A Safe Place for Sinners: How the Church Responds to Failure

In the last week of February, the baseball world was saddened by the news that superstar Josh Hamilton of the Los Angeles Angels had suffered a relapse of his drug and alcohol problems.

It was the latest chapter in a story that has a lot to tell us about what it means to be human and what it means to be the Church.

Bestselling author Eric Metaxas address industry leaders at the National Religious Broadcasters dinner in Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday, March 3, 2013.
Bestselling author Eric Metaxas address industry leaders at the National Religious Broadcasters dinner in Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday, March 3, 2013. | (Photo: The Christian Post/Scott Liu)

In 1999, the Tampa Bay Rays made Hamilton the first pick in the MLB draft and for good reason: His potential was enormous. He could hit for both a high average and with tremendous power, and as if that weren't enough, he could throw a 97-mile-an-hour fastball.

With this kind of ability, the only thing that could keep Josh Hamilton from baseball greatness was Josh Hamilton. And that's what happened. Hamilton failed six drug tests while in the minor leagues and was finally suspended from 2004 to 2006. His potential seemed to have been wasted.

But it wasn't. During that time, Hamilton had a conversion experience which enabled him to get off drugs. As he told ESPN "I'm proof that hope is never lost." In 2007, the Cincinnati Reds took a flyer on Hamilton, which paid off handsomely when he put up all-star caliber numbers over half a season.

Hamilton was then traded to Texas where, for the next five seasons, he was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. After the 2012 season, he signed a five-year $125 million contract with the Angels.

His next two seasons didn't go as well, mostly because of injury. And then came the relapse, which Hamilton reported to team and MLB officials.

Our first response to this story should be to pray for Hamilton and his family. But Hamilton's story should also prompt us to think about what it means to be the Church, especially when one of us fails.

My friend Roberto Rivera recently wrote about this at the BreakPoint blog. "While I don't know Hamilton," Roberto wrote, "I know a thing or seventy-five about personal demons and patterns of sin." Roberto added that the "biggest, if not only, difference" between Hamilton's failures and his own was that Hamilton's "struggles and failure are public and, thus, the stuff of potential humiliation," whereas his "are private and 'only' the stuff of guilt and shame."

While Roberto claimed to only be speaking for himself, if we're honest we can all relate to what he's talking about.

What Hamilton, Roberto and the rest of us need from the Church is a place that not only celebrates our triumphs but also—actually, more importantly—comes alongside us when we fail. Roberto recalled a variation he once heard on the familiar words of the Apostles Creed which went "I believe in the communion of sinners and the forgiveness of saints."

We need the kind of place where we feel safe enough to admit that, in the words of the late Brennan Manning, we had made a "big slobbering mess of our lives," even after we came to faith in Christ. A place that takes the words of the Apostle Paul—"I am confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus"—to mean that until that day, grace should abound.

I pray that Josh Hamilton, as well as the rest of us, find just such a place. We all need it desperately.

Come to to read all of Roberto's blog post. In fact, I'd recommend checking in at the BreakPoint blog every day to read all the thought- and faith-provoking entries.

From BreakPoint. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship

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