“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.

Finding Meaning At The End Of Life

I’ve always believed that no matter how long or how short your life is, as long as you are drawing a breath, God will use it for His glory.

I saw it the other day in a dear friend. Those of you who know me well know who I’m referring to. An old friend who has been overcome with cancer. Those of you who have read my book or blog might know him as the church leader I first shared my infidelity with. He’s much more than that. He’s a father figure to me. He was one of the first church members to offer me unconditional forgiveness.

I remember the day I approached him, in his pole barn. It was a year after my adultery. I laid it all out on the line. I had even been mad at him for how things had gone after I got caught. But there I sat, humbled. He said finally, “Yes, I was disappointed. All I could think of was all of the good you could have done. But I forgave you a while back. I’m glad you’re here.” A few months ago, before we even knew he had cancer, I saw him and he wrapped his hard-working agrarian arms around me and said to me unexpectedly, “You know I’ve always loved you, don’t you?”

I grew up with a rocky relationship with my own father. When I met this man, he mentored me as a young pastor. He lead me in the right direction, give me a kind kick in the pants when I needed it, encourage me on the days when I must have looked frustrated, and he looked after my family. I remember the day my mother was killed in a car accident. The nurse came into the room where he, I, and another deacon were waiting. She asked, “Who is going to identify the body?” She was looking at me. I began to descend into a panic attack. He stood up without hesitation and said, “Can it be anyone?” She said, “Yes.” He said, “I’ll do it.” I wept. When he came back, he was crying.

When I heard about his cancer a few months ago, I went and saw him. It hadn’t slowed him down too much yet. But we found we had more to talk about. He said, “I wish I had a little more time. There are a few more things I’d like to do.”

I about lost it. I started coughing uncontrollably. I said, “Really?” (For this next part, you really have to have been sitting where we were.) I said, “Look around these eighty acres you own. You bought them from hard work at coal mining and bull dozing. Not only you live here, but you have made it so three other families can live on your property, including my ex-wife and your own daughter. You built a covered, wooden bridge. Really? I built a wooden bookshelf once. And it fell apart. You have done more in your life than most men could accomplish in two lifetimes. What’s more is that you love people from your heart. You are an amazing man that gives and gives and sets an example. I wouldn’t be sitting here if that wasn’t true.

He’s the heart of that little rural church. He was there the day the doors were first opened as a kid and he’s still the heart of it now. His heart beats for that place. If I could give you an example – there was an awful ice storm about four years ago here. The power was out all across the county. Except for two places – the parsonage and the church. We were the only church that had services that Sunday after the ice storm, dagnabit. But we were there. All eight of us. He led songs, I preached like I had a cathedral full of people whose hearts needed to be warmed. And it was enough.

He led the choir. And he did more than lead a choir – he led it with his heart. He had sang in a quartet for years and just loved to praise God and that’s pretty much what he did while leading that choir. Sometimes, when the music got to him, a tear would come to his eye. And that was the best kind of worship.

He loves his wife and daughter and granddaughter. They are the world to him. He would fight fiercely to defend them, work his tail off to provide for all of them, and yet a tear comes to his eye when he talks about any of them.

He loves people. If a man showed up at church, regardless of his story, who needed $20, he’d fish it out of his wallet and pray with him. He just loved people. He loved people like Christ told us to love people. And he didn’t do it because it was being dragged out of him or because it was legalistic. He did it because it was the nature of his heart.

Most of all, he loves his Savior. I told a lot of stories about him in this blog post to get to this point. Finding meaning at the end of life. He’s in extremely bad shape and I told him what I tell everyone at the end of life – “God has a purpose for each breath and every heartbeat.” Then I said to him, “Is there anyone you haven’t talked to that you want me to contact?” He whispered, “no.” He’s unable to talk, eat or drink. His esophagus is completely destroyed.

I guess he had a little time to think about my question, though. I showed up a day later and asked his wife, “How are the visitors? Anything new?” She said, “He had me call two people up here who haven’t been here. He witnessed to both of them even though he can hardly talk. He gave one of them his bible. Both of them left crying.

I got choked up. Every moment we have in this life is worth something. Every breath we draw, even in suffering, is worth the glory of God. My friend won’t be around much longer, but I know he loves his Savior enough to make the best of it. He looked at me about a week ago. He’s not able to swallow the ice water that is given him. It can’t make it’s way to his stomach. He has to suction it back out.

