"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." - Galatians 6:1
A few months ago I was preaching in Dallas, TX and went to a restaurant following the service. As soon as I walked in I heard my name called very loudly and I looked over to see a large gentleman rushing towards me. I was not sure if I should run, shake his hand, or act like I was someone else, I chose to extend my hand. He brushed straight past my hand and gave me a fierce bear hug and said, "Do you remember me?" I hate that question! I confessed to him that I did not, he did not seem offended at all. He replied, "I would be hard to recognize without a helmet on, I was number 65 in school and we played football against each other for four years!" The second he said that I remembered exactly who he was! We stood there and exchanged memories and old times and I was really glad to meet up with him all these years later and to hear that he was doing so well.
When he walked away with his family, the pastor I was with asked me about him and boy did I remember him precisely! This guy was a huge nose tackle that was notorious for late hits, I took three from him in one game in fact! He would many times wait until the play was almost over and the tackle had been made by one of his teammates, then he would jump on top of the pile and add his 310 pounds of weight to the situation. I remembered him alright. I still think my left rib cage does as well. I'm really glad that we are on the same team now!
On the flight home to Atlanta, I started thinking about #65 and the way he would pile on after the play was already over. I slowly started to realize that #65 is not the only "pile on" guy I know. It seems that there are many in the Lord's WORK that seem to Pile On all the time!
In recent days, failures of several ministry leaders and pastors have come to light. Whether these things should have surfaced the way that they did, that is not for me to decide. Let me be clear:(1) No matter who a person is, if they have committed a crime against someone, they should have to face the law of the land for their offense. (2) Everyone should have their day in court of law and in court of opinion. (3) Our priority should always be to the victim of crime or sinful behavior. (4) As ministry leaders and pastors, we should really be careful about not responding, responding wrong, or responding too quickly without all the facts. This article is not focused on the allegations, policies of reporting, or the way in which pastors and ministry leaders handle sinful situations. This is about us. Its about our heart and our spirit when tragedy occurs. How will we respond? What will we post and retweet? Are we just fleshly carnivores ready to pounce on the wounded and the even the guilty?
What has bothered me immensely about these revelations is not only the fact that they happened and that there are innocent victims, but the response of other pastors and Christians as these events have unfolded. I was added to a Facebook group for ministry leaders a few years ago, the majority of the people in this group are ministry leaders who are great people with a passion to serve Christ. I have been helped by some of the men and their thoughtful contribution to the group think and discussion. However, over the past few weeks as these scandals have unsurfaced, the responses within this group were unbelievable when the sin of these ministry leaders were exposed and accusations were leveled. It was almost gleeful. I literally was sick when I saw friends of mine so loosely and carelessly throwing around comments like they did not matter. They were piling on. It is so easy to pile onto a situation in ministry rather than get involved on the ground level and make a difference. These thoughts apply not only to a fallen pastor or ministry leader but also to those who have fallen and are broken in our churches every week.
Notice some characteristics of a Pile-On:
1. A Pile-On Never Makes The Play
After the play is almost over, there is always that one guy that decides he has to add his weight to the situation and jumps on top of the pile. He did not make the play, he did not tackle anyone, he did not initiate the contact, he just jumped on after all the work and damage had been done. It reminds me of Commodus approaching his father Marcus Aurelius after the final battle of the War against the Goths asking if he had missed the battle. His father replied, "You have missed the war and only seek the honor of those who fought it." It seems that there are many who are willing to be on top of the pile but are not willing to get down in the trenches and make the tackle. When people fall and their lives are in ruin, this is an opportunity for us that name the name of Christ to run towards the real fight. We can pray and help victims, innocent family members, and yes even the disgraced and fallen sinner. In our information society that is so fast to be judge, jury, and executioner on social media, why not be a different voice and model the spirit of Christ during these situations? Roll up your sleeves and actually minister instead of piling on.
