When a pastor falls due to moral failure

I first met Bob Coy 25 years ago on my summer break from seminary. He was a guest on my dad’s TV talk show, “FeedBack,” conversing on the subject of evangelism. This young, fiery, hilarious transplant from Las Vegas made quite an impression and practically stole the show. He stood out on the panel of high-minded clergy; they wearing their Sunday best and he in his jeans and t-shirt. He was whimsical and passionate and it was no surprise to me that in just a few short years, he would build Calvary Chapel into one of the largest congregations in Fort Lauderdale—a city infamous for church plant failure.

I’ve lived in the Ft. Lauderdale community on and off for nearly 3 decades and I’ve been witnessed to 4 times—every time by individuals who called Calvary Chapel home. Bob made being a Jesus follower natural; no pretense, no weirdness, no ceremony. His folksy, long-winded, humor-laced, verse-by-verse Bible expositions broke most of the rules for modern day homiletic relevancy. He didn’t care and it didn’t matter. He could break the rules not only because he was an exceptionally gifted orator, but more importantly because he was just being Bob Coy.

Through the years our paths crossed often as the OneHope offices are just a few short miles from Calvary Chapel’s sprawling campus. A number of our staff call the church their home with several of their children also attending the school.

On several occasions I invited Bob to share with visiting pastors from across America and around the world. Most wanted to know what the “secret” was to building one of the largest churches in America. His answer was always consistent, “I can’t tell you.” He believed God would give every sincere praying pastor a unique vision for their city.

You can’t argue with Bob’s formula and the good it has done for Broward County, Florida. I remember when national attention focused on the Boy Scouts losing their public park accessibility for taking a stand against homosexual scout leaders. Most churches were gearing up to fight and picket. Instead, Bob took an offering and opened up Calvary’s fields.

I’ve observed Calvary Chapel as an informed outsider, and although I haven’t always agreed with all of Bob’s theology, praxis or organizational leadership, I have always rejoiced that Calvary Chapel was in my city, shining as the brightest of light and the most savory salt.

My heart sank last week when I was informed that Bob would be resigning from his pastoral position due to moral failure. I hurt for him, his wife, and his kids, the Church and for us—the community of Christ in South Florida and beyond. I’ve experienced this hurt with close friends, OneHope partner churches and even family members far too often in my lifetime and I don’t underestimate the anguish, pain and disrepute that this sin inflicts on us all. I also know that it sets in motion a cycle of response:

Denial or affirmation—“I can’t believe it,” or “I kind of thought that/suspected…”

Anger—“How could he be so selfish” or “I can’t believe they won’t let him stay…”

Justifying—“If only he or we or they would have…”

Depression—“I’m so hurt, sad” or “I just want to give up,” as well as “I miss him, them, the way it was…”

Acceptance—“I’m coping” or “It’s time to move on…”

I’m already seeing the best and worst of these expressions in our community. Most are understandable. But two types of responses are unacceptable for those of us who call ourselves believers: joy and self-righteousness.

I’ve encountered both of these unacceptable responses in the few short days since this somber announcement, and am painfully reminded that we are all at some level disgruntled, disillusioned and abused people. We all have failures, hurts and disappointments that we carry with us like sores—some open, exposed and raw, others covered and hidden. So when someone like Bob—who seems to have exceeded the expectations of almost everyone around him—fails, a nasty, vile part of our fallen nature wants to revel in his failure in order to feel better about our own.

However justifying or soothing that feeling of condescension might be as it wells up within you, I urge you to identify it and dismiss it for what it is—a Satanic ploy to destroy you and the body of Christ. Any joyful inclination that one might feel in the failure of another is in itself a moral failure. As a friend of mine pointed out to me,

“Once you do that, you switch camps—maybe not permanently…but a switch nonetheless. Satan is overwhelmed with joy when we fail—let’s not rejoice with him but in the amazing God that we serve whose very name is Redemption.”

