When Pastors Sin: Reflections on Tullian Tchividjian

YTpWfjhrIt was the year 2010 when I was swept into the gospel-centered movement — a bit too late for my liking, but God has his reasons for this. After the iDISCIPLE Camp of 2010, I immediately began to consume a lot of Gospel-centered content — preachings by John Piper, articles by Tim Keller, all those guys.

One of my preaching heroes was Pastor Tullian Tchividjian. I didn’t know coming in that he was Billy Graham’s grandson, only a few months (and a few internet searches) after. The more I listened to the guy, the more the gospel became clearer, more alive in my consciousness and passions so that they began to affect my ministry decisions and patterns.

So the pain was really palpable when the news broke out that he had admitted to having an extra-marital affair and resigned his post at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida. Quite recently, the South Florida Presbytery (the organization that ordained him as pastor) revoked Pastor Tullian’s ministry credentials, but mentioned that they are still committed to restoring the deposed pastor in the same grace that is available to all through Christ.

I am sad and heartbroken for the guy, and I am hopeful for the restoration that will follow.

That said, pastors must realize — if we haven’t already — that this is not just possible in the realm of high-profile pastors like Tchividjian. This sad situation — like many others that have happened to pastors before it — should bring us to certain truths about the pastoral ministry that sometimes we either just ignore, or even consider ourselves as immune to. I’ve listed down five painful truths that I have learned, and have been made very clear in this situation.

1.  No pastor is immune to sexual temptations.

No one is immune, not any one of us. Our pastoral ministry does not exempt us from this temptation. It will come from all places, be it from loneliness, pride, complacency, or just plain uncontrolled lust. In Tullian’s case, he admitted that one of his friendships with a woman “turned inappropriate” after he discovered that his wife also had an affair.

I do not presume to know Pastor Tullian’s exact thought process here. It could have been pride, the male ego hurt and wanted to hit back. It could have been loneliness. It could have been a relationship with a woman that went unchecked by his accountability circle (if he had one) — just because he might have felt lonely and needed a confidant/comforter. (More on this below.)

But we must realize that the temptation can come from several directions in our lives and ministries.

2. Excellence in preaching does not automatically equate to real Christ-likeness in a preacher’s life.

Tullian was a great preacher, I could attest to that. But the great gospel truths that you say in the pulpit rarely bleeds into your life automatically. I say “rarely”, but really it will be more accurate to say “not at all”. Preaching and living a Christ-centered, Christ-surrendered, Christ-like life are two different and separate things. But we pastors, in our pride and laziness, usually have this temptation to think that after we have preached a good sermon, that is more than enough “godliness” to work in our personal lives as well.

Gospel truth needs to invade our lives every day, as we strive to become more and more like Christ. Once we let go, become complacent, think that we’re “good enough”, then we begin to fail in preaching the gospel to ourselves, then we begin to be in real danger. Without Christ everyday, we must realize that we are in real danger.

3. Pastors need godly men to confide in. If you need a woman’s perspective, confide in your wife.

Apart from our wives (if married), pastors need godly men in their lives to mentor them and be their confidants. Wise men who can be your friends, sensitive enough listen to your struggles and work with you through them — deconstruct your struggles, find out the sources of temptation, and be man enough to tell you to quit fooling around.

There is a dearth of godly man-to-man relationships around in the pastoral ministry, causing pastors to either burn out because of a lack of a constructive outlet, or find women confidantes — which can be very dangerous indeed. Or even both — burn out AND have an extra-marital affair. We need to be humble enough to accept that we need godly men investing into our lives and poking at the dark corners of our hearts. It has to be at that level.

And pastors, your wives are your friends — learn to confide in them and enjoy their female perspective into issues you are dealing with. Enjoy their care and love for you and what you do. This is the deepest relationship you can ever have with a woman — do not try to find it in someone else. Realize the danger here.

I realize that this became telling in Pastor Tullian’s situation — the gap between him and his wife must have contributed to his faulty decision-making.

4. Sexual sin is — most of the time — premeditated and intentional.

I believe Pastor Tullian knew what he was doing, deciding to get into the affair. Of course, there were emotions and clouded minds, but let us not water down that issue too much. He knew what he was doing, and he knew what he was risking, and in that moment of weakness, he risked everything he had for a moment of selfish satisfaction.

Because of that, a church is now without a pastor and has to go through the traumatic process of healing from this very public scandal. Pastor Tullian, as we said, is now stripped of his ministry credentials, and even his ministry website LIBERATE closed down.

These consequences are real and painful and sad. When we sin, most of the time it is premeditated, it is INTENTIONAL. And we know the costs, and yet we still do it. Realize how far our hearts are from Christ.

5. Pastors need to choose Christ every day. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. God knows we need it.

By the leading of the Holy Spirit, we need to do this — even to the point that it hurts. It has to hurt. It has to feel like we are letting go of the world’s comforts and conveniences and choosing Christ as the sole Lover and Satisfier of our souls. Allow the Comforter to guide our bodies and minds away from giving in to our lust for fleshly desires, and continue to believe that Christ is ultimately better, more beautiful, and completely satisfying.

Repeat until your mind, your heart, and your body believe it as well.


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