“So, You’re The Adulterer!”

(Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk about several reasons why the book “Fallen Pastor” is for anyone concerned about the future of the church. We are in the midst of a crisis and need to understand how to approach it).

I love talking to people who work in funeral homes. They have some of the most amazing personalities. They deal with people and care for them at the worst point in their lives on a daily basis. Yet, most of them have the best attitude when you get to know them.

The other day, I was riding in the pallbearer car back to the funeral home with a lady who helped manage the funeral home. We had been talking a bit and she said, “What do you do?”

We had already talked enough that she knew I worked in sports medicine. What this 50-something woman who knew people really wanted to know was, “What was I doing as a pallbearer at this funeral?”

I said, “I used to pastor this church that most of these people went to.

She said, half-joking, “What did they do? Kick you out?

I had to smile because she probably wouldn’t have asked it like that if she had known. Or maybe she would have. She had a great sense of humor and, like most funeral directors, shot pretty straight.

I committed adultery,” I said.

Her mouth dropped wide open, “Ooooooohhhh!” I thought for a second the car was going off the road as she adjusted her sunglasses. Then she looked at me and said, smiling, “I’ve heard about you.

I said, “Most of it is probably true, I’m sure.” Her statement would have bothered me two years ago, but thanks to a lot of helpful people, time and forgiveness, I just smile.

She said, “You wrote a book! Didn’t you?

Yes ma’am, I did. Did you read it?” I asked.

No, I didn’t think I needed to, I’m not a pastor,” she said.

Well, it’s not just for pastors,” I told her. “It’s for everyone. It’s about learning to forgive, what we expect of our pastors, how we can restore people, how we’re all sinners…

She stopped me and continued my thought, “You know, you’re just a sinner like me. You’re no different. We all mess up. Why is it people find it so hard to forgive pastors?

That’s a great question,” I said. “We are all sinners. I disappointed a lot of people who expected more from me. And they should have.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t forgive,” she said with a slight frown.

No, it doesn’t,” I said. “It just takes some longer than others. Hurt can last a long time. I haven’t always been perfect and no one else is either.”

We talked about other stuff on the way back to the funeral home. For instance, I found out it was easier to make creme brûlée than I thought.

She let me out at my car and said, “Thanks for sharing that. You’re a good person.”

I knew what she meant. And I appreciated her saying so. But I’m not good. None of us are. None of our heroes are good. They are all stained with sin and mere moments from a fall. When they do fall, I pray we all have courage to forgive.

Anger And My Fall From Ministry

This book can help you. But hear me out first. There was a stuggle that went before it. I was angry.

At least I was about this time three years ago. I had been caught in adultery. Man, was I angry. At a lot of people. And it was everyone’s fault.

I was angry at the head deacon. I went to him and explained to him what happened. Can you imagine that he was disappointed in me? Unbelievable! That he was disappointed that I would have comitted adultery after eight years of faithful service! What gives him the nerve? To kick me to the side like that?

I was angry. Pastor angry. Like the type of anger parishoners don’t know their pastors get.

More anger to come. From pastors in the area. Lord, help me. I had dozens of pastor friends in the area whom I had gone to seminary with and they had suddenly abandoned me! I had been kicked out of my parsonage and had to move to a rental home in Greenville, Kentucky, covered with cobwebs, and with a ghetto chouch. They didn’t care. Only two pastors and a director of missons reached out. No one cared. I take that back. The only friends I had suddenly were Mormons who were suddenly very friendly. And I was angry. People hated me. Guess whose anger it was? It was all mine. All the sin and anger belonged to me.

In the past two years, my estranged father had died. My mother, who had become my prayer warrior and primary support had been killed in a car accident. What was God doing to me? I had nothing left! The church was in an upheaval! I had nowhere to turn! Life was spinning out of control and I was a mess. And I found the love of my life.

Anger set in. It set in towards those who once had sat next to me in church. They were disappointed in me and my actions. I was alienated from them forever, I felt. I was the fallen pastor. I was an outcast. A sinner.

I began to call fallen pastors across the country. Do you know what they told me? “You’ll never reconcile with your former congregation, so give it up. You’ll never reconcile with your former congregation.” But I didn’t believe them. I was able to in many ways.

Guess what I did? I wrote a letter to them. It wasn’t well written. It was written with pride and I wish I could take it back.

