Restoration, Pastoral Failure, and The Apocalypse

May 21 has come and gone with no rapture.

I spent the last few days listening to my fair share of R.E.M. and creating witty one-liners and end of the world jokes.  My snarkiness was cranked up to eleven, until I read a story that made me realize a few things that I forgot along the way:

Robert Fitzpatrick of New York had put his money where his faith is: The 60-year-old retiree spent $140,000 — almost everything he had — on hundreds of billboards proclaiming the Armagedon that Camping predicted.

When it didn’t come, he was standing in New York’s Times Square, surrounded by jeering tourists in a drizzling rain.

“I can’t tell you what I feel right now,” he said. “Obviously, I haven’t understood it correctly because we’re still here.”

This breaks my heart.
Robert Fitzpatrick is hurting.
Robert Fitzpatrick is in need of restoration.

Friday afternoon I had a conversation with a church planter who was telling me about one of the people in his church.  He said that he had made a suggestion in passing to this person, one that seemed appropriate at the time, that upon further reflection he wished he had never made.  The suggestion took root and the person is pursuing it wholeheartedly.  While this person’s course of action is not bad, or even the least bit sinful, the pastor is concerned that it may not be the best thing for them down the road… and he feels somewhat guilty.

Throughout the years I have occasionally been asked how it is that pastoring is such hard work.  The misconception is that we spend our time praying, studying scripture, and listening to God… how tough is that?  What people miss is how lives can be changed, for good or for ill, on one sentence that we speak to someone who comes to us for counsel.  Our actions and our words are held to a higher standard, according to James 3:1, which is more than a little intimidating.  While we should not allow this truth to hold ourselves hostage and never counsel, mentor, or spend time with our congregations, we need to be aware of just how powerful our words are in the lives of those who have trusted us enough to come under our leadership.  Our words and actions can lead to powerful acts of restoration, or they can lead to disaster.

Keeping this in mind, I can not help but wonder how many times I have misled people in the same way as Harold Camping.  We may mock Camping, we may poke fun him, but let’s face it: we have given people bad advice, we have led people down wrong paths, and we have made bone-headed leadership decisions.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Having said this, I am going to ask you to join me in praying for the restoration of those who have sacrificed their homes, life savings, and their relationships in preparation for the rapture that did not come.  I am deeply concerned for the faith of our brothers and sisters, and for their ability to sustain themselves financially in the days to come.  I can not imagine what has been going through their minds since Saturday night.

We as the church have an opportunity here.  While the rest of the world mocks those who were planning on the rapture, what would it look like for the church to step in and demonstrate restoration for these families?

What would it look like for us to welcome them back with open arms?
What would it look like for us to make them whole financially?

I remember reading somewhere about a group of people who sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  What would it look like for the church in America to step up, be the church, and restore our brothers and sisters?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.

  • David Patchin

    I agree with your sentiment generally, but what Camping has done is not equivalent to giving bad advice. He called people to abandon the church of Christ, and falsely predicted the rapture despite Scriptural admonition against doing so. He has made a mockery of Christ and his followers. While there is forgiveness, but his restoration comes in conjunction with repentance. 

    His followers need pastoral leadership and love.

    • Matt Steen

      Hi David!  Thanks for the comment!

      I agree with you about Camping, and I am hoping and praying that he steps up and publicly repents.  His followers need that to make them whole.  The stories that I am reading today make it sound as if that might be a possibility… 

  • Margot

    I have felt the same for the followers, and prayed that they would not go into despair, and that the church would open their arms to these people and welcome them in.  We know of someone who is a follower, and will reach out to them to make sure they are OK and make sure they know they are loved.  thanks Matt