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.

Pastors and Killer Expectations, Part 3: How to Cope

How can a pastor cope with killer expectations? He can’t. If you find yourself coping, you’re not doing it right. You need to go back and read the first two posts on this topic. Coping is getting by. It’s like using one oar to paddle a cruise liner through the Bermuda Triangle. It’s not going to happen if you just try and “cope.”

You want to know how you need help? If half of your bookshelf is filled with titles like, “How to Manage Conflict in the Church,” or “Burnout in the Life of the Pastor.” You have got to get help. More than that, you’ve got to change your lifestyle and how you communicate with your church.

Let’s go back for a moment though. In researching my book, “Fallen Pastor,” I did a lot of research. Before my fall from ministry (long before I ever even thought about committing adultery), I lived the life of the stressed out pastor. I knew stressed out pastors. I still do. And after I fell, I talked to a lot of fallen pastors who told me that one of the factors that was part of their lives was high expectations – killer expectations.

So what do we do about killer expectations before they catch up to us? I want to address how it appears that most pastors deal with them – wrongly. I’m a seminary educated guy. I understand the purpose of seminary. It’s a theological education. There were a few practical classes spread out in there for good measure. But for the most part, I didn’t learn how to manage expectations or people.

I was surprised about how little I really knew about how to deal with people after two years of ministering. During that time, I was talking to a church member about seminary. I was dealing with some conflict in the church and she asked, “Didn’t they teach you how to deal with that in seminary?” Not really. I didn’t even learn how to cuss in Greek effectively so they couldn’t understand what I was saying to them when I got mad.

Where does a pastor go after he has a bad Sunday? You know, after the church gossip tells him that she heard from her aunt’s friend that he hadn’t visited Miss Suzie in three months when he had just seen her last week. When two deacons approach him separately about some problems with the music leader. When a trustee wants to meet with him on Tuesday about a “budget problem.” When two ladies want to talk about VBS issues at the same time. When four Sunday School teachers tell him they’re all going on vacation – next week – and can he please find a replacement? When three new families visit for the third time that day and he hasn’t gotten around to visiting them yet for very good reasons. When during the invitation time, he thought he had prepared a good sermon, but felt he had just been flat.

Where does he go? Who does he talk to? How does he manage all these killer expectations?

Most pastors are taught to not form close relationships within their church. I don’t know where this comes from, but ask any pastor (if they’re willing to be candid with you) and they’ll tell you it’s true. I wrote about it pretty extensively in the book, so I won’t discuss it heavily here. I think it comes from the idea that if a pastor makes close friends with someone in the church, they might turn on you. It can happen. Some people can turn on you and some pastors learn this the hard way. It’s also true that solid friendships can be made within the church. In my experience, though, most pastors don’t form strong relationships with families in the church.

How about staff members? For pastors who are blessed to have staff members, some can have a close relationship with their fellow pastors on staff. Again, I’ve heard the same thing. Some keep them at arms length while others nurture a close relationship. I’ve talked to guys who are pastors at large churches and many of them are content to be a CEO type and run it like an organization. They have great prayer time at their weekly meeting and let everyone attend to their own projects each week. It’s difficult for anyone on staff to meet the expectations they have and nurture any kind of relationship.

What about fellow pastors? In a lot of communities, there are meetings among the local pastors. Some of these are fruitful and interesting. Sometimes, these meetings turn into internal contests of envy. Some guys love to compare congregation size or budget allocation. A lot of guys don’t. For some pastors, they brood internally, looking at what other men have instead of dwelling on what God has trusted them with. On the other hand, I’ve seen some pastors have a great relationship of accountability and trust that extends all the way back to seminary.

So who is left? I get the feeling that a lot of pastors (for the first few years) go home and complain to their spouse. It’s like many occupations. Who else gets to hear what went wrong that day but your other half?

When the pastor comes home the question, “How was your day?” is not met with, “Oh, it was a blessing from God! It was an amazing pouring out of His Spirit!” Nope. Instead, the wife gets to hear after a Sunday service, “What a horrible day. You’re not going to believe what that busybody Helen said to me. Those deacons were meeting over in the corner. Who knows what they were talking about!

The pastor’s wife might have just had a wonderful worship experience and not have even noticed anything was awry. So for the first few years of pastoral experience, she may be in shock when her husband complains. When I interviewed these men, the pattern was unmistakable. They said after a few years, their wives just stopped listening. Either that, or they told them to stop telling them about what was going on at church. Honestly, I can’t blame them.

