Jamie Carragher reminds us of the seriousness of even momentary sinful lapses in ministry

A pretty unwholesome video has surfaced of Jamie Carragher gobbing into the car of an opposition fan following Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to Man Utd on the weekend. You can see the ugly incident below.

Interestingly, the guy filming the incident seemed to find the whole thing very funny – almost seeming pleased to have wound him up to that extent – before his daughter piped up that some of Carragher’s spit had hit her. Immediately, the accusation became, ‘Jamie Carragher just spat at my daughter’. Not that it’s vastly better, but that’s not strictly true. Carragher spat at the guy winding him up and some of it hit his daughter.

Apparently, it was all very funny until the driver’s daughter claimed to have been hit by some spittle. Then, an obviously hilarious attempt to wind someone up suddenly turned into an opportunity to claim the footballer was treating a child with contempt. The accusation is manifestly untrue. Nonetheless, that in no way undercuts the reality, plain for all to see, that Jamie Carragher responded in a disgusting way to some fairly tame goading, not even close to the kind he would have heard every week as a player. The witless attempt at mockery did not warrant the response.

Since the incident emerged, it has been reported that Carragher has been immediately suspended by Sky Sports as a pundit. The Danish broadcaster TV3 has also dropped him from their coverage of the Manchester United and Sevilla match on Tuesday. His ongoing role with Sky Sports now hangs in the balance all as a result of what Carragher described as ‘a moment of madness, four or five seconds, where I’ve lost it’.

This whole sorry episode is a potent reminder to those of us in ministry to watch ourselves lest we fall. Carragher is currently suspended from two jobs and his ongoing role in another hangs in the balance. All for about three or four seconds or unpleasant behaviour, one choice made in the heat of the moment has cost him very dearly indeed.

Just like that, entire ministries have been just as quickly brought to ruin. A poor choice here, a moment of madness there, may spell the end of your ministry, untold damage to the gospel and the wreckage of both your home and working life. It is surely the case that such gross, ministry-ending sin is rarely the product of a single decision. Usually, the seeds of it have been there, and growing, for some time before we reach the point of our necessary removal from ministry.

We would do well to heed the warning provided by Jamie Carragher. If a sports pundit, in the role for no more or less than their willingness to pontificate on people kicking a piece of leather around a field, can be removed from post for a lapse in behaviour, how much more will ministers of the gospel – whose very appropriateness for their role is their godly character – lose their ministries for their ungodly behaviour?

A friend once wrote a powerful blog post on this whole issue. I had hoped to take some of the pertinent paragraphs and link to it but it is, understandably, no longer in the public domain. I have, instead, reproduced below one portion of it. My friend outlined a series of sobering reasons not to commit adultery but was clear that was not his primary purpose in writing. There was one reason that had not occurred to him that led to serious consequences. I repost (with permission) the pertinent section below:

I’m writing about the situation you may find yourself in if, by God’s amazing grace, you come out the other side of the grand canyon of sin into which adultery will throw you.

I think many of us ministers who sinned sexually did so in a context of wider issues. Tiredness, disillusion, financial pressures, marital struggles, relationship tensions with church or mission colleagues – a general malaise in and with the ministry which combined with spiritual backsliding to leave us frankly uncaring about the consequences of sin. One Christian leader even suggested to me that adultery was a mode of “ministry suicide” – just about the only way definitively to escape a treadmill.

These “wider issues” are no excuse for sin, of course. But I mention them because they may be one reason why losing this job, this career, this calling, doesn’t carry much weight at present. And you may even want shot of it. And that is what I wanted to write about.

Let’s suppose that, like I did, you do this evil thing. And let’s suppose that, by God’s shocking grace, you emerge the other side as a Christian. You may find yourself in a church in broadly the same circle that you have ministered in. You were known there. But you will never be what you were. Even the whole business of “going to church” will have to be relearned and reinvented. A lot of that humbling will do you nothing but good, but over time, as your spiritual life is re-formed, you will find yourself feeling again and again your inability to relate to what is happening around you. Your mind will be like a Formula One engine with no power train to connect it to the road. You will feel like an athlete who can never run.

In my case, and every case is different, after the slow road (while still overtly not living as a Christian) via village Anglicans and then anonymous attendance at a distant FIEC church, I had a time back as a professing Christian in an independent Baptist church where I was well known. I then remarried and… now find myself in the Salvation Army. At the time we married I had very low expectations of what I could/should/would be able to do; my only desire was to love her faithfully and assist her in living out her calling. But I have been gradually coming alive. And the very circumstances into which God has placed me are reminders of past hopes, past preparation for ministry, a past sense of calling and purpose. [My wife’s] unanticipated appointment to the Salvation Army training college… not only took me back uncomfortably to wonderful days in South London 30 years earlier, but her role teaching the very disciplines in which I had worked in colleges and seminaries all over Brazil seemed like a particular pointed providence. The Salvation Army is at one and the same time a lovely gracious body which encourages and is open to new starts among those who have slipped very, very low. It is also a holiness/Arminian movement whose doctrines I respect, but which I cannot fully subscribe, and that might appear to place a natural limit on my usefulness within the organisation.

As I say, every case is different. Your trajectory after adultery will not be the same as mine. You cannot presume that there will be a way back to God in your story at all. (Even though, wherever you are right now, there is a way back to God, and you know it, don’t you?) But supposing you do come back, what then?

After the initial howling pain has shifted into the past, after your children have graciously put together some new level of relationship with you, after you have got comfortable in a Christian meeting again, after you have reinstated the long-lost rhythm of Bible reading and prayer and even read some theology again, you will wake up and remember.

If you were ever really called to the ministry at all, you will remember what it is to preach the gospel. I don’t mean get up on your hind legs and give a talk in church. I mean that, whether it was one to one, in a small group or in a big congregation, you knew what it was to bring a word that came from the throne of heaven, portrayed the beauty and love of Christ crucified, and called for repentance Now. You knew what it was to feel yourself held at the intersection of the only three moments that matter – Christ’s past coming, his future judgement and the day that is called Today, and to be the herald given by God for these people in front of you. You knew what it was to see, to sense, God at work, to know that this word now was making impact, that lives were being challenged, that grace was breaking in, that the silence and power were from the Holy Spirit of God, that you were a mere mouthpiece in what God was doing, and that he was doing what he loves to do. You knew that not everyone was called to do this, and that every calling was of great value to God, but you also knew that this was what you were made for and you had to do it and do it to the best of your ability.

And you blew it. But then one day you are spiritually awake again. And, each morning, you are off to (in my case) sell granite worktops or take photographs. And, though you enjoy those jobs in a way, you know that you are not going to do the one thing you were really created for. You know you have put yourself into a permanent bypath. And that sensation isn’t going to go away, or diminish with time, like the first screaming terror of adultery-discovered. This is going to go on and on, for the rest of your life…

…That is what I am trying to write to you about. If you commit adultery, you can’t count on getting back a spiritual life at all. You may disappear without trace in the swamp of sin that your new “freedom” and exclusion from the church open up to you. But if the initial pain is got through and you do come back, don’t think that that will be the end. You will be forgiven, you will be back among Christian people, you will be useful. But regrets… boy, you’ll have a few.