I've seen it repeatedly in more than thirty years of public ministry: there are two sins that will compromise and probably utterly ruin a pastor's ministry. They are often so serious that a man or woman who falls in one of these two ways will be unable to recover or return to ministry. They are, of course, sexual sin and financial sin (such as embezzlement).
Over the years, I've taken steps to guard myself against both, knowing that these are the most common ways our Enemy brings down otherwise good pastors. But only recently have I pondered why those sins are so ruinous to those in ministry. A pastor or elder can sin in many other ways and their sins may be excused, overlooked--certainly forgiven. Church leaders may exhibit hypocrisy, arrogance, self-righteousness, resentment, bitterness, rage, and dishonesty without being disqualified from ministry. Gossip, grudge-holding, and greed are generally responded to with patience and tolerance. After all, we are all sinners in need of the grace of God and the forgiveness of all.
But not in the areas of sex or money. Those sins (or even the mere suspicion or rumor of such) are commonly elevated above all others in the church, and perhaps more so among evangelical or fundamentalist churches. And, now that I think about it, it's not hard to discern why that may be.
Money and sex are the most prevalent idols in our culture...and in the culture of the American church. Just as preachers tend to preach against their own pet sins, so the church in general (and church leaders in particular) tend to lose all sense of perspective or proportion when sex or money enters into consideration. We will respond quickly, even viciously, to the slightest whiff of impropriety in those areas while winking at leaders' sins in other areas.
I heard recently about a capable, godly pastor of great accomplishment who thought it prudent to report to his church's elder board that a woman in the church had made a pass at him. He had not reciprocated, he had not sinned, he had not even come close to improper behavior. But a key elder nevertheless took the offensive and eventually drove this pastor out of the church.
It is not hard to believe that those events reveal more about the elder's spiritual state than the pastor's.
And so it will be with us. I'm not suggesting that we should wink at any sin. But we must not tolerate idols in our lives--and in our churches and culture--and especially when they lead us to condemn some sins and not others, and uncharitably judge our brothers and sisters. Because that itself is sin. And also because, in so doing, we will reveal more about our spiritual state than anyone else's.