He looked at me and said, “I’d give a million dollars to drink a glass of water. But soon I’ll have my fill of the living water.” Yes you will. Yes, you absolutely will. I said to him, “I don’t envy you right now, but soon, I will heartily envy you and your position right next to Christ.” He smiled and we shared a tear together.

Thank you, Lord, for a friend like that. A man like that who showed me forgiveness, kindness and the model of what a father should be. May we all remember and learn, especially if we end up in the same circumstances one day.

Fallen Pastor: Why My Book Is Nauseating

Since Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World was released in January, I’ve had a lot of positive response. There have been a wide array of people who have read it and told me it has made them see forgiveness and restoration in a different light.

That’s great.

But there have been a few who have said, “I found it sickening. I couldn’t get past the first part. You know, where you’re sharing the stories of other pastors who committed adultery. Sin is so sickening.”

I tell the stories of ten other pastors who besides myself, fell from the ministry. I’ve said it once on this blog and I’ll say it again – their/our sin was inexcusable. There were warning signs and things that led up to the adultery, but there was no excuse. The sin and consequences were all ours to bear.

The book has four sections. In the first section, I outline the problem. In the second, I tell the story that keeps repeating itself in our society of the fallen pastor. In the third section, I talk about the four most common issues that surround the pastor before he falls and that can serve as warning signs. Finally, in the fourth section, I ask, “How can this be prevented and how can the fallen pastor be restored?”

I remember talking to one pastor who read the book. He was very angry with me. He told me how sickening the stories were, how it seemed like I was justifying sin, and how I never took credit for my sin. I was pretty patient with him for a while before I started reading specific sections to him out of the book where I made it clear I wasn’t trying to justify anything. In fact, chapter 18 is pretty damning on the fallen pastor as the consequences of his sin play out.

Those things aside, it is a true statement that sin is nauseating. It is most nauseating to God. As the holiest being in the universe, He is farthest away from it and cannot gaze upon it. The closer we are to Him, the more awful and disgusting sin will be to us. That is why we strive for sanctification and personal holiness. When we don’t, and when we distance ourselves from God, we cannot smell the stench of sin when we wallow around in it for a while.

I’m thankful for the men who shared their stories. Each of us were pastors who sat in a position where we were to rightly divide the word of truth, not just for a congregation, but for ourselves. But each of us sinned. We fell. We proved that we were no mightier than those who came before us and others will fall after us. Each time a pastor falls, the name of King David is invoked, not for the kingdom he built, or the bravery he showed, but for his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah.

Our stories are published in a book that won’t ever see the top 100 of the New York Times Bestseller List, but they are there. They are common, too common. Like the adultery of David, the disobedience of Moses, the drunkenness of Noah, or any of the sins of God’s people, we stand amongst them in shame. The good we did will never reach the heights of our heroes of old, but our shame will be compared in the same breath.

Thankfully, there is hope for those of us whose sin is nauseating. It is true that God is totally “other” than sin and separate, but that did not keep Him from sending His Son into this world to save those who are sinners. Who amongst us is a sinner? All of us.

In a moment upon the cross of sin-bearing, in a moment of torture that was most definitely nauseating to the local observer, all that disgusting sin got washed away. Not because we deserved it, but because He graciously desired it.

Yes, there are consequences to sin. Earthly consequences. Church discipline is a reality for leaders, but it should always start with the spirit of Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, restore….” The Spirit of Christ should lead all of us to love as Christ loved the adulterous woman who was accused. His focus was on her, not the angry mob.

And no, those who sin will not always listen to us at first. Their sin may nauseate us. It may sicken us to the core. But what I’ve learned since my fall is that God poured out all His wrath over my sin upon His Son so that He might look upon me again and love me as His child. Behind all that nauseating sin is a person God is reaching out to and has a future for.

God Still Loves The Fallen Pastor

You ever have a conversation/prayer with God that you just know was real?

I have. But only a few times. My friend, Joy Wilson, writes about this type of prayer in her book, “Uncensored Prayer: The Spiritual Practice of Wrestling with God.” Take time to check out her blog as well. I think if you give her a try you’ll love her stuff.