2. A Pile-On Just Adds Dead Weight
I have been on the bottom of some pile ups in a football game. Let me tell you, every square inch of weight that is added to the top of the pile is felt by the people on the bottom of the pile. Remember as you lambast the moral failure of a pastor, or a fellow Christian that they may have a wife and children who are on the bottom of the pile not by choice. They are suffering, they are dazed, they don't know what to do, who to turn to, they are ashamed, they are embarrassed, they are confused, and what are you doing about it? Are you reaching out is compassion to them? Are you praying for the victims? Are you seeking restitution and restoration? Are you considering yourself lest you also be tempted? Or are you being a snarky, vindictive, angry, jealous, bandwagon social media champion? I remind you that not only are adulterers and whoremongers are disqualified from the ministry, but so are novices that cannot control their tongues and are lifted up in pride. The bad part is that when the guy is on top of the pile, people beneath them are the ones getting hurt while they are lazily just piling on. Pastors and ministry leaders, you rarely will get hurt when you involve yourself in another person's scandal, but the people beneath you will. Steward your influence and save your energy to make a real play not a pile on.
3. A Pile-On Celebrates First
The last guy on the pile is also the first guy off the pile with his fist in the air jawing at the other team and taking credit for something that he did not do. It is so easy to be a pile on because you never have to get committed to get credit. The guy piling on has not had to go helmet to helmet with a lead blocker, take on a fullback, and make a tackle. He has never had his nose bloodied, he has never had his knuckles stepped on, he has never had his bell rung (borderline concussed) and gotten a stinger (lost feeling in the arm). But when the play is over, you can bet one thing for sure, he will be celebrating like he made the tackle. Sadly, many ministry leaders are almost celebrating the fall of other ministry leaders that they do not like because of philosophy, personality, preaching style, or leadership style. One of the major reasons that some men almost rejoice when a public figure fails is simple jealousy. Sometimes it can be bitterness towards a movement that unleashes itself when one of the movements leaders fall. Whatever the case, it is sad when men of God are gleefully posting away on social media because it says so much more about them than it does about the person who has fallen. It says they are not really concerned about the victims, restitution, and God's name being glorified. They really want to celebrate without being committed to the hard work of the ministry. They are lightweights spiritually who pile on every time a situation arises and act like they actually matter. They do not matter much and their shallowness and disqualification for real ministry is painfully obvious.
4. A Pile-On Delays The Game
The pile on guys get mixed up into situations that do not involve them, they hurt people beneath them, and in general just make a tangled mess of things. They could have easily just stayed out of the mess and it would have been a lot better for everyone but they could not resist just getting onto the pile. When we get entangled in a mess that is not ours we really lose our purpose and way in ministry. I remember when I was in Bible College, guys would sit around and debate all the time about things that I have not even thought about since I started really trying to minister to people and help them. If we are not careful we can get so entangled in the failures of other people in other ministries that we stop doing what we are supposed to be doing.
The higher the pile, the longer it delays the game. I have come to despise watching a live football game on TV because it takes so long! The longest part of the game has become untangling huge guys from each other and getting the game going again! In God's work, one of the sad things that take place when there is a scandal is that the work of God comes to a grinding halt many times. When people pile on in social media, texts, and phone calls, it slows down even more! I often say this to our staff at Pinecrest, "We have enough problems here without adding the drama of everybody else's issues into it." Stay focused on your calling and do not involve yourself into everyone's problems. Keep the work of God paramount.
5. A Pile-On Will Eventually Be Penalized
The bad thing about coming in last to the pile is that you may get penalized for a late hit. My defensive coach in high school used to say "The last one to the party is the first one with the penalty." There is a great danger about piling on, you may be the one that gets penalized. What is excruciatingly painful is watching men who criticize other men who fall morally fall themselves. It is a dangerous thing to start believing that you would never do something awful and heinous then throw haymakers at those who do. Paul had something to say about this when he said if a man thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
Pray, walk with God, love your family, faithfully serve Jesus, stay out of everyone's business on social media, and when someone falls spiritually, morally, or otherwise, don't pile onto the situation, pray for the victims, families, and perpetrator. If you get to the bottom of a pile, you will be glad for those who refrain from piling on.