A Seminary Student is a Sinner, Gasp!


I just came across an article about a male Gordon-Conwell student (the seminary I attended) who allegedly broke into a female student’s dorm room and setup a video camera with the intent of filming her.  You can read about it on the Boston Herald or the Salem News sites.  I feel badly for this young woman.  I can’t imagine the feeling of invasion of privacy and the lingering effects of this incident.  I also feel badly for the student that broke into her room.  He’s clearly a troubled person who is dealing with some difficult desires that led him to make a life-altering decision — very sad.

What I find interesting is the responses to this story in the comment section on these two newspapers’ sites.  There is a sense of derision and mocking aimed at this young man.  There is even a sense of delight in reveling in his downfall as a person seeking pastoral office.  To be honest, I’m not sure what to think.  I get why people feel this way.  They think judgmental evangelicals are just as sinful as everyone else, and therefore they should keep their mouths shut.  And, I agree that this guy shouldn’t be doing this or anything like it, but I’m not surprised it happened.  I also don’t think this makes pastors who talk about sin insincere or necessarily hypocritical.   As a clergy member myself, I’m aware of the standard to which I feel called, but I’m also aware of the fact that I don’t measure up.

I’ve never broken into another person’s room to film them (nor done anything illegal), but there are undeniable ways that I fall short of God’s standard.   If my qualification for ministry was based on my personal performance, I’d be out of a job.  If I had to master every sin before I talked about it, there’d be a lot of things I could never preach on.  I’m not God.  I’m not perfect.  I sin, sometimes boldly.  What am I to do?  What are clergy to do?

Most hide it.  They put forward a portrait of perfection, but as I mentioned in my last post hiding it makes things worse, because hiding it gives the sin more power.  It isolates people and prevents them from receiving grace.  What we, the church, need to do is come to terms with the fact that our clergy are just as sinful as the rest of the world.  Our desires are just as dark and perverse as everyone else’s.   We’re broken too.  My hope is only that our hearts are receptive enough to grace and that we’ve experienced a deep enough level of transformation that we are safe to lead and wise enough to put parameters in place that protect us from personal pitfalls.

We need to be honest about our clergy, and honest about God.  This is no surprise to God, and it’s no disqualifier for grace.  My hope is that churches can be honest about sin so that they are able to call people to repentance, and serious enough about grace to provide a place that’s safe enough for confession and repentance to happen.   Often times this culture starts in seminary.  Pastors try to replicate the culture they experienced in seminary in the churches they lead.  Gordon-Conwell was a place that was safe enough for me to confess and experience grace while I was there, but I wonder if it was for this student.   For the sake of our pastors and the future churches they lead, I hope he is the exception.  My prayers are with the GCTS community.


4 responses to “A Seminary Student is a Sinner, Gasp!”

  1. Hmm. What a thoroughly honest post. I’m with you. Sometimes I wonder to what degree “success” in ministry is directly correlative to our personal holiness. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  2. Hi Wayne, thanks for your feedback. I’ve been thinking about the same stuff too, and I’ve found 2 Cor. to be a wellspring of encouragement for me (especially chapter 4). Paul says that “we have this ministry by the mercy of God.” It’s God’s grace and mercy that have given us this ministry.

    Also, I do feel that our effectiveness as pastors is correlated to our relationship with God — particularly our capacity to receive grace. If we are aware of our need for grace, then we become gracious people who extend it to others (2 Cor. 1). Holiness then, is not found in being perfect, but in repeatedly recognizing our need for and dependence on grace. When we are dependent on grace, then we are gracious to those we pastor. I think this makes us like God — holy and set apart as different from the way the rest of the world works — in that we don’t treat people as they deserve. We extend grace. And that means the prerequisite for success isn’t about never sinning, but about always being honest and confessing our sin when we mess up because we are so confident in grace.

  3. I have been thinking about but haven’t come up w/ a clear way of explaining how when people react so judgmentally about pastors, seminary students, etc. that they in some way acknowledge who God is and their belief in him. If I ever figure out how to say it maybe I’ll post about it. 🙂

  4. Amen, Brother.