Pastors Need Comfort, To Avoid Disaster

(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 conducted an interview recently with Joy Wilson, author of “Uncensored Prayer.” I asked her a question that has been haunting me. When I wrote, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” I never looked back and thought it was incomplete. But I asked Joy the following question: “In hindsight, is there a message you wish you could have added to the book?”

Since I asked that question, I have been consumed by it. I wish I had added something to my own book. Pastors are very needy people. They need comfort, just like everyone else. If their comforts are not being met, it can become a dangerous place for the enemy to step in.

When I say comfort, I don’t mean that pastors need to be pampered 24/7. I’m not talking about the idea that trouble will come and pastors need to face them. Let me explain.

Tonight, my lovely wife Allison and I went to a local diner after a funeral visitation. Usually, when I go to a small mom and pop diner, I won’t even crack the menu. I will simply ask the server, “What is the best thing you’ve got?“At this restaurant in Crofton, Kentucky, they had three pages of meals that all looked really good to me at the moment. But I knew that there was something there that they did really, really well.

Our waitress paused and said, “The open faced roast beef sandwich. It’s served with a side of mashed potatoes and covered with gravy.”

I said, “l’ll have that.” Know why? Because her recommendation was more than just what they did best. It was something she had eaten. It was comfort food. It was food for the soul. And my goodness, when it came, it fed my soul.

I was suddenly reminded that pastors need comfort. A lot of people who read this won’t like what I have to say in the next few paragraphs, but it is important if we are going to change this culture. A culture in which I fell. A culture in which 1,500 pastors a month are leaving the ministry, many due to moral failure.

Pastors work in high pressure situations, regardless of the size of their churches. Much is asked of them. Many of these men see the ministry as an extremely high calling, and they should. Unfortunately, many of these men sacrifice time with their families and wives to do the work of ministry because of overly high expectations placed on them by their churches or by themselves.

They have no comfort. Some, over time, seek out comfort through a quick fix of pornography. Some, whose marriages are deteriorating because of ministry, look elsewhere. That may come as a shock to some. The pastor shows up on Sunday with his lovely wife, his beautiful children – some people think, “I wish my family was like that.

But what many people do not realize is that the pastor’s home life is in shambles. His home life and marriage is in awful shape. Why? Because he has laid out everything in pursuit of the ministry.

In his mind, he has justified it all. He thinks he is doing the work of God. He visits the sick, attends deacons meetings, preaches the word, evangelizes the lost. But over in the corner, the relationship with his wife and family is fading and he doesn’t realize it.

He comes home from a bad day and tries to talk to his wife, only to see that she has become alienated from him. It is his fault. It is their fault. There is no comfort. So he seeks comfort elsewhere,wrongfully, sinfully. Through porn. Through lust. And maybe though an inappropriate relationship nearby.

Friends, what I am telling you is that pastors need comfort from home. From their churches. Just like those fried chicken home cooked meals mom used to fix. Pastors cannot be expected to extend themselves out on the church field and forget about the most important mission field – their family.

Comfort, the greatest and best comfort comes from home. Don’t extend your pastor so much that he can’t have the touchstone of relief from his wife and children.

When I was writing my book and interviewing fallen pastors, the most common traits of a fall were so obvious. The expectations were too high, they were isolated from having real relationships, there was too much conflict over silly things and they had lack of intimacy with their spouses.

Each of these things beg for comfort! The pastor needs friends, real friends who will comfort him! He needs a church body and leadership who will be able to discern what is really important – the preaching of the Word, not what color the carpet will be. He needs people in the congregation who understand him as a fallen sinner, like them, who has weaknesses. He needs them to be comfortable with his strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

Finally, he needs time at home to be comfortable with his wife and family. Most pastors get a day off during the week. But when I talk to my current pastor friends, they still get calls from the church on their days off. Pastors need time one on one with their wives. To bond, to heal. The ministry is, unfortunately, a battlefield. It doesn’t just involve the pastor, it involves his whole family. Give him time to nurture his family. To date her. To spend sweet emotional time with her, to forget the travails of the church for a few hours.

It’s funny as I write this, my power is out. I’m writing this on my iPhone as storms are wreaking havoc across the county where I live. Understand this: pastors who do not have adequate support and comfort are absolutely powerless. Yes, they are to look to Christ for all power, but He has given us the church to support one another through all things. None of us is in this alone.

Pastors across America need comfort time. And they need their churches to be proactive in giving it to them. It’s one positive step in ensuring we don’t have more fallen pastors.

The Christ Who Overshadows Failure

I’ve always had a nagging question in my mind after my fall. “Will the people of my former church remember any of the good I did for eight years or will it be overshadowed by my sin?”

