Sometime between AD 120 and 140, Polycarp wrote a letter to the Philippian church. Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John and was appointed the bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey). He died in AD 159, being burned a the stake for his bold proclamation of the gospel. Polycarp, like John and Paul had a deep love for the church. He also had a keen sense of the importance of godly leadership in the church.
In his letter to the Philippian church, Polycarp addressed an issue of pastoral misconduct. That pastor’s name was Valens. We don’t know exactly what the problem was, but we get a hint that it may have had to do with money and power, lying and integrity. Let’s look at what he wrote.
“I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him [in the church]. I exhort you, therefore, that you abstain from covetousness, and that you be chaste and truthful.”
He goes on to write… “I am deeply grieved, therefore, brethren, for him (Valens) and his wife; to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! And be then moderate in regard to this matter, and do not count such as enemies, [2 Thessalonians 3:15] but call them back as suffering and straying members, that you may save your whole body. For by acting you shall edify yourselves. [1 Corinthians 12:26].”
There’s a lot of wisdom in this old brother. Here’s what I notice.
1 – A pastor who falls has forgotten what God has given. A pastor has a unique, hard, challenging, stressful and blessed position. And when it is not handled well, it can do great damage to the Bride of Jesus. In the midst of the daily grind it is easy to forget.
2 – If a pastor fails, the church should take care to watch their own lives. It is so easy to become embittered, angry, seeking revenge – hurt for hurt – and that just destroys us. Mourning and grief are the appropriate responses.
3 – The failing pastor is not an enemy. We must pray for repentance (healing requires honesty). We must call them back as suffering and straying members (though not necessarily back into leadership).
4 – The goal is to redeem the whole body! That includes the offending pastor. The miracle comes when hearts are broken and the reconciling love of God is displayed to the world.
This doesn’t discount the pain. It doesn’t let anyone off the hook. It doesn’t mean that there may be times when legal issues have to be addressed. It doesn’t mean we ignore the victims, they need special care in healing. It does bring everyone back to the cross, so we can see our own need for redemption. We must pray, hope and work together until that happens.
Whether it’s James MacDonald, Bill Hybels, or the local pastor at the corner church, we should mourn, watch, pray, hope and long for God to save us all – together.
Pray with me for the churches who are suffering from pastoral failure. Pray for those who are walking away from church and Jesus because of the failures they’ve seen. Pray for wisdom and honest repentance. Pray for healing and wholeness in all the church.