Then, I sought real counsel. I began to blog. Anonymously. Through the name of Arthur Dimmesdale, I told my story online, anonymously. People responded. I told my story and what I had been through. Many people called me out on my sin and I listened. I heard them.

One day, I posted a blog about writing. A publisher came by and asked me if I would be interested in writing. I said I would. I wrote an essay under my pseudonym. Then, I wrote my book. I was overcome with thoughts about my mother who had written eight books on Christian topics. I wasn’t fit to fill her shoes.

I interviewed many fallen pastors, like myself. All of our stories were the same. We were isolated, stressed out, had intimacy issues with our spouses, and had been placed on a pedestal. What if the problems fallen pastors faced were a cultural issue? What if they can be prevented? I felt that there was hope to help others. So with Civitas Press and my editor, Jonathan Brink, I wrote a book.

I was still angry, but at whom? My ex-wife? No. She hadn’t done anything wrong. She and I get along wonderfully now. We agreed that on some level, we were both are fault. What about the church? I could get mad at the church, but pastors today face problems in churches that are worse than what I ever faced. What was I really angry at?

I was angry with myself. My inability to be something I wasn’t. I wasn’t able to meet people’s needs – the needs I thought I should be meeting. I thought I should be super pastor. I thought I was something I wasn’t. I wasn’t perfect and I hated myself for it. And at the end of it, I just wanted out.

When I look at pastors who cry for help, there are different kinds. I talk to many of my pastor friends today who are frustrated with ministry. They say that their families are suffering because of the ministry. Some get into embezzlement, pornography, or depression. Each of those men get help and are rehabilitated back into the ministry. But the pastors who really, really want out commit adultery. Those are the men who want out of the ministry. Out of it for good. I wanted out. And I got out. God help me.

But I will tell you this – three years later – I want to build a ministry for men who have fallen. I’m proud to say that I have a healthy relationship with my ex-wife. I have a great realationship with my current wife. I am able to minister to fallen pastors, their wives, and churches. God is not done with me quite yet.

Friends, what I’m saying is that our anger is a dead end. Our anger eventually finds itself at our own front door. Banging there. Incessantly. We can be as angry as we want with as many people as we want, but in the end, we are only angry at ourselves. Until we deal with the anger that we have within ourselves, we will never move forward. Good news? Christ has forgiven us. He has taken away the guilt for us. He has moved that anger away from us and set us free.

I have not been tossed upon the trash heap of society yet. I still stand here, waiting to be used by God as He sees fit. Angry? Yes. Angry at the sin that infiltrates our churches. Angry at the sin that is waiting at the door of our pastor’s studies. Angry at what pastors know is coming yet they turn a blind eye to it.

I’ve been there. And I have a batallion of men beside me who know the same. Don’t let it happen to you or your pastor. Ministry can weaken a ministry marriage. It can kill it. Be on the lookout for isolation, decreased time with your wife, high expectations, and conflict. Don’t let it weaken you to the point of ministry failure. Don’t become a statistic. Please. Reach out before it is too late.

The ministry is supposed to work to help the church, brighten your marriage and bring light to the world. Make sure it is doing all of those things. If it isn’t, seek help from a mentor, a counselor or a friend. Get help now.

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?”

A Message From The Past

Allison and I are in beautiful New Orleans enjoying a business/personal vacation that is well needed for us. It’s a good time of quiet and rest.

It’s given me time to reflect on my book and the process of writing and my attitude over the past couple of years and hopefully how I’ve changed. My relationships with people have gotten better, but I still have a long way to go.

Last night, I got up during one of my usual restless spells and checked my email and saw there was a comment to be moderated for my blog. I didn’t publish it. At first I thought it was from someone who didn’t know me who was just trying to push my buttons, but they knew too many details.

It’s from one of my former church members. I’m not typing this out to make a point about them. I’ll get to my point in a minute. Here’s some of the text:

“I’ve read your blog a bit, along with your wife’s. Now, The lord loves honesty and that’s what i’m going to give you. My opinion: You were a horrible pastor, just as you are a horrible writer. Now I sit there in the pew nice and quiet like, but goodness gracious when you were going on and on about the same old thing for 45 minutes, I almost fell asleep. And I never fell asleep in church before then, and I sure don’t now. I mean good Christ mister, how many times you gotta say that relationships are the juice of the lord’s loins? Spit it out junior.

