The Shift: Time For A Change

I have not blogged in a while. Sorry for that. I’ll get to my point in a minute.

I’ve been editing my book after my publisher sent my manuscript back. I figured something out. I don’t get to the point quick enough. I’m very bad at dancing around the issue. I’ve spent two years apologizing for my sin. Yeah, I’m sorry for what I did. I really am. But, there is a larger issue at stake. There are a lot of pastors out there who are falling day by day.

They aren’t falling because they’re just sinful men. They don’t just wake up one day and say, “Hey, I think I’ll commit adultery.”

These men are called by God and are serious about their mission. They are serious about the church. They love their wives, their family and the church. Yet, after years in the ministry, they fall. Why? It’s a problem, isn’t it? Friends, it commands our attention.

There has to be something going on. And there is. There are several factors in place that leads to their fall.

However, don’t ever hear me say that these men’s sin isn’t their own fault. It is. But there is a culture out there that is contributing to their downfall. It needs to change and it has to be challenged. And starting today, I’m going to stop apologizing for my sin. I’ve done that enough. I’m going to start calling out the culture that leads to the fallen pastors downfall.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again. 1,500 pastors a MONTH leave the ministry due to conflict, stress or moral failure. And they fall off the grid. Often, we never hear of them again. My concern is for those who leave for moral failure.

Our conventions, denominations and committees are content with leaving them behind. I am not. I have spoken with these men. They are left behind with hurt, pain and brokenness. Some are able to pick up the pieces and able to restore their lives. But some are not. Some are working in secular jobs searching to find reconciliation with their former churches and to the God they once served.

Let me start today with this thought.

Very few people in the church are able to forgive the fallen pastor. In fact, after speaking to many fallen pastors, I would say that around 1% of churches were able to forgive the fallen pastor for his adultery.

I understand that a church would be hurt by the pain caused by the betrayal and pain that a fallen pastor leaves behind. The fallen pastors I have spoken to have ranged from 3-30 years from when they left their church. No reconciliation was to be had. None.

I’ll blog more about that later.

What I have noticed is that there are some people within the church who are able to forgive. They act outside the 95% of the church who are angry at the pastor, but they do reach out to him.

In my talks with fallen pastors, and in my own experience, it shows me that there is an active church culture that tends to place certain expectations upon a pastor. He is placed upon a pedestal and when he falls, the fall is great. The expectations are great and he may even agree to them. When he does not meet them, they abandon him. They are unwilling to forgive and place him outside of the community, without any sort of dialogue.

But there are a few who do not operate within this culture. They reach out to the fallen pastor. They see him as a human and not as an idol or as a man on a pedestal. They are kind and say things like, “I love you, regardless of your sin. You are still my friend.”

There is a dangerous culture that needs to be changed. Hopefully, in time, we will begin to see it.

Is Forgiveness For The Remarried Wishful Thinking?

There’s a question that keeps bombarding me from time to time. Usually, it’s shrouded in some level of judgmentalism, but sometimes, and surprisingly, it comes with an honest heart that seeks an answer.

How can anyone who has committed adultery and left their spouse to marry another ever be forgiven by God? The fact that they are now married to another person shows they are unrepentant and due to Christ’s command in the Sermon on the Mount, they are actually living in perpetual adultery.

It’s an interesting statement and something I’ve pondered, to be sure. You better believe I’ve thought about it. So have thousands of people who are now living in divorced relationships that didn’t necessarily come as a result of adultery. What is the evangelical answer to more than half of the population? “Well, I’m sorry, but you’re living in perpetual adultery. You’re out of luck.”

For some, that is the answer.

Let’s face the facts first. Adultery is a sin, horrible in the eyes of God. Divorce is a sin. It is not God’s plan for the married couple. I have no “but” or “however” to place here. Those are the facts of Scripture. I’m not going to make an excuse. That’s just it.

I don’t believe that those sins are unforgivable. Once we’ve trudged on and made our decisions before the face of God and despite His Word, we have a lot to consider. If we’ve remarried and forged ahead, there’s little to be done. Someone will say, “You shouldn’t sin to expect grace to abound.” To be gracious to that statement, I will only answer that there are millions of marriages that fail. If Christian marriages were as great as they could be, partnered by Spirit filled people who were doing what they should, within a Spirit filled community, I surmise that we would have a lot less problems. But it is futile to throw stones when we don’t have a grasp of the situation.

We do know that people sin. We do know that we shouldn’t. And we do know that millions and millions of Christian people are divorced and remarried and probably want an answer to this question.

Has Christ really looked at us and said, “Sorry, you’ve locked yourself in this box of sin. There’s nothing I can do for you this time. Unless you’re willing to divorce the person you’re with now and go back to the other person, regardless of how much has happened since then. I just don’t think I can ever forgive you. Ever.”

No, you’re not beyond forgiveness. Did you commit adultery before your marriage that led to a divorce? Then repent. Seek out your spouse and reconcile. If it doesn’t happen, don’t keep committing adultery. Stop. Repent. Turn to God.

Did you and your spouse divorce for different reasons and now you’ve remarried? Did someone tell you that you’re an adulterer because you remarried? Well, I’ll tell you what. That may be the letter of the law as some see it, but even if it is the case, it’s a one time sin. Fall upon your face, cry out to Christ and ask for forgiveness.

As one man said, “You can’t unscramble the egg.”

When they cast the adulterous woman at the feet of Christ, He didn’t waste his time with those who judged her. He spent His attention and time on her. When He finally answered them, they were ashamed and went away. Finally He said to her, “Is anyone left to condemn you? Go and sin no more.”