I was apparently engaged in this process without even knowing it. My mother used to do it as well. She kept detailed prayer journals. She wrote down conversations she had with God. The first time I took a peek at one of them, I was sure she was crazy. But after I kept going back to them secretly, I knew she was conversing with God. I didn’t know how. I knew it wasn’t divine revelation, but I knew she was wrestling and hearing from God in her mediation/quiet time.

About a year after my fall from ministry and my marriage to Allison, I had a conversation with God that I will never forget. It wasn’t in audible tones. It was on a heart level. It was while I was on my knees with my Bible in front of me. I had few friends to speak of and little support. All I wanted was love. To be reminded of God’s love. To remember that He was, in fact, there. I’ll do my best to quote it for you. It was at a heart level, and it was very real.

Ray: “Lord, I’ve hurt so many. I’ve gone through so much because of what I’ve done. I have some opportunities to help people, but I feel inadequate. I just need to hear from you.”

Silence.

Ray: “I’m an inadequate husband, father, Christian, worker, human being, and I fell as a minister. I am a horrible sinner. I’ve asked for forgiveness so many times from you and others. People tell me to repent. I’m married now. I think I’ve turned away from a lifestyle of that one sin of adultery. What do you want??”

Silence.

R: “Please let me know you’re listening. So many times I’ve just wanted to give up. I can’t stand going to church. I can’t stand going anywhere. I’ve drug so many people down. I’ve disappointed so many.”

Silence.

R: “Maybe I should just shut up.”

Silence.

More silence. I’m about to give up again.

God: “Why do you still hang you head down when you go out in public? Why do you stare at the floor when you’re at the grocery or in town?”

Just like God to change the subject.

R: “I’m ashamed. I don’t want to see the faces of those people I’ve disappointed.”

G: “You should fear me more. I’m the one you sinned against.”

R: I’m beating my hands on the bed I’m leaning against at this point. “I know, Lord. It eats me alive. People tell me I haven’t repented, that I’m not apologetic. That I’m not forgiven.”

G: “You are forgiven. You sinned, violated my law, but now, you are clean by my Son. When you bring it up, it’s you bringing it up, not me. A huge mess was made, yes. But it’s over. I will still use you, but you must seek humility. I no longer see you as a fallen pastor. I see you as my beloved child.”

I paused and wept. God had a better view of me than I did. He had a better view of me than most people and pastors in my community. Was this me talking to myself? It didn’t feel like it. Was I going crazy? Possibly. But it didn’t feel like it.

R: “Are you still there? Can I please ask something even though I don’t deserve it? I just want my kids to be okay.”

G: “Do they seem alright?”

R: “Yes. By your grace.”

G: “Rejoice. Remember what you learned a long time ago. They are only in your hands for a short time, but in my hands forever.”

R: I couldn’t remember where I had heard that. “What am I supposed to do now?”

G: “Love like you couldn’t love before this. Remember what it was like to feel grace at the lowest point. Share it. Never forget it. Give it to others.”

Like that, it was over. It was like I was in some sort of weird, dizzying trance the entire time. Maybe I had too much medication in my system. Maybe I was delirious from stress. Because, I’ll be honest. I’m the last person to believe stuff like this when it happens to others. I had a lady come up to me and tell me that God spoke to her like this regularly once. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Maybe he does. Good for you!”

I slept for a long time after that. Immediately after I woke, I remembered, “Remember what you learned a long time ago. They are only in your hands for a short time, but in my hands forever.” That was something my mother used to say to me. She’d tell me that she’d worry about me and fret, but that she knew that God took better care of me than she ever could.

God cares for the fallen pastor. He loves the fallen pastor. Heck, after the fallen pastor repents, he’s not even a fallen pastor anymore. He’s just a renewed Christian with a new mission. God cares about all of His flock. When the one goes astray, He seeks Him out, leaving the 99 behind.

Don’t ever doubt God’s love when you are sinning (feel free to know that He will discipline to get you back, though). He will put you back on the path. Even when you scramble it up really badly, He will restore you. He loves you that much.

________________________________

Ray Carroll is author of Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World. He is also a contributing author at Provoketive Magazine.

The Sins of Bobby Petrino

In the past week or so, we’ve been hearing about the soap opera that has been unfolding around the Arkansas Razorback football program in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Long story short, head coach Bobby Petrino was taking a motorcycle ride and had a wreck. When he had a press conference, he said he was alone at the time. With an investigation, it turned out that he was with a young woman he had been having a relationship with for quite some time who was not his wife.