But I did like that part where you cried. Just cried and cried and cried. Oh Lordy, I laughed my dentures out. Now that Allison, she’s a doozy of a *****. Now i shouldn’t be so judgmental, but i am. We all have our faults and the lord will forgive me. He’ll forgive me, for thinking that you’re a hypocritical piece of ****. I have alot more to say but, i think instead of telling you, i’m a gonna write me a little blog titled “Church still disgusted with the fallen pastor and his **** wife”, Under my username “God hates you”. Everything is hunky dory for you right now son, but just you be a waitin. The lord aint gonna punish you foolish kids fer your actions but theres this here thing called karma and shes a big ol’ ****, and some day soon.. she’s gonna find you. Word of advice, I hope you were at least smart enough to choose a church that has a pastor whom is too old and unattractive for your ******wife to seduce, be careful there partner and if things shall get rough, DON’T LET HER GET MARRIAGE COUNSELLING FROM YOUR PASTOR. DON’T DO IT.
With Love,
A former member of ******** Church.”

I didn’t publish the name of my former church and won’t ever mention it on this blog. There’s no purpose in it. I was the one who sinned. They have every right to be angry. And one bad email from one angry person doesn’t mean all of them feel that way. Several of them have been very kind to me and it has made my heart glad.

On to my point, this email didn’t make either of us upset. Six months out of my sin, it would have ticked me off terribly. In fact, I wrote a passive aggressive letter to my church that I never should have written about a year out. I hadn’t fully repented and I was angry at everyone.

The most important thing I’ve learned in all of this was from a pastor who said, “Ray, you don’t get to judge someone else’s reaction to your sin.” Even if they go too far and get angry, start name calling or even shoot me in the head, I don’t get to judge them. Why? Because they’re angry over what I did. He’s  right. I have to extend them grace, patience and love. The same grace, patience and love I want to be extended. The same grace, patience and love Christ extended to me.

You know what? It’s really not that hard when you’ve hit the bottom. Once you’ve lost it all, been at the bottom and all you could see when you were looking up is the hand of God reaching down, you can give the same to others.

For the rest of my life, I will, as David said, have my sin ever before me. There will always be consequences for my actions. I hope that the person who wrote that can find peace in life and with God, and eventually with me. I’m terribly sorry for the hurt I caused them. I’m sorry I failed them as a pastor and pray they will find a contented life now.

For me, I pray for better choices and a life clothed in my redeemed Savior. For me and my beautiful wife.

POST UPDATE:

I got a response from the original writer, same IP address and email. It was a little harsher and needs more editing. Again, I really don’t believe this person represents the feelings of my old church. Several of the people I’ve talked to have been kind to me. However, this response shows the hurt a pastor can cause when he disrupts a church when he falls and the anger that can remain:

Dear Mr. Ray Carrol,

We all hate ya, and none of us want your “grace, compassion, or patience”. You can shove all that right up your devil-lovin’ ***. Also, thinkin’ you’re forgiven for your sin because you prayed for it doesn’t change a thing. You’re still living your sin! Rather than making amends with your family and your ex-wife, you married that cheatin’ Allison! Where’s the regret, the guilt? You betrayed God’s commandments to man and chose to live in adultery. Gettin’ married don’t make it no better. You’ll burn, mister.

Thanks for listenin’, and I hope when you meet the little Baby Jesus and Allah Lord of Lords at the gangplank to the Millenium Falcon with Chewie and Buddha ridin’ shotgun, they greet you with open arms! (otherwise your deviled eggs)

Signed,
Your friends at ***** ****Church

My Response:

The compassion, love and grace I offer is real. I also offer forgiveness to you. Whether you accept it is up to you. I do know that I have been forgiven by God. My sin was great. My fall was great.

I also know that all sin is abominable in His sight. However, thanks to Christ, it is also freely forgiven. Not because of anything I have done, but because of what He did for me at the cross. What grieves me the most is not the sin I committed at my former church or the impact it had. What grieves me most is that my sin was responsible for the death of my Savior. But I am thankful that His grace abounds to save even a wretch like me. I am thirsty for that grace. When no one else seemed to come after me in my darkness, He was there, calling for me.

Before I fell I was pompous, prideful, arrogant and thought I knew it all. Now I realize I knew nothing. All I really need to know is a Savior who gave all for me. I’m still not perfect, still not humble, still not really much of anything. I’m still a sinner. But each day I’m trying to look away from what I want and toward what He wants.