Most people don’t see church from the pastor’s high stress viewpoint. When he hits the door, he has to know that his wife may not see it that way either.

That’s one of the reasons the pastor has to learn how to do more than just cope. Coping isn’t going to work in the long run. It won’t cut stress, it won’t help him manage his life and it won’t make him an effective leader.

If there are killer expectations, the pastor has to go to the root of it and find out where they are coming from. Are they originating from a misunderstanding between him and the church? Are they there because he is placing too much stress on himself? Is there sin in his own life? Does the church have unrealistic expectations of him? A lot can be solved with communication. That communication may not be easy at first, but it may save a serious problem in the long run.

Don’t cope. Thrive. Excel. Know that Christ didn’t put his leaders in a position to fail miserably and lead miserably. He has placed them there to lean on Him and glorify Him in all things. He didn’t put them there to go home every night and complain loudly in front of their spouses or kick the cat. He has many plans for his leaders. Success everyday? No. But he has promised us peace amidst the storm.

Next time: Wrapping it all up – what do we do with all these killer expectations?

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.

Descent Into Sin, Part One: Tragedy

I started retelling my story last time with a short prelude into how I ended up in the ministry. Strange how we can summarize our lives into one blog post.

I’ve talked to a lot of fallen pastors and have found that before their fall, they experience crisis or tragedy. The same was true for me. However, even if tragedy or crisis strikes, each fallen pastor I have spoken to is careful to point out that their sin is still their sin. There was no excuse for what they did.

I don’t write about the tragedies that occurred before my fall to garner pity, only to let you know that a fall just doesn’t “happen.” There are a typically a myriad of swirling circumstances around the event that contribute to a fall.

My parents divorced in 2005 and my mother moved to our little community. She was devastated by the divorce and I was angry at my father. He and I had never had a very good relationship. The divorce didn’t help much, either. Mom was an instant hit with my two daughters. They had never had a grandparent so readily accessible. She doted on them and played Barbies with them like there was no tomorrow.

In February of 2007, my father died in an accident when he fell. He was living about an hour away and our relationship had slightly improved, but I still harbored much resentment toward him. I sought counseling after he died to deal with my anger and hatred toward him.

I thought that his death would remove the bitterness I felt in my life, but I was wrong. It was still there, festering.

The next year, we had a crisis in the church. I won’t detail it here, but suffice it to say it was a small situation that got blown out of proportion. It lasted for at least six months. We tried to ignore it, hoping that it would go away, but it didn’t. Feelings were hurt, people left, and it kept me awake at night. It was one of the worst stretches of my pastorate. In fact, I was starting to send out resumes. I was beginning to hate the ministry. All I wanted to do was preach, but the nagging crisis was all I could see before me.

While the crisis was still going on, Christmas 2008 was fast approaching. I was hoping the New Year would bring some peace and resolution.

I traveled with my wife and children to see her family in a neighboring state. Mom stayed behind at home to get ready for Christmas. On the way out of town, we even saw her in her car and waved to her on the way out of town. That was December 22nd.

The next morning, I awoke with a horrible feeling. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, but I knew something was out of sorts. I called Mom. No answer. I called again. Still no answer. That wasn’t like her. She was OCD like me and always had a phone with her. I called and called and called.

I soon found out that she had been in a car accident. She had hit a sheet of ice and slipped off the road and hit a tree.

We left my wife’s family’s house and began to drive back home. On the way, I received a call from a hospital near Nashville. Mom was gone.

I have no way to tell you how I felt. Those of you who have lost loved ones suddenly to tragedy know how it feels. And when you lose them near a holiday, you know how intense it is. And more, you know what it’s like to have to tell your kids. I had to break my kids’ hearts that day.

We finally got back home and I had to go to Nashville and identify her body. Thankfully, one of my deacons did that for me. When we got back to the church, many of the members were there. They had been praying and mourning. It was a beautiful moment for me. Most of them didn’t know what to say to me, but that was okay. I didn’t know what to say either. They loved on me and hugged me. And I loved them right back.

I was in complete despair. Utter grief overtook my soul. My mother was my prayer warrior. She was the only one in my life who listened to my perils, my hurts, and my complaints. No one else did that for me. And now, she was gone.

Back to counseling I went, but I was numb to it.

There was another family tragedy that befell us just a few months later, but I cannot write about it. Let it be said that I was broken by that point. Was I going out looking for comfort? No. Was I searching for sin? No. But I was numb to everything. I had no purpose. No one understood me and I didn’t think anyone was listening either.

