Bob Coy Scandal And How ‘Moral Failure’ Language Hurts The Church

The pastor Bob Coy scandal had a strange affect on me.

For those who don’t know, Bob Coy had been the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale since 1985, before officially resigning this past week due to “moral failure.” According to the official statement from Calvary Chapel, pastor Bob is spending time receiving counseling, working on his family, and focusing on his relationship with God. The 20,000 plus member church was shocked and confused by the news, but the other leaders will continue to teach and preach.

As a former pastor myself who left “vocational” ministry to pursue a different vision of what the church could be, I can only imagine the struggles of my brother in Christ. But when I heard the news on Monday, I shocked myself with my response. My response to the Bob Coy scandal was, “I’m not surprised”.

Now before jumping all over me about being insensitive and judgmental, hear me out. Not being surprised by the Bob Coy scandal has nothing to do with the man himself. I don’t know pastor Bob, have never met him, and have very little to say about Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale or his Active Word ministry. I was not calloused towards his condition or his struggle, in fact I was heartsick and broken for his family. But his moral failures, which turned out to be an affair, do not surprise me.

I served in one local church as an associate minister and a preaching elder for over eight years. Not many months went by where I didn’t hear of a pastor who had succumbed to the devastating sin of “moral failure.” It is a special category that has been created for pastors and church leaders. It is secret talk for adultery, drug use, or other especially “bad” sins that can disqualify a man from ministry. The problem with “moral failure” is that it is confusing and unhelpful.

The reality is that every church leader is extremely guilty of true “moral failure.” Moral failure implies that there is such a thing as moral success. The idea that any pastor, including Bob Coy, is capable of moral success is just plain contrary to the gospel. In fact, the gospel that so many failed and successful preachers have proclaimed states our need for Jesus because we are moral failures.

Moral failure is more than adultery, murder, drug abuse, or theft. Moral failure is an angry husband, an overbearing father, little white lies, gossip, gluttony, pride, control issues, and countless other hidden thoughts and actions that occur every day. The very message of Jesus is that we need him because we are moral failures. It is in the cross and resurrection that he exchanges his moral success for our moral failure.

What has developed in the western church is a distinction between “normal” Christians and pastors. Pastors have become functional saviors, who we all look up to and are supposed to be an example of moral success. But what this system has created is an unbearable burden for church leaders to be on another level morally. For fear of failure, “little” mistakes are kept hidden. And as we know from the scriptures, our children, and ourselves, little things eventually become big things.

Do leaders have a responsibility to the church to lead well? Absolutely. Should they set an example in life and godliness? Unquestionably. Was the Bob Coy scandal handled correctly? As far as can be seen in public, it would seem so. But why did the church feel the need to call his affair a “moral failure” or that his moral failure was the cause of his disqualification from ministry? Because we have a broken celebrity culture within our churches that requires more of our leaders than they can handle.

I would like to suggest that we throw out the term “moral failure” from our Christian dictionaries. It perpetuates a concept that distinguishes pastors from “common” Christians. Should we hold leaders to a standard? Yes, namely the same standard that we hold ourselves to in Christ. The descriptions of church leaders in I Timothy, Titus, and I Peter are not some extra special standards for leaders. They are descriptions of what a life with Jesus looks like. They are not a burden, but instead the picture of a man who already knows what it means to lead.

For the health of our churches, leaders, and one another, please let’s stop talking about moral failure. Instead, let us breed a church culture of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

We can learn from the Bob Coy scandal. And we can start right now by praying for our brother in Christ and considering how we handle our own moral failings on a daily basis.


  1. I think you nailed it Jason. Sin is sin, no matter how you sanitize it. We make “rock stars” out of popular preachers when it is the message and the Savior that we ought to place on the pedestal. And with every high profile “moral failure” Christ’s church is exposed to more ridicule and reproach.

  2. So well said! I whole-heartedly agree! Pastors are in need of a place to be real. A place where they can share their faults, their sin. The church needs to be a place for confession, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. That would describe a healthy church! Lord, help the local church to grow in this area.