I hope someday you will forgive me and release your anger. I hope someday you will find peace. Maybe you can start by showing what you wrote to me to your pastor and seek his help in studying the Word. Christ wants all his children to be at peace.

What I really desire is what I have been given by a handful of people since my fall and I hope to be given by more who witnessed my fall. It is found in Galatians 6:1: “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.”

That is my hope and prayer.

My Mess, God’s Message: Prelude To A Fall

So, here’s my story in earnest.

I grew up in beautiful Russellville, Arkansas in a Christian home. I had a goofy sister (she’s still goofy) and a good network of friends. My dad was a health physicist, which means he was Homer Simpson and worked at the local nuclear power plant. My mom was a stay-at-home mom but also penned ten Christian books in her spare time.

I left Arkansas to attend Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri to pursue studies to be a certified athletic trainer. At the end of my junior year, my college roommate was killed in a car accident along with four other students. It was one of several turning points in my life. It was also around that time that I started dating my ex-wife. We got married shortly after we graduated the next year.

From there, we went to Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky where I pursued a Master’s degree in exercise science. While there, I also received the call to ministry. It was there that I also found a wonderful church and my mentor, Jim Simmons. I was only there two years, but the people there were some of the best friends I ever made.

From there, I went to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to pursue a Master of Divinity in Theology. It was a lot of information to process. That experience broke me down then built me back up. My first daughter was born while I was there. When I left seminary, I felt like I was ready to pastor anywhere.

We left Louisville and came to Western Kentucky for a sports medicine job. Shortly after, I was called by a smaller church and I started being a bi-vocational pastor. I stayed in that position for eight  years until my fall. It was during those eight years that my second daughter was born.

Just to set the scene for the rest of the story, I need to be clear about what I’m going to write about and what I won’t write about. I won’t be saying anything negative about my ex-wife or my former church. That’s not what this is about. I will, however, be writing about my experience, what I went through, and the social issues around me.

So, I will tell you this. When I got out of seminary, I was very judgmental. I regret that.

When I saw sin in the church, I wanted to judge it. I wanted it gone. I wanted it to be severed from the fellowship. It made me angry. I honestly thought I was “hating the sin and loving the sinner” but I wasn’t. I can remember Sundays where I was preaching from an angry place in my heart.If I had been pastor and someone had done what I did, I would have run them off with a fifty pound bible and a sack of doorknobs. In fact, there were times I was very harsh to people about their sin and I thought I was doing the right thing. I wasn’t. I was being judgmental and unloving. I showed no compassion.

I’ve learned on the other side of my sin that our Savior is a compassionate, longsuffering Savior. Does He hate sin? Yes. But He absolutely loves the sinner. He is kind, patient, understanding and spends time listening to them.

While pastoring, I loved preaching and I’d like to think I did a pretty good job. I loved interacting with people. I loved Lord’s Supper Sunday. I loved fellowshipping. But too often, I lacked a compassionate heart when it came to sinners. And that, my friends, is a key part of being a shepherd.

I hope others may learn from my mistakes. Thank God He has forgiven me for that heart attitude and has healed me. Thank God He has renewed my mind. Thank God for second chances.

My Mess, His Message: Introduction

I promised I’d write out my testimony. It’ll take more than one post.

I fell from the pastorate in October of 2009 after pastoring a church for eight years. The following March, I started blogging under a pseudonym at blogger.com. I had to write. Writing helped me clear a lot of the depression, the ideas, and the feelings that were flowing around in my head. Recently, I had to drop the pseudonym of Arthur Dimmesdale, so I deleted a lot of the story and transferred everything here to WordPress.

The pseudonym of Arthur Dimmesdale, of course, is the name of the minister in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, who committed adultery. I was writing to answer a question his character asked in that novel that I posted at the top of that blog – “What can a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the redemption of other souls?—or a polluted soul, towards their purification?”

I changed my name, locations, and a lot of details. Strangely, in the beginning, a lot of people thought I was making the whole story up. They thought it sounded too fantastic. I wish. But unfortunately, I was living it.

I also got accused of trying to justify my sin. I want to be clear on this. Don’t ever hear me trying to justify what I did. I’m responsible for my adultery. I did it. I’m the sinner. No one forced me to do it. No set of circumstances made me do it. All of the blame rests upon me. So, if you ever read this blog and think I’m trying to shuffle off my sin on someone else or something that happened – you’re reading it wrong.

