April 12, 2023

Why Do Pastors Screw Up?

Inside This Episode

It’s hard to miss the relentless stream of news reports of Christian pastors who’ve been caught lying, cheating on their wives, mishandling church funds, and in some cases sexually abusing women and children - and the ripple effect pastoral misconduct has had on so many people who’ve lost faith in the Church. What are the root causes of these pastoral failures? How should they be handled? And how can trust in the Church ever be restored?

Eric Huffman talks to Julie Roys, the investigative journalist who’s been the first to report on many of the biggest church scandals, and Sonny and Shawn Hennessy, two megachurch pastors who found healing by owning up to their biggest mistakes and walking away from a thriving ministry.

Featured website: www.julieroys.com 

Featured podcast: “The Rise After the Fall”

More about The Exchange Collaborative: www.theexchangecollaborative.com

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Eric Huffman: Hey Maybe God listeners, I'm coming to you today from my church lobby in the Museum District of Houston, Texas on a busy Sunday morning. We're in between Sunday services here at The Story, and as people are coming and going, I wanted to ask them a few questions for today's episode. I'm not sure how honest they're going to be with me given the topic, but let's give it a shot.

So good morning, I really just want to ask you a few questions anonymously for the Maybe God podcast. So what I'd like to know is what would I, your pastor, have to do to screw up bad enough to make you give up on me?

Man 1: That's a great question. Tough question.

Eric Huffman: Anything specific come to mind?

Man 1: Not really.

Eric Huffman: What if I became a Yankees fan?

Man 1: I'd keep you?

[00:00:45] <music>

Eric Huffman: What if a pastor cursed in traffic?

Man 2: A pastor is still human. So I think if I curse and I'm forgiven, then if you curse you should be forgiven too.

Eric Huffman: That's good to hear. That's really good to hear.

[00:01:00] <music>

Eric Huffman: So what would I have to do, what line would I have to cross in order for you to change your view of me to the extent that you couldn't see me as a pastor anymore?

Woman 1: Probably not be living your life following biblical teachings. If you stole money from the church, if you stepped down on your wife. None of those are unforgivable, but it would make it hard to follow you as a pastor if there wasn't some sort of real asking for forgiveness and trying to right the ship.

[00:01:39] <music>

Eric Huffman: What if I dip my hand in the money jar at the church?

Man 3: I think if you stole money from the church in some form or fashion, that would probably be a deal breaker for me.

Woman 2: Moral failure, taking advantage of church funds, run-ins with the law, anything like that.

Eric Huffman: I'm hearing a lot of that today, like breaking trust where money is concerned or where marital infidelity? Why do you think people talk about those two things more than anything else?

Woman 2: Because that's what we've seen lately from leaders in the church.

Man 4: I think people see hypocrisy in a lot of pastors, and that could be a huge problem.

[00:02:14] <music>

Eric Huffman: So do you think we should set a higher bar of expectation for pastors than we should for average church members?

Woman 3: Absolutely.

Eric Huffman: Why?

Woman 3: Because God holds leaders to a higher standard.

Eric Huffman: And if I just, God forbid, did something egregious that, as you said, was not unforgivable but might be somewhat at least momentarily disqualifying as a pastor, what signs would you look for before ever trusting me again in that same way?

Man 5: Repentance, confession, and certainly, I think it would depend on how long it had been going on.

[00:02:50] <music>

Eric Huffman: Today on Maybe God we're talking about the relentless stream of news reports of Christian pastors who have been caught lying, cheating on their wives, mishandling or even stealing church funds, and in some cases, sexually abusing women and children and the ripple effect that pastoral misconduct has had on so many people who've lost faith in the church.

Our first guest is the investigative reporter who publicly outed many of these stories.

Julie Roys: We're allowing pastors who don't have character to be platformed. I think God is angry about what's happening and I think the Holy Spirit is grieved because God's name is being trudged through the mud.

Eric Huffman: We're also talking to a megachurch pastor who was forced to own up to his biggest mistakes and to walk away from his huge platform and the people who supported his ministry.

Shawn Hennessy: I was acting like a third-grade kid. I would lie, I would cheat, I would steal, I would yell, I would operate on a fear-and-shame basis. We would go to these big events and people would ask for my autograph. It's like this celebrity thing that goes on where I knew that I was shattered inside.

Eric Huffman: And you'll hear from his wife and co-pastor who hopes that by openly sharing their story they can help other pastors heal before experiencing a fall as painful as theirs.

[00:04:23] <music>

Eric Huffman: You're listening to Maybe God. I'm Eric Huffman. Trust is everything, especially when it's your job to tell people the truth about God and the truth about themselves. Pastors, priests, and other church leaders build trust with their congregations by carrying themselves with humility and authenticity.

But in recent years, as most churches and denominations have seen sharp declines in attendance and contributions, Christian leaders in America have faced unprecedented pressure to create more buzz and draw bigger crowds by putting on a more compelling Sunday morning show.

In many churches across America, performance instead of trust has become the currency of choice, and pastors are more prone than ever to give the people what they want, which usually boils down to a service and a sermon that are sufficiently entertaining. But when pastors become performers, Christians become consumers. And the pastors who deliver the goods tend to grow larger platforms on which to perform.

What's tempting about this model of ministry is that when it works, it really works. But it rarely works for very long. And when it stops working, the results can be devastating. One example of this is Carl Lentz, who was the pastor of Hillsong Church in New York City.

[voice of Carl Lentz] Think about the stuff that you're called to do. You're called to live sexually pure in a sex-saturated culture. Good luck doing that on your own. You're called to stay married to the same person. Anybody who's been married over four hours knows, whoa, geez, here. We need you here, Lord.

Eric Huffman: Lentz made headlines for his charismatic style. GQ Magazine once labeled him a hype priest for his fashionable wardrobe and his ability to reach NBA players and other celebrities like Justin Bieber. In 2020, Lentz was fired after an extramarital affair and other indiscretions came to light, revelations which set off a chain reaction of lawsuits and allegations that brought even more shame and scrutiny upon the church.

This is a clip from a recent Discovery Plus Docuseries called Hillsong: A Mega Church Exposed, featuring Carl's former mistress and other women impacted by the scandal.

Woman 4: When we talk about Carl's impurity, how could you shame me when I was so young but you did this?

Woman 5: It was the most toxic thing I ever had to deal with.

[00:07:14] <music>

Eric Huffman: Here in Houston, Texas, many were shaken last year by the news that Jeremy Foster, the founding pastor of Hope City Church, which was at the time the fastest-growing church in America had left his wife and kids and the church they planted together to start a new life with his mistress. By all accounts, Hope City still hasn't recovered.