Last weekend, we heard of a former church member whose father died. The family no longer attends the church and we’ve run into them recently. They were very gracious to us, especially their oldest daughter who has been taking the death of her grandfather particularly hard.

Allison, the girls and I decided to stop by visitation. That always makes me nervous. My motivation is right. I want to comfort. But I’m always aware that others there might see me as being less than sincere. I went anyway.

When we arrived, the mom welcomed us with hugs and so did her daughter. We talked for a bit about grief and loss. Then, the mom told me a story.

“When my dad was in the last week of his life, my daughter (she’s about 12) asked if grandpa was going to heaven. I told her I wasn’t sure but that it might be a good question to ask him while he was in ICU.

“When we got to the hospital, she asked if she could be alone with him for a bit. I watched her talk to him for a while, then next thing I knew, she was lying on top of him and they were both crying. She came out and said he had accepted Christ.”

The daughter spoke next: “Bro. Ray, all I did was tell him the same things you told me when I got saved and baptized.”

I was a broken man at that moment. The tears were flowing.

I said, “I’m so proud of you!”

Allison said, “Most adults can’t even lead someone to Jesus, I’m proud of you.”

I shared with them how sad I was about their loss, but because of Christ, we have the knowledge we will all be reunited. We prayed and left.

I thought for a while about that beautiful moment. I had been anxious about whether people had remembered any good I had done. I was making the same mistake I had made over and over in ministry.

It’s not about me. All my righteousness is as filthy rags. That little girl remembered the most important treasure of my time there – the gospel. And she passed it on. And any good that will be remembered will be because Christ was there.

His light casts a much longer shadow than any of our darkness.

Mother’s Day: Hope Amidst Tragedy

May 8, when it falls on a Mother’s Day, does not hold much promise for my emotional state.

Seventeen years ago, my college roommate, Scott Cook, was killed in a car accident along with four other students on the way home from a mission trip on Mother’s Day. One by one, they fell asleep just a few miles out from the university. There were just a few days left in the semester.

That day changed a lot of lives, not just my own. He had not returned after our freshman year but had come back for my junior year. He was a changed man. God had called him to ministry and his life was changed. Scott’s life, and death, changed mine. Every year, I remember this day and celebrate his life, but still remember the sorrow that surrounded his death.

Of course, May 8th always falls around Mother’s Day. My mom died in a car accident in 2008 the day before Christmas Eve. Her death and the tragedy of it still resonates soundly in my mind and heart. She had come to live in this community after the divorce between her and my father in 2005 and was a part of my life. She was my best friend. Then suddenly, she was gone.

Mother’s Day weekend is typically not very good for me. And there are a lot of people across the country who feel the same way about it. People who have lost mothers, wives, sisters, or who have had other tragic losses and Mother’s Day is nothing but a grim reminder of what we don’t have anymore.

Sure, we have the promise of being reunited once again with our loved ones after death. We know that they rest with Christ. I get that.

But when I sat in church today, all I could remember were those days when Mom was a member of the church I pastored. Those great Mother’s Days when she was there.

We’d hand out the goofy little pens or books to the moms that probably got lost in couch cushions across the community, but I would always take Mom hers. I felt like a little six year old walking up to her with a flower I had just picked in the backyard. All I wanted to do is let her know I loved her. To tell her “thanks, Mom, for all that you’ve done. I can never repay it, but you’ve saved me over and over. I hope I can make you proud someday.”

When I was in kindergarten, we made these necklaces for Mother’s Day one year. The teacher must have been looking to waste time, because looking back, they were an awful idea. But, man, I thought it was awesome. It was a string of paperclips put together with little pieces of wallpaper taped to each section of paperclip. I picked out some awful looking piece of wallpaper, but at the time, I thought it was cool. I took it home to Mom on Friday and gave it to her proudly.

Sunday came around and she was getting ready for church. I looked on the dresser and my pathetic looking necklace was lying there. Some of the pieces of wallpaper were already losing their tape. She was putting on a gold chain. I looked back and forth between the necklaces. Tears started welling up in my eyes.

“Mommy? Aren’t you going to wear my necklace?” Poor Mom. I swear for a second she thought about rolling her eyes, but she snapped that gold chain off and put my sorry looking wallpaper and paper clip monstrosity around her neck. And she wore it to First Baptist Russellville that Sunday.

Proudly. And I walked next to her proudly. Holding her hand and smiling. Because she was proud of me and what I had done.

We went to go see my sister the weekend before Mom died tragically. Mom’s mother had passed away decades before, but her mind was still filled with grief over her own mother as we celebrated the holiday. I didn’t know it at the time.