Also, don’t expect a lot of details. It’s really not about the story. I’m not writing to provide a provocative novel. I hurt a lot of people. I broke the heart of my ex-wife, I harmed my children, and I hurt an entire church. I hurt my extended family and a lot of friends. I disappointed a lot of people.

One other thing. I don’t write to garner pity or compassion. This isn’t a blog to get you to say, “Well, he did sin, but now I’m supposed to feel sorry for the adulterer.” Nope. That’s not the point either. I sinned and the consequences of that sin will follow me for the rest of my life.

So what is the point of all of this? Great question. There are several points. I didn’t know what some of them were when I started writing, but I know what they are now.

First, I’ve learned that despite my sin, God still loves me. He still loves sinners. I don’t know why He does, but He does.  On the list of people who get looked down in society, pastors who commit adultery are close to the top. Why? Because we knew better. We’re the ones who preached week after week about morality, holiness and God’s truth. Then we showed the greatest hypocrisy by forfeiting it all and in front of God and everyone, we broke His law.

In the wake of that sin, people get hurt. Then they get angry. And that is very, very understandable. They tend to stay angry and hurt for a long time.

According to The Barna Group, 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month due to moral failure or burnout. What are those fallen pastors supposed to do? I get emails and messages from fallen pastors frequently. Despite what the world thinks of them, they’re hurting and need help. There is hope and God still loves them. They need to repent and humble themselves. It took me almost a year to humble myself.

Before I humbled myself, I was angry. I was prideful, made a lot of angry remarks to people, wrote some angry letters, and acted like Balaam’s donkey, if you know what I mean.

But God was patient. So what can God do with us? I think part of the answer is in Psalm 51 when David prays for restoration after his sin with Bathsheba. In verse 12, he asks God to restore to him the joy of his salvation, then in verse 13, he promises that he will teach sinners to return to God. In other words, David will teach others to learn from his mistakes. I hope that I can do that.

Secondly, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to fallen pastors across the country. For the most part, it seems that most fallen pastors find no reconciliation with their former churches. I’m not talking about them returning to the pastorate. I’m just talking about forgiveness. Even 20 or 30 years down the road, it doesn’t seem to happen. I would love to see it happen. I don’t know how, but I know that our God is great enough to make it happen. But a change has to happen in both the fallen pastor and the church.

Finally, (and there are more reasons, but I’ll stop here for now), I don’t want this to happen to other pastors. Let me be careful here.  I have honestly had people come up to me and say, “Ray, I’m really unhappy in my marriage and am thinking about committing adultery. What do you think.” I say, “Uh, no. It’s a sin.” They say, “Well, you did it and you seem so happy.” I say, “Just because I did it doesn’t make it right, friend.”

Pastors are weak people, whether they admit it or not. They face a lot of problems, crises, and conflicts. The same problems you face. There are preventative measures that can be put in place to safeguard their marriages and keep them strong for their churches. I get emails from pastors who say, “I’m thinking about committing adultery, what should I do?” Don’t do it. Get help.

The whole issue of my life now, God’s sovereignty, my happiness, and my ability to help people because of what I’ve been through is a whole other post. But for now, know that I don’t want to see anyone commit adultery. Ever. What I went through after violating God’s law was  an awful time.

That being said, the blessings I am experiencing now are nothing but the result of God’s grace. I don’t deserve them. I don’t deserve Him. In spite of my sin, He has blessed me. My heart soars because of His forgiveness. Do I still experience consequences? Yes. But He has covered all of my sin and I do not stand before Him guilty anymore.

That’s a message, no longer a mess.

Learning From Chris Brown: Moving Past Ourselves

Singer Chris Brown sat down with Robin Roberts of Good Morning America yesterday for an interview before he sang a single from his new album, “F.A.M.E.”

Roberts asked Brown about his past with singer Rihanna and the restraining order that was placed against him due to violence against her. Brown was agitated with the questions, performed his song, then went to his dressing room and allegedly busted out the window.

Here’s the video of the interview:

I don’t have a dog in the hunt because I don’t really care about the entertainment industry as a whole. It did cause me reflection on my own life, however.

Brown said that “F.A.M.E.” stood for “Forgiving All My Enemies.” I don’t know what sparked the dressing room melee, but it seems it was the questioning by Roberts about his past. Maybe I’m wrong.