[Jeremy Foster's voice] If you don't know, you know, had a moral failure. I had an affair and I devastated my family. I hurt the church that I was leading. Just to be quite frank, I never would have thought that I would have done this. And I'm deeply sorry.

Eric Huffman: Of all of the stories of clergy misconduct that I've ever heard, and there have been many, the one that was perhaps the most shocking and heartbreaking to me was that of Ravi Zacharias, the world-renowned Christian apologist, speaker, and author who helped nurture my own faith in the years following my conversion.

[Ravi Zacharias's voice] If love is a supreme ethic and freedom is indispensable to love and God's supreme goal for you and for me is that we will love Him with all of our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves, for Him to violate our free will would be to violate that which is a necessary component so that love can flourish and love can be expressed.

Eric Huffman: Like millions of his other followers and fans, I trusted Ravi to speak truth into my life with authority, and I felt personally blessed by his ministry, which is why it hurts so much to learn that for years before his death in 2020, Ravi Zacharias had been coercing and sexually abusing vulnerable women all across the world.

Woman 5: I knew the world to be an unsafe place before I met Ravi Zacharias. But I had hoped that there were some safe and sacred spaces. I no longer live with that hope. I trusted him, I trusted Christendom. That trust is irreparably and catastrophically shattered.

Even though I was a survivor before I met [inaudible 00:09:12], having met and come to know him was one of the most traumatizing soul-destroying faith, crushing seasons of my life. He tore down everything that I had built, that I felt was beautiful: my marriage, my husband, my home, my faith, my family's faith, my capacity to mother, my mental and physical health, and what little good repute I had and ultimately my entire career path.

Eric Huffman: The list of misbehaving preachers that have gotten caught in their sin could go on and on. Each one has left in his wake so many victims, including people who've lost their church homes, and in some cases have walked away from God altogether.

I want you to know that we've wrestled for months with this episode. No one on the Maybe God team wants to air the church's dirty laundry or bring further shame upon Christianity. But as I said, trust is everything. And in order for trust to be restored in the church, its leaders must tell the truth.

We start today with a woman who understands how rampant the issues are when it comes to clergy misconduct and controversies. These days, she and her team have been overwhelmed by the number of calls coming in to report pastoral misdeeds. They literally can't keep up.

Julie Roys: It's unbelievable. I mean, if I had three more full-time reporters, I don't think we could cover it all. We are getting leads every single day and every single one deserves covering and every single one breaks your heart. I mean, it's tough.

Eric Huffman: Julie Roys is an investigative reporter who's often the first to publicly expose misbehaving pastors on her Christian news site, The Roy's Report.

Julie Roys: Our tagline is "Reporting the Truth. Restoring the Church." People often asked me like, why did you volunteer for this? And I'm like, "I didn't volunteer for this. I got drafted." I was a radio host with Moody Radio, had a national talk show, but saw a lot of things that were going on that weren't so good, and really was a crisis of conscience for me to blow the whistle on that.

So I did that thinking that would end my career for good, which it did end my career in Christian radio. I got fired. But then people just started coming to me with all of these stories and begging me to report on them because they were seeing some of this corruption and abuse within the evangelical space and so many of the Christian news media wasn't willing to touch it, because, you know, they're fed by the same beast that they would be reporting on. So they didn't have the willingness to do it.

So I found myself in this unique situation where people were telling me their stories, where people wanted me to report. So I realized, I think God's calling me to something.

Eric Huffman: Her calling has made her a target of some serious backlash. Her most vitriolic critics are other Christians. They accuse her of being an angry, liberal feminist who just wants to destroy the church and bring down its leaders.

Julie Roys: It's ironic because I'm actually a conservative Evangelical. I mean, anybody who knows me would laugh at that kind of characterization. But here's the thing is that I've been willing to call out my own tribe. So people have tried to make me into being outside of this tribe and that I'm just lobbying from the outside. And that's not true.

But I do have a conviction that we need to be able to hold each other accountable. That's a biblical, you know, value to hold one another accountable. Iron sharpens iron. And if we are authentic in our walk with the Lord, we would invite that kind of accountability. But as we've seen, that isn't what's happening.

The applicable verse here is one that I've rarely heard pastors preach on. And that would be 1 Timothy 5:20, which is when you have an elder who's sinning, that you're to publicly expose him. Why? So that others may see, take note, and be warned. And the whistleblowers often someone who's very vulnerable and not in power. So they really do need people to come alongside and help them tell the truth because so often the people that are supposed to be holding these leaders accountable, like their elder boards, aren't.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, sure. I think what's really missing in the conversation, it's not just the power imbalance, that is part of it, but it's also the high bar of responsibility set by scripture for eldership, which is kind of part and parcel to pastoral leadership.

And if there's one reason why I keep coming back to the Roy's report, it's because as a pastor, I need to be reminded not only of how high that bar is, but also how much harm can be done when pastors slip. And I know I'm going to stand before Jesus one day and have to account for the ways I haven't lived up to the expectations of pastors. And your work helps me to do that.

Could you just talk a little bit about what you're seeing in recent months in the church kind of trends and things among churches and church leaders?

Julie Roys: Well, the trend has been that there's unfortunately just an awful lot of corruption and abuse within the church that is finally coming to light. And people often ask me, "Is it just there's a lot more of it happening now or is it just coming to light?"

And when you look at what I've been reporting, you know, some of this... Like take the SBC sex abuse cover-up scandal, which it was just widespread, hundreds of abusers that were even now have with the SBC executive committee that they kept a list but didn't tell the churches. This is definitely a trend that we're seeing is that pastors would offend at one church, would be found out and then will quietly move to another church and be re-platformed in ministry. I said it's like whack a wolf. Right?

You know, it's like you whack one and they come up again and again and again. Mark Driscoll is a perfect case in point with this where, I mean, he did leave, his elders did call him out and he was publicly exposed. And yet he's been able to replatform himself in Phoenix, Arizona. He's doing the same things. In fact, it's worse than before because now he doesn't even have elders. You know, he's very public with his staff that this is a family business.

So we see this abuse continue and these pastors getting platformed. I think what's happened with, you know, the social media age, with mega-churches is that we found that pastors are given platforms and that becomes their power. It's not like the old days where a pastor was put in this position because he had character that was approved by the church or by the denomination. It's because he's gotten a platform. And once he gets that platform, it is really hard for it to be taken away, and he will continue to use that.

And it's hard for these elder boards to hold their megachurch pastors accountable because the pastor is so big, and he's the brand, right, and he's the one that brings in the money. And the church doesn't know very much about good governance, you know about a board being independent, about a board being transparent with finances, these sorts of things that do safeguard you.