  3. Disagree greatly and would hope you could in some way comprehend what grace, mercy, or even judgment on your sin would look and feel like – personally I’m very glad you aren’t a pastor

  4. I understand your argument but in this case it does not apply. Mainly because no one really knows how deep this “moral failure” goes. It evident that’s it’s more than just an affair. “Moral Failure” gives us an umbrella that says, “we don’t know all the details involved. We know that it’s more than an affair. And we don’t need to know all the details. All we need to know is that morally he has failed to the degree that disqualifies him as a pastor.”

    • Actually, I think we do need to know the details. I’ve experienced a pastoral affair first hand in a church and seen how destructive it can be to the Body to have leaders try to cover it up and the congregants not know if they should be angry at the church for removing the pastor or support it.

      The congregation absolutely needs to know how deep it goes, not all the details, but the general severity of it. It prevents factions in the church over the removal of the pastor. It’s also important in the grieving and healing process.

      The other problem with “moral failure,” although I get that you’re saying it implies a sin too far, is that it holds a weak connotation. It’s like saying excuse me when please forgive me is appropriate. You admit if was deeper than adultery. In my opinion, moral failure is like “Wups…” and kind of mocks the anguish, devastation, and potentially faith-altering effects the sin will have. We are much too quick to minimize the consequences of sin in the lives of others. As well as create the standard of perfection, as the author indicates, that pastors can’t live up to.

      Great article!

  5. I have experienced these ” moral failures” several times in South Florida churches by pastors. I’ve seen young vulnerable men fall out of their fellowships and young people walk away angry and confused. If not moral failures what would you call them. And how can you say the layman and pastor are held to the same accountability. People in the church have affairs, yell at their wives, abuse their children and we just say good riddance when they leave. But I know personally young people who are looking for another church because of the failure of Bob Coy. I am coming away from this article with the feeling that you are saying it is to be expected. Do we not have any more Joseph’s. He was lured and temper terribly but he remained faithful. I believe it can be done. I believe that if we make provision for sin that sin will move right in. I hope Pastor Bob Coy understands deep in his heart the profound misery and destruction he has caused and can truly repent. I will pray for him and his dear family.

  6. I think Bob went straight into ministry after being saved only one year? Then he had tremendous success, which he clearly wanted. Perhaps the wisdom would have been to keep the young novice Bob out of ministry until he was ready, way back then. Also, after being saved so many years sometimes ministry wears you out. I think Bob made choices probably because he wasn’t spending time with God. Then when he made the first choice, the second choice came, then the third until he was in the thick of sin. Who really knows though. I’ve been saved 25 years now and at times lately feel lost. It’s a constant daily choice to follow Jesus, and sometimes I just find it hard lately. I find it hard to continue because my family hates me and I have zero friends. I am not in church because I live abroad, and also because it’s all a club, not a real intimate body loving one another. The only thing that keeps me going is spending time with God, but I am weary of that lately, to be honest. I hope Bob repents and gets clean and is restored to a church fellowship. He’s old enough to retire so okay. I also think he was paid way too much. He was a celebrity preacher and this is just crazy. Celebrities in the church? How far we have fallen indeed.

  7. The obvious challenge in the success that the mega church model has had disrupting the traditional church marketplace is that those very features that make the model attractive to 20,000 + congregants e.g. at Calvary chapel requires outside the box entertainment, and celebrity appeal in order to be successful. I’m trying to get through a sermon at Calvary online right now by pastor Doug Sauder, and after experiencing Coy’s regular guy approach, humor, and dynamic personality, Sauder’s service is almost painful to follow. Nothing against Doug, he is focused, knowledgable and prepared, but better suited for a church model that is more traditional and less entertainment based. As an example, if Sauder was the 30 year leader of this church, ask how many less Christians would have been saved versus those under Coy? It would be a very significant number. So we should ask ourselves whether the risks in saving lots of folks who wouldn’t get there without celebrity leaders are worth the pain of watching men fail. Preachers are mortal men and some all are going to fall short of moral success, and all will fail morally, many just won’t admit or reveal to the public. However, a pastors moral failing does not erase or negate the impact of saving thousands of Christians.

    • We all need to be on guard. Today we might be fine according to our own standards. We don’t know what will happen to us tomorrow. It’s a fact that as followers of Christ we have enemies, the World, Satan, and Most of all OURSELVES. Christ conquered all of them. I ask myself, “Do I hold Christ powerless to all and any of my failures?” Also whatever we think or say, at the end of the day its just Bob, his family and God. If Bob is truly saved, the Bob belongs to God.


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