The Pastoral Challenge of Ministering God’s Law and Gospel in Difficult Cases

In such cases, there are no easy paths forward.

I can assure you that when facing these kinds of pastoral challenges it is wonderful to have a team of elders with whom I can think, pray, study and minister. Left to myself, each of those cases would have been handled with far less wisdom and care than they warranted.

 

A challenge every faithful church will face is how to believe and apply God’s Word in very difficult, personal situations. It is vital to have biblical teachings on law and gospel in your mind, but it is equally important to apply those teachings to life. It is in the work of application that some of my greatest pastoral challenges have come. This is also precisely where pastoral wisdom is needed if a church is to be led well through such situations. That has particularly been true of cases that relate to issues that are hotly debated in the broader culture.

Consider the following scenarios and ask yourself what you would do if you were a pastor. Or, if you are not a pastor, what would you recommend pastors do in such situations?

  1. A new Christian tells you that the man she is living with is not legally her husband because they divorced in their home country in order to be allowed to immigrate to the United States. Now, ten years later, she is a believer and wants to be legally married but he refuses because “nobody in America gets married.”
  2. A father informs you that he has just discovered his young teenage daughter “had sex” with a minister at their previous church (in the area) two years ago.
  3. A woman comes weeping after a worship service and confesses that years ago she had an adulterous relationship with her former pastor who, along with pastoring that same church in your area, now also holds a prominent position in your denomination.
  4. A man recently released from a twenty-year prison term sits in your study and weeps as he confesses years of sexually abusing children, which eventually led to his arrest, conviction and imprisonment. He is a registered sex offender and will be for the rest of his life in this country. He says Christ has saved him and friends he trusts recommended this church. Oh yeah, he is still sexually attracted to children, though he hates it and expresses commitment to kill the desires that wage war against the law of his mind.
  5. A man from Mexico professes faith in Jesus and wants to be baptized and become a member of your church. Prior to his conversion he was arrested for a driving while intoxicated, jailed overnight, given a court date, and released. He entered and has stayed in this country illegally.

None of these cases are hypothetical. In fact, each one comes from my own pastoral experience. I can assure you that when facing these kinds of pastoral challenges it is wonderful to have a team of elders with whom I can think, pray, study and minister. Left to myself, each of those cases would have been handled with far less wisdom and care than they warranted.

Though I don’t claim that all of them or any of them was handled in just the right way, it may be helpful to give a summary of how each of them was dealt with in our own church. I have left details out to protect the identities of those involved.

In the first case we encouraged the husband to solemnize his marriage legally since marriage is an ordinance of God. He refused. We encouraged the new believer to remain with the man she has regarded as her husband for nearly twenty years, taking the posture of 1 Peter 3:1-2. Though Florida does not recognize common law marriage, it is a thing and grows out of an awareness that marriage is a creation ordinance and has existed much longer than Florida has. We encouraged her to regard her relationship to her husband as a marriage as she prays for his salvation.

Read More