But yeah, there's an awful lot of abuse going on in the church. There's an awful lot of misusing scripture and grace to allow a pastor to re-platform after he's clearly disqualified himself from ministry. I mean, Scripture is clear, you know, the overseers to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, self-controlled, temperate.

And we've forgotten that fruit is not how many people you can put in the pews or how many buy your books. Fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control. And we're allowing pastors who don't have character, who don't have the fruit of the Spirit to be platformed and to speak. I think God is angry about what's happening and I think the Holy Spirit is grieved because God's name is being trudged through the mud. I think it's just grievous what's happening.

[00:17:14] <music>

Eric Huffman: Shawn and Sonny Hennessy are the pastors of Life Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Shawn is also the chaplain of the NFL's Green Bay Packers. Early in their careers as pastors, it was clear that they were destined for a lot of success. But Shawn is the first to admit that he wasn't ready for the platform that he was given in his 20s.

Shawn Hennessy: I came to the Lord late in the game. You know, I actually got saved in a football locker room. Football's kind of always been a story of my life and it's been intertwined. I was living the life of a division one athlete and got arrested and convicted of a felony.

Eric Huffman: What felony?

Shawn Hennessy: Felony of robbery. I actually got out on a technicality. I served 111 days of a 15-year sentence. And I got out on-

Eric Huffman: Fifteen years sentence?

Shawn Hennessy: Fifteen years, man. I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison. I got out and by the grace of God, I would say now, but at the time I thought it was just the luck of the draw.

Eric Huffman: Shawn grew up poor in a rough neighborhood in Ontario, Canada, just across the border from Detroit, and he admits that he lived a life of crime growing up.

Shawn Hennessy: I come from a line of criminals. I've got an uncle who was sentenced to life in prison. And I just felt like it was part of my DNA. And the neighborhood that I came out of, there really wasn't that many tracks out. You could join the military, you could die. You could get a scholarship. I didn't want to join the military or die, so you know, I went on this football scholarship.

But what I discovered, Eric, is no matter where you go, you're with yourself—you take you with you. So I actually didn't commit a crime out of desperation, I committed out of convenience. We were just broke. Back then there were no NILs. You didn't get to get money when you're on a scholarship.

So I had a roommate who told me that there was an apartment near our apartment that was full of stuff and he never saw anybody come or go. So he said, "I think we should go rob that place." And I was like, "Yeah, I think we should. I'm sick of eating ramen."

So we went in and I picked the lock and we stole... The value of goods was so high that it became a felony. It took less than 24 hours for me to be caught. And it's interesting when you're guilty and you get caught. There's a certain point where you just reserve yourself to the fact that you go, "This was inevitable." I felt like at some point I was going to spend my life incarcerated. So this was just the time.

Eric Huffman: Not surprisingly, Shawn lost his athletic scholarship to the University of Minnesota and was expelled. After he was released from the Hennepin County Jail due to overcrowding, he headed back to the Detroit area to follow in his family's footsteps and work in a car factory.

Eighty-nine days into his new life, Shawn got a call from a football coach in Ellendale, North Dakota. He was offered a full ride at a small private Bible college.

Shawn Hennessy: I didn't know it was a Christian school. When I got there, the first thing I tried to do is buy weed off of a guy named Scott Sneer from Salem, Oregon. And he told me that I didn't need weed, I needed Jesus.

Eric Huffman: Oh, wow.

Shawn Hennessy: So every day for six weeks, Scott Sneer shared Jesus with me. And before our first game in Rapid City, South Dakota, the football coach came in to give his pep talk and his pep talk was John 3:16. I started to cry, and I looked over and next to me, smiling like the Cheshire Cat, was Scott Sneer from Salem, Oregon. And I said, "I need to get saved."

Eric Huffman: Wow. 

Julie Roys: We went into the shower room and I got down on my knees because that's what I thought people who prayed needed to do, they led me through a prayer and then they baptized me in the shower. And it was an instantaneous change for me. I legitimately had a genuine conversion. I was so in love with Jesus from the beginning, even though my actions didn't always show it.

Then I was kicked out of that school as well and Jerry Grimshaw, that football coach, he went to the president of the school and he put his job on the line. He said, "I will personally be responsible for him. I guarantee he will not mess up again. And if he does, you can fire me."

Eric Huffman: Dang. That is amazing.

Shawn Hennessy: He had a wife, two kids, a house, a car, you know. It was crazy.

Eric Huffman: So the second time at the smaller school, what happened there?

Shawn Hennessy: Well, I got caught smoking weed in the dorm room. And actually, you know, I have a picture of it. I had on basketball shorts, no shirt, a giant purple foam cowboy hat, and the room is filled with smoke. And the Dean of the School walked in and I was smoking a joint. And when he walked in, I offered him a hit. He was polite to me.

Eric Huffman: Bro!

Shawn Hennessy: He pulls me into his office and he said, "Dude, you can't smoke weed and be saved." And I was like, "Well, I didn't know that. I just got into this team, you know." I was like, "If I would have known that, I definitely wouldn't have been doing it in the dorms." But I probably wouldn't have been doing it anyway. Because I'm a bit of a rule person. Like, if you tell me, "You can't do this" and I believe in what it is that you're subscribed to, then I'll toe the line.

Eric Huffman: I mean, it's another example, I think of an important thing for Christians to keep in mind, which is when someone comes to Christ, in some ways that change can be instant and complete. But in most of the examples I can think of, people that come to Christ bring their habits and old sort of ways with them, and it kind of takes some time to work them through and work them out.

And for the new law of Christ's grace to set in and for us to learn how to respond to that as opposed to the old ways that we've been living. Sometimes there's a little bit of a gray zone for a convert like you, smoking weed at a Christian college, right? Like, we have to be really understanding.

One thing that's really interesting to me about your story at this stage that I do sort of vividly recall is how you were sort of brought back into the school's good graces and sort of given their stamp of approval again. They heard you singing or something. Like you were a singer. You can sing on top of everything else.

Shawn Hennessy: Yes, they did. I sang at a wedding, and the president of the school approached me and asked me if I would travel with him as he preached and promoted the school and if I would sing and open up for him. And I said, "Well, I don't even go to school here anymore." He said, "Well, you let me worry about that?"

Eric Huffman: Wow. Which is beautiful and good and I'm so glad that happened for you. But in light of the conversation we're about to have today, it's one example of how the deeper issues that need ministry can be sort of forgotten in light of extraordinary talent. And we in the church tend to prop up really talented people that have deeper things going on that need work, right?

Shawn Hennessy: Definitely.

