What Can We Learn As Pastors From The Penn State Scandal?

by | Nov 22, 2011 | Church Leadership

After 46 years, Penn State football’s head coach Joe Paterno was suddenly fired. The once great reign of the NCAA Division I football’s winningest coach had come to an abrupt and tragic end. 83-year-old Joe Paterno (endearingly known as “JoePa”) achieved 409 wins, five undefeated seasons and two national championships. But suddenly, none of that mattered anymore. In one week, after the arrest of a former assistant coach on child sexual abuse charges, everybody’s favorite grandpa was removed from the sidelines for the first time since the Lyndon Johnson Administration.

The Apostle Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Finishing with honor for the glory of God is the goal. It is not just finishing. Paul said that if we do this, “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness” that is awarded by Jesus Christ (4:8).

Although pastors may have publicly or privately condemned Joe Paterno and the Penn State athletic department for its failure to report an alleged sexual crime (still under investigation), I am sad to say that some pastors should be fired for disqualifying patterns of life. Pastors must lean into the gospel and not hide behind their position. All pastors are guilty of sin. Only Jesus is free of sin. But Paul sets a standard, for those who hold a role as an elder — a list of qualifying patterns of life in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Pastors are held to a qualifying standard for their entire lives. The goal is to start well, fight well and end well. Unfortunately, many pastors only fulfill one of those goals. A lot start well. Many continue well. The statistics indicate that most pastors do not finish well. Paul said that he fought and he finished.

It takes a lifetime to build a legacy and it only takes one indiscretion to discredit 46 years of service. This forces us to lean constantly into the gospel of grace. If we lean into anything else, we will certainly fall.

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

Pastors, fight to the finish.

  1. Fight to the finish for your relationship with Jesus.
  2. Fight to the finish for your relationship with your spouse.
  3. Fight to the finish for your relationship with your children and your grandchildren.
  4. Fight to the finish for your relationship among your flock.
  5. Fight to the finish to make disciples.
  6. Fight to the finish to repent continually—even if it is embarassing.
  7. Fight to the finish to leave a spiritual legacy for your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to emulate.

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24, emphasis added).

”Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but wean imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

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Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas is Pastor of Pastoral Development at The Journey Church in St Louis. He created the Gospel Coach Training and Certification system and has coached hundreds of pastors. Scott has served as President and Network Director of Acts 29 Network. Scott has an MA in Missional Leadership and has been married for 31 years to Jeannie, with whom he has two sons. He planted and replanted churches for 16 years as a lead pastor. Read More About Scott Thomas At His Author Page

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