Galatians 6 clearly states what the Christian’s response is and is not to be in this situation:

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” (ESV)

This week, I have heard members of the Body conjecture as to all manner of reasons why they think Bob fell. Maybe it was governance, dispensationalism, salary, multi-site strategy, lack of accountability, something in his past life, his friends, denomination, Satan, personality. I have even heard some of the most callous, judgmental and flat out ludicrous “reasons” for why Bob fell.

You know what? He’s a sinner, just like me and just like you. Does this obfuscate him from discipline and judgment by those in authority over him? Absolutely not. He has a long, rocky, uphill road to walk to restore his life, marriage, and relationship with his kids, family and friends. I don’t know if he will ever be restored to ministry, that loss may be a natural consequence of his sin. What I do know is that I pray for him to have a miraculous season of grace as he is first and foremost a brother in faith. The rest of his faith journey, just like yours and mine after any type of sin or failure, is yet to be written by God’s grace.

Many people have been asking those of us close to the leadership at Calvary Chapel for the exact details of Bob’s failure, claiming they need or deserve to know. I feel that since he has confessed and disqualified himself, and since there is no disputing, fighting or defending his actions, more does not need to be revealed, confronted, or publicly disciplined.

Less than 2 weeks ago when my uncle David Crabtree died, I wrote for his obituary: “He was building mega-churches before people knew what they were.” My uncle was one of the single greatest communicators I’ve ever heard. His whimsical humor is legendary. He accomplished a lot. The memories I will hold most dear however won’t be of his younger years of ministerial ‘success,’ but of his later life as I saw a deep spirituality, filled with overflowing love to everyone he encountered.

What I didn’t mention in his obituary was that decades before, he had experienced a moral failure and nearly lost everything. Less than a week ago I sat in his memorial service with hot tears flowing down my cheeks as former parishioners, friends, family and his faithful and adoring wife paid him honor. Not because he was perfect, but because he was forgiven and out of a grateful heart to those who loved him, most of all his Savior, Jesus, his gratitude and grace ran like a river into all of our lives.

I pray that honor for the Coys, for Calvary Chapel, for the Bride of Christ in South Florida and for all of us who live under the mercy and grace of our Lord. This is not primarily the story of the fall of a mega-pastor; it is primarily the story of mega-sinners, of which I also am one.

Other great reads:

Rob Hoskins

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Rob is President of OneHope and Chairman of the board at Oral Roberts University (ORU). His innovative Outcome Based Ministry model and training has helped thousands of global ministries shift their paradigm and begin incorporating best practices that dramatically increase their effectiveness.

29 thoughts on “When a pastor falls due to moral failure

  1. Very well said Rob! Thank you for taking the time to put these thoughts down. My prayer is for all of us to look inward as a result of this, and be reminded that if we aren’t the biggest sinner we know, then we are hiding our own sin from ourselves, which is a dangerous path to be on.

  2. Well said, Rob. I’m also praying for the others involved in this sin. I pray they will also receive counseling, help and a way back, should they so desire. Bless you, my friend!

  3. Absolutely right on, understandable, honest and to the point comments! Thank you for sharing and getting the whole picture out. May we all be blessed with such a message.

  4. Thanks, Rob. Great perspective and biblical counsel. All Christ followers have experienced a great loss. No ministry wins when another loses. We are all at risk of falling. What I think is most interesting is that God apparently used Bob even in the midst of great sin. I have to remember that even when God chooses to move in my ministry through me it does not necessarily mean I am free from being chief sinner. I can’t help but wonder if this is an act of grace for Bob. Maybe this is what God needed to bring about in order to heal him.

  5. I also remember when Bob was off University Drive.He was a young man with a goal.In my heart I believe he did make Calvary Chapel what it is today.His preaching at the stadium.He made anyone that wanted to join so welcome no matter what you looked like or how you dressed.We were all there for the same reason.THE LORD..God bless you Pastor Bob and your family.

  6. Very well said Rob and you brought up some great soul searching points. I’m reminded of this verse “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8. I’m praying for Bob and his family. And I don’t believe his ministry is destroyed but will most likely come back with a stronger and deeper faith. Some good ol testimony building.

