As I sat down to check my email, I was amazed to see I had received an email from John. He was reaching out to me, now living in another country, to forgive me. He had read my blog and read some things I had to say and was corresponding with me to communicate to me that he no longer had any bitterness in his heart towards me. It had been almost 5 years since I had seen or heard from him, and the last time we spoke I was his pastor. He had struggled with homosexuality time and time again throughout his time in my campus ministry and church, and repeatedly I had been very hard on him and ministered to him more than enough times, that he had to get a handle on his sin and that in short, God was grieved with him and his struggles.
But you see, that was before my own personal sin had become public. You see, I myself was in an ongoing affair with another woman, for two years. In the middle of his failure and struggle to live clean of his sin, I was in the middle of my sin, living a lie: and I was his pastor. But here he was, much younger, having never been a pastor, ministering to me the love and forgiveness of Christ. Despite my deep failure, here he was showing me more Christ-like love, than I ever had shown him.
Before my very public and very humiliating failure, I was very demanding and exacting towards my students, staff, and church members. Though lost in my own sin and shame, I was driven towards ministering to young people a very “man centered gospel.” We had built our ministry and our discipleship program around man, and man’s leadership, rather than Christ. I was fortunate to have so many precious young people following me and looking up to me and holding me in such regard, that I was destined for failure. I blame no one. I blame myself. I was too caught up in the affirmation of man, and my affair partner, than Christ. I was in love with the attention and being needed, more than I was in love with Christ and his grace. The problem was that I was fueled with a very subtle, but fierce, pride. Sure you may have seen a little pride back then, but really, I masked it with words like “discipleship,” and “spiritual family” and helped corrupt the true gospel of Christ with statements of absurdity and heresy. The problem was, none of us knew any different. We were great at marginalizing the weak, or those who struggled with addictions or sinful habits. We were great at excluding those who didn’t fit the mold. We labeled people who needed a lot of ministry as “needy,” and continued to give less and less of ourselves to them as we didn’t perceive them to be leaders. Now, 5 years post affair and failure, the gospel I have found is a very Christ centered gospel. A gospel filled with grace, and love than I ever thought possible. I shutter sometimes at some of the things I preached and ministered to people. It’s not uncommon that I often find myself repenting for the heresy I communicated to so many, under the banner of discipleship, leadership, and spiritual family.
Anytime we preach a man centered gospel, we are destined to see eventual failure and compromise. For the simple fact that our gospel was never meant to be centered upon any man, except Jesus Christ. When we elevate man, or man’s principles to an equal level of Christ and his word, we blow it, and we blow it huge. Now, five years later, God has shown me more of his love and his forgiveness and his grace than I ever knew existed. I had no idea how forgiving, loving and kind God can be. And it took me losing everything but my wife and three children to show me his grace, redemption and restoration.
Friends, it’s in our failures that often times Christ can speak to us the loudest and clearest. I wish it wasn’t so, but God is a master at using our shortcomings and our failures (however public or private they may be) to not only save us, but to redeem us, restore us, and ultimately change us more into the image of Christ.
Tony Fetchel’s greatest joy is his restored and redeemed marriage to his wife Jodi and their three kids, Nathan, Macy, and Zackary. Tony currently writes a blog for Affair Recovery Center, and is the young adult pastor at Shoreline Christian Center in Austin Texas. Tony is now slowly reentering ministry as a valued speaker, writer and consultant for several mediums and ministries. You can follow him on Twiter @fecciello. His blog is http://www.affairrecovery.com/strength. Tony is available for speaking.