What I Wish I’d Learned From Hershael York

(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).

Listen to me. When I graduated from THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in December of 2000, I thought I was the bomb. Master of Divinity at my side, I saw great things – in my mind.

I don’t think that made me too different than many other seminary graduates. Well, at least the prideful ones. In my mind, I was going to bag a smaller church, move to a medium sized church, then WHAMMO! I was going to be sitting pretty at a megachurch one day. Heck. I deserved it. I had a seminary degree. In the middle of all those church exchanges, I was going to earn my Doctor of Ministry (so everyone would have to call me “Doctor Ray”, of course) and I would be sitting pretty.

If you read my blog, you know what happened to me in 2009. I committed adultery. Pastoral ministry was a thing of the past. It was long gone. My relationship with my first wife was over and irreconcilable. I married Allison and we moved on. I started anonymously blogging after that and wrote a book about what happened and how future pastors could avoid the temptation of moral failure.

I interviewed a lot of fallen pastors. Their stories broke my heart because they sounded identical to mine – and I’ll blog about that later.

But I also interviewed a lot of experts. One in particular was Hershael York. His official title is the Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the Associate Dean of Ministry and Proclamation.

I interviewed him for my book. But before I get to that, let me tell you what I thought about him when I was at seminary.

I was scared to death of him. I heard horror stories. “If you want an easy ‘A’, don’t take Dr. York. Seriously. He will tear you up and spit you out.” Then I would hear this: “But if you want to become the best preacher possible, take him as many times as you can. He will make you into an honorable preacher and a man of God.”

I heard one apocryphal story (apocryphal meaning, ‘If it isn’t true, it should be’) that a student went up to him and said, “I want you to grade me as hard as you can on my sermon.” He agreed. After the student minister was done, Dr. York gave him the heavy hand on everything he had done wrong, but said, “You have a great heart and a ton of potential. You will do well.”

That scared me. I stayed far away from Dr. York while in seminary. I got ‘A’s’ while in seminary in my preaching classes. But I’ll tell you this – all of my friends who took him for preaching have become phenomenal ministers of the gospel. They took him and his loving criticism and became better men for it. Thank God for men like Hershael York.

It wasn’t until over a year ago that I even talked to him. I was a miserable fallen pastor looking for help with my book. I heard that he had a heart for fallen pastors. At that time, I had perceived him to be some seminary professor living in an ivory tower, ready to destroy anyone who was full of sin. But I was terribly, terribly wrong. My first instinct came when I got his voicemail. It said, “You know who it is, you know what to do.” BEEEEEEEEEP. I let my daughter, who was 12 at the time listen to that. She loved it so much it’s her voicemail to this day.

When I interviewed him about fallen pastors and what they go through, I found a man who was so loving, so caring, and yet so passionate, I found myself being counseled by his words. While I was talking to him, I suddenly wished I had taken him for every class possible while I was at Southern.

He listened to my story of my failure, hurt for me and asked me questions. Then he was very honest with me. Scripturally honest with me. It was more than an interview. It was him helping me in my process. One of the first things he said to me was this about pastors who fall:

“It’s like a diamond being cut and polished. I saw this happen once in Tel Aviv. I asked the man cutting the diamond, ‘What happens if you make a misktake? What happens if you cut too deep?’ The cutter said, ‘Well, then I have to go and cut every other side exactly like that to match.’ So I said, ‘If you miscut you’ve diminished the value of it.’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ I think of it like that. A man who has fallen, there’s no question he’s diminished something. He’s still a diamond and of great worth, but he’s not what he could have been had he not fallen.”

He was one of the first people who heard through my anger, my problems and spoke directly to me. He read my book and I don’t think he agreed with all I had to say, but he let me quote him anyway. But one quote he gave me is one that I keep close to my heart every day. He said this: If a fallen pastor is going to make it in this world, “his repentance has to be more notorious than his sin.”

We talked about pastors who are looking for comfort beyond their spouses. Men who break and find a woman who is meeting their needs. He brought it down to very simple terms for me:

“Every time you have an affair with anybody, I don’t care who you are, in a sense, you’re having an affair with a fantasy and not a real person. Because the person you’ve got to pay the mortgage with, deal with the kids’ soccer schedule with, the one whose vomit you wipe up when they’re sick, that’s the real person you live with. Twenty minutes in the sack on a Tuesday afternoon is really not love. You’ve got to tell yourself that. You’ve got to awaken yourself to the fact that it’s fantasy. If you end up with the person you had an affair with, I guarantee you once you get married you have to face the same issues and same struggles. You cannot take two totally depraved human beings, stick them in the same house and not have friction.”

Finally, I asked him, “When does a church give up on a pastor? How long do they wait for him to be repentant? How long do they walk with him?” This question had haunted me for a long time and Dr. York gave me a very down to earth answer:

“A church’s posture has to be guided by whether or not there is repentance, because your posture has to be one thing if a person is living in defiance and embracing their sin. Then you have to confront. 1 Corinthians 5 kicks in and Paul describes as turning them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. There’s nothing pretty about that. But if a person is broken and repentant over their sin, even if they want to be and they’re not there yet, but they want to be. They may say, ‘It’s hard for me to leave this 23 year old girl who thinks I hung the moon and go back to a wife I struggled with for the past 20 years, but I want to do that because it honors the Lord.’ Well, if a guy says that, then by all means, you’ve got to walk that walk with him, or see that someone does. Because sometimes the unity of the church matters too and the leaders in the church have to take care of the church but what they cannot do is just abandon the one in sin and say, ‘Well, you’re on your own.’”

I love Dr. York. He’s been at the forefront of a lot of political issues in the Bluegrass state and hasn’t backed down. He is a man of great character and loves his wife deeply. He knows what is at stake for pastors and lets the men he teaches at seminary know the dangers. I am proud of him and that Southern has such a great man there to help them.

I was intrigued recently by a Twitter/Facebook interaction he had regarding the removal of Joe Paterno’s statue at Penn State.

His first post said this: The removal of the Paterno statue is brutal evidence of the limitations of human judgment. “All of our heroes are flawed–except One.”

Of course, he got some flak from people who didn’t understand the point he was trying to make. Then he posted this: “Will they be taking Michelangelo’s David down now?” The idea is that since David committed adultery and killed Bathsheba’s husband, should we take down Michelangelo’s David? Excellent point. But he still got grief.

Then, the most beautiful post of the day, which I referenced in a recent post of mine: “To clarify my previous tweets, I fully support the removal of the Paterno statue. My point is that the people we idolize are all fallen.

When I interviewed him, that was the underlying idea. We are all fallen. Every one of us. Every one of us is moments away from a fall. But that’s why we all need to be surrounded by accountability, strong wives, and an understanding of the fear of God.

In fact, he told me at one point – and I don’t have the exact quote – that if he fell from the ministry, he would have nothing. He’d be delivering pizzas. He has an amazing fear of God, something that is strangely missing from this society and from many of our pastors. It was missing from me.

When we lack the fear of God, we will no longer fear man. Or our sin. Or ourselves. That’s what Dr. York taught me. I wish I had learned it from him sooner. I wish I hadn’t been afraid to take his classes when I was a student at Southern.

_______________________________

All quotes from Dr. York were taken from his Facebook page or from “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World” by Ray Carroll. This post was approved by Dr. York before it was published and I am indebted to him for that.

“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.

The First Stone

My new friend, Travis Mamone let me write a guest blog for him at his site, “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side.” I highly recommend his blog. He’s a very talented writer and does an excellent job.

My blog post is about the first time I got to preach after I fell from ministry – two years later. It’s a story I haven’t told before and I hope you enjoy it.

Take time to check out Travis’ blog and comment on it. You’ll be glad you did.

Sermon: What I Wish I Had Known Three Years Ago About Forgiveness

I got to preach last Sunday. It was pretty sweet. When I preached before, I’ll be honest. I took it for granted. I go months between chances to preach now. Before, it was all about me. Now? It’s a very humbling thing.

It covers things like, “When are we supposed to forgive? Who are we supposed to forgive? Am I supposed to leave a door open for someone who isn’t repentant?”

Sorry about the low quality audio. But if you close your eyes, you can pretend like you’re in a rural West Kentucky church. That’s where I was, thanks to my good friend Bro. Jimmy Stewart and Salem Baptist Church. Hope you enjoy.

(It’s only 32 minutes long…)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

 

Stress And Fasting

Ever have a lot of stuff hit you at once?

Of course you do. It’s called life. I’ve got about eight projects going on right now that I need to finish yesterday.

One of the ones I’m really anticipating is that I’ve been asked to preach next month. I haven’t preached in almost a year. I miss preaching. It’s at the church Cynthia and I used to go to when we first go married.

I made amends with the pastor and I’m planning on going there and giving my testimony on my fall. I’m not giving gory details, but I do plan on telling them about how despite our sin, Christ does forgive and cover all of our sins. I’m nervous, yet excited.

It’s one thing to be transparent on a blog, but it’s another thing to open your life, soul and heart in front of a congregation. Most of the people there didn’t know I fell. I have the feeling they’ll be understanding.

I also know that hearing the story of forgiveness from Scripture might help some of them as well. But then again, they might light torches and chase me out of there. Who knows? No, of course they won’t. They’re great people and will be very supportive.

I’ve just been under a huge amount of stress lately at my work and with other projects. So, I decided to fast. Which isn’t easy with a lifelong health condition I have. However, fasting is extremely important.

I read a book by John Piper on the subject once and I’m loosely paraphrasing his definition here. He said that fasting gets our focus off the gifts and puts our mind on the giver of the gifts. I enjoy the process of fasting.

As consumeristic (is that a word?) Americans, we’re so tied down on eating and gluttony. We have drive-thrus so we don’t have to get out of the car. We go to the grocery store and the junk food is stacked on the end of the aisle. The candy is right next to the register. The restaurants have buffets for us so we can keep shoveling it in. And those things aren’t bad, trust me. I love the convenience.

But once in a while, I have to remind myself that the gift of food is just that – a gift. I have to concentrate on the giver of those things. And when I do, I break free of those bonds and pray for a few days and thank Him. After the initial hunger goes away (and it takes a while), it’s easier to focus on Him and what He wants me to do.

Check out Piper’s book, “A Hunger For God,” if you can. It’s available on Kindle as well. (I don’t get a kickback either.) Usually you can buy it from his website for cheaper. If you can’t afford it, you can call them and work something out with them.

So if you’re feeling stressed, realize that it may be because you’re too focused on the world. Take time to focus on the Giver of all that is good.

What I Miss About Pastoring: Pastoral Care

I never, ever thought I’d say this. Not in a million years. But after my fall, I found myself missing pastoral care.

If I could travel back in time to two years ago and visit myself and say, “Hey, Arthur, you’re going to miss visiting shut-ins, sick people, making phone calls, chasing down absent members, and all that good stuff,” the Arthur of two years ago would have laughed until his spleen busted. 
I don’t know if it’s just limited to Southern Baptist ministers, but most of us aren’t very fond of pastoral care. Maybe I should rephrase that. We prefer preaching over pastoral care.
You’ve probably heard it said that a minister is either really good at preaching or visiting. Even the guys I know that excel at visiting would rather be preaching.
Prepare yourself for a reality check. I heard a pastor refer to Wednesday night prayer meeting as “organ recital.” I said, “what do you mean?”
He said, just listen to the prayer requests. “Pray for Uncle Bob’s liver. Pray for Tom’s kidney. Pray for Joe Bob’s lung problem. Pray for Sue Ellen’s eyes.” He said, “Organ recital. No prayers for the lost. Just their organs.”
That’s the kind of stuff that makes pastors cynical. But he was right.
At first, it’s not so bad when you’re a young pastor. You want to get out there and visit, visit, visit. But then you realize that everyone in the church wants you to see their relatives, shut-ins, long lost members and your sermon preparation time is dwindling.
Then comes the dreaded moment – one of your church members was in the hospital and you didn’t go see them. However, no one told you. But it’s still your fault. You feel awful. You apologize profusely. If you’re lucky, they live. If you’re not, you carry a burden for a long time. If they do live, you might be constantly ribbed about it by them.
This, despite the fact, that you pray for your people all the time. You tell them to call you when people get sick. Friends, the job of a pastor in the realm of pastoral care is difficult. Pastors are not omnipresent or omniscient. I know that’s a shock.
Something else, I don’t know why it’s been called “pastoral care.” The care of the members of the church should not be limited to the pastor. Yes, he should visit the shut-ins, the ill and infirm. However, it is the job of the entire congregation to minister to the entire body of believers. However, this job in the American church has fallen squarely upon the pastor in most congregations. It shouldn’t be that way. Anyway, on to the blog . . .
Today, I visited my lovely wife at work. I had the day off and had lunch with her. While I was there, I ran into Marlee and Rich, a couple I had been terribly judgmental of while at Angel Falls but had reconciled with before I left.
I hadn’t had any serious contact with them since my fall, but saw them in the parking lot and I caught them somewhat off guard. I spoke to them and wanted to reach out to them. Rich’s dad had been ill when I had left Angel Falls and I still loved this couple and hoped they would respond to me.
At worst, they could ignore me and walk away. That would be fine. I had hurt them. At best, they could speak to me. I would receive that as God’s grace. I am at a place now where any kind of reception or kindness from the people at Angel Falls is God’s grace. I long for reconciliation.
Rich came right over to me and smiled and shook my hand like we were old friends. He told me that his father was in poor health and about to die. I listened as he recounted the past week of his father’s illness and told him I would be praying for him. The fact that he mentioned his father let me know that on some level he still trusted me. He connected with me.
It immediately hit me how much I missed pastoral care.
When I was a pastor, I would whine about the house visits, the calls, and the “organ recitals.” But now, I found myself longing for those moments. I realized that those moments were the moments Christ gives us as pastors. Those are the moments we are given to love people where they are, in their hurt, in their most vulnerable times.
We perceive that we are being put out of our way because we have more important things to do. We have sermons to prepare. We have errands to run. We have lives to live.
For shut-ins, they have walls to stare at. For the ill, they have stomachs churning and an uncertain future. For the depressed and anxious, they have a mind aswirl of impatience and horrible thoughts.
As pastors, we think of our time. Our inconvenience. I wish I had seen it then. God forgive me. I could have gone home, kissed my children, made room in my schedule somewhere. God would have provided me those moments to prepare for my sermon. For what is more important in this life than people? He will provide.
The moments that stand out to me when I think of my pastorate are not of great sermons I preached. They are of lives God allowed me to touch. They are of the moments I spent beside people who were dying. They are of the times when I was praying alongside the ill or those who needed Christ.
Was it a sermon? No, but it was the Word. It was Christ Himself, active within me, living inside me, working through me. Yes, the sermons were alive and active, penetrating. Not because of me, but because of Him.
What I really wish I had done more is gone out, like my current pastor Brad. He just goes out in the expectation that people will be saved. Armed with the gospel of Christ and loves people like they are.
I miss preaching funerals. I miss being there for people who hurt after a loved one dies, hearing the stories of their departed loved one and then sharing those stories in a way that honors the one who passed.
I miss going to visit Mr. and Mrs. McGillicutty who used to go to Angel Falls 20 years ago but now live in an old trailer with no one to talk to. I visited them twice a month. No one else would. They have no children or family. They loved to see me coming. I had the church build them a ramp so they could get into their trailer easier. I loved them even though they never heard me preach. They were precious to the Lord so they were precious to me.
I miss seeing Mrs. Law. She came for about two years of my pastorate until she couldn’t drive anymore. Frankly, she shouldn’t have been driving those two years. She could talk your ear off. She would call me whenever she wanted. When you visited her, you better have at least two hours to spend, or an escape route, because she would go on for a long time. She had three children who ignored her and were just waiting for her to die to get her inheritance. I have 20 stories about her to tell. She’s still alive and I love her. She’s 90. Hope she outlives her kids.
I miss seeing people. I know now what it means to love as Christ loved. I missed an opportunity. Maybe one day I’ll have that chance again.
 
