It’s the sort of thing you hear about on the internet as yet another influential Christian bites the dust and is publicly shamed, while those of us many, many miles away in the comfort of our cosy church set-ups tut about ‘how sad’ it all is.
I never dreamed it could happen in my church, to my church leader. That a man I loved and respected so much as a colleague, a friend and spiritual guide could decide one day to pack it all in – church, wife, family – and pursue an entirely different future for himself.
And yet it did happen. And sometimes, even now, it’s hard to believe.
I could have guessed that it would be a painful and shocking thing to face as a church, and as someone who knows the individual concerned.
What I hadn’t comprehended was the collateral damage on the entire church; one decision by one individual caused ripple effects that stretched beyond expectation. You see, news like this is a bit like a bomb, an explosion so huge that the buildings surrounding the impact site are obliterated and relegated to rubble. Everyone hit is injured, if not taken out, and the remaining remnant are the walking wounded, hobbling around the ashy tatters of all that was. Even people entirely unconnected to the church can feel the seismic effects, and are shaken by the news from afar.
At many times over the past year I’ve felt like a small child wandering through a desolate war-torn town, wondering how on earth everything that we were building could be ruined. I’ve thought: how dare he not only undermine all of his own life, service and ministry, but all of ours – and mine – too? I’ve questioned how anything could ever be rebuilt from the broken pieces strewn around. Numbers are down, workers are few, and it’s hard to know where to begin. As a youth leader – how can I lead young people to God when the most significant role model of faith in their lives has not only walked out, but caused them so much heartache?
There are no straightforward answers to these things, and I certainly don’t have any, but here are a few thoughts.
If it can happen to him, it can happen to anybody, including me. The scariest part of all of this is that no one is exempt from this stuff, however holy we may think we are. We can obviously take steps to prevent ourselves ever getting into a similar situation – but who am I to say I would have acted differently?
Things will be different now. There’s no point in dwelling on the glory days that once were – they’re probably only glorious when we are looking back through rose-tinted glasses, anyway. What has happened has happened, and what has been done can never be undone. Even if there is redemption on a monumental scale, the church will always have this moment in its history. It may be that the vision of the church, perhaps crafted and driven by the leader who has now left, needs to change. The future may look nothing like the past, but this can be exciting.
God is really good at bringing glory out of turdy situations. This was never God’s plan. And none of us would have wanted it to happen. It’s a big, fat pooey mess that leaves a bad smell in everyone’s noses. But there have been many good things that have arisen in this aftermath. There is still life flooding through the church, and fruit borne in various aspects of church life. We’ve had to rethink the way we do, and are, church as a consequence of practical factors, but this has led to a new closeness and openness among church members. People have been forced to step up and play a part, which has taken our church from a one-man band to a team effort.
Time really does heal. What began as a dark cloud hanging over every minute of my day, like a horrible living nightmare I could never wake up from, has gradually become smaller and smaller. The pain is less, forgiveness feels easier, and life becomes more about the practical realities of life post-affair. The personal struggle doesn’t go away, and particularly not for the leader’s family for whom it will always be an everyday reality, but life begins to find a new normal. Joy returns, however slowly.