Eric Huffman: So is it fair to say that you were not really spiritually prepared to be put in the spotlight at that point in your life?

Shawn Hennessy: Oh, I wasn't spiritually, emotionally, maturity, none of the above.

Eric Huffman: Shawn's talent for singing and speaking to large crowds flourished as he continued to represent his Bible College at various events. In his sophomore year-

Shawn Hennessy: ...the love of my life walked into the cafeteria. And the first time that I saw her, I looked at the guy who was sitting next to me who was my roommate at the time, and I said, "Bro, I'm gonna marry that girl." And he goes, "Well, who is she? What's her name?" I said, "I don't know. I'm going to find out and I'm gonna marry her."

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Shawn Hennessy: Here she is 26 years later.

Eric Huffman: What was it about her?

Shawn Hennessy: Honestly, the first thing I noticed about her was her calves. She has incredible calves.

Eric Huffman: What a [inaudible 00:24:57], man.

Shawn Hennessy: If my calves were as muscular as Sonny's, I would have been in the NFL. And then it was her personality. She was disengaging. She was funny. There was no BS about her. She called me out on stuff. And she still calls me. Twenty-six years later, she's still calling me out on stuff.

Eric Huffman: Sonny was a 17-year-old freshman when she walked into the cafeteria that fateful day and Shawn was 21. Just like Shawn, Sonny also found herself escaping the emotional and psychological trauma that she'd experienced in her small South Dakota hometown.

Sonny Hennessy: I was raised on a ranch until I was age 12. I mean, when I say a ranch, I mean, there were five people that lived within a 10-mile radius outside of my family. So I went to a little school all of my years. I was going to be a perfect Christian once I got saved. And my plan was that I would stay pure until marriage and not have sex. I had a t-shirt that said, "I'm not doing it" I proudly wore around eighth and ninth grade. That was going to be my story. And made it about almost two years, and fell madly in love at age 14 to the love of my life.

And I was the one that said, "We're gonna get married anyway, I love you so much. Let's have sex." I got pregnant. I got pregnant at 14. And at 15, I go to my sophomore year pregnant in a maternity outfit to high school. So this was quite the story for people.

My parents were large employers in town. So they loved that this little rich girl got what she had. I mean, she was preaching at people with their t-shirt and now she's pregnant. So bullying went to a whole new level. I got to 23 weeks along in my pregnancy, and I'm in typing class. I felt like something was weird.

Basically, I went into labor at 23 weeks along. And when I go to the doctor, they're like, "You know, the baby's coming." And the doctor looked at my mom said, "We can save your daughter or the baby." Obviously, he was interested in saving me. So I did have a baby at 15. She lived for four hours.

So I go from 15, now I'm a mom, but I'm also a mom who's lost a baby to I'm a sophomore in high school. So I grew up quick, graduated a year early, went to Bible college because my Aunt Judy just took me under her wing and was a great woman of God. And I wanted to be like her. And that's where he saw my calves.

Eric Huffman: What did you see in him? Did he also have nice calves or anything going on?

Sonny Hennessy: I liked the bad boy, the rebel boy. So I wanted to be the good church girl per se, but I liked the rebel boy. So what I saw in him was he looked and was the coolest guy on campus. Because all the other boys were kind of dorky, and we dated immediately.

Eric Huffman: Did y'all get engaged while in college?

Sonny Hennessy: So I was 17 still and he was 21. We went on a walk, and at the end of the walk, I looked at him and I said, "If you don't think this is going to end in marriage, we should end it now." And he just looked at me, he goes, "Can I let you know in the morning?"

I went back to my dorm and flopped down on the bed and told my roommate who had introduced me to him. I said, "I just blew it. We're not dating." I told him that, she goes, "Oh my gosh." And the next day he acted like nothing happened. And then a couple days later, he had me picking out utensils for his apartment. And then that's August... at Christmas time we went home to my parents and he asked me to marry him. And we got married by February.

Eric Huffman: Both Shawn and Sonny felt a clear call to ministry. So after college, they headed to Memphis, Tennessee, where they both worked as youth pastors and quickly became addicted to success and people-pleasing. While their public lives thrived, at home their marriage was brought with fighting, and a few years in, things began to unravel.

Shawn Hennessy: We had a miscarriage and then Sonny got pregnant and almost immediately in the pregnancy we were at an ultrasound and the ultrasound tech actually left the room without talking to us and came back in with the doctor. The doctor actually looked at us and said, "You guys need to terminate the pregnancy."

She kind of went through, you know, what the challenges were and the fact that the baby wouldn't go to term, and if the baby went to term, she would die almost immediately. So we had a revival meeting. We had a special speaker come in and we had multiple nights of youth services leading up to the actual due date, and the speaker at the time had us come forward in front of everyone, all our teenagers, hundreds of teenagers, and he began to prophesy over us that God was going to heal our child.

[00:29:59] <music>

Shawn Hennessy: And had all the kids that could fit around us come and lay hands on us. He prayed and spit and sweat and shout, and we went the next morning and she was born. And when she was born, she was actually worse than they anticipated. They actually didn't let Sonny see her at the beginning and brought me up to see her in the NICU.

It was shocking. I didn't think there's any way that she would make it through the day. So she lived 18 days and we learned lessons that you never want to learn firsthand. But we also learned some lessons that you only can learn firsthand. I learned what it is to be mad at God, I learned what it is to use every profanity that you can about God and to God. And He didn't spite me.

We got to hold her. We got to be parents for 18 days. It was the most heartbreaking thing. We had to actually physically pull the plug on her. I've never had more pain in my life than at that moment. But at the same time to feel this... It's such a churchy word, but to feel the sovereignty of God in that moment.

Sonny Hennessy: It's interesting how two different people do two different things, though. In that, he was angry with God, and he wanted to walk away. In that, I took it as, Well, this is judgment on maybe in a teenage pregnancy.

Eric Huffman: Wow. Really?

Sonny Hennessy: This is actually is the discipline and the vengeance of the Lord to say you shouldn't have screwed up earlier and then you could have kids.

Shawn Hennessy: I think we had just put our nose to the grindstone when that happened. We just doubled down on ministry. We wanted to become more effective. Probably a year later, we were doing these Friday night prayer meetings and we had a 16-year-old girl that was listening to Sonny pray and came up to Sonny and gave her... She said she felt like the Lord told her that she was supposed to come and tell her that by this time next year, you guys are going to be parents. It's going to be a boy. He's going to be healthy. And you need to name him Isaiah. And it was true. It happened. She got pregnant, he was born.

