place. Many seem to confuse forgiveness with restoration. If some rush to judgment, others rush to exoneration.
Before scandal takes place, we need biblical categories. What sins disqualify someone from ministry? How does the church respond to these issues in a biblical way? When is restoration possible? What does the process look like? We must think through these issues in advance rather than responding in the moment based on our emotions.
Not thinking through these issues leads to gross mismanagement of abuse and sin when it happens.
Guard Against Prurient Interest
Rubberneckers slow down to view accident scenes. Some of us are prone to slow down and gawk at scandals and their aftermath. Our interest in the downfall of others isn’t always healthy.
In her book A Closer Walk, Catherine Marshall wrote, “When we rejoice over, or look for, or repeat with relish negative news, then we have placed ourselves on the side of evil. It is possible to take this negative stance so often with regard to situations and persons that this becomes a way of life.”
It can be helpful to take notice of the failings of others if it motivates us to fear God. It’s not helpful when we take notice of the sins of others for our own enjoyment or to feel better about ourselves.
Besides, I don’t need to have an opinion on every scandal out there. I’m a local church pastor. I am accountable to our elders and the congregation. My focus should be on that and not on everything going on in the world.
I’m just scratching the surface, but these basics help me respond when I hear of another scandal. I try to take stock of my own life, think accurately about what it means to be disqualified and restored, and guard against prurient interest.
The scandals aren’t going away. Most of the time, we’re not in a position to affect the outcome. The real issue is how we respond within our own hearts. The challenge there is to examine our own hearts, and to guard against unhealthy and sinful ways of responding to the sins of others with an eye to honoring God in our lives and ministries in this dangerous world.