I scrolled through Twitter and recognized a face. My eyes were tired, and I was just about to close the app and go to sleep. It was a mugshot of a man I once knew tied with a news article that said “Youth Pastor Among 18 Men Arrested in Tennessee Human Trafficking Operation.”
Not just “Youth Pastor,” a descriptive title many hold, but my youth pastor. The man whose family I knew, who made me his intern, who I cried over when he moved away. He discipled me, taught me about Jesus, gave me opportunities to serve and lead, and he declared God’s Word as truthful and powerful every week. Over a decade later and his face filled my timeline with a horrific accusation.
I’m not a lawyer, an investigator, or an expert on sexual abuse. I am not a personal victim of abuse. I don’t know what constitutes a “crisis” or how pervasive the problem really is in our churches. But twice now I’ve sat in front of a screen and read about a man I loved, trusted, admired, respected, and knew who threw obedience to the wind and chose to elevate his desires while exploiting fellow image-bearers. Within 24 hours of sharing the article, two friends reached out and told me stories of youth pastors who abused their friends.
I know we’re not unique in our experience. To discover that someone who was called to shepherd you betrayed that calling by seeking that which brings them pleasure is unnerving and all too common. I hope and pray this is never your experience. But if you have felt the pain of a family member, mentor, teacher, pastor, or friend who has sinned in this way, I do not dare to offer empty words of empathy or bandages to cover the wound.
There are no easy answers. I’ve felt betrayed, numb, appalled, powerless, shocked, overwhelmed, and downright angry. I’ve asked, “Why?” and “How?” and come up with no good response.
In moments like this, I want to fast forward to a happier place where the hurt is gone. I don’t like emotions, and I especially don’t like this kind.
Speeding past the pain removes an opportunity to lament. We, as children of God, do not build our entire lives upon lament and sorrow. We do, however, take up temporary residence in a broken world. If our eyes are fixed forward on the promise of eternity, we can both mourn and have hope. We can be sorrowful and comforted by the Holy Spirit. We can be “grieving, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
This, then, is my prayer of lament for my former youth pastor, all those wounded by his actions, or for anyone else marred by abuse.
May You enact justice for those exploited.
May You avenge Your children,
Comfort them in the perfect love You offer,
And heal their wounded hearts.
May evil men be sentenced,
May those who carry out justice on earth
Be strengthened in all wisdom,
And let wrongdoing be punished.
May You bring about repentance,
May true sorrow come from wrongdoers.
Point them to Jesus,
And keep them on the narrow way.
May objectification cease in our land,
May we view others through Your eyes.
Remind us of Your Image,
And help us love as those redeemed.
May Your churches be intolerant,
May Your children protect the vulnerable.
Give us eyes to recognize sin,
And swiftly confront what we see.
May You come and bring us home,
May our sorrows turn to joy.
Return and gather us, O Lord,
And make the world perfect again.