Posts Tagged ‘Tom White’

Two days ago, I read an article about a Christian leader that broke my heart … and I can’t get it out of my mind.

Tom White, long-time executive director of Voice of the Martyrs, committed suicide several weeks ago as police were investigating a molestation charge against him.  You can read the story here:


I’ve admired the work that VOM has done for a long time.  My prayer is that this tragedy doesn’t affect the crucial work they’re doing in calling attention to persecuted believers all over the world … and that God will grant Tom White’s family and his VOM colleagues His peace.

While reading this article, I thought about the many Christian leaders that I’ve known or respected who were discovered to be all too human and fallible.

Professors at Christian schools.  Missionaries.  Prominent pastors.  Christian vocalists and musicians.  Parachurch leaders.  Evangelists.  Associate pastors.  Televangelists.

Some preached against divorce … and eventually went through their own divorce.

Others railed against adultery … only to be seduced themselves.

Some preached a prosperity gospel … and later lost everything.

And some have behaved in ways that we … and even they … cannot fathom.

Back in the late 1980s, when there was a rash of scandals involving Christian leaders, we were told that leaders needed to demonstrate greater accountability, and that this single step would halt most of the scandals.

Maybe so … but I have a different take on this.

I believe there is a direct correlation between doing ministry and personal pain.

The more committed you are to ministering to others, the more pain you will experience in your own life.

If you doubt me, read 2 Corinthians.   In 1 Corinthians, Paul tries to address various issues at Corinth and restrains himself when it comes to expressing his own emotions.

But in 2 Corinthians, Paul lets it all hang out, and at times it’s difficult to read.  Just a few examples:

1:8: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.”

2:4: “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.”

4:8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

7:5: “For when we came to Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within.”

11:23-25: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received frm the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.”

And then there’s this one:

11:28-29: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”

Notice that?  Besides all the physical pain that Paul endured for Christ, he also felt emotional and spiritual pain because he cared so much for others.

When I entered church ministry, I was told in general terms that I would suffer.  I plowed ahead anyway.

What I wasn’t told … and most of us aren’t … is that there are times when the pain becomes so great that you have to pull back.

If there were more rejoicers than weepers … or just as many … the ministry would be more bearable.

But most of the time, there are far more weepers than rejoicers … and after a while, the hurts of others gets to you, and you don’t know what to do with all that pain.

You’d like to lean on your wife, but she has her own pain to deal with, and she’s already tired of hearing about yours.

You’d like to talk with a counselor, but you don’t know who to trust, and you suspect that counseling will uncover more of your own buried pain.

You’d like to tell your board, but you’re afraid they’ll condemn you or fire you, so you stay silent.

You want to tell somebody about your pain, but you can’t find anyone who’s safe enough to trust.

And so you stuff it … and the pain starts turning into anxiety, anger, and depression.

And when you finally do something stupid … or take your own life … people wonder why you didn’t reach out for help.

Maybe you should have reached out … or maybe you just didn’t know where to go for help.

I’ve visited a lot of churches over the past 2 1/2 years – probably at least 40.

And in the course of listening to many preachers, I’ve come to this conclusion: I wouldn’t dare share a personal problem with most of them.  Know why?

Because they don’t dare share their humanity with us.

When I hear a pastor tell a story on himself … or admit that he struggles with certain issues … or needs the gospel just as much as I do, I’m drawn to him.  I feel safe with him.

But when I don’t hear any humanity coming from the pulpit … when the pastor says “you” and not “we” … when he yells and condemns and intimates, “I have it all together” – I don’t feel safe … and I’m sure I’m not alone.

The ethos of much of the Christian world seems to be, “Even though you aren’t perfect, you better act like you are, so you can keep your job and your reputation.”

But Christian leaders aren’t perfect.  Every one is messed up in some way.  They all have their issues, wounds, and struggles … just like you do … and just like Paul did.

I don’t know whether Tom White did anything wrong or not.  We may never know.

But I do know this: we’re all weak and vulnerable at times.  Because of the pain in our lives, we’re all tempted to do stupid stuff.

And all of us – including Christian leaders – need safe people we can talk with and safe places we can go so that we can experience healing and continue in ministry.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul quoted Jesus as saying that His “power is made perfect in weakness.”

Not in strength … in weakness.

Act like you’re strong all the time, and you’ll eventually succumb to weakness.

Admit that you’re weak, and you’ll become strong.

Your thoughts?

I’ll write more on this topic another time.

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