Pictures of Pastor Vitaly Korchevsky in handcuffs being escorted by a FBI agent as he was arrested this week shocked much in the Christian Slavic world. He is alleged of taking part in an elaborate scheme which involved Ukrainian and Russian hackers and resulted in around 100 million in stolen profits from large companies.
Vitaly a pastor of a Slavic Baptist Church in Brookhaven, PA and had once served as the chairman of the US Association of Slavic Baptist Churches is a man respected by thousands and is often invited to speak at conferences on, ironically, the topic of finances.
In fact in a recent financial seminar he said, “The question of finances is really a questions of honesty in two areas before God and others.”
What happened to this man? Who is he really? Was he ever really a good pastor or was he only hiding behind the facade of a minister so that no one would know what a thief he truly was?
I can’t answer these questions for Vitaly Korchevsky, only God knows exactly what’s going on in his heart and only the FBI knows exactly whether he stole millions of dollars.
There are, however, some bigger questions that these unfortunate events raise. The bigger question we must ask ourselves and do our best to answer is this:
Why do ministry leaders fall into sin?
This is not the first time and I think it’s safe to say, it’s not the last time that a high-profile ministry leader will fall to the dismay and shock of the church.
Of course it is always more shocking when a well-known and respected leader falls, but the truth is that all ministry leaders despite the scope of their ministry are prone to fall. The same temptations, lack of safeguards, and spiritual laziness that may have led to Korchevsky’s alleged crime are all the same problems that can appear in your heart or mine.
I’d like to share with you a few observations that may help us understand why men and women in ministry sometimes fall.
Position can give a false sense of immunity from sin.
Positions of authority can be dangerous things in the church. We attach so much expectation, to those who hold important positions in the Christian world, we make them celebrities we invite them to speak at our prestigious events, we ask to have our photo taken with them after conferences, we watch them on YouTube and compare our unknown and untrained preachers to their amazing skills of elocution and theological acumen.
We expect our celebrity preachers to give us all the answers, to make our lives better, we want to be like them!
But we often fail to realize that they struggle with the same every day sins that we struggle with. We think that someone in their position must not have temptations of lust, anger, or greed. We think that they have arrived, that they are as close as you can get to a modern day Messiah.
Yes, we all know that kind of thinking is wrong, yet somewhere down in our heart we tend to feel that way, even if we don’t say it! The problem here is that when enough people tell you how amazing you are, how much you’ve blessed their life, how they want to be like you, etc…
- You begin to believe it!
- You begin to think that you have that position of authority because you really are so great.
- You begin to look down on the petty struggles of everyone else.
- You begin to feel safe and let down your guard.
- You begin to sin.
Man is good at hiding his own heart.
Another important fact to remember is how good we all are at hiding what is in our heart. We can go for months, years, decades without anyone knowing the true condition of our heart.
Leaders who are in high positions are often insulated from the fellowship and accountability of your regular church member. Whenever they are enter a room everyone looks for them to speak a word of wisdom, to give some kind of edification. No dares pry into the leader’s life, and ask him how he’s doing, what he struggles with, where is temptations are.
The leader knows this and often in response he just pushes his own problems further into the depths of his heart where they can not be seen or heard by those around them.
It’s easy to make it a regular habit of hiding and the more you do it the more you’ll have to hide!
All sins start out small
The most common response when a leader falls into sin is “How could he of all people do that?!”
What we fail to understand is that almost all sins start how small, it’s a stray thought here a moment when we let our guard down while browsing online. These little sins have a sinister way of growing in our hearts.
They are like weeds in the garden, if you see them every day you hardly notice how fast they are growing, but when a friend visits after a month he can tell that you have been lazy in pulling those weeks!
So when we say, “How could he of all people do that?” we fail to see the process that led up to that sin, all the little steps, all the small compromises, all the insignificant half-truths.
The best example of this is King David, his sin of laziness resulted in adultery and murder.
Knowing theology is not the same as knowing God.
I’m convinced this is one of the biggest dangerous especially in the world of Christian colleges and seminaries. When we equate Bible knowledge with spiritual maturity we are in a dangerous place and place where we may likely fall into sin.
They claim to know God, but they deny him by their actions. They are detestable, disobedient, and disqualified to do anything good. (Tit 1:16)
John Piper gives us a good warning here.
“Why is it that people with PhDs in theology commit adultery? They don’t know God.
You can read theology ten hours a day for forty years and not know God as beautiful and all-satisfying — as the highest treasure of your life. Who cares about knowing God the way the devil knows God? He hates everybody. His knowledge of God helps him hate people.
We’re talking about knowing God here in 1 Thessalonians. They don’t know God. They don’t know God for who he is — infinitely valuable, infinitely beautiful, infinitely satisfying — why your soul was made. There are more pleasures at his right hand, more eternal joys in his presence, than you could have in ten thousand sexual trysts.
If you know that, sin will have lost its dominion in your life.”
When leaders like Vitaly Korchevsky fall it’s a good reminder for us of the insidious nature of sin. It’s easy to call down judgement on the fallen leader and maybe we can rightly do that. However, more importantly it’s a time for us to take a step back and examine our own lives.
- Are we treating our leaders like celebrities and putting them in a dangerous place?
- Are we isolating ourselves from the fellowship of other believers by placing ourselves on a high pedestal?
- Are we allowing those small sins to turn into big sins?
- Are we pretending that our theological knowledge equals spiritual maturity?
These are the questions we should be asking ourselves.