And you know what was interesting... I have nothing else to say about the church that we were youth pastors at the time. It changed my life. My pastor there is my hero. But I think people were so tepid when it came to getting excited about our pregnancy because they were like, Well, this is what we know and this is what we've seen happen. So there were two people that showed up... in a church of 5,000 people, there were two people that showed up at Sonny's baby shower for Isaiah.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Shawn Hennessy: That was like a dagger to Sonny. I'm sure that she probably questioned maybe not her call to ministry, but definitely our call to that church at that point. So when an opportunity presented itself for us to go do a different type of ministry, that's when I went on the road.

Eric Huffman: Sonny and Shawn moved to Florida to be close to her parents. When Isaiah was just one week old, Shawn started his new job as a full-time traveling evangelist.

Shawn Hennessy: For four and a half years as an evangelist, I was gone almost all the time. So I think in the midst of that, the enemy started to weave these lies in both of our minds about the fact that we are better apart, when everything that we've ever done corporately had always been successful.

So then when you had Sonny become a youth pastor and she had one of the largest youth ministries in the southeast United States and I'm speaking in front of these huge crowds, it seemed on the outside like we were functioning better apart. But the more that we grew in our career, the more that we shrunk in our personal life.

We didn't even know how to talk to each other anymore. And then we're new parents. And then a couple of years later, she got pregnant with our daughter and I was at a camp and she called me and she said, "I'm pregnant." And my exact words were, "What am I supposed to do about it?" I was 100%, a non-supportive partner in our early parenting.

And I was like, "Well, you raise the kids. I'll be out making the money." And even though she had a full-time career and it was like this weird boundary that I had in myself or barrier that I had myself that wouldn't allow me to go all in because I just knew at some point she was gonna leave.

Eric Huffman: Right. This is easier and safer in your mind. But you were believing the lies of the enemy it was easier and safer to keep your distance.

Sonny Hennessy: We've gotten some counseling, but it was like marriage counseling here and there. And we had more than a communication or a money, or a date night problem. I had had a baby and just buried it and moved on. And he had been arrested and thought he was gonna live in prison forever and just got saved and moved on. We didn't deal emotionally with so many things and then we wondered why we took everything out on one another.

Eric Huffman: What did that manifest itself like at home?

Sonny Hennessy: Shine came from a really rough neighborhood, and he came from a poor home. So he would view me through the lens of his mom. I'm in northern woman and we don't, you know, submit well. So I wore the pants in the family. So then I was making it like I was his mom in how I spoke to him and left him sticky notes for "you need to take out the garbage, do this, this and this." And he would respond like a small child who was yelling and frustrated as mom. Not do what I had said, not fulfill my expectations around the house, and then blow up and yell or storm off like a child does.

Eric Huffman: I really appreciate the vulnerability there because that's the part of the story that never gets told. And that's why pastors end up in such predicaments. And it's a self-made, you know, sort of problem. I'm not saying pastors are victims necessarily. But when we have that going on at home and then we also go to church and perform and talk to others from stages and in spotlights as though we know how family works, as though we're the model, there's an even deeper resentment that grows in a marriage when you stand there and watch your spouse get up on stage and lie. You know what I mean?

Sonny Hennessy: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: You bring it home, and it just festers even more.

Sonny Hennessy: To go even more vulnerable, maybe, then we had kids. So he's out either on the road as an evangelist where they're treating them to nice meals and putting him in good hotels, and he's on stage and gets off stage and hundreds are like, "Oh my gosh, you're amazing." And he comes home and I meet him at the door with a child with a poopy diaper and I'm mad because I've been home doing this, I have a career I want.

And this is what women do a lot behind closed doors. We just wear our man out because you don't take the load that I carry. I mean, this can be the other way around. But typically, then he's getting treated so well in public and getting treated so poorly at home.

I remember when we were really coming to blows, I finally shared with my mom, like, "Mom, we fight all the time at home." And she said, "Sonny, I feel like what Shawn needs is to come home to an oasis, not to a warzone." And I was like, "Ding ding ding." That was the beginning of maybe I'm some of the problems because of course, I wanted to think he was the problem.

Shawn Hennessy: But in all honesty, I mean, there was a lot of things I should have been confronted about. You know, because I was acting like a third-grade kid. I would lie, I would cheat, I would steal, I would yell, I would operate on a fear-and-shame basis. It is challenging, you know, when you're in ministry.

When I was an evangelist, we would go to these big events, and bro, people would ask for my autograph. It's like this celebrity thing that goes on where when you are damaged, you're not immune to the fact that you're damaged, you're not ignorant to it. Like I knew that I was shattered inside.

So I was trying to figure out not only how do I cover it up in public, but I would go through spells where I'm also trying to cover it up in private. It's like a percolator. It would just get to a point where I would get caught in something, and I would always get caught... And Sonny has this great analogy where she says like, God keeps her on a short leash, and she prays for that.

And I felt like at times God had me on a choke chain. I would do things wrong and he would make sure that I was caught in that thing. And I think in the beginning, I viewed it like God was mad at me for the things that I was doing. But then probably when I became a dad, what I realized is he's actually doing it for my benefit. He's doing it because he sees more in me than I see in myself.

He was looking at me the way He looked at Simon. He viewed me as the rock when I just viewed myself as a damaged throwaway. And I think I lived most of my life feeling like Sonny was going to leave me at some point.

Eric Huffman: Really? Wow.

Shawn Hennessy: It was inevitable I was gonna get abandoned. I couldn't break away from the insecurities of my life because I was living my life like a child.

Eric Huffman: Over a decade into their rocky marriage, Shawn and Sonny knew something had to change if they were going to avoid a divorce. Shawn gave up his life on the road as an evangelist, and the family moved to Detroit where Sonny and Shawn merged their ministries and became senior pastors of a successful church. But since they still hadn't dealt with the hurt and the shame each of them had brought into their marriage, things got much worse before they got better.

Sonny Hennessy: So now we're back in this home that we love each other, but we hate each other and we don't like each other.

Eric Huffman: That's complicated, man.

Sonny Hennessy: Yeah, it's very complicated. But I think there's so many marriages that way, right?

Eric Huffman: Absolutely. Yes.

Sonny Hennessy: So Shawn was, one, he would spend money and have it on credit cards, and I'd get the statement. I paid the bills at that point, which is another bad thing when you're struggling to not be the mom of him. So I'm paying the bills and I'm like, "What is this?" And he's thinking, "I bring in all this money traveling, I can buy what I want." So it started as that. It wasn't drugs, alcohol, sex. It wasn't that. It was the sneaking money. Then eventually it turned into more and more spending.