What I Don’t Miss About Pastoring: Insecurity

You wouldn’t think pastors are insecure. You’d be wrong.
They all seem so confident standing up there preaching. Proclaiming the Word of God.
Heck, even around other pastors, they’re a little arrogant.
I remember once I went to a pastor’s conference. We had a breakout session on handling conflict in the ministry. The reason we were all in there was because we were insecure and had “trouble people” in our congregations.
However, the room was filled with Southern Baptist pastors at a pastor’s conference. Which, if you’ve never experienced this, don’t want to. Imagine a lot of strong personalities competing to share their advice with the moderator – however, they’re in the room because they’re insecure with handling conflict.
The moderator began the discussion with, “What is the most difficult occupation in the world?”
I winced.  You don’t ask a group of pastors that question. Especially a group of pastors gathered to hear a breakout session on handling conflict.
The vocal vote was unanimous – “Pastoring!”
They hadn’t realized that the moderator probably disagreed with them, even though he was a veteran pastor. He never said what he thought, but he was gauging his crowd. He wanted to listen to what they would say. And he did. He asked, “Why?”
“Because we do so much! We pray, we visit, and no one understands us! No one understands what we do except other pastors! And people will split the church over the smallest and most insignificant things! And we’re underpaid and under appreciated!”
That went on for about five minutes. It’s not that I disagree with any of those things, but it was getting ridiculous. Like a Jerry Springer Show.
I raised my hand. He actually called on me.
“I agree it’s difficult,” I said. “But the initial question was ‘toughest job in the world.’ While I agree our jobs are hard for us and that we have a higher calling, I don’t know if it’s the toughest. I think studies show that job would be air traffic controller.
People were frowning. But I continued.
“If the moderator was speaking to a group of doctors and asked the same question, what would they say? They wouldn’t say ‘pastors.’ They’d say ‘doctors.’ If he was speaking to auto mechanics, steel workers, stay at home moms, construction workers, accountants, CEOs of Fortune 100 companies, they would all think their job was toughest.”
A bellicose pastor looked at me and said, “Young man, how long have you been pastoring?”
I said, “Five years.”
He said, “Then you just don’t know.”
I got shut down.
But I did know. I had already been through my fair share of petty arguments, anonymous letters from angry members, dumb statements about my sermons, and people just not “getting it” that I was in the same boat all those other pastors were in.
I was insecure.
Strange thing, most pastors don’t know how insecure they are. They’d like to think that they’re strong, but they don’t know how weak they are.
We feel almost invincible behind the pulpit, but when we step down, we’re weak. We’re hurt when church members criticize us. We wonder what people are saying about us.
You’ll say, “You shouldn’t worry about what people say.” I wish it were that easy. And I’m sure some pastors don’t have that problem. But most do. And it’s very difficult.
I’m not even talking about being a “people pleaser” (hate that term). I’m not talking about running a ministry so that people won’t complain. If you’re doing things right and by the Word, people will complain.
No, I’m just talking about having a tender heart as a pastor. One where there’s always two or three people who don’t like anything you do. They’re going to hate everything you do and criticize you even if you were one of the Twelve.
People always said, “You can’t let them get to you.” For long periods of time, it wouldn’t. But after a while, it finally would.
Your pastor is most likely strong most of the time, but even he has moments of insecurity. Build him up. Support him. Don’t let him falter. Don’t be someone who finds something to complain about all the time.
When you hear people complaining, ask, “Is it really something worth complaining about?” and “Do we need to bother the pastor about it?” and “Can we stop complaining and just fix the darn thing?”
Above all, pray for your pastor’s heart. If you or someone in your church has a history of abrasiveness with him, fix it. Don’t let it linger. Be of one mind.
Make it so when he goes to a pastor’s conference and someone asks, “What’s the hardest job in the world?” he replies, “It’s not mine.”

Common Traits Of The Fallen Pastor, Part 1: Poor Father Relationship

Before I get to my epilogue (of sorts), I want to do this short series on common traits of the fallen pastor.

Since I started blogging, I’ve talked to and emailed a decent number of pastors who, like me, fell because of moral issues. I’ve read other online articles about how to avoid moral sin in the pastorate and warning signs, etc. However, most of these articles were written by men who hadn’t fallen or didn’t know a fallen pastor. That’s not to say there wasn’t any truth to those articles, but I hope I can offer a little more insight.

Just a preamble to this series – I’m listing things that seem to be common traits. Of course, that doesn’t mean they exist in all fallen pastors. But they did seem to be a common thread in discussions. This isn’t a scientific study, by any stretch of the imagination.

