By Chipley McQueen Thornton, PhD – Lead Pastor, FBC Springville
In some ways, preachers and politicians struggle with a similar problem: Few people trust them. On the one hand, I can understand why. A quick search revealed just a few headlines of late:
- Megachurch pastor resigns after sexual misconduct allegations
- Federal grand jury indicts pastor for selling $1 million in Chinese bonds to elderly members
- South Carolina pastor sentenced to 37 months for tax evasion
- Pastor resigns due to alcohol abuse
We’ve all heard similar stories. It causes us to be slow to trust. Bad actors can seize on that and underhandedly destroy a pastor’s reputation. Here’s how it works: (1) cast seeds of doubt, true or untrue; (2) wait for the pastor to make a misstep; (3) loudly tell everyone, “I told you so!”
This has been going on for centuries. Bad actors crept into the Corinthian congregation. They cast seeds of doubt about Paul: that he is worldly (2 Cor 10:2), inferior (2 Cor 11:5); and, greedy (2 Cor 11:6). But the one that seemed to bother Paul the most is: You can’t trust him. This charge seems to stem from the fact that he intended to visit them, but God changed his plans. The bad actors seized on this to say, “See, you can’t trust Paul.”
Paul writes to them that trust is tethered to integrity. 2 Corinthians 1:17 is the key: Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? In other words, “Do you think I was lying when I made those travel plans?” No, God changed his plans. The principle is: We should trust godly leaders until they give us a reason not to trust them. Paul had given them no reason “not” to trust him.
Why don’t people give godly pastors the benefit of the doubt? Why are pastors deemed guilty until they prove their innocence? I think I know why. It’s what I said before: we have numerous examples of guilty pastors who transgressed terribly. But let’s be sensible. Not every pastor is guilty-by-association. There are a lot of good ones out there. True, there may come a time when a pastor breaches that trust and that breach must be dealt with . . . but not before that time. That’s what Paul is saying: “Let your trust be tethered to a pastor’s integrity—not his potential for impropriety.” Sometimes we fall into the Corinthian trap. And the irony is: The bad actors are the ones who, in reality, lack integrity.
I have 4 young children. Their cousin, a minister, recently planned to spend the weekend with us. He planned to attend a convention in our city, and he was coming early to spend time with us. For gospel reasons, his plans changed. God called him elsewhere on an urgent gospel matter. He called and explained the situation. My children were disappointed, but they understood. He wasn’t making empty promises. He genuinely intended to come. But God had other plans. My children never doubted him. Their trust was tethered to his integrity. Ours should be too.