That’s not enough to fire a head coach. What made it worse was that Coach Petrino hired this young lady to be part of the football program over about 150 other candidates and gave her a $20,000 dollar advance. He lied to his athletic director, he lied to the media and he lied to his family.

This week, the University of Arkansas fired Bobby Petrino. There were a few moments where it looked like they might retain him. In the past two seasons, he has brought the Razorback program back to prominence. Two seasons ago, they were in a BCS bowl game. Last year, they finished ranked in the top five.

I’m a die hard Razorback fan. I was born and raised in Russellville, Arkansas and I consider it to be my home. Truth be known, I might even have a Razorback tattoo. Maybe.

When Bobby Petrino stepped onto the scene, it gave me hope for the future of Razorback football. It also gave hope to Razorback nation. Yeah, he’s got ego, he’s got charisma. He rubs people the wrong way. But he’s a winner. I love the man. He gets results and has turned the program around from what the previous coach had done.

Last night, I got the news that he had been fired. My heart sank. I came home and talked to my wife, Allison about it. I was devastated.

I said, “They fired Bobby. I’m disappointed.”

She said, “Why? Did they fire him just because he committed adultery?”

I said, “No, the athletic director made it clear in the press conference that if he had just committed adultery, he could have kept his job. But he lied and hired the woman he was seeing. He put the university in a bad spot. It could cause lawsuits.”

She said, “How do you feel about that?”

I thought for a moment and said, “I’m disappointed. I love that guy. He was what the Razorbacks needed. I put my faith and hope into him and the program he was building. And with one action, he took it all away.”

At that moment, I saw the irony in what I was saying. But Allison called me out on it too.

She said, “Do you see the irony in what you just said?”

I said, “Yeah, I do. I fell from the ministry because I committed adultery. I disappointed a lot of people when I fell. I hurt a lot of people who had put their faith in me. People who had placed high expectations in me and suddenly it was gone. I mean, I’m hurt over a football coach. But people who lose a pastor are hurt even more.”

I have often said that the job of pastor can be compared to two other professions – coaches and politicians. When Congressman Anthony Weiner fell a while back, I blogged about it. It was the most page views I’ve ever had in a day. He was a man who fell into temptation. Same with Bobby Petrino. A man with high expectations who for whatever reason, fell into temptation.

Pastors, politicians and coaches have a lot of similar characteristics. For one, they serve people without getting much in return. They give and give and give of themselves without receiving much positive feedback. Secondly, they often only hear the negative remarks from people. They are bombarded with complaints and anger from people without hearing the positive.

Coaches know what I’m talking about. They run practice all week. Parents aren’t there to see the hard work that is done there to prepare for gameday. But when gameday rolls around, everyone shows up, buys a ticket and complains about what went wrong. And everyone thinks they could do a better job. Same for a politician. We don’t see what politicians do for our good in their offices all week. The phone calls they make and the people they interact with. We only tend to get on them for what they don’t do. Same for pastors. The pastor spends all week preparing three messages, visiting the sick, making phone calls, praying and shepherding the flock. But when he makes one mistake on gameday (Sunday), it’s all about that mistake.

As a fallen pastor, I hope things turn out okay for Bobby Petrino. He’s got a lot of great characteristics about him. There’s a reason fan bases fall in love with him. I wish he was my grandfather. I won’t forget the eulogy he gave for fallen Razorback tight end, Garrett Uekman. He was in tears. They were real. And he cared.

At the same time, I identify with Bobby Petrino. Heck, I wrote a book about it. His problem began with pride, I assume. Then it worked into a relationship with a woman other than his wife. We don’t know why he started that relationship. In my book, I listed several reasons pastors seek out such a relationship. Men become isolated, they have bad relationships at home, and they have conflicts. I don’t know if those things are true for Coach Petrino, but I hope the best for him. I want him to heal and find solace.

What we learn from Coach Petrino is what I learned. When we seek after a relationship or a sin, there will be consequences. Even if we decide to stay in that relationship, if that is what we really want, there will be consequences. For a lifetime. Coach Petrino’s downfall began when he sought after a relationship with a woman who wasn’t his wife. Hey, that’s his business. He’s not a pastor. He’s a coach. If he was a pastor, he would have been fired immediately. But coaches and politicians are held to a different moral standard. The problem came when he decided to step outside the lines and make hiring practices based on his personal life.