And then I found a credit card receipt, and it said that it was for a Harley Davidson. No, it wasn't a Harley-

Shawn Hennessy: It was a Harley.

Sonny Hennessy: It was a Harley.

Shawn Hennessy: I bought a Harley without her knowing about it.

Eric Huffman: Oh, bro.

Sonny Hennessy: But he told me that someone in our congregation in Detroit gave it to him.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, so some deception there. A lot of brokenness.

Sonny Hennessy: So at that point, I was like, "Oh, I think there's way more going on than I even think." And there was. It did turn into relationships with other people, whether that was emotionally or it was... You know, we had interns on both sides, because we were youth pastors for so long. So I'd have interns, he'd have interns and they would just be totally enamored by us. So we would cross the line and talking about our marriage with interns. That right there is dangerous. You're in danger zone at that point.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, you've crossed into the into the dangerous territory when you start oversharing. Like telling people who have no business knowing about your marriage how sad you are or unfulfilled you are or whatever, you're past the point of no return in some ways. I mean, by God's grace, there's never a point of no return. But in terms of developing inappropriate relationships, you're there at that point.

Shawn Hennessy: Yeah. After a decade of ups and downs and deceptions, I think the straw that broke the camel's back for her was that not only could I do something that was deceptive towards her but that I could use the Lord as a lie in that. And she came to me and she said, "I'm out."

And she packed whatever she could pack in the back of her parents' pickup, and my two kids. Her and her mom and my two kids pulled out of our driveway in Plymouth, Michigan, and left me in my driveway bawling, begging her not to leave. And she left. And my father-in-law stayed with me. He stayed with me because he was worried about me. He viewed me like a son. And he was so mad at me because of what I've done to his daughter, but he wanted to make sure that I didn't do anything that was irreversible.

You know, honestly, Eric, we experienced the same thing that you talked about earlier where sometimes your indiscretions can be covered up by your talent. And my church kept me.

Eric Huffman: Oh, wow.

Shawn Hennessy: I went to my board, and I said, "Sonny's left me, I think we're gonna get a divorce." And they said, "Well, you're not gonna resign, are you?"

Sonny Hennessy: "We need you."

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Shawn Hennessy: Our attendance was blowing up every week, people were getting saved. It was bananas. I just remember I was so torn about that. I mean, I didn't want to lose my job because I needed the money. And in my mind, I thought, "Well, maybe I'll win her back." After a couple of weeks, I was like, "Bro, she's not coming back." She had divorce papers drawn up, and they weren't signed, but this was like, "No, this is really going to happen."

Eric Huffman: Real quick, after she left and you had this talk with the board, did you take a break?

Shawn Hennessy: Oh, none. Zero break.

Sonny Hennessy: Not even a Sunday.

Shawn Hennessy: I didn't take Sunday off.

Eric Huffman: You were preaching the following Sunday?

Sonny Hennessy: I left on July 3rd and it was 4th of July and two days later, he preached the message. And he just told the congregation, he said, Sonny left." And the congregation didn't leave, bro. It was just like-

Eric Huffman: So what does that communicate to you at that particular point in time?

Sonny Hennessy: Talent was the most important. That he was still only loved and adored because of his talent, which was a phrase he learned in college, that people will put their job on the line to keep me around to get the school more attendance. And this isn't just the church, this is everywhere. We excuse celebrity all day long because it is a return on your investment. And he was a product.

Eric Huffman: We talk a lot about the evils of objectifying people. Like how we objectify women physically. This is another kind of objectification of people. I think, Shawn, you more than willingly accepted this objectification at that point in time, but it didn't do you any good.

Shawn Hennessy: Oh, definitely not. I think it took me into a whole spiral of, well, I guess I can do anything I want. If my wife can leave me and you're gonna keep me around-

Eric Huffman: Bro.

Shawn Hennessy: ...I can so anything that I want to. But when she left, there was a realization in me that... The first time that we went to marriage counseling, we had this guy who looked at me and he said, "Shawn, she needs to know that you need her." And I looked across him, I said, "I don't need her."

But later on when she left, what I discovered is not only did I want her but I also did need her. That she was the piece of me that God had destined to be put in place. And when she was gone, man, I was a wreck, bro. It was like I was in middle school again. I went out, got a big chain. I have a bunch of tattoos, you know, I kind of was a thug growing up anyway. So I went back like thug mode. I went got a dog. I got like a big Bullmastiff. I was eating hungry man meals, watching Rambo. It was like, dude.

And after a couple of weeks, I was like, "This is bogus." And I realized, man, I want to be in a place where I need to be a man of God. I needed some level of accountability. I really needed that board to look at me and say, "It was good knowing you."

Eric Huffman: That's right.

Sonny Hennessy: What happened is I had a guy who called me. It was my pastor, Fulton Buntain. There's no one on earth that I respected more than Fulton Buntain. He was like my dad. He called me up and he said, "Shawn, this is pastor, and I'm just calling to see if you're still in A-hole."

Eric Huffman: That's what you needed.

Shawn Hennessy: Not only had I never heard Pastor Buntain swear, I had never heard him get sideways with someone. He was the kindest, lovingest person I'd ever met. And I said, "I didn't know I wasn't A-hole." And he goes, "Are you and Sonny back together yet?" I said, "No, sir." He said, "Then you're still in A-hole. Don't ever call me again until you and Sonny get back together."

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Shawn Hennessy: And that was like the picture of what love and accountability was meant to be. And then another guy called me who was pastor Buntain's son-in-law, a guy named Rich Wilkerson, who he had kind of been one of my mentors growing up because Pastor Buntain was his father-in-law. So he called me and cussed me out and told me... These are the exact words. He said, "You need to get in your car right now and go get your wife back. You need to quit that church. You need to leave everything." He's like, "Go work at the mall, do whatever you have to do. You need to go get your family back. You're being an idiot."

Eric Huffman: Did you take his advice?

Shawn Hennessy: I did. I got in my SUV, and I drove to Florida, where she was.

Eric Huffman: Sorry to interrupt you. But what did you do when he actually got there?

Sonny Hennessy: Well, he had his chain on. So I was immediately appalled. I walked around my parents' house and ignored him. God kept me righteously angry. And I've told women that a lot. Like you don't have to get a divorce to separate and ask God to keep you righteously angry so that there will be change. And I'm so glad God didn't just have me go back to him and hug him like everything was fine like I always had.

So I agreed to go back with the kids and live in a different house. Then he just started dating me. And he just stuck it out because most of the time I just look across the table and be like, "You make me sick."  Like inside I'm just like, "You're just a dirty dog."

