How Should We Understand Moral Failings in the Church and Prevent Future Ones?

For every well-known Christian television personality or evangelical leader who commits sexual immorality, there are any number of lesser-known local pastors, Bible teachers, and parachurch workers who quietly resign or are fired for the same.

Over thirty years ago, while researching and writing my first book Christians in the Wake of the Sexual Revolution (later revised as Restoring Sexual Sanity), I realized what a prominent and distinctive earmark of the early church its sexual purity really was. Christians were known to be Christians partly because they thought and lived differently when it came to sex.

If we do not reclaim this lost ground, today’s church and its leadership are destined to spiritual impotence. Why? Because an unholy world will never be won to Christ by an unholy church. An unholy leader and teacher will not inspire holiness in the church. An unholy church will not expect or require holiness of its leaders.

How much has our reputation as Christ’s servants suffered? How much credibility have we lost as a result of the highly publicized immoral exploits of those in ministry? After hearing of yet another fallen Christian leader, a committed Christian woman told me in tears, “Every time I listen to a Christian leader now, I can’t shake the thought that he’s likely living in immorality.”

Now, I know many pastors who are walking in sexual purity, and I encourage people not to assume the worst of their pastors or parachurch leaders when they hear the horror stories. My point is that we cannot afford to ignore or deny the reality of moral vulnerability among those who serve Christ. Many in the church have become acutely aware of the widespread moral crisis, the severe consequences of our sexual compromises, and the desperate need to shore up our sagging morality.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to join Nick Stumbo and Trevor Winsor on the Pure Desire Ministries podcast. I highly recommend their excellent ministry, which exists to create a safe place for men, women, and young adults to find hope and healing from the effects of sexual brokenness.

Nick, Trevor, and I discussed the problem of Christian leaders and pastors having moral failings, including what contributes to the fall of high-profile leaders, how churches can recover and heal, and how to prevent moral failures. (Prevention is the focus of my booklet Sexual Temptation: Establishing Guardrails and Winning the Battle, which can be downloaded for free or purchased in print from EPM. And in my small book The Purity Principle, I explore the biblical foundation for sexual purity.)

Here’s a breakdown of the topics we discussed: 

0:00 Intro

0:29 My Background and Work

3:20 Why Pastors Continue Failing Sexually

11:55 Will Pastoral Moral Failings Ever Stop?

20:01 How to Handle “Celebrity Culture” in the Church

38:06 Proactive Steps Churches Can Take

42:44 Steps Pastors Can Take to Get Healthy

55:36 Churches Recovering After a Moral Failing

1:03:10 Restoration of Fallen Leaders?

1:12:00 Conclusion

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries