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.

The Fallen Pastor’s Wife

I have been absolutely humbled today. Without revealing too much, I was contacted by the wife of a fallen minister. She asked me for some advice about how to handle the emotional maelstrom that accompanies the pastor’s fall.

Never, ever in a billion years did I think a former pastor’s wife would ever ask me for advice. Mostly because I don’t think I’m worthy of handing out advice to the representative population that I sinned against. But after a few minutes, I realized I might have a little insight. Not much, but a little. Like the man used to say, “What I don’t know could fill a warehouse.”

I hope people don’t think that just because I write primarily about the fallen pastor that I don’t care about everyone else involved. I’ve tackled the issues of those around the fallen minister before and know the damage that occurs. All of it matters.

The wife of the fallen pastor, first and foremost, doesn’t deserve what she suddenly has handed to her. In all the interviews I’ve done for my book – and in my own situation – all of us say the same thing – we are responsible for our sin. We did it. It was our choice. Were there circumstances that led up to it? Yeah. Sure, but we’re the ones who decided to sin. That’s first and foremost.

The wife of the fallen minister didn’t ask to have the scrutiny of the community suddenly fall into her lap. She didn’t ask for her family life to suddenly be shattered. Her life is devastated in a moment and what follows is confusion, hurt, sadness, pain and anger.

Without getting too complex, with a bit of experience behind me, knowing I can’t address all of the issues, here’s what I would say to the wife of the freshly fallen pastor, in most cases:

“I’m sorry this has happened to you. I don’t know where this is going to go from here. But I would give you three very serious pieces of advice. The first is this. Find wise counsel. I’m not talking about people you know who are hurt and angry. I’m talking about people who are distant from this situation who love God, love you, love your husband and are willing to walk through this with you. People who are willing to not choose sides but just love on you.

Secondly, love your children like you always have and do what you can to protect them. Your mothering instinct is natural. Your hurt and anger is about to explode soon. Don’t be afraid to let someone keep them for a few hours here and there so you can get away to get your mind clear. You’re a mom, but also be yourself.

Finally, you will know what to do by knowing what your husband does. This piece of advice isn’t mine, but from an expert I talked to. Don’t listen to his words, but watch his actions to see if he is going to be repentant. Make sure people are approaching him to give him a chance, don’t take that duty on yourself. But you’ll know soon whether he is or not. Give caring, Christian people time to find out his heart and his actions.”

There are a lot of hurt, fallen pastors out there friends. But there are an equal number of hurt wives of fallen pastors and their children. Don’t forget to pray for all of them.

Reconciling With A Fallen Pastor, Part 1: Before Your Pastor Falls

I was perusing my Google statistics the other day and was examining what people were searching for. It interested me and shamed me at the same time.

“How to minister to a fallen pastor”

“Reconciling with a fallen pastor”

“After a pastor falls, how do you forgive him”

“What to say to a fallen pastor”

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year and haven’t hardly covered any of these topics directly. Maybe I wasn’t ready to give advice in these matters. Maybe I was still too bitter or angry to attempt to advise church members in these areas. I’ve written on common characteristics of a fallen pastor and forgiveness, but not how to help the fallen pastor.

Now, I believe I am ready to give advice to those whose pastors have fallen morally.

I can guarantee you that there is a plethora of experts out there with PhDs who are certified to give you better advice. But they are not fallen pastors. I am. I can tell you as a fallen pastor, who has spoken with other fallen pastors what I needed to hear. What would have helped me or what I would have listened to.

I can’t break it all down in one post either. And I can’t really make it into a system that you can apply in one simple way. It may not work every time. Each fallen pastor’s heart is different. You are different. Each church member reacts differently to their fallen pastor. All I can do is give you a guideline to follow.

The best thing to remember is that we’re all human. Faulty. And your pastor, fallen or not, is a sinner. If he has already fallen, remember that he is human and exposed. And one day, you may be where he is.

I want to tell you what to do before your pastor falls.

Let me tell you about me for a moment. This isn’t self-aggrandizing. Two years before my fall, I was named pastor of the year in our association. Big deal. However, I was a pastor on the rise. My church loved me. Despite our small issues, I was seen as invincible. We had programs that were great, we were growing fast and we had a lot to be proud of.

