I heard about another pastor who fell into sexual sin this week.
My heart hurts for the congregations and families involved.
This recent news brings up some feelings in me as I’ve watched a friend and mentor fall into sin in recent weeks.
As I’ve processed and walked through this situation with friends and some in my congregation, certain feelings people have expressed have made total sense to me.
But there’s another emotion/ attitude that I’m a bit surprised by.
It’s the attitude that says, “We don’t follow a man; we follow Jesus”. The idea is, they may have listened to that pastor every week and served in the church, but they were never “following” him. Instead, they were following Jesus exclusively.
Don’t get me wrong. Jesus, not any other person, died for us. There is no Savior besides Jesus, period.
However, is it really true what people are saying, that they only follow Jesus and not men?
I’ve had people tell me that following a man is wrong.
I must disagree.
The apostle Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)
The writer of Hebrews said, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
Here’s my point: it’s not wrong to follow a leader. In fact, we’re called to do so.
A pastor or leader should not be the object of our faith, but if they are a leader worth their salt, they should be influencing and informing our faith.
Pastors are shepherds and shepherds by nature, lead sheep to green pastures and quiet waters (See Psalm 23). Sheep follows shepherds. When it’s working as God intended, it is a beautiful thing.
To me, the “we don’t follow a man, we only follow Jesus” sounds very spiritual, but in actuality turns out to be uninformed and immature.
(I must admit that church leaders cause a lot of this confusion unintentionally. We talk about supporting the pastor’s vision and “holding the pastors arms up”. These are all good things, that is, until the pastor falls. If sin occurs, we backtrack and say, “It’s never been about a man; it’s all about Jesus here.” This line of thinking creates a false dichotomy. The reality is, if a pastor is worth following, supporting his vision as a leader will be all about Jesus.)
So what’s the right approach?
Realize that men of God are placed in our lives to build us up and help us grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
They are also men “with a nature like ours” (James 5:17) and have the capacity to fail us.
So we thank God for leaders who help us grow (Ephesians 4:11-12), but they do not become the object of our faith. When a leader becomes the object of our faith, the Bible calls that idolatry.
Instead, godly leaders help us follow Jesus more closely.
But to say we don’t follow any man is missing the point altogether and I believe, is simply masking the pain of disappointment because the man you followed let you down.
I rejoice that there are men I follow and I am honored there is a congregation of people who follow me as I follow Christ.
So here’s my encouragement to you: embrace the hurt. Feel the pain that comes from someone you trusted letting you down.
Allow this to lead you to draw closer to God than ever before.
Then, in an odd way, the leader who failed you will be doing what leaders are supposed to do… leading you closer to the Savior who loves you and died for you.