So it wasn't just the slow dating, it was that then he found out about a program in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and we went to Green Bay, Wisconsin for eight days for an intensive. And he went to a counseling session with a man and a group of men. I went with women in a different classroom, and they kept saying, "Focus on you. Don't focus on your spouse. Focus on you. This is you."

I mean, I got down to things that I realized were in me, and it wasn't all Shawn. He actually wrote me a letter after his class day one of eight, and he wrote in it, "Babe," as he always did, "I love you. You're not my mom." I was like, "I have screamed that at the top of my lungs-

Shawn Hennessy: For 13 years.

Sonny Hennessy: ...for 13 years." And I knew... Oh, it unlocked it.

Shawn Hennessy: Something was working.

Sonny Hennessy: And it did. It started to rewire his brain, my brain and we realized we never had a marriage problem. Sonny had a Sonny problem, Shawn had a Shawn problem. And they were equally devastating for both of us.

Eric Huffman: Shawn did end up quitting his job at the church in Detroit and after he got his family back together and agreed to ongoing counseling, they stayed in Green Bay to figure out their next steps.

Shawn Hennessy: I thought I was just going to leave ministry. That was my goal honestly. I wanted to just go sell shoes at Nordstrom and be done with it. And I was unemployed for a long time. I was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We only had heat in half of our house.

We went out to eat as a family one time and we went to Pizza Hut. We got a medium pizza and we all shared a Pepsi. And it was the greatest time of my life. Because that was the first time honestly that I read the entire Bible. I had been in ministry 13 years I hadn't read the whole book.

Eric Huffman: Sonny also left ministry, managing a coffee shop in Green Bay to pay the bills. And during the three years sabbatical, she and Shawn focused on their kids and their marriage, and the healing that they needed individually.

In 2013, the church that they attended in Green Bay asked them to take over when their pastor left.

Shawn Hennessy: The reason that we're so endeared to Green Bay is it was the first place that we were ever healthy. It's the first place we've ever done ministry where we've been who we were supposed to be. And I think that's why God has allowed us to have so much success is because from the very beginning, we've been honest about everything, both privately and publicly.

Eric Huffman: Today, in addition to leading a thriving church in Green Bay, Wisconsin, this time around with humility and authenticity, Sonny and Shawn created the Exchange Collaborative, an organization that helps pastors and their families dealing with burnout, moral failures, and unhealthy relationships.

Sonny Hennessy: It is an epidemic in its own right, of pastors who are burnt out, who have questioned their calling, who have walked away, or they're only still at their church because if they walked away they'd be unemployed, their wife and kids would just be left out in the cold. So they're holding on but it's not because they want to and they're hurting.

Eric Huffman: What are some of the common denominators for healthy church cultures that allow for their pastors to thrive and be healthy and be accountable? Like what do you see is some of the most common guardrails there?

Shawn Hennessy: Well, I think guys aren't transparent, they aren't vulnerable, partially because of fear. Maybe they feel like if they own what it is that they're caught up in then they're going to lose their job. I mean, let's say you're a staff pastor and you're struggling with a particular issue and you go to your senior pastor, you're running the chance that you're going to get fired.

If you're a senior pastor, and you go to your overseers, and you tell them that you're having a struggle, you're running the risk that you're going to get fired.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Shawn Hennessy: Some of those guys need to get fired. Let's just be clear about it. The best thing that could happen to them, and we've told this to some of the couples that have come to us, "Hey, the best thing that could happen to you is you fall on your face because you need a healthy dose of humility."

Eric Huffman: Is there a line there? How do you know who needs to go?

Shawn Hennessy: Guys that are trying to hide it, they should go. They either should resign or be honest and submit themselves to some sort of a process. So the thing that we're encountering with pastors is that they are so busy trying to keep their ministry intact that they're failing to keep their life intact.

And it's not necessarily that our goal is to get people to be restored back into ministry. There are pastors and churches right now that if they died in a car wreck they're not going to go to heaven. They're great communicators, but they're terrible people.

The thing that people have talked about about us that shocks them is how blunt we are. Maybe part of that comes from the fact that I'm an ex-con. And I go, "Listen, we have people's eternity in our hands, and we're going to mess around and go, but I'm not going to have my 403(b) anymore? Like, Bro-

Eric Huffman: It's crazy how we... yeah.

Shawn Hennessy: ...you're leading people down the highway to hell. There are even guys that are in incredibly successful churches that if they were to fall, they would do more damage in their fall for the kingdom than they ever did good in their rise. Because you're going to have people who not only are going to be affected spiritually but you'll have a whole generation of people who will walk away and will never come back to the faith.

But what we want is we want to give guys an alternative to say, "Okay, you can't tell your pastor, or you can't tell your overseers come and talk to us. Let's come up with a plan."

Eric Huffman: Shawn and Sonny also host a podcast called The Rise After the Fall, which takes a raw, honest look at the state of the modern church and features stories of pastors and their family members, who are all in the process of picking up the pieces and starting over, the same way that Sonny and Shawn did years ago.

Well, what would you say to someone who's listening... You know, we tend to try and speak straight to the heart of skeptics and people that are sort of one foot in, one foot out with Christianity. What would you say to them especially those who have either directly or indirectly been harmed by or disillusioned by bad actors in the church or unfaithful Christian leaders that have wounded many and maybe that's caused them to question whether Jesus is for them?

Shawn Hennessy: Well, I think the word that has been used has been disposable. I think when we say the wives have felt disposable of the pastor who had some sort of a moral failure, I think that there's a whole generation of people who have felt disposable, and they're the victims that they never get to tell their story. I was just reading a story about a pastor in Canada who pastored one of the largest churches in Canada, and he had this brutal fall, then all of these victims of it if you would.

And it wasn't like they were direct victims o being sexually assaulted or something. But this guy was like their Messiah, and all of a sudden he's gone and now their church is gone, and everything that they had kind of built their life around. So there's this whole generation of people who, because of the fall of one man, they feel disposable and they don't get a voice.

I think the word that I would give to a skeptic, because I am one, to this day, I'm a skeptic, I would say you are not disposable. That scripture says He will never leave you, He will never forsake you, that He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. And I'm telling you as a guy who has had his nose deep in the dirt from falling on his face, He never one time left me.

My father-in-law was a picture of that. My father-in-law loved me, but man, he was mad. But even though he was mad, he loved me enough to make sure that I didn't do something that I was going to regret. And that's the God we serve, a God who doesn't like some of the things that we do.

Eric Huffman: He doesn't. He doesn't leave us.

Shawn Hennessy: Obviously contrary to what He asks us to do. But you're not disposable in His hand.

Eric Huffman: Wow, praise God.