No pastor is untouchable. I’ve had conversations with just about every pastor I know who has told me that he has been approached by women for sex. No joke. That wasn’t the case for me and Cynthia. Our love was born out of respect and need. However, I know many pastors of large churches who have been approached by “groupies.”

In seminary, we were told that upwards of 65% of pastors struggle with pornography. I think that number is much higher. At one point in my ministry, I struggled with it as well. I confessed it at one point to Angelica and overcame it. Why do pastors struggle with it? Many times, pastors give and give and give, and never receive. Pornography is an easy take. It is a cheap way to receive.

Pastors spend the vast majority of their week giving out of their time and energy. Do you remember the last time you asked your pastor for something? Of course. But do you remember the last time you asked your pastor when you could do something for him? When you sent him a card? Or encouraged him? And I’m not talking about saying, “good sermon.” A sincere, “Did you know that you changed my life? And here’s how you did it ____________.”

Pastors struggle. Bad. They fight the good fight all week. Praying, visiting, doing what they need to do for the church when the members aren’t even thinking about the church. And when Sunday comes, people show up and start complaining about what isn’t being done right. Or they complain about this and that. It’s disheartening.

When was the last time you said something nice to the pastor’s wife? Or his children? They need love. So much. When was the last time you said, “Pastor, let me watch your children so you and your wife can go out on a DATE.” A date. Did you know that a large number of pastors and their wives aren’t as happy as they seem? I’m not saying that because I couldn’t keep my marriage together. It’s the truth.

I’m saying that because I know many pastors NOW who are miserable in their marriages. They are struggling to find time for their wives and children. Do you love your pastor and his family? Give him and his family your time. Better yet, make sure your pastor and his family have at least three weeks off PAID vacation every year. Yeah, I said it. Pay for them to go to Disney every year.

Make sure that the spiritual leader of your community can clear his head and go. If someone in the church dies or gets sick while he’s gone – don’t tell him. Don’t call him. Let him and his family go.

If your pastor is any kind of man at all, he’ll be so worried about the church that he’ll insist that you tell him. Don’t. Send him once a year on a cruise with his wife.

This is how you save your pastor and his marriage. This is how you love him and his family. This is how you let him breathe. Don’t let him bury himself in “work.” He needs love and attention from his congregation. Don’t let him worry himself sick over details. Let him be a man.

Ironically, my former mother-in-law had a bumper sticker that said, “Pray For Your Pastor.”

I’m not sure Angelica prayed for me daily. Even if she did, it’s not her fault that everything fell apart.

I’ll tell you this, though. Whether your church is 10 members or 1,000 members, if all of your people pray for your pastor daily, hold him accountable lovingly, you will have done all you can to keep him from sin.

Everything Else Follows Preaching

Cynthia and I visited the church of a pastor friend of mine today. We’ve been there before.

Angel Falls is a nice town. I would leave here, but Angelica and the kids are still here. I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again – Angelica and I have a great relationship after the divorce. We get along better now than before, believe it or not.

But I only get to see them every other weekend and at Angelica’s whim. Which is pretty darn often, thanks to a great post-divorce relationship with her. Cynthia has been wonderful in this whole process. She and Angelica get along well, considering everything. I love her so much. She’s such a trooper. I was talking to her tonight about what she would do if something happened to me. If I was her and something happened to me, I’d find some rich millionaire and bury me in lime in the backyard. But she said she’d cherish my memory forever. What a sweetie.

Anyhow, we went to a pastor friend’s church today – his name is Brad. He said from the pulpit today these very words, “God’s grace and love are enough to cover any cover any of our sins. I dare say I’m the biggest sinner here.” I know, I swear he saw me come in. I forgot to challenge him after service. Before his conversion, he was a borderline adulterer (didn’t cross the line), an alcoholic, a gambler, could cuss the wallpaper off the wall, and was a mean, mean man. Guess what? I could do all those things while I was pastor.

I was the biggest jackass in the room today. But I wouldn’t dare challenge a pastor in his own church. To his face. But I’ll call him later this week.

The point of this blog is to let you know one thing – he can preach the wallpaper off a wall. The music was straight out of the Baptist hymnal that was the unupdated version. That’s okay. The congregation wasn’t too young. I’d say they were around an average age of 55. That’s okay too. You know what I’ve noticed the last two visits? They’ve been baptizing the last two times. That tells me they have a pastor who is very serious about evangelism.

And his sermon was very serious about sovereignty. Cynthia told me after the sermon that not once did I roll my eyes or mutter under my breath. She’s right. Because in this county, Brad is the pastor most likely to preach the word of God with humility. He humbles himself in the pulpit and even does so to the point of tears.

I wish I had his humility when I preached. We’re taking the kids there next week.

Do I care about the slightly outdated music? Sure. But the music always follows preaching. And I’ll always follow strong, convicted preaching first that follows the Word of God.

Epilogue – "Series Finale"

I was so angry with the way LOST ended last night that I figured I’d write up my own epilogue to my own story. That doesn’t mean I’m done with my blog, by any means. I have a lot of back story to write and tales to tell. But I do want to tell you how all of this has ended up.

If you haven’t read the story, please read it. It’ll take some time, but I hope you find it worth it.

As of today, Angelica is dating again. She called me two months ago and said she forgave me for my sin. Two weeks later, she called me and said she was seeing someone. Good for her. It didn’t take her long, I suppose, but it didn’t take me long either, did it? I pray for her that her life is lived out to its fullest. For her and my daughter’s sake.

I’m paying her more child support and alimony that the state ever required – and I don’t say that to brag. I say that so that you dead beat dads out there will hear this: Paying child support should be an HONOR. It’s not a duty or a responsibility. It’s an honor. They are your children. Get on the stick. Take care of them and love them. Paying money is just one way to do it. I don’t care if you feel like it or not. I don’t care if your wife remarries or not. Take care of your kids. Money is temporary. Give them your love and attention too.

If you ever get a raise or a new job that pays you more, self-report yourself to the state and pay more child support. Yeah, it’s more money out of your pocket, but it’s for your kids. It doesn’t matter what your ex-wife does with it. That’s her problem. It’s for your kids. They’re a treasure and deserve your best. Always. When you do the right thing – or make an attempt to do the right thing – you can stand up as a man and be proud of it.

Angelica and I are getting along better today than we ever did as a married couple. I hear divorced couples say that on occasion. We have a great agreement about seeing the kids. She drops them off here when she has to work or when she needs child care for them. I’m glad we have that type of arrangement. She’s moved on. I’ve moved on. Thank God for His grace.

Will she ever get over the hurt I caused her? Probably not 100%. But at least we’re in a place where we can talk. Where we can have some sort of relationship that is good for the kids. And I thank God for that.

Angel Falls isn’t much different. I wish it was. I posted a quote recently that the church acts like a scorned wife when the pastor leaves because of moral failure. After talking to other fallen pastors, I’ve realized this is the gospel truth. I hurt a lot of people, all at once. I wish there was something I could do to salve that quickly, but there’s not.

I wrote a letter a couple of months ago to each individual member. I got one response back which was positive. I understand if I ever get another response back, it will take time.

The one serious problem I have is with Phillip Townsend, the head deacon. He did respond in a way that was unscriptural. Who am I to throw stones? No one. I lied to them, cheated on my wife and made them look stupid. He told me on several occasions I was like a son to him. As soon as I told him what I had done, he told me to never come back and threatened to kick the s*** out of me. I had hoped that he would have at least reached out to me as a man.

To be honest with you, I’m in the process of writing him a letter and plan to mail it this week. I had a terrible relationship with my own father, and in a lot of ways, he was like a father to me. Pray for things to go well. I’m doing the best I can. I tore down a lot of relationships with my sin and I’m trying. It’s not easy when we sin. It’s even harder to try to get people to understand that we’re trying to do the right thing after we sin.

My kids are doing wonderful. They still ask questions on occasion about the whole thing and I answer them honestly. I think one of the best things we can do is let our kids know that their parents aren’t perfect. My girls are “daddy’s girls.” They love on me a lot. We spend quality time together at home, outdoors, and at church.

I tell them bedtime stories, play games with them, cook them meals, and love on them every second I can. I talk to them every day on the phone I don’t get to see them. They are precious to me. Even though my sin created an interrupted relationship, they don’t act like it. They treat me like daddy every day they see me. And I thank God for that.

Cynthia’s daughter and I get along great too. She’s a lot younger than my girls. She’s adjusted well. She loves my girls and loves playing with them. She’s got a lot of spirit. Cynthia has told me how she has clung to me like she’s never really clung to another adult before. I love that.

What about me and Cynthia? We’re in love. I’ve never known another soul like her. We have our days where we rub each other the wrong way, but by the end of the day, we understand each other, but those days are far and few between. I love her. I would die for her. I’m not ashamed of the love I give to her and she’s not ashamed of the love she gives to me.

I’ve never had anyone understand my anxiety like she does. I’ve never had anyone understand me like she does at all. It’s like I’ve known her for years.

Do you understand what we’ve been through? You can only relate to what I’ve written, but we had to live it. We sinned together, I was thrown out of my house and my church, we had insults thrown at us, I was hunted down, scorned publicly, hated by members of the community, have gone through severe bouts of depression, questioned God, searched for churches that would have us, been emotionally drained, and had severe relationship crises with countless people.

I don’t say those things to garner pity. I don’t want pity. Some of those things I deserved.

I say those things in awe of Cynthia. Despite my sin and the consequences of it, she stood by me. She saw me at my worst. And we didn’t stay together because we had nowhere else to go. We stayed together because we loved each other. Because in each other we found something we had never had before.

Was that love borne out of the result of the violation of God’s law? Absolutely. I will never, ever condone adultery. And if I had to do it all over again, I would have done it differently. God does not condone divorce or adultery. And I grieved Him. I broke up my marriage. I was selfish and hurt a lot of people.

But I can tell you that right now, I am the happiest I have ever been. I love my wife, Cynthia. She loves me.

Part of writing this blog has been trying to reconcile those two things. The providence of God and the free will of man.

But I can’t reconcile it.

I do know this – God can make a beautiful thing out of my horrible mess. I don’t know how He did it. I also know on judgment day, He’s going to tell me how I messed up. And I can tell you that if you’re thinking about committing adultery, don’t do it. It’s wrong. It’s not the answer for your marriage woes. But I also know that on judgment day, He’ll look at me, look at His Son and say, “you are forgiven.”

But I don’t deserve it. Any of it. And I’ll weep.

Here is where I am today in a nutshell and what I have learned:

I’m a fallen pastor. I’m not proud of my sin. I take responsibility for what I did. I am where I am today because I’m a weak, fallen sinner.

However, I’m happy with my life today. I’m trying everyday to do what is right in the sight of God. Isn’t that all we can do?

I’ve made some poor choices and some decent ones. In the midst of life, sometimes we’re given the choice between two things – one bad choice and one worse choice. I’m not saying it’s like that all the time, but it is sometimes. We live in a fallen world. And we are fallen people.

The good news is that we have a redeemer who has not turned his back on us. He loves us more than our sin can ever reach. He loves us more than we can ever imagine. We can’t push ourselves down into a pit of depression that he can’t find us. We can’t outsin his grace. We can’t outrun him, because he will pursue us.

Before my fall, none of my seminary training ever taught me about how wonderful and majestic our God truly is. Now, through practical living, I know.

I was telling someone tonight that I hope my worst mistakes are behind me. I pray that my self-righteous pride is a thing of the past. I pray that I’ve learned enough to help others and to now look somewhere besides myself for the answers.

God has been good to me. Better than I deserve.

Common Traits Of The Fallen Pastor, Part 4: Tough Times

As this is part four in this series, make sure you start with part one, if you haven’t read it already.

I had someone ask me on this blog recently about what my spiritual life was like leading up to my fall. It was terrible, thank you very much. Shallow, disgraceful, and going nowhere. How’s that for honesty? I’m not proud of it at all.

I wasn’t looking to fall. I wasn’t looking to hook up with the first woman who showed interest in me. That wasn’t the case.

Was I weak spiritually? Yeah. But don’t think I was led into temptation by someone either. I knew exactly what I was doing.

But when I talk to other fallen pastors, their lives were similar. Their spiritual lives were weak and they were dealing with some very difficult circumstances as well.

Now, hear me. Once again. Difficult circumstances don’t give anyone a license to sin. They are a part of our story, however. And we need to recognize when we are vulnerable to sin.

I’ve blogged about the circumstances leading to my fall before, but not all at once. Let me see if I can give a bird’s eye view of how they led to the intense breaking point in my life. I’ve never been to a moment like that in my life and hope to never be there again. But there are many people suffering because of circumstances. They need to be reached out to and they need help. It might be your friend, your neighbor, your pastor – but it would help them if we recognized that they need support. They need support before disaster strikes, not after.

You know how it is. When bad things happen, they don’t ever just happen nice and tidy. They don’t happen in ones. They happen in horrible bunches.

The church was arguing about some inane, ridiculous thing. I take that back. It was ridiculous to me. It wasn’t ridiculous to the five people who kept stringing it out for five stinking months. It was about the deacon who wouldn’t give to the cooperative program. The music minister had resigned over the whole ordeal. A few other members had left. The deacons were ignoring the issue. I was still getting phone calls. I had a church member challenge me to a fight over it in the parking lot between Sunday School and church. It was on my mind every second of the day. It was a major church crisis. The deacon finally left the church under duress. It was a terrible, terrible situation. One I will always second guess myself on.

A month later, my mother died in a car accident. My father had died just a year before. It was a horrible moment. We buried her at Angel Falls Baptist. I was the executor of her estate. I had to be strong during the whole time whether I wanted to or not. Some of you know how that is. I was only allowed offered one week off to grieve and was right back to work. Her death, even today effects me.

Two months after, Angelica and I found out about the friend of her family that had molested several children. It was terrible for her. I had been in the middle of my grieving process and now I stopped to help her in her shock.

The world had stopped for us. For me.

And in the midst of this, Angelica and I had been having serious marriage issues for years. We had seen a marriage counselor at least twice. A Christian marriage counselor. One who suggested we get separated.

Don’t ever think that people just go out and decide to sin. Do I blame my circumstances? No. It was all me. But yes, I was under horrible pressure and pain. It was an awful time. I couldn’t think straight. Maybe I should have done like John Piper and taken a sabbatical. But I didn’t. I thought I was strong enough to move on.

Life was throwing curveball after curveball at me and I was whiffing all of them. But week after week I stood in that pulpit and acted like I was the strongest man alive.

But I wasn’t.

Only now do I freely admit that I am weak. That I am fallen and sinful. But I thank God that even though I fell, He can redeem the weakest and most sinful. Not for my glory, but for His.

If you know someone at church who asks for prayer, or a friend who asks for prayer, or someone going through a tough time, don’t just offer to pray for them. Reach out to them. Give them some of your time. Give them the gift of your love. Let them know in a real and meaningful way that you care.

Those moments that you give may save them. And in the process, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and become a better person.

Common Traits Of The Fallen Pastor, Part 3: Being Judgmental

(Make sure you read the disclaimer on the first blog post of this series before starting this one.)

The fallen pastors I’ve talked to as well as myself had a similar, serious issue. Before our falls, we were very judgmental of sinners. I’ve touched on this topic before, but I want to get to the heart of the matter here.

Before my fall, I was very black and white in my judgments. If there was an issue at hand, there was a black and white answer for it. There were no gray areas at all. If there was a sin or sinner in the church, there was a quick answer for it.

Let me give you an example that I’m not at all proud of.

Marlee was a long time member of Angel Falls Baptist Church. She had been previously married and divorced and I had been there when it had happened. Her first husband and she had divorced when he had become addicted to drugs and they had some serious issues. She had been unmarried for about two years at the time.

She started dating a guy up in Maryland named Rich who was an avid golfer. I hadn’t met him yet, but they seemed pretty serious about one another. One weekend, the gossip got to me that she was pregnant, out of wedlock, and was worried about her future.

The next weekend, she and Rich came together to see me after church. They were both nervous talking to me, but I wanted to show them understanding. I didn’t have the whole story, but I wanted to be a good pastor to them.

She started by telling me about how she was now three months pregnant. I took the opportunity to interrupt her.

“Marlee, believe it or not, I’m happy for you.”

The shock registered on her face. “You are?”

I said, “Yes, even though this child was conceived out of wedlock, you need to understand that no child is a mistake in the eyes of God. All children are a gift of God. No conception is ever a mistake.”

She smiled nervously. “But we sinned.”

I said, “Sure you did, but God forgives that sin. What’s your future together?”

“We’re living together,” Marlee said.

At that moment, in my life, there were few sins worse than two people living together. Cohabitation for me ranked right up there with murder and adultery (go figure). I could feel the anger rising up in every fiber of my being and I knew the black and white of Scripture had to be applied to their situation.

“Well, you can’t do that,” I said. “Either you get married or you don’t live together.” I was a little angry when I said it.

“Well, he lives in Maryland and has nowhere to go right now. He’s looking to move here so we can eventually get married and do the right thing, but we don’t have the money for it,” she said, now pleading.

“Sure you do. He can live with someone else in the family. You’re just making excuses,” I said. “What kind of example is this setting for your son you already have?” I was incensed. There was right, there was wrong, and I was bound and determined to make sure they understood it.

You see, I was pastor of this church. Impurity had set in and it had to be punished. It had to be disciplined. It had to be made right. I mean, really! Sin in the church! Out in front of everyone! Something had to be done – and the thing that drove me – the thing that drove me in those days was this – something had to be done that very minute.

She wouldn’t budge. I didn’t understand it. The holiness of God was at stake. The purity of the bride of Christ was at stake. She said they wouldn’t stop living together.

Unbelievable. I was bound and determined to take it before the deacons as soon as I could. Church discipline would be exercised upon her. I was angry because I couldn’t exercise it upon him since he wasn’t a member, but I’d have a talk with him too.

Do you see what’s wrong? My attitude at the time was so horrible. I rue those days. But at the time, I was so dang self-righteous. I thought I was right.

You want to know what? I was black and white right. I was.

Guess what? The people in John 8 were black and white right. The Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They told him that she deserved to be stoned by the letter of the law. And you know what? By the black and white of the law, they were exactly right.

By the letter of the law, I was right. I could have taken that young couple and run them out of the church with discipline.

Those people in John 8 stood there with stones in their hand, ready to kill because of their overwhelming sense of justice. I was ready to punish because of my overwhelming sense of justice. I thought, “Sin is sin and it has no place in this fellowship!”

But there stands the Savior in John 8. He does not dismiss sin. He does not excuse sin. But He loves the sinner. He shows compassion. He loves on the sinner. He places himself between the sinner and every stone in the crowd. Then he turns to those of us who would judge and basically says, “You’re no better than she is. You’re just as big of a sinner as she is. And if you throw that stone at her, you’re throwing it at yourself.”

He would have taken every single one of those stones for that woman. And, in essence, He did at Calvary. He didn’t judge her that day. He showed compassion. A quality I lacked as a pastor. But because of my self-righteousness, I just wanted to judge. And I hate that I didn’t see it then.

You think I would have learned my lesson several years before when Cynthia and Barry walked into my office. They had been living together. Instead of getting to know them and finding out whether they were compatible, I insisted they get married. It led to a bad marriage. It led to a marriage put together hastily and for the wrong reasons. For one reason, because I only saw the black and white. And yes, I the wretch of a fallen pastor performed the ceremony. I even baptized Barry because he hadn’t had believer’s baptism.

Only after my fall from the pastorate do I see it. Only now do I see that people need time, grace, love, and patience to come to understand their sin. As well as strong Biblical counsel. There is certainly a place for that. When people fall and sin, they often need time and love the most instead of harshness and judgment.

I have heard that same lesson echoed from fellow fallen pastors.

What’s the worst? I’ve had seminary training. Years of experience in Southern Baptist churches. I’m supposed to be a Christ follower. A man who is supposed to know the balance between judgment and compassion. But back then, I didn’t.

On the other side of it, after being judged by others, I see the error of my ways. I see that no man has the right to judge another with harshness. Yes, we have the right to point out sin. We have the right to recognize sin. But no man has the right to sit in the place of judgment of another. Even when we do recognize sin, we must do so with the utmost care and love. We must do so with compassion and love, recognizing the sin in our own lives, realizing that none of us are any better than anyone else.

Pride does indeed come before a fall. I know that now.

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