I am sympathetic towards him in his journey, however. I’m not sympathetic towards his sin. I was where he was at one point. I can identify with his frustration.

At one point, I thought I had moved past my adultery, humbled myself, and was in a place where I was moving on enough to talk to people at my former church. I thought that if the topic of my former sin was brought up, or if I was confronted with it, I would be fine and could let it roll off my back. Even if someone told me what a wretch I was and wanted to hound me about it (which Roberts wasn’t doing, in my opinion), I would be okay. I thought I could just smile and own up.

But I was wrong. I was fooling myself. That process took much longer than I thought. It takes a humbling work of God to show us that we are prideful people who need to confess that we are lowly people who have much work to do.

Sometimes, deep within us, we still hold on to the idea that despite our awful sin, we were somehow right. Sure, circumstances may occur to lead us in a certain direction in life. And at times, people may treat us poorly after we sin, but sin is still sin.

Until we take ownership of that sin and confess it and say, “You know what? Sin is sin. I messed up,” we can never really “forgive all our enemies.” We will never be able to look them in the eye with the confidence that Christ has forgiven us, even if they persecute us.

Because when Christ has forgiven, who is left to condemn us?

Reconciling With A Fallen Pastor, Part 6: A Victory For The Enemy?

You’ve decided that approaching and reconciling with your pastor who fell years ago is the right thing to do.  Guess what? You’re right.
But you’re also in the minority. I’ve discovered that in the 20% (a percentage I made up for this blog post) of churches that reconcile with their pastors, most of the time, it’s the pastor who approaches the church (another stat I made up).
I made those stats up out of observation. Unfortunately, most of the time, churches and fallen pastors do not reconcile. Why? Because after the hurt and pain that is left behind, both sides decide that it’s in their best interest that the problems are best ignored and life just goes on. But that is not a Scriptural ideal at all, is it? You know it’s not and I don’t have to throw Bible verses in your face to prove it. And to not insult your intelligence, I won’t.
After these past few months of talking to what I believe to be well-meaning Christians, it is my belief that most “Christians” in the pews would rather hang adulterous pastors out to dry than forgive them. 
Don’t believe me?  I recently joined FaithWriters.com and found an article by a writer who was rather opinionated. Her opinion wasn’t isolated either. Feel free to peruse her entire summary of what should happen to pastors who sin. I have no judgment for her, but I hurt for her. She has been hurt by a pastor, or a husband like me. A man who did not repent or approach her with a repentant attitude. She may have been injured in her walk forever, but I hope not. I hope that she may learn to forgive, despite whatever experience she may have been through.
Listen closely, reader . . . the injured in this battle are not just pastors (even though many of us fallen pastors would like to think so). They are the wives, the church members, the families, the people who were attending who were lost and left, and the unbelieving members of the community who take the time to laugh at the church for our hypocrisy. All the while the powers of darkness enjoy watching us fight and quarrel amongst ourselves as we wallow in our inability to forgive one another even though our Savior commands it.
There is something wrong here. It begins with me. It begins with my sin. But it continues with me. But it continues with all of us – me and my church when we cannot reconcile. You and your church – you and your fallen pastor when you cannot reconcile with your fallen pastor.  

It is a victory for the powers of darkness. How long will you continue to let it be a victory for them?

We cannot continue to let ourselves to be mired down in a lack of forgiveness. We cannot let petty thoughts and hurt keep us from reconciliation. Does it hurt? Yes. Did a pastor hurt us? Yes. Did a man of God let us down? Absolutely. But people will let us down every day.  
David let the whole nation of Israel down, but he repented and God forgave Him. Was David ever the same after that? No, but he led. He moved forward. I’m not asking you to let your pastor, worship leader, youth leader, whomever into a position of trust. I’m not asking you to let this person back into the same place where they were before.
What I am asking is that you do what Christ did in John 8. The Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery and threw her before Christ. He did not condemn her. He did not judge her, but he had the right. He stood between her and every single rock these people had.
He showed compassion. Just like he would show compassion for you if you ever needed it in your life. He did not condone her sin, he did not excuse her sin. He just showed love.
Love. The greatest emotion, the greatest action ever in the history of humanity. One that breaks down all walls, all barriers. It says, “I don’t necessarily approve of what you did, but I love the person God made you to be. I love the fact that God made you and He made you for a reason. I don’t hate you, and you are going through a tough time and I am your friend, just as Christ is your friend.”
It does not mean you approve of anyone’s sin. It does not mean you love anyone’s sin. But it opens the door to helping so many. And it is the exact opposite of judging. What Christ told us not to do.