[00:57:56] <music>

Julie Roys: We're seeing a move of God to purify his church. God will not be mocked. God will not let us continue to speak in His name and behave completely the opposite in the antithesis of the gospel. He will not allow that. And I think there's an awful lot of pastors who are imposters. Hypocrite comes from the word in Greek that means actor. We have actors in pulpits who know nothing of the Lord.

You know, you look at Ravi Zacharias. I mean, how can you behave like that? I mean, you know, it's between him and God what's going on with him right now? And he knows, he's getting his day of reckoning. But how can anyone who has a fear of God? Like you said, you said this earlier in our interview, you said, Someday I'm going to stand before the Lord and give account. If you really believe that, how do you behave like this?

So yeah, I think this is a reckoning, it's going to keep coming. I thought at first it would be like a year or two. Now, I'm like, "This is going to be probably a several decades process." And it's going to take as long as we make it take. It's going to take people, the masses, and a grassroots effort.

And that's why I just tried to educate people. But it's going to take them saying, "We refuse to give unless you open up your books. We refuse to give unless we know what your salary is. We refuse to give if you're not willing to hold yourself accountable. We refuse to give if you don't have an independent board." Because until we do that and we force accountability and transparency, it won't happen.

Eric Huffman: Right. You mentioned a word earlier, the word disqualifying. And that's really what I wanted to get your two cents on. It seems to many people, I think, that the word "disqualifying" might be an antithetical to the Christian notion of grace. Like is any sin disqualifying us when Jesus' blood on the cross covers all of our sins? But are there some behaviors in your mind that for leaders, pastors, elders in the church are essentially and eternally disqualifying in terms of them coming back to pastoral leadership?

Julie Roys: I've never answered that question with a definitive. Like, if you're unfaithful to your wife, you're disqualified from ministry. Or if you engage in fraud or theft from your church, you're disqualified. But I would just say go back and read the qualifications of elder.

I mean, 1 Timothy 3:2, the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-control, respectable, hospitable, able to teach. When you commit certain sins, how do you become above reproach again? And when you betray trust so fundamentally...

Like people have asked me, Well, how do you... You know, I mean, there should be a path to restoration. And I say, Restoration to the church? Restoration to God? Absolutely. God will forgive a repentant sinner. And God knows your heart, right? But a path to ministry, again, that's a very different thing.

And quite frankly, for some people with what they've done and the way that they've betrayed trust so fundamentally, trust is gained over time and that's earned back over time. And frankly, there's not enough time left in their lifetime to earn back the trust that's required at this point.

I think we need to wrestle with those passages. I think we need to be vigilant with it. There's spiritual abuse going on in a ridiculous scale right now. And people are misusing the scriptures and they're misusing grace. If I hear one more reference to King David. King David sinned with Bathsheba. He did. And you know what happened? He was judged by God. His firstborn with Bathsheba was killed by God. I mean, there were some serious consequences. David wasn't allowed to build the temple. He was a man of war, he wasn't allowed to build a temple.

Eric Huffman: His family fell apart after this.

Julie Roys: Oh, my goodness. Absalom. When you look at what happened to David, if David is anything, he should be a warning to pastors of what happens and how you can misuse your authority. He wasn't a pastor. He was a king, he was a political leader.

So, you know, can people sin in heinous ways and can't get God forgive them? 100%. And I thank God for it because He's forgiven me for horrible things. And I thank God for that. But if I would be found chronically lying in my position as a reporter where I'm committed my whole entire profession is reporting the truth, I would expect that I would be done as a reporter. That would be it.

Eric Huffman: I'm tracking with you. And I agree that I think on principle any leader who has fallen and caused ripple effects of harm among the flock or even in terms of defaming the church in the world, giving the church or Jesus a bad name by his or her actions, I think any desire on that pastor's part to be immediately restored is probably a symptom that they haven't actually dealt with what they've done. Like they're not really repenting, there's no real remorse there. Because real repentance would, I think, lead one into a prolonged season of healing and lead you to a posture of "I don't deserve anything anymore".

Julie Roys: And that's a good sign of repentance. I don't deserve it and you shouldn't be doing it.

Eric Huffman: Just one more question In the heart of your message and your work, there's always, I think, if you look real hard, there's always a bit of hope. Like, the reason it's worth reporting is because there's something worth salvaging. What hope do you have for the future of the church? Given everything you're seeing and everything you're reporting on, where does your hope lie?

Julie Roys: My hope lies in Jesus Christ. I believe what He said is true. I believe what the Word says is true. I believe his church is part of His kingdom on earth. So I believe in the church. And He said the gates of hell won't prevail over it and against it. It's because I love the church that I'm jealous for her purity, for her restoration, as I know Jesus is. And He loved His church, He died for His church.

So for us to take it lightly, for us to wink at what's going on, for us not to grieve over that, for us to even, you know, excuse it is not what somebody does who loves the church and loves God's reputation and His reputation of righteousness.

Eric Huffman: Jane Austen once wrote, "As the clergy are or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation." That might sound like an exaggeration to some of you. But from my vantage point, it's spot on. Because I've seen the devastation caused by clergy misdeeds and how the damage is never isolated. It reverberates for years, generations even. And a pastor's victims aren't his only victims. His family, his victims' families, the whole church, his community, his city, they all pay a price in some way for one pastor's sins.

But I've also seen the hope and the healing that happen when men and women serve God as pastors with integrity and humility. I've seen how their churches and their neighborhoods and even their entire cities flourish around their leadership. When pastors are faithful, everybody around them will be blessed by their ministry.

So if you're someone who's been damaged or disappointed by a church leader who fell from grace, I want you to hear me say how sorry I am that that happened to you. And I pray that you will find the strength to forgive one day, if you haven't already, and that God will give you the wisdom to make the distinction between Christ's perfect message and His imperfect messengers.

Finally, if you know a pastor, who is more about substance than style and more faithful than they are flashy, I hope you'll do something today that will encourage them and lift their spirits. Shoot them a text or write them a note or surprise them with a gift, just to let them know that in a world full of celebrities and charlatans you see them and you're grateful for all the ways that they selflessly serve God and their families and their churches and their communities.

It's easy for us all to go negative on all the pastors who get it wrong. But one of the ways that we're going to overcome this challenge is by lifting up the hard-working clergy, who quietly faithfully get it right, with or without the big stage and the large crowds.

[01:06:43] <music>

Announcer: This episode of Maybe God was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our editors are Donald Kilgore, Shannon Stephan, and Justin Mayer, and the director of all of our full-length YouTube videos is Mark Calver. For more information about Maybe God and to sign up for exclusive... and don't forget to follow and engage with us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Thanks for listening, everyone.