When Gandalf Goes Down with the Balrog: Or, When My Pastor Falls into Sin

Featured, Religion — By on September 10, 2012 at 7:00 am

Let’s just call him Pastor Bob. In church, he was Gandalf. Gandalf could do anything! Church cannot go on without him! What do you do when the Sin Balrog takes down Pastor Bob? Whether it was embezzlement, pornography, adultery, child molestation, addictions, or any one of a thousand things, it was big and you know that Pastor Bob the Grey will not be coming back as Pastor Bob the White. Maybe the Sin Balrog went down with Pastor Bob, but orcs and demons abound and you have to run on — without Pastor Bob.

When Gandalf fell into the abyss of Moria in The Lord of the Rings, everybody else knew only one thing to do: RUN. Gandalf was the wizard, the lore master, the guy who could blow up the bad guys and make everything okay. He met something too powerful for him and he went down. Aragorn took command of the remaining adventurers, and before he told everybody to RUN because the orcs were coming, he said goodbye to Gandalf:

‘Farewell, Gandalf!’ he cried. ‘Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true! What hope have we without you?’

He turned to the Company. ‘We must do without hope,’ he said. ‘At least we may yet be avenged. Let us gird ourselves and weep no more! We have a long road, and much to do.’

A pastor’s fall and disgrace usually comes like Gandalf’s fall to the Balrog but worse: sin is a part of us and no sin happens without a little personal compliance — at least the Balrog was not Gandalf’s fault! What do you do when a leader you loved and trusted falls like lightning from heaven?

Consider soldiers in normal war: when the men, even senior officers, start taking hits, surviving commanders have to keep the troops together and ready to fight. Whether they have to break formation to take cover or close ranks to withstand assault, they forget all the pretty parade lines but keep discipline. Even if they lose their chief officer, they have to keep their discipline firm and remain flexible enough to respond to enemy assaults. As Christians, when Pastor Bob goes down, we have to form up again very quickly; we have to win today’s battle so that we can afford to think about tomorrow.

Aragorn tells the remaining adventurers to get ready to fight and travel. They must seek refuge and find it fast. Whether it is treachery, ill fortune, or the simple progress of war that kills the commanding officer, soldiers have to hold out long enough for the enemy’s attack to break down. Christian leaders fall because their sins find them out, but a single leader’s fall may only be the beginning: how were they able to do whatever they did, anyway? Is the press going to say something? Is anyone going to jail? What if someone tries to sue the church into oblivion? Will fallout from the pastor’s disgrace contaminate someone’s ministry resume? Whatever we have to do to stay in the fight, stay in it we must; giving up only lets the devil win. Even if we hit excruciating pain and grief, we must look to the basics of the Christian life.

A college friend of mine who went into the Marines named four chief elements of good military strategy: bullets, bandages, beans, and bad guys. When something bad happens to Pastor Bob, we Christians are not to be so spiritually helpless that we die when the leader falls. We have to see to the four Bs. Does knowing God not give us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)? If the fall of a leader highlights your own shortcomings, remember Luke 13:1-5 and the eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell. Jesus said that they were not particularly evil, but that “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Second chances are only second chances in hindsight, so look to the four Bs when you start taking hits:

  • Bullets: Get in the Bible. Pray. These are your weapons. What is more, strike back with acts of compassion; sally forth with hope and healing for a broken world and let not the kingdom of God retreat.
  • Bandages: Prayer, time to grieve, form up again and re-integrate the wounded. In Band of Brothers, the guys keep sneaking out of the hospital to rejoin the fight before the doctors are ready to officially release them. Healing takes time, but you have to get back up and get going again while you still hurt.
  • Beans: When do we fellowship next? Pastor Bob might be down, but is there no one else who can read and teach from the Scriptures? In military strategy, the next meal is as important as the next battle, and weak fighters can starve powerful enemies into submission. Read the Bible! Pray! You can only fight on an empty stomach when you are sure of plundering the enemy’s supplies.
  • Bad guys: Smother gossip, don’t worry about a press scandal, repent of your own sin, and go love your enemies. The only way to keep winning against the world, the flesh, and the devil is to keep doing the stuff that Pastor Bob’s fall hurt your confidence to do.

Always stick with the basics. Foundations never stop being foundational, no matter how high your tower goes.

What about Pastor Bob himself? You definitely have to go through all the feelings coming your way. The chief difference between you and him may be that his sin was tactlessly found out while yours is safely hidden, or maybe his was just more glamorous. When a man falls from a high place, it is more painful for him to fall than for you to watch him: consider sin’s effects upon the immortal soul! Give him all the compassion that you can, knowing your own frailty and seeking his restoration as your brother in Christ. Discipline and justice must be carried out, but make sure that you have repented of your own sin. Maybe you only have something small to repent of, but that sin has to go. What if he was a hypocrite? The good that God gave you through him is goodness indeed, and you have to carry all of it forward no matter what. You may have to find new human good examples to follow, but ultimately you have to do as you must always do: cast yourself upon Christ.

The war goes on and we have to close ranks to fill the gap that Pastor Bob opened when he fell. Pastor Bob gave us a lot of hope, but we must do without hope. Yet we are not without hope, so let us cast ourselves again, more fully, or even finally upon Christ himself, who never fails. Maybe Pastor Bob’s fall showed you that you relied upon him and not on Jesus — accept no substitutes for Jesus. There will be time for grief over many days, and the bitterest will strike you years after the hard blow of Pastor Bob’s disgrace. Even so, gird yourselves and do not stop moving, for these hills will be swarming with orcs by nightfall.

Image via Flickr.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/annie.bennettatkinson Annie Bennett Atkinson

    Well spoken. Great strategy. Much compassion. I appreciate how you write. Keep it up. Onward we grow in God’s grace and truth.

  • Anonymous

    You wrote (and wrote well): “What about Pastor Bob himself? You definitely have to go through all the feelings coming your way. The chief difference between you and him may be that his sin was tactlessly found out while yours is safely hidden, or maybe his was just more glamorous. When a man falls from a high place, it is more painful for him to fall than for you to watch him: consider sin’s effects upon the immortal soul! Give him all the compassion that you can, knowing your own frailty and seeking his restoration as your brother in Christ. Discipline and justice must be carried out, but make sure that you have repented of your own sin. Maybe you only have something small to repent of, but that sin has to go. What if he was a hypocrite? The good that God gave you through him is goodness indeed, and you have to carry all of it forward no matter what. You may have to find new human good examples to follow, but ultimately you have to do as you must always do: cast yourself upon Christ.”

    Typically, though, Pastor Bob loses everything, including his community of faith and support (spiritual and financial and familial). He’s a pariah. He is often left to wander (sometimes literally). Maybe this isn’t bad and he needs to do this. But consider, when a lay person falls into sin, the congregation (or a group of leaders and brothers in Christ) surrounds the sinner and loves him back. This does not happen with Pastor Bob. He has failed. He is expendable. He was only as useful as his last inspiring sermon and his last tidbit of wise counsel. He was never a real person.

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