There seem to be several sentiments coming out of Razorback Nation. Some are happy to see him go. Some are sad to see him go because he was a winner. Many are disillusioned and hurt. Some are just worried about the football program. Some are happy because they have said he was a crook from the beginning.

During his tenure, those who didn’t really care for him were rooting for him to succeed because the team was winning. Winning solves everything. We tend to overlook faults when things are going well. Sounds like a pastor. There are those who don’t like the pastor – but when the money is rolling in and people are being baptized, they can act happy. But now that Coach Petrino has fallen, will people be human toward him? When the stands were filled with thousands in support of him, where will they be now? He messed up horribly. I expect that 50% of those in attendance were Baptist. Will they reach out or will they turn a blind eye?

All I know to say is this – he’s a human. He’s full of fault like the rest of us. We all make mistakes. Guess what? His mistakes got shown on a national scale because he was an amazing coach with a lot of attention. But in the end, his sins will be measured the same as any of ours. If any of us think we are better than him, we are wrong. All of us are messed up and seconds away from a fall.

Pray for Bobby and his family. Know that all of us are frail, sick, weak, and close to a fall. By the grace of God, we may not. Be compassionate toward those who do fall. Regardless of how it may hurt.

“When He Came To His Senses”

When a pastor falls from ministry, he goes through a series of stages after his infidelity is discovered. I outline those stages in my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.”

In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the son runs off in search of a better life, but finds himself sleeping amongst tomorrow’s BLT fodder. He begins to remember how good his father was to him and the bible says, “when he came to his senses.”

When a pastor sins so greatly, it seems he’s lost his ever-loving mind. There is no excuse for violating God’s law. There are always reasons that the pastor started on that path to begin with. In my book, I talk about conflict, isolation and poor marital relations that are found in the majority of men who fall.

Again, no excuse. But know that one of the first stages a pastor goes through after a fall is anger and isolation. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone. One day, though, whether he reconciles with his wife or not, he will find his heart crying out to God. And he’s going to need Christian people. People who haven’t given up on him.

When the pastor falls, most people give up on him. That’s understandable because his actions hurt a lot of people. But it’s reasonable to expect that someone will reach out in the beginning. I’m not talking about reaching out once. Someone needs to reach out over and over again. He may not listen right away. He may even react harshly and tell you to shut up. But don’t stop.

Because there will come a day when he “comes to his senses.” And he will remember who reached out. He’ll remember the person who texted, called, emailed and said, “I just want to listen. I just want to be here for you. Not to judge, but to be your friend.”

Reach through the pain, the hurt, the disappointment and try it. Be ready to listen and love. Love like you would want to be loved if you were in that situation.

Is Your Heart Right? & “Is Whitney Houston in Heaven?”

I’m taking a short hiatus for a few days. I’m having a procedure done on my heart called an ablation. I’ve been having issues with my heart speeding up whenever it darn well pleases over the past ten years. It came to a head over a month ago when I ended up in the emergency room with a heart rate of 250.

On Thursday, a surgeon will go into my heart, fiddle with it for about four hours and then burn a little place on it to make it stop. Good times.

Easy blog post topic. Is my heart right? Nope. Can I fix it? Nope. Only a trained medical professional can. And I trust him to put me under and make me right again.

In the same way, all of us have heart issues that need to be dealt with. Desperately. Whether they are sins that we continually struggle with or personality flaws, they need to be diagnosed. Guess who the worst person to diagnose them is? Us. When we ask ourselves if we have a problem, we rarely ever think we do.

That’s why we have God’s objective Word to root out our sin. Read it, cling to it, apply it to your heart and see if the Master Physician doesn’t give you a diagnosis. Don’t stay away from the parts you don’t like either. Read it all.

When you’re ready to be healed, he will heal. Completely.

Which brings me to one final thought before I head into my Thursday surgery. I wrote an article about the death of Whitney Houston for Provoketive Magazine. Since her death, a lot of Christians have been arguing whether she is in heaven or hell. If you listen to the overwhelming voices of the Christians, you would come to the conclusion that she is in hell.

I don’t have a dog in the fight when it comes to Whitney Houston. I know she was raised in a Christian home, claimed to have professed her faith in Christ and had many high and low points in her life.

I think what surprises me is how willing the Christian majority is to pass judgment upon someone and pronounce hell upon them.  Frankly, it’s rather scary.