On the way back, we stopped at a Chili’s. The bill came and Mom grabbed it. I said, “No, Mom, I’m getting it.”

She said, “I’ve got it, Son. Let Mom take care of it. You’re always going to be my little boy. I’m so proud of you. I love you.”

Two weeks later I thought of that moment and wept like a baby. Even now while I think of that moment, the tears are hard to fight back.

So what can any of us do? Those of us who have sorrow this weekend? My roommate’s death weighs heavy on my heart again this year. Mom’s presence is on my mind. Eventually, her birthday will come, then the holidays, and I’ll be thinking about my father as well, who died in an accident.

Well, the best thing to do is listen to Mom. She loved to blog. That weekend that we went to visit my sister, when she got home, Mom blogged about her pain and missing her Mom. This was read at her funeral and has served me well since her death. She was a wise woman and her words ring true today, now, more than ever:

Saturday was one of those really tough days we have to endure as adults. Despite my personal heartache it was a time to have some laughter and to enjoy seeing my 3 granddaughters playing together. We went to visit Dave, MAC and Maggie for a few hours, to have some celebration of Christmas together and to enjoy fellowship; and although it was a day of deep personal hurt, the passing of my mother some years ago, I got through it pretty well.

Remembering those we love is expected, keeping on living in the moment is a necessity; blending the two is sometimes difficult. However, the sound of happiness and laughter is always welcome; even when the soul is weighed heavy with sorrow.

Love you, Mom.

Illness, Pastoral Comfort, And The Need For Rest

I’m not really sure where to start with what’s been going on for the past three weeks.
To sum up, without giving up too much information, Cynthia had a serious medical event. When I say serious, I mean serious. She’s resting well and we’re going to see a specialist on Friday. Thanks to those of you who have been praying for her.
It came out of the blue and has caused a lot of concern and stress.
It’s also caused a lot of reflection for both of us. To write about it will help me, but on the other hand, to reflect on it makes me wonder if too much theological, spiritual, or other type of reflection is really helpful.
I started blogging because it helped me release some of my deep issues. It did that and I was able to find solace in Christ. But with this latest problem we face, I just wonder if pontification on the issues of life on a blog isn’t just technological navel gazing.
Cynical? Maybe. But all my wondering and consideration won’t make Cynthia better.
Three weeks ago when she fell ill, I was scared. Scared she might not recover. Frightened that I might be alone in this world without her.
What would I have told myself if I had been my pastor? “All things work together for good . . .” Stop right there. Sure they do. But at that moment, looking into my beautiful wife’s eyes, I suddenly had no future. I was left asking, “What if I’m about to lose her?”
After we got a firm diagnosis of what had happened to her, Cynthia asked me, “Is this punishment for what we did?”
No, of course not. But we also discussed the fact that there are some who still judge us who will believe it is.
God has forgiven and wiped our slate clean. Our God has moved from judge to loving Father. If He wanted to judge me for everything I had ever done, I’d never make it out of bed in the morning. If He were to judge me for being an adulterous pastor, I’d have been struck dead a year ago in a gruesome, horrible accident, with an awful incurable disease, or some other unspeakable nightmare.
I don’t deserve His grace. But He has given it. And any who think I deserve judgment from Him are right. I do. We all do. But thanks be to Christ, any of us may receive grace.
So how do I deal with this event? How do I deal with this illness that has struck Cynthia?
Some would tell me that it is a terrible thing, but it will go to glorify God. To use it in the same way Paul used the thorn in his flesh – “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Some might tell us that without enough faith, it will never go away. To pray until it is healed.
Others might tell us, despite my belief, that it is God’s judgment upon our sin. That it is what we deserve. That we haven’t fully repented and that there is more to come.
Others will say it’s just fate. Bad things happen. Sickness is inevitable, that’s how life is and there are worse things in the world. You know, “it could be worse.”
In the back of my mind, I hear myself when I was a pastor. I hear all of the meaningless things I would have been telling people if it had been them or their spouse if they had been sick, “I’ll be praying for you.” “God is in control.” “We’re here for you.” “God is a God of miracles.” “We’ll put you on the prayer list.”
Those things are all true – so they are not entirely meaningless. But if they are not spoken in love or with conviction, they are meaningless. But they are meaningless sometimes because they are not the best thing to say.
When people are at their worst, as we are now, it is hard to find something to say. That’s why I now know that I only find comfort in the words of one man. The one I should have been quoting when I was attempting to comfort when pastoring.
The words I now find solace in.
“Come to me all you who are weary or heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
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