Also, none of these traits are an excuse for sin. If I’ve mentioned that once on this blog, I’ve said it a thousand times. There is no license for sin. Are there factors that lead us there? Yes. And it can be helpful to notice certain things that could lead to a fall.

I’d like to discuss the common trait of a poor relationship with the fallen pastor’s father. Fathers have a huge influence on pastors.

I remember the first day of seminary orientation, they asked us a few questions about our background. One of the questions they asked was, “How many of you have fathers who were pastors?” Most of the hands in the room went up. The questioner said, “75% of pastors have a father who was also a pastor. I didn’t raise my hand that day.

I had always had a rocky relationship with my dad. I think it’s because we were too much alike. He had a great relationship with my sister. They stayed up late at night going over the Bible and studying together. He and I rarely had much to say to each other.

He took us to church, was a deacon once, and kept to himself a lot. He worked hard, traveled a lot, and gave us a nice place to live. But we never really bonded during my life.

I smarted off a lot to him. I wasn’t a bad kid, just had a smart mouth. When I was 15, I suppose I had smarted off to him for the last time. He looked at my mother and said, “I’m done with him, you raise him. He’s yours.” He was serious. He shut me out after that.

My sister achieved academically better than I did and I always felt (whether it was right or not, I’ll never know, but it’s how I felt) that Dad always preferred my sister over me. I suppose if I had to deal with me and my smart mouth, I would have preferred my sister too.

After I went away to college, my relationship with my father got a little better. We would talk on the phone and I’d ask for life advice. When I made the decision to go to seminary, he got critical of me again. I’ll never understand that. It may not have been about seminary. Maybe he was dealing with his own life issues. He had dealt with a lifetime of anxiety himself.

I remember once, he came to visit Angelica and me at seminary. I jogged out to meet him and Mom at their car and the first thing he said to me was, “You’re getting a little fat, aren’t you?” This was coming from a man who was 150 pounds overweight himself. I rue that I rarely got praise from him. I never heard him tell me he was proud of me.

I had a counselor tell me once that he was subconsciously competing with me. Or whatever. I can see part of that being true. Whatever the problem was, it only got worse.

Even when I got ordained, or when he came to hear me preach, he’d unload on me. Not many kind words, but a lot of underhanded criticism.

He had a fall of his own. He and my mother divorced and I was angry. He basically kicked her out of the house. I judged him. Harshly. Something, I’ve learned, is wrong. I shut him out of my life completely for a period of about two years.

At the end of that two years, I started becoming convicted about it. I started talking to him a little, started trying to forge some sort of relationship. But it was too late. He died in an accident. I stood there, over his hospital bed while he was on life support realizing that I had done something horrible, but I didn’t quite know what it was right then.

Later, I realized what it was. I had failed to love him for who he was instead of looking past what he had done.

Other fallen pastors seem to have a similar problem with their fathers. I don’t know how much it adds to our sin later in life, but it has a significant impact upon who we are as adults.

There’s a lot to be learned here, I think. First, if you’re a father, make it work with your children. Lay aside any petty disagreements and humble yourself before them. Show them your vulnerability and just love them. Let them know you’re proud of them regardless of what they’ve done. Just love them for who they are. Heck yes, parenting is hard. But it’s worth it.

Secondly, if you have a parent who has caused you pain and still alive, don’t let time expire before you do whatever you can to fix it. There are many of you who have parents who have done horrible things to you. I’m sorry. It may never be the same again with them. We can, however, still have a relationship with them where we draw boundaries and still have a salvageable relationship with them. We’ve only got this life. Tell them how you feel. Write them a letter and share your pain constructively. It’s hard, I know. But don’t let the later pain of regret and the “what ifs” get hold of you.

Thirdly, learn to love people as Christ did. He looked past what people did and loved them for who they were. Never shut the door completely on someone. Sometimes, you might be the only person in this world that someone will listen to. If you shut that door on them, it’s dangerous.

Relationships with parents can be a great joy or a great pain. Those relationships form the people we are today whether we freely admit it or not. We cannot escape our generational past. But we can learn from it.

Reflection: When The Good Is Forgotten

I want to take a quick break and write about something that has been on my mind since the day of my fall. It’s not an easy thing to write about.

It’s a consequence of my sin and a painful one that only pastors know. I’ve talked to other fallen pastors about it and they understand it.

I spent almost a decade at Angel Falls Baptist Church shepherding the people there. I was called there, I believe, by God. I was called to ministry – which was a powerful experience for me. I have no doubt whatsoever that I was where I was supposed to be.