  7. Rob, you are a phenomenally gifted writer. Your intelligence, compassion, heart, honesty and bravery is apparent. You succeed in lovingly causing the reader to check themselves and realize their words, their actions, their comments and attitude are all a part of how this story will unfold for Bob Coy, for Calvary and for the Body of Christ. Thank you.

  8. Rob awesome writing and an excellent point, Pastor Bob his family and all those involved need prayers, understanding and most of all love its going to be a long road but the trip will be worth it. The lord will help us all through this we all have to stand together and not let Satan win in separating the Christians that Calvary has brought together

  9. That was so beautiful. ..and will said..and the TRUTH…MAY THE LORD RICHLY BLESS CALVARY FORT LAUDERDALE. .AND PASTOR BOB AND FAMILY…

  10. Thank you Rob..for your Heart and the truth. ..I will be keeping Pastor and his family in my prays and the whole Body of CHRIST..IN MY PRAYS…

  11. I am not a member of Calvary Chapel, but I have been blessed by the sermons of the church and especially of those by Bob Coy. During some of my very difficult times, especially during times of being shut in and not able to attend my own church, I was inspired. I was also encouraged by the our reach programs and the great demonstration of God’s love to the community and abroad. Thank you for your writing. I have truly been sad the last few days as I consider the Coy family and the many people that love them. I never met former Pastor Bob but I wished that I could just greet him and encourage him above all, not to give up, and not to reject the overwhelming outpouring of love from fellow Christians that remember that we are all saved by grace.
    I found it hard to put into words the anguish and reading what you wrote, I felt Jesus loving God’s children. I am not naïve and realize that there are even shepherds that openly and secretly rejoice and that is so very embarrassing. But to God be the glory, for demonstration of the love of Christ, one to another. Again thank you, Vernon Martin

  12. Glory to THE LAMB!
    Consider yourself hugged Bro…thanks so much for this wise, well written exhortation. I’d add that when we do hear someone enjoying another’s pain, pray for them. They obviously need the mind of Christ. And the same mercy and grace is available to all us sinners. We need His mercy and grace to get on ‘the narrow road’ and need it just as much to ‘stay the course’.

  13. nicely written. We love you Bob Coy and hope to see you back on the pulpit soon. God Bless you and your family

  14. Appreciate your article, had a great fall…I consider Calvary chapel my home church for the past 15 years, married at community Christian plantation now Tamarac 19 years ago…after relocating from palm Bch county, grew up a part of church of god that had a split thus Christ Fellowship was formed, now a mega church as well…small world, my aunt and uncle were part of your uncle’s congregation at the Assembly of God when he fell. Praying for the same grace from God for Diane Coy that your aunt received.

  15. In 1997, I wrote Pastor Coy about my living situation (with my boyfriend) and didn’t expect to hear from him; then I did. I saved the email because it literally changed my life from fallen to living in the grace of God’s love through Christ. He sent me many books and tapes regarding Christianity, marriage, and because of his all out effort to save one of God’s children, I was able to experience first-hand, not only God’s love, grace and mercy, but the absolute healing of the emotional and psychological scars I carried for over 45 years.
    One of the reasons I was able to respond to Pastor Coy was because of his testimony – he was similar to me, there was a bit of a racy history in his past, and I related to him.

    Bob Coy, the man, has sinned – that is, fallen short of the mark.

    Pastor Coy is still an incredible teacher, and one day will have a very special message to impart to those who hurt. His message will be even stronger when that time comes. I wish there was a way to let him know that I still have his email, I still share it with those who are dealing with the issues he addressed for me, and I want him to know, I don’t care what he did, he’s forgiven by the blood on the cross, which we should remember as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection in another week or so.

  16. This is in my opinion, probably the best post I have read since Pastor Bob’s fall. Thank you and I pray God continually bless you, His ministry in and through you and your family.

  17. This is in my opinion, probably the best post I have read since Pastor Bob’s fall. Thank you and I pray God continually bless you, His ministry in and through you and your family. This is my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren’s home church in Ft. Lauderdale and I attend when I am there. God is what makes any church successful as His people allow him to flow through them and God is STILL at Calvary Chapel, Ft. Lauderdale.

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