Reconciling With A Fallen Pastor, Part 1: Before Your Pastor Falls

I was perusing my Google statistics the other day and was examining what people were searching for. It interested me and shamed me at the same time.

“How to minister to a fallen pastor”

“Reconciling with a fallen pastor”

“After a pastor falls, how do you forgive him”

“What to say to a fallen pastor”

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year and haven’t hardly covered any of these topics directly. Maybe I wasn’t ready to give advice in these matters. Maybe I was still too bitter or angry to attempt to advise church members in these areas. I’ve written on common characteristics of a fallen pastor and forgiveness, but not how to help the fallen pastor.

Now, I believe I am ready to give advice to those whose pastors have fallen morally.

I can guarantee you that there is a plethora of experts out there with PhDs who are certified to give you better advice. But they are not fallen pastors. I am. I can tell you as a fallen pastor, who has spoken with other fallen pastors what I needed to hear. What would have helped me or what I would have listened to.

I can’t break it all down in one post either. And I can’t really make it into a system that you can apply in one simple way. It may not work every time. Each fallen pastor’s heart is different. You are different. Each church member reacts differently to their fallen pastor. All I can do is give you a guideline to follow.

The best thing to remember is that we’re all human. Faulty. And your pastor, fallen or not, is a sinner. If he has already fallen, remember that he is human and exposed. And one day, you may be where he is.

I want to tell you what to do before your pastor falls.

Let me tell you about me for a moment. This isn’t self-aggrandizing. Two years before my fall, I was named pastor of the year in our association. Big deal. However, I was a pastor on the rise. My church loved me. Despite our small issues, I was seen as invincible. We had programs that were great, we were growing fast and we had a lot to be proud of.

No pastor is untouchable. I’ve had conversations with just about every pastor I know who has told me that he has been approached by women for sex. No joke. That wasn’t the case for me and Cynthia. Our love was born out of respect and need. However, I know many pastors of large churches who have been approached by “groupies.”

In seminary, we were told that upwards of 65% of pastors struggle with pornography. I think that number is much higher. At one point in my ministry, I struggled with it as well. I confessed it at one point to Angelica and overcame it. Why do pastors struggle with it? Many times, pastors give and give and give, and never receive. Pornography is an easy take. It is a cheap way to receive.

Pastors spend the vast majority of their week giving out of their time and energy. Do you remember the last time you asked your pastor for something? Of course. But do you remember the last time you asked your pastor when you could do something for him? When you sent him a card? Or encouraged him? And I’m not talking about saying, “good sermon.” A sincere, “Did you know that you changed my life? And here’s how you did it ____________.”

Pastors struggle. Bad. They fight the good fight all week. Praying, visiting, doing what they need to do for the church when the members aren’t even thinking about the church. And when Sunday comes, people show up and start complaining about what isn’t being done right. Or they complain about this and that. It’s disheartening.

When was the last time you said something nice to the pastor’s wife? Or his children? They need love. So much. When was the last time you said, “Pastor, let me watch your children so you and your wife can go out on a DATE.” A date. Did you know that a large number of pastors and their wives aren’t as happy as they seem? I’m not saying that because I couldn’t keep my marriage together. It’s the truth.

I’m saying that because I know many pastors NOW who are miserable in their marriages. They are struggling to find time for their wives and children. Do you love your pastor and his family? Give him and his family your time. Better yet, make sure your pastor and his family have at least three weeks off PAID vacation every year. Yeah, I said it. Pay for them to go to Disney every year.

Make sure that the spiritual leader of your community can clear his head and go. If someone in the church dies or gets sick while he’s gone – don’t tell him. Don’t call him. Let him and his family go.

If your pastor is any kind of man at all, he’ll be so worried about the church that he’ll insist that you tell him. Don’t. Send him once a year on a cruise with his wife.

This is how you save your pastor and his marriage. This is how you love him and his family. This is how you let him breathe. Don’t let him bury himself in “work.” He needs love and attention from his congregation. Don’t let him worry himself sick over details. Let him be a man.

Ironically, my former mother-in-law had a bumper sticker that said, “Pray For Your Pastor.”

I’m not sure Angelica prayed for me daily. Even if she did, it’s not her fault that everything fell apart.

I’ll tell you this, though. Whether your church is 10 members or 1,000 members, if all of your people pray for your pastor daily, hold him accountable lovingly, you will have done all you can to keep him from sin.

Margaret: A Friend Late In Life

Cynthia and I went to a funeral today of a sweet woman whom we knew for only eight months. Her name was Margaret. She was a member of the church we joined while we were waiting for my divorce to go final right before we were married. It was the church where my pastor friend Kyle worked.