What I see in the New Testament is a call to be regenerated. Something only God can do. By Christ, we are justified. When God looks at us, He no longer sees us, but His Son. God no longer judges us on our merits or works but on the work of Christ. That’s a good thing.

In the words of Paul, does that give us license to sin more? Heaven forbid it!

We are called to live a life of sanctification, holiness, pleasing to God. We are, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, to persevere in our faith until the end.

Will it always be easy? Will we fail? Will we falter? Will we fall? Yes. I’m living proof. But he picks us up over and over again. Who does he pick up? Those who seek him out. Those who belong to him.

He’s revealed to us as a Father. We’re his kids. We go astray like a bunch of sheep. Should we? No. But we do. He disciplines us when we do. But like a good Father, if we are truly His, He never gives up on us. Ever.

I’ve heard a lot of well-meaning Christians say that Ms. Houston is in hell. I don’t know. It’s not a topic to be thrown around on the Internet carelessly. I do know this. When we are chosen by God, when we become one with Christ, when He becomes our Father forever, nothing can take us away from Him. Can a person get caught up in a sinful lifestyle with guilt and regret, knowing they need to return to God? Yes.

What does this look like? When the sinner (backslidden alcoholic, addict, fornicator, etc.) comes to the church and says, “I messed up, can God forgive me? Will you forgive me?” The church’s response is, “Of course, we do. God forgives.”

Fast forward six months down the road. The same thing happens. Same words. The church says, “You’re still having trouble, we want to help you still because God helps you still.”

What if it happens over and over? Does the church give up? Does God give up? I think the answer is to be found in the heart of a person who is truly repentant over their sin and seeking restoration and holiness and a person who just doesn’t care. Those who return to the Lord for help are those who are seeking Him

And the Christian fellowship should be right there alongside those people with encouragement, love and offering hope. God gave us each other in this murky world. It’s not an easy place to be. I fear that those who cast the most judgment are those who have never fallen far, and I hope they never do. They are those who have never come face to face with the absolute need for grace and forgiveness of God.

May we all be more sensitive toward those in our world who need restoration and light.

Fallen Pastor: Who This Book is For – Including My Past Self

My book has been out for a month. I’ve had two book signings. Several book reviews. And a lot of personal feedback.

I want to be very honest with you. I had an expectation of who would read my book – pastors. But that hasn’t been the case. The people who are buying and reading the book are mostly the people in the pews. They are people who people who can be put in several categories.

First, there are people who know me and are curious about my story. They just wanted to know about my story. They wanted to hear what I had to say. Overwhelmingly, they’ve said, “Ray, you’ve been humbled, and you’ve learned a lot. And in reading your book, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to forgive people.”

Second, there are people who were curious about pastors and the battles they face on a daily basis. They’ve said to me, “Ray, I had no idea what pastors face. I had no idea that the struggles were so intense.”

Next were pastors who said, “You nailed it. I face those pressures on a daily basis. It reminds me that I need to be careful about the dangers around me. The stories in the book remind me of the sin that is so close to me. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to fall. I don’t want to lose everything.”

Then, there are people who have fallen in their own right. They weren’t pastors. They’re just Christians who fell in their own lives in adultery or some other way. They were afraid to say anything. They’ve said to me, “This book has given me a voice. It’s let me know that even pastors aren’t above failure. Everyone sins. And I know I can be restored again to Christ.”

Finally – and this one is difficult for me. There are people who buy the book and they never say anything to me directly. They are people who don’t like it. They think I’m a hypocrite still. They think I stood in the pulpit for eight years and was a liar for the entire time. They think my entire ministry was a failure for the sin I committed at the end of it. I never hear their voices, but I hear it from other people through second hand information.

And that’s absolutely okay with me. It gets posted on message boards. It gets passed on to me through gossip. Once upon a time, that kind of talk would bother me. But not now. I fell. And I fell terribly. I can see where someone would think my entire ministry was a sham because of the sin I committed. I can absolutely see that.

I stood in the pulpit and preached the word of God for eight years. I baptized people, visited the sick, loved a congregation and gave people my best, but in the end, I will be remembered as an adulterer to many. I deserve that if people want to think that. That is the fallout of my sin. That is the consequence of my sin. I have to live with that. All I can do is live a life that is holy and pleasing to God from this day forward.