Last time I blogged that I went to a funeral of a former church member. Many of my former church members stared at me, in judgment. I don’t think they even realized they were doing it. Judging is embedded in us. It used to be embedded in me. In some way it still is. Not like it was.
When we open our hearts to how Christ reacted and loved people – how He – on that cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” . . . do we understand that? Those people had whipped him, beaten him, spit on him, driven nails into his hands, and yet He did not hold them responsible.
Yet, for some reason, we lash out at those who sin against us for the smallest things. Friends, it is time to forgive. It is time to make calls. It is time to call parents before they die. It is time to call fallen pastors. It is time to call lost friends. It is time to reconcile with Christians we have petty arguments with. The world is watching. The enemy is laughing.

What will we do?


Even The Agnostic Gets It

I’ve been in counseling for about five months. I take that back. I’ve been in counseling since college on and off. But recently, since my fall, I’ve been in counseling for five months. It’s been very productive.

If you’ve read my blog, you can tell I have a bunch of mixed emotions. Anger, unforgiveness, despair, depression, anxiety, and whatever the heck else is swimming around in my mind.

My current counselor, Ivan, has been wonderful. He’s helped me a lot. He told me he was an agnostic, but that hasn’t hindered the counseling process. He has seen a lot of pastors and sympathizes with my plight. We’ve made a lot of headway. Especially yesterday.

I’m still hurt and angry with what happened at Angel Falls Baptist and the way everything turned out. Let me explain. Yeah, I committed adultery. I hurt those people. But some part of me wants them to seek me out – not all of them – but the ones who said they loved me and cared about me. I want them to seek me out and let me know they forgive me.

I sent out a letter to the congregation about two months ago. Only one couple responded. I told the church I was sorry I let them down. I let them know I had no excuse for what I did. I’ve had plenty of people tell me that it takes time for people to forgive.

Angelica has forgiven me. I’ve blogged about people “forgiving in their heart.” I wrote the head deacon a special letter and let him know that he had a particular responsibility to seek me out. No response. I laid all of this at the feet of Ivan yesterday.

I told him that it made me angry and hurt that I spent all those years pouring my life into those people and that they could be so angry at me. I had received angry text messages, emails, and Facebook messages from them. I told him that it really came to a head in the past couple of weeks because Lydia wasn’t invited to attend the AFBC VBS. (She is still related to about half the congregation there). If Cynthia had cheated with a plumber or electrician, the people at AFBC wouldn’t have batted an eye. But since she cheated with me, they were angry and unforgiving.

I told him with great emotion that it was a horrible double standard. That the church shoots their wounded pastors and leaves them for dead.

He looked at me and said, “Did it ever occur to you that you loved them more than they ever loved you?”

I was shocked for a second, then my shock turned to hurt. “I guess that’s possible.” I didn’t want to think about it, but it started to make sense.

Ivan continued, “What do true friends do when their friends make mistakes like you made?”

I said, “They love them and look past their mistakes. Like my friends at my secular work. They didn’t bat an eye. They just loved me regardless. They looked past what I did and moved on. Even the two pastor friends I had and the couple in church who still loves me – they didn’t hesitate.”

He sat in silence for a moment and said, “Is it possible that they never really bonded with you?”

Wow. Then I said, “That makes sense to me. That would explain why in almost a decade of ministry there, I was only invited to eat in someone’s home only twice. I was only asked out to eat after church only twice. They were a tight knit group. I felt like a hired hand most of the time.”

He said, “What does it take to bond or start a friendship with someone?”

I said, “You have to open up and be yourself, you have to let someone in, you have to spend time with that person.”

He said, “Exactly. Did they ever try to reach out to you like that?”

I was getting irritated, “No. But Lord, you would think after a decade of doing their loved one’s funerals, their kid’s weddings, baptizing their grandchildren, going to their bedsides when they were sick, and God knows what that they would love me.”

He said, “No, not necessarily. Like you said, you were a hired hand. They didn’t place the same importance on the relationship that you did.”

I was becoming broken in this conversation and he could see it. Then he asked, “Help me understand something. You have told me before how judgmental you were before your fall. How would you have responded if someone you knew had fallen before this had happened?”

I said, “Harshly. But it depends on who it was. There are some who are close to me that I would have gone to battle for. But most I would have been harsh on. It was all black and white for me.”

He said, “I don’t understand that. Everyone makes mistakes. We’re all human and we have no right to judge another, do we?”

I said, “I know that now. I was wrong to do it, but I thought I was right and I did it anyway.”

He looked curious and wanted to know more. “So how is it that the church can treat you like this? It’s supposed to be a place where – if I understand what little I know of Christ’s teachings – where people are supposed to be loved for who they are, right? Weren’t sinners the ones who Christ came after? Weren’t they the ones he would have welcomed?”

Lord, I thought. The agnostic gets it, but the vast freaking majority of Christianity doesn’t get it. The church doesn’t get it.

I said, “You’re exactly right. And I’ll explain it to you. The harsh reality. And it’s horrible. If you are a drunk, an adulterer, a drug abuser or a vile sinner then you get ‘saved’, then the church welcomes you with open arms. They love the fact that you have a testimony. You’re like a trophy in the case.”

I continued. “But if you’re a saved Christian in the pew, already a member, and you sin – you commit adultery, use drugs, get caught with a DUI, sin in any way publicly, then you become an outcast. You’re a shame to the church. And they don’t want you anymore.”

He was leaning on my every word. He was fascinated and shaking his head at this point because he knew it was true.

“And the church doesn’t want you so they kick you out. You know why? Because other churches look at that church and say, ‘Is that man/woman still going there? I can’t believe they tolerate that kind of sin!’ It’s a blight on that church. It becomes a shame on that church. It’s not church discipline. It’s not what Christ wanted and it’s not biblical.”

He responded, “But that goes against what people who preach the Gospel believe, doesn’t it?”

Again, the agnostic gets it. And Christians don’t. We should be ashamed. And he wasn’t taunting. He wasn’t rubbing it in. We was observing. And he was right.

That’s when he turned it back on me.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“I really want the people at Angel Falls to treat me like they did before . . .” I trailed off. I realized the implications of what I was saying.

Before my fall I had been miserable. I was unhappy in that church. We had crisis after crisis. A lot of the people had been complaining about whatever they could find to complain about. Everyone was nitpicking the current situation. Frowns everywhere. I didn’t really want them to treat me like they did before. They were unhappy before my fall. And I told Ivan that.

He said, “See? They weren’t happy before. They never bonded with you. They weren’t your friends.”

I said, “But they have gossiped so much about what happened after my fall. They have so much misinformation. I want to stand in front of them and tell them the facts.” I paused. “But I know what you’re going to say. Showing them the facts won’t change their mind about how they feel about the situation.”

“Exactly,” he said. “It’s like conspiracy theorists. People who don’t think Obama was born in the United States. You could show them a birth certificate and they would still say, ‘Doesn’t matter, it’s fake.'”

He paused for about twenty seconds then said, “What do you have to do, then in dealing with these people? What have you learned about yourself? Some people are built to carry a heavier load than others, and you are one of them. You are able to forgive now better than others. They are not. You’ve been able to understand things better because of your experience. So what do you need to do?”

I kinda knew what he was looking for, but not really. I said, “Put things behind me? Move toward the future?”

He let me sit in silence for about a minute. A very long minute.

Then he said, “You have to accept them as they are.”

Well, crud. He was right. Then he said, “They can’t carry the same load you can. They don’t have the same life experience you have. They haven’t come to the same point in life and don’t have the same understanding you have. You have to be patient with them. You have to love and accept them as they are.”

I broke down. I said, “You’re right, and that’s biblical. It makes me think of Christ. And don’t hear me comparing myself to Christ, because I’m definitely not.”

He said, “I don’t.”

I said, “But Christ came to save people and they hated him for it. And on the cross, do you know what he said? He said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'”

He said, “Yes! I do remember that!”

That’s called a breakthrough counseling moment.

I can’t blame my counselor for believing in a God but not knowing who he is exactly. Especially when he can walk into a church and see such hypocrisy. I see the same thing. But I believe in a risen Christ. And some days, that’s all that gets me through. How can we continue in unforgiveness and shunning our own the way we do and claim to love a Christ who loved all repentant sinners? How can we sit on our rear ends and know that there are people who have left our churches when we should be pursuing them as Christ did?

We should be ashamed when an agnostic understands the gospel better than we do.

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