Had A Great Fall: The Recurring Story Of Mega-Pastors And Mega-Sinners

I first met Bob Coy 25 years ago when I was home from seminary on a summer break. He was the guest on my dad’s TV talk show, “FeedBack.” He made quite an impression. The subject was evangelism and this young, fiery, hilarious, transplant from Las Vegas stole the show. In his jeans and T-shirt, he stood out on the panel of clergy wearing their Sunday best. He was whimsical and passionate, and it was no surprise to me how in a few short years he would build the largest congregation in Fort Lauderdale, a city infamous for church plant failure. 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 because he was a rarely-gifted orator and, most importantly, because he was just being Bob Coy. 

A vision for the city

Through the years our paths crossed often. OneHope is just a few miles from Calvary’s sprawling campus, a number of our staff attend church there, and some of their kids attend the school. On several occasions I would have Bob share with visiting pastors from across America and around the world. Most would want 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 his city. You can’t argue with Bob’s formula and what it has done for Broward County. 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. Bob took an offering and opened up Calvary’s fields. As I’ve observed Calvary as an informed outsider, I haven’t always agreed with all of Bob’s theology, praxis or organizational leadership, but I have always rejoiced that Calvary was in my city being a bright light and savory salt.

The processing cycle

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

Denial or affirmation – “I can’t believe it,” or “I kind of thought that.”

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,” or “I miss him, them, the way it was.”

Acceptance – “I’m coping,” or “It’s time to move on.”

An unacceptable response

I’m already seeing the best and worst of these expressions in our community and most I can understand, but two types of response as a believer are unacceptable: joy and self-righteousness. I’ve encountered both in the few short days since this news has come out. We are at some level all disgruntled, disillusioned and abused people. We have failures, hurts and disappointments we carry with us like open sores, and when someone like Bob, who on the surface has exceeded almost everyone around him, fails, a nasty, vile part of our fallen nature feels better about ourselves. However fleeting, soothing, or justifying that emotion may be inside of you, 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. Any joyful inclination that one might feel in the failure of another is in itself a moral failure.

As Galatians 6 so clearly states, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct” (NLT).

Reasons why

I’ve heard all manner of reasons why Bob fell from members of the body this week: it was governance, dispensationalism, salary, multi-site strategy, lack of accountability, past life, his friends, denomination, Satan, personality, and so on. I’ve heard some of the most callous, judgmental, and flat out ludicrous reasons for why people think 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, up-hill 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, he may never be Pastor Bob again. But after a miraculous season of grace, he could be, but he is first and foremost a brother in faith.

Because I’m close to the leadership at Calvary, many people want to know what he did. They feel they need or deserve to know the details. He has confessed and disqualified himself. If he was disputing, fighting or defending, more would need to be revealed to confront and publicly discipline, but he isn’t. Therefore more does not need to be revealed, confronted, or publicly disciplined.

My prayer

Less than two weeks ago my uncle died. I wrote in his obituary, “He was building mega-churches before people knew what they were. He 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 was that decades before, he had 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 for the Coys, for Calvary Chapel, for the Bride of Christ in South Florida and for all of us that 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 am one.

Rob Hoskins, president of OneHope, is a noted author and missionary. An international ministry, OneHope is changing lives by sharing Scripture with children and youth around the world.

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