I spent years there doing what a pastor should do – loving, praying, preaching and shepherding. But with one horrible sin, all of it was quickly forgotten. A consequence of my sin.

I know that not all of the church members probably feel that way. I get that. But sin is a terrible thing. It quickly wipes away so much of the good that has been built up.

Pastors do a lot that people see. The most obvious are the sermons we preach every Sunday.

I remember a friend saying once, “You sure get paid a lot for only working one hour a week.” Funny.

I had a seminary professor tell our preaching class once that for every minute we were in the pulpit, we should spend an hour in preparation. Well . . . I didn’t go that far. But I worked hard on my sermons. I put time, thought, and prayer into each one. They weren’t perfect, by any means, but most of them were out of love for God’s people.

I’d have the occasional sermon that was out of anger for the way I thought the people were acting. Pastors, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Those sermons almost always backfire. For the most part, I did good expositional sermons. The word “good” is used loosely.

Of course, my heart was hurt once when the music director accused me of stealing my sermons off the internet. That hurt. A lot. But I ignored it and moved on.

But pastors have a way of taking that stuff very personally. Because everything we do for the church is personal. We spend all week thinking about and praying for the church. We obsess about the church on a personal level. And we take the simplest comment and obsess about it for a long time.

At my small, rural church, I was in charge of just about everything. I ran VBS, the outreach program, half of the committees, and so forth. That was the stuff that was expected of me. I didn’t mind too much. I wished that the people had gotten more involved. But I guess it was part of leadership. I pushed myself way too hard at times. Part of it was that I have always been an overachiever. I’ll push myself until I’m exhausted.

I’ll never forget any of the kids I got to baptize. I’m so glad I got to baptize both of my kids while I was there. Two memories that will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life. I’ll always remember the others who came that wanted to talk about salvation, those who I witnessed to, those whom I baptized.

The kids who were ready for salvation – those were the ones I’ll always remember. I always cried. I was always so careful with them. I never wanted a “false conversion”. I wanted it to be apparent that it was the work of God and no one else for them.

Then there were the moments that no one else ever saw or ever heard of. The moments where I found myself asking, “Do pastors of megachurches have to go through this?”

Once, on New Year’s Eve, I was sitting in the living room. Angelica was in bed watching the New Year’s Eve countdown or something and someone pounded on the door. It was five minutes until midnight for crying out loud. I went to the door and it was a woman who had been to the church twice. She only came during VBS commencement. She was standing there shivering with her little five year old.

I brought them inside. Angelica wouldn’t come near the door, she stood in the living room and listened. The woman told me that she had a fight with her boyfriend and he was drunk and had gotten abusive. They ran from him and had to wade through a pond in the dark. They were soaked and freezing. I got them a blanket. They wanted a ride to a nearby town.

I told Angelica to call the police while I gave them a ride. I turned the heat up in the van all the way and talked to her and prayed with her the entire way as I dropped her off at her mom’s house. Her little girl wept for the first five minutes but I was able to calm her down.

Another time, about three weeks before Angelica found out about my sin, I got a call from the wife of a church member. He was distraught. He had wandered off into the woods and was going to hang himself.

I said, “What? Have you called the police?”

She said rather calmly, “I guess.”

I said, “You guess? Get on the phone right now and call them if you haven’t!”

I hung up and drove over to get Phillip Townsend. Fast. We went over to see if we could find the man. He and his wife had two years of serious marital issues. She was very unforgiving of his past. He had done some minor things about twenty years ago, but she wouldn’t let it go. She hounded and hounded him about his sin that he had committed two decades ago and he had snapped.

Phillip and I talked to his wife before going into the woods. The police hadn’t arrived. She said he might have a gun and that he was very upset. Great. We dashed off into the woods to find him. We finally did and he was very upset. Long story short, we talked him out of killing himself.

God gets all the credit for both of those stories.

The world is full of hurting, broken people whose lives are a breath away from disaster.

But now, I’m not in a position to minister to those people anymore. My sin disqualified me from taking care of that flock. And within me, as a former pastor, it hurts. It hurts that maybe, just maybe, there are those who will only remember that one sin instead of any glory that belongs only to God.

Don’t read this thinking I’m trying to get anyone to feel sorry for me. I’m not. Read this as a warning – all sin has dire consequence. It never leaves us unmarked. It leaves heavy scars upon the soul.

Christ heals those scars – all of them. But as humans, we remember them all.

If you’re engaged in any sin – gossip, pornography, self-righteousness, lying, deceitfulness, theft, anger, unforgiveness – they will all have their price upon your soul. No sin is free.

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