The aim of my book is to help those who have fallen. To help those who are in the ministry and prevent a fall. To help those in church to understand the risks their pastors face. Pastors are human. They are in a dangerous culture that places dangerous expectations upon them. Many times, they chase after unrealistic expectations of ministry that stresses out their marriages and places them at horrible risk.

I wrote the book to warn people. I don’t care if I ever make a dime on this book. At this moment, I haven’t made a single red cent. My heart is to make sure that the church knows that there needs to be reform so that their pastors won’t be at risk. What we need are churches that don’t just care about Sunday to Sunday. But churches that care about authentic Christian community seek it week to week.

I crave a church, regardless of denomination to embrace their members, love them for who they are, despite their faults, including their pastor. And if and when a member of the congregation falls, seek them out to restore them. Not ignore them, but find them out as we are commanded to. The body of Christ is incomplete without any of our members.

Because the most important group I wrote this book for is those pastors out there who say, “That’s never going to happen to me.” I’ve met several of them. A few of them have bought books from me. I have talked with them. I was that guy.

In fact, if I could go back in time and taken the 2005 version of myself and brought him to my book signing, I know exactly what he would have thought:

“Look at this loser. He fell in the ministry. Selling books. What a jerk. He couldn’t hold fast to his call. I’ll buy his book. But I’ll put it on my shelf next to the other 400 books I haven’t written. I’m not going to fall. I have a seminary degree. That will never happen to me. I guess some guys are just like that.”

That’s who this book is for. Among others. It was for me. About a decade ago.

I hope you will read “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.” Not because I want to sell copies. But because the church of Jesus Christ needs to be restored to a true fellowship.

When Our Unforgiveness Turns To Hate

It’s been an interesting journey for me. I’m in a place now where I never wanted to be. Check that. I’m a man who desperately needed grace, received it from God, received it from many others, but still gets a lot of grief from those who are unwilling to forgive.

So, in a way, I am in place I never wanted to be. I used to be “king of the pulpit.” I thought I could forgive who I wanted, when I wanted. As a pastor, I could look down on the sinner. Looking down on any sinner reminded me that I was still better. Yeah, I was a whole lot better. Like the Ray Carroll from circa 1989-1993 would say, “Yeah, right.”

During my book signing last Sunday, I had a couple of people come up to me and say basically, “Guess what a few people around here are saying about you?” It wasn’t nice. Then someone from work came up to me and told me a few lies that were being spread about me. Then, tonight, I got on Facebook (the mother of gossip spreaders) and saw some wonderful things being said about me.

Now, if it were the Ray Carroll of five years ago, he would have said, “UNBELIEVABLE! How dare they! I’m not going to rest until they apologize to me! And if they don’t, I’m going to make them sorry!”

Well, the Ray Carroll of five years ago has been through a lot. God has made sure of that. My own sin has made sure of that.

Let me share with you a quote from Hershael York, preaching professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was kind enough to be interviewed for my book and in one section, he let me know that fallen pastors need to find brokenness. When they are truly broken, they won’t care what others say about them:

“If you’re genuinely broken to your sin, you realize the people who are all handling it wrong were put in that position because you sinned; you had the choice, they didn’t.”

He was saying that the pastor sinned. He put them in a place of anger and resentment. They reacted. Is their reaction always right? No. Is it sinful? Sometimes.

But the fallen pastor has no right to react to it. He’s the one who put them in that place. His sin created their reaction. Darnit, he’s right. When he spoke those words to me a year ago, I struggled with them a bit. But a few months later, I imbibed them. Now, I live them. When I hear words of scorn or anger toward me, I accept them.

Those people are angry, but I put them there. They need love and grace just like I did back in the day when I sinned. And I will pray they receive it.

What’s more, I used to struggle with Christ’s words in the Lord’s prayer, “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We get the idea there as well as other places that we won’t be forgiven until we forgive others. I used to have a real big problem with that. I’d say, “Come on. Surely Jesus forgives us no matter what. He’ll forgive me even if I don’t forgive someone else.”

Guess what? The problem isn’t with Christ, it’s with me. When I’m in a state of unforgiveness toward someone, it’s not Jesus’ problem. It’s mine. When I harbor the state of unforgiveness, it’s an attitude that dwells within me. It surrounds me. It overwhelms me. I don’t want to love my brother or sister in Christ. I want them to burn for the sin they’ve committed, despite the fact that Christ has washed it away.

