“Dad, how will people know you haven’t done something like that?” asked my 19-year-old daughter as we discussed the growing list of resignations and terminations in Baptist life.
“Because he’s still above the ground,” quipped my wife, Michelle, as only a 20-year veteran middle school teacher can.
Later, Michelle took a more serious tone when she asked, “What have you learned from those who haven’t fallen?” Good question, Mrs. Chitwood.
Here are some things I’ve learned from more than 2,000 Kentucky Baptist pastors faithfully serving their churches and families, and tens of thousands of others faithfully leading in our Southern Baptist churches and entities, who haven’t fallen:
1. They haven’t fallen YET. Any naïveté about a mentor not having feet of clay was shattered before I turned 30 when the man who shaped me as a student and preached my ordination left his wife and married a student. Only those who are in the grave are no longer vulnerable to sin and its consequences.
2. They walk with God. I’ve long counseled those under my supervision that 90% of the difficult conversations I might have to have with them would never be necessary if they simply walk with God. It’s the best safeguard from moral failure.
3. Those who haven’t fallen guard their lives. They police their relationships, the company they choose to keep, their patterns of speech and behavior, and their thoughts.
4. They have an Ephesians 5 approach to their marriage. The man who loves his wife to the death of self and understands the mystery of covenant marriage wherein the two are one flesh creates the opportunity for emotional and physical intimacy that protects his own life.
5. They know that, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” Proverbs 10:19. Some call them “prophetic,” others label them “equal opportunity offenders,” but the bombastic, shock-factor leaders and preachers often prove themselves more self-contradicting than prophetic, more adept at tearing down than building up, and more likely to be on the sidelines than in the game in the last quarter.
6. Those who haven’t fallen remember. They remember their wedding vows, they remember their children, they remember all those people and churches who invested in them, pray for them, and love them. They remember those whose hearts they’d never want to break. They remember their Savior and their desire to honor him and bring no reproach on his gospel.
7. They fight. They fight the prowling enemy of 1Peter 5 and they fight the enemy in the mirror, knowing that no one has greater capacity to wreck them than themselves.
8. They retreat. They retreat from work and the world to rest and refuel. They retreat from battles that have become more about pride than anything else. And they retreat from temptations and caustic people and situations.
9. They deny. They deny themselves sinful pleasures, excessive luxuries, lame excuses, and compromising accommodations.
10. They fear. In wisdom, they fear God, fear their own capacity for sin, and they fear moral failure.
On behalf of wives, sons, daughters, parents, churches, and our Lord, let me say to those who have NOT fallen, “Thank you. We honor you. Keep fighting the fight. Don’t let us down.”
Dr. Paul Chitwood is executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.