The act of adultery, like any other sin, does not have to be a continual act. Regardless of what the world says, when we repent, Christ makes us clean, new, sanctified people. It’s over. Now, the world may have a field day with us, but that’s all garbage. What matters most is what our Savior sees in us. He did atone for all my sins. Even the ones I committed while spitting in His face, God forgive me.

Go, sin no more. Live a life pleasing to Him. He has taken away our guilt.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

My Pastor Sinned, What Do I Do?

What should a church member do when a pastor’s sin is uncovered? The pastor’s sin could be anything ranging from adultery to embezzling. I’ve put together a few quick questions someone should ask in reference to a pastor’s sin and their own struggle with the issues.

1. How will I and my family react long term and short term? When a pastor falls or sins and is dismissed, the church member and each family typically goes through a difficult time that is similar to the grief cycle one encounters after losing a loved one. Each family and church member needs to prepare for this struggle and look for support in Christ, their church family and possibly counseling.

2. How will our church as a whole react? How will our church leadership react? The church as a whole will often follow the reaction of the leadership. Leadership needs input from the congregation, so encourage them to handle the situation in a Scriptural manner. Also, share with them the need to ask for help from other churches or church leaders if they feel they are not able to make a clear decision.

3. How will we as a church react directly to the pastor? In other words, if his sin warrants that he resign, he is still to be treated as a brother in Christ. Some follow up questions might be, “How will our reaction to him impact our church now and years later? Is how we are treating him on a personal level Scriptural? Will it impact future decisions we make?”

4. Regardless of what the church leadership decides, what will I choose to do in relationship to the pastor? Or, how will I choose to treat the fallen pastor?

5. Pray for him. After I fell, I heard through the grapevine that one of my former deacons had trouble praying for me. He said it took him a long time before he was able to think positively enough of me to say a prayer for me. That is absolutely understandable. Do your best. On top of everything, think of this: “One day, I may very well fall. How would I want people to care for me?”

Pastor as Elected Official

I’ve heard it said by many, but one fallen pastor I talked to said it best, “Churches just don’t shoot their wounded, they shoot them in the head.”

First, this is not a post on church polity or how church government should be organized.

I do keep getting sucked into this black hole of why churches and pastors never seem to reconcile years after a fall. I’ve written about it numerous times and have talked to many fallen pastors. I’ve got one main theory. Even after a fallen pastor repents and has shown a godly lifestyle for twenty years, his former church wants nothing to do with him and refuses to open their arms and publicly forgive him. My primary theory is that to do so would reopen the scars that have been shut for so long and bring them to light.

But the longer I think about all these men (including me) who have fallen, the more possibilities arise.

Today’s theory probably only works in the Southern Baptist setting or any church setting where the pastor is hired by a pulpit committee and voted in by the church. A pulpit committee spends hours looking over countless resumes, makes “nominations” as it were, settles on a few names, conducts interviews, then presents a candidate for the church to vote on.

This process is very similar to the way we elect presidents, congressmen and others for pubic office in this country. How do we view our public officials? It depends on how they’re performing, typically. If they are doing their assigned tasks well and making our country/state look good, bringing benefits to us, we’re either happy or we don’t notice. However, we tend to notice if they make a decision we don’t agree with or they are caught in moral or financial failure. When that happens, we get restless and wait until the next election, or call for their heads. We can do that, we were the ones who voted them in to begin with.

Then, there’s the pastor who was voted in to a majority vote by his congregation. He performs tasks, tries to live up the expectations of the church (and hopefully of Christ), and deals with conflict on a regular basis. I had a pastor friend in seminary who pastored a church that voted each year on whether to retain him or not.

Many pastors struggle with making friends. Those pastors will tell you that it’s a dangerous thing to make friends with people in the church. They are isolated men, working a job among people who look to him – maybe not as pastor, but as a hired hand. Instead of being a member of the body of Christ with their congregants, they are an elected official. Do they still share the good times, the bad times and love of the church? Absolutely. But often, they feel as if they are on the outside looking in.

I apologize if that sounds cynical, but I’ve run that idea past many pastors (some fallen, many who have not) and they find agreement with it. It’s not the case in every church. Many pastors have a strong relationship with their membership and feel very connected to them.

This cycle isn’t to be blamed on the church wholly, either. Many pastors have a habit of looking for the next big church and use their current church as a “stepping stone”, which could cause many churches to never form a true bond with their pastor and treat him as elected official.

What then, happens when a pastor falls from grace if he is viewed as an elected official? A similar thing that happens to our elected officials when they fall. They are quickly dismissed, told to clean out their offices and sent away. The hurt church is left behind with a ton of damage control and pain that will last a long time.

On the flip side, what does Scripture tell us to do with one who sins? Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

I’m not suggesting the church place him back into the pulpit. The first thing that needs to be examined is whether the pastor is repentant. That may take weeks. But the pastor shouldn’t be thrown out like garbage too quickly. He’s not an elected official, he’s a brother in Christ. It would be hoped that if the hurt church can’t help him, they can find someone who can.

I’ve heard of churches who found out their pastor was caught in adultery – red-handed even by a member of the staff – and they begged him to stay on as pastor. I don’t endorse that. But I might suggest that a church like that had a better understanding of pastor as “brother in Christ” instead of elected official.

Something needs to change in a church culture where pastors don’t make friends within the church and are afraid to be real with their congregations. Where churches may view the pastor as a politician. The door swings both ways to find a solution. If the problem can be fixed before a great fall, perhaps the great fall can be prevented.

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