It’s not that Christ can’t forgive me because He isn’t capable. It’s that I’m not capable of receiving the love of Christ because I’m so mired in my own hatred of my brother. I’ve narrowed my thinking to this world and thoughts to anger that I’m not even concerned with the things of God. Christ’s forgiveness isn’t even on my mind. I’d rather think about the judgment of God upon an individual – an individual He’s probably already forgiven – instead of the sin I’ve committed.

Over time, if I can’t deal with it, my unforgiveness turns to something even more dangerous – hatred. It turns away from their sin and turns into an attitude about them. It consumes my life, my soul, my all.

I know this because I used to feel this way about people. I used to deny them grace from my heart. From my life. And it cost me. It cost me fellowship with Christ. And it cost me love towards other as a pastor. And I paid.

Friends, don’t deny others the forgiveness that Christ grants them freely. Find a way to give it to them. Love is a gift that cost Christ His own life, but it is a gift we can give others through our love in Him.

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Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World is available at Amazon.com and is also available for the Amazon Kindle. It will be available soon at other outlets. Ask your local bookstore about availability.

Finding Restoration in a Broken World

Today is the official release date for my book, Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.

I’ve got a thousand different emotions going on and a lot of things I want to blog about, but today, I want to take a moment to write about the basic idea of the book.

I fell from the pastorate two years ago when I committed adultery. There were a lot of factors that led to my fall that are common among other pastors. Unrealistic expectations, isolation from friendships, declining relationship with spouse, church conflict and major tragedy. In the end, it was my decision to sin. I’ve discussed that a lot on this blog.

Today, I stand in amazement, though. I’ve found restoration.

Two years ago, I hit rock bottom. I thought God wasn’t listening and I was sure He didn’t care about me. I felt like a failure as a pastor (before and after I fell), I had lost both parents in separate accidents within a year of each other, and I had no one to talk to. In fact, I was pretty sure God had it in for me.

There were days long before I even contemplated adultery that I stood in the pulpit with a smile on my face, tie on properly, shirt pressed, but with a dark, hardened heart. Then the fall came. During the months after, I was sure no one would ever speak to me again. I was sure the stain of sin would be a mark that could never be removed. I was sure that shame would be my constant companion for the rest of my miserable life.

Slowly, repentance came. I discovered that truly, God is a longsuffering and patient God. If He were not, I would have been a grease stain on the carpet of my former church a long time ago. He waited for me when I would not wait for Him.

After I sinned, I had few people who would speak to me, but the ones who remained were the right ones. They encouraged me, loved me and walked with me. I had two close friends who were patient, sometimes firm, but always loving. I reached out to fallen pastors throughout the country who were in various stages of their own fall. They each encouraged me, told me the truth and prayed with me.

My new wife Allison and I also went through a process during that time as well. She watched me as I went from angry to depressed to anxious to humbled.

Those months were terrible, yet redeeming. They are etched in my mind and will stay with me forever. They were necessary for God to break me and make me into something usable.

Very few are willing to reach out to a fallen pastor. It’s something I ponder in the book. A lot of people don’t know what to say to him. Some people think they might be “guilty by association” if they speak to him. Typically, he is cast out, never to be heard from again.

At some point, God grabbed me and said, “I’m not done with you. I have plans for you, but I’m going to humble your proud heart in the process.” He did. And He continues to do so.

When I speak of restoration, I don’t mean restoration to the pulpit. I don’t even mean restoration to the ministry. I just believe that fallen pastors need to be shown compassion and love. They need people to walk with them, to show them the way to brokenness and repentance. It’s important because even a pastor can’t always find the right path, even though we think they should know the way.

I recently joined a ministry team, Fallen Pastors (www.fallenpastors.com) who help pastors who are contemplating sexual sin or who have already fallen. They have a small staff, but do their best to answer every email. If you are a fallen pastor or are in trouble, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. It can become isolated, it can feel like you’re alone. But you’re not.

This book isn’t about me. It’s not about my glorification. It’s about the glory of God and restoring those who have fallen. There is a problem with the culture in which we live. The best thing about problems is that they are fixable. Together, with the compassion of Christ, we can fix people, we can fix cultures and we can find restoration in this broken world.

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Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World is available at Amazon.com. It will be available soon at other outlets. Ask your local bookstore about availability.

 

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