Her and her husband Peter were married over 60 years and they loved us from the moment they met us. Their son Graham was a little older than us and he took to me immediately. I told him our story and he didn’t judge us at all. Graham eventually told Margaret and Peter our story, but it didn’t matter to either of them what Cynthia and I had done, they loved us just the same. We were like children to them.

Each Sunday and Wednesday, Peter would see me and give me a big hug and so would Margaret. They doted on us and our children like we were their own.

When I had the occasion to preach, they would say the kindest things to me and encourage me. They both filled for me the void that many church members had not over the years. When we eventually had the falling out with Kyle, (which has now been reconciled), Margaret called and called, begging us to come back to church there.

Recently, she fell ill and was hospitalized. We visited her almost every day for the week and a half she was ill. Unfortunately, she had a stroke and never recovered.

Peter, Graham and the family asked me to be a pallbearer at the funeral and I was asked to read a poem.

Last night, Cynthia and I shared some thoughts about that. How is it that we were able to find such amazing love from such beautiful people whom we had known for only a few months? Here was a woman who had lived for over 80 years on this earth and she and her husband loved us more than anyone else in this community ever had.

They looked past our sin and saw us as people. Just a young couple with three children who needed help during a difficult time. They’ll never know how much that meant to us.

Today, for the first time since I gave a book report in junior high, I shook as I talked to an audience. I shook out of emotion.

I said, “Thank you to the family for the honor of being a pallbearer. I’m a Johnny come lately in Miss Margaret’s life. My wife Cynthia and I knew her and her husband Peter during the worst time in our lives. But she saw past our trouble and loved us for who we were and loved us like we were her own children.”

Friends, I am desperate for that kind of love in this world. And I am desperate to love others like that. Thank God for women like Miss Margaret and men like Peter who do just that.

I pray that her love will continue to live in her children, her grandchildren, and in me and Cynthia. She was a small woman, but her heart was big enough to fill mine and restore it with the hope I needed.

The New Guy

I got a call the other day from a pastor friend of mine who told me that Angel Falls has finally called a new pastor. Almost a year and a half after my fall, they’ve finally filled the pulpit.

He gave me the details and told me the guy had some pastoral experience and came from a local church pastored by a mutual friend of ours, Andy. I called Andy and asked about the new guy. He said the new guy’s name was Adam, he had a little experience and was very Reformed.

I told Andy that I was just calling because Angel Falls will always be close to my heart and I wanted the best for them. I told him that if Adam ever wanted to call me and talk, he was more than welcome. I didn’t expect a call.

The next day, Adam called and we set up lunch.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did know that I wasn’t going to say a bad thing about Angel Falls. What could I say? I had fallen, sinned, and it was my own fault. During my time there, most of the people had been kind and generous. I wasn’t nervous about the meeting but I didn’t want to slant his opinion about the church either. I talked about it with Cynthia and we agreed I’d let him do the talking.

We met at an O’Charley’s in Montross and he was friendly right off the bat. We exchanged seminary stories and he started asking questions. Was the church open to change? What was the community like? How did the deacons operate? What was Sunday School like?

We finally got around to my sin and I gave him the 20 second version. I fell, I hurt them, had spoken with four people since then and hoped he could help them heal.

The best part of lunch was that he never passed judgment on me. In fact, he told me that during the pulpit committee meeting, they asked him about how he would relate to female members of the congregation. He said he answered them like this: “Listen, I’ll answer your question, but this isn’t going to be about what happened in the past. This is about me and you. People sin. You sin. I sin. We lie, cheat, and we steal. Let’s not make this about what happened and how you got hurt. Let’s make this about the future.”

I liked that answer. Pulpit committees too often ask the candidates questions that relate to the previous pastor’s problems. They shouldn’t. But I also understand why they do.

At the end I said, “Adam, let me tell you what I wish someone had told me. They’re good people at Angel Falls. There are a few, like at any church who will drive you nuts. For the most part, they want to love you. Let them. Give to them and they’ll give back. Let the deacons mentor you. Let them handle the small issues so you can concentrate on the Word. And most importantly, be yourself. Don’t let people get you down.”

I think Adam is going to be okay. He’s a little younger than I am. He has a great deacon body to mentor him. His theology is good, he’s energetic, and has a plan. He loves the Lord.

In all, I want what’s best for Angel Falls.

He said, “You’re more than welcome to come visit the church anytime.” I couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Adam, I appreciate it, but there are still a few there that want to punch my lights out.”

He said with a sly smile, “Then maybe I should preach a series on forgiveness. Better yet, I’ll have you come preach supply and you can do it.”

I’ll give him one thing. He’s got a sense of humor. He’s gonna need it.

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