If you’re a pastor and you’re reading this – don’t visit cheaply. Listen to your people. Visit the elderly like they’re your parents or grandparents. Visit them like it’s the last time you’ll see them.
Church members, listen. Call your pastor when you’re in the hospital. Don’t overwhelm him with stupid stuff. If you have a toenail surgery, don’t bother him. If he heads off to Disney World with his family, leave him alone. The man needs space.
The church is the body of Christ. Minister to one another. Love one another. You all belong to each other. Act like it.

What I Miss About Pastoring: Preaching

Thought I’d write a few posts about what I miss most (and least) about pastoring. I’m not sure who it’ll help or if it will give insight to congregations about what their pastor goes through.

A quick disclaimer – don’t take me to say that I regret my current life. If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m repentant of my sin. But I can tell you that God does love me and has blessed me with good things. Love my wife, love my little section of the world.

I do miss preaching. In fact, when I talk to active pastors, that’s one of their first questions – “I bet you miss preaching, huh?” I just want to say, “Would you miss oxygen if someone held you under water for two minutes?”

There is just something about spending that time in the Word the week before (not the night before), opening it up in preparation for an expository message, digging for hermeneutical treasure, looking for the author’s intended meaning, then relating that to your church.

Of course, you’ll occasionally mess it up. But the joy that comes from preaching that Word is impossible to relate to someone who hasn’t been called to to it. And you know you’ll never get them to love that passage as you’ve loved that passage during the week. You’ll never get them to see every beautiful jot and tittle of it, but your heart explodes with passion about God’s Word during your time behind that pulpit.

And the joy you feel when you see the face of a church member (hopefully members) in the crowd when then have that look of discovery moment (or the “oh, now I get it” look) while you’re preaching. Because during the week, you understood something beautiful about the passage and now you were able to relate it to them.

And even more beautiful is when God moves upon a person by His Word and convicts them, leading them in His way. Not because of you, but because of Him.

Those moments are irreplaceable.

I’ve preached since my fall and hope to supply again in the future. To tell the story of the grace He has shown me and His forgiveness. It brings me joy. I would love to supply every Sunday if God sees fit to let me use the gifts He gave me.

To church members, I would say remember that your pastor has been spending hours preparing his sermon. He has prayed over it, studied it, gotten frustrated over it, and sometimes cried over it. You may walk out of the service saying, “Well, I didn’t get anything out of that,” but what exactly did you put into it? Pray for your pastor during the week as he prepares. Pray for your own heart to be touched by God’s Word.

To pastors, I pray you will fight temptation, stay strong in the Word, and do not neglect your own private devotional time as I did. Don’t let the distractions of meetings, committees, and complaints push you away from the most important thing you do.


To everyone else, find a pastor who preaches the Word. Without fail. A man who would die for his convictions. Who knows what he stands for. Who understands the righteousness of Christ and lives it out. But remember he is a human.

The Universalists And Brad

I’m about to head out to hear my preacher, Brad, preach at the local Unitarian Universalist Church.

I asked him, “How in the world did that happen?”

He said, “Every year they ask people from different faiths to come and preach. The usual Baptist couldn’t make it so they asked me.”

I said, “Do they have any idea what they’re in for?”

He said, “No, I don’t think so. I’m preaching on ‘What Christmas means to Christians’ and the need for a Savior.”

He won’t be mean, but he’ll tell the truth. Should be interesting. What’s really interesting is that Brad’s house flooded because of a broken pipe this week. He’s going to show up with a week’s growth of facial hair on his face and wearing the same cargo pants for three days. He’ll probably remind me of a shepherd from the nativity.

Pray for him, please.

(I’m wearing a suit to upstage him . . . 🙂

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.

When To Confront From The Pulpit

Just a disclaimer – I’ve done what I’m about to complain about. And I was wrong to do it. In fact, it grieves me that I did it. I learned from it when I did it and hope that others won’t make the same mistake.

So what exactly am I going on about?

In the past two weeks, I’ve heard about pastors who have heard there was adultery occurring in their church; instead of dealing with it in biblical fashion, or talking to those involved, they addressed the individuals from the pulpit. Once, it was done directly, and once it was done in a roundabout way so that everyone in the congregation knew who the pastor was talking about, but he didn’t mention any names.

Before I start making points, I’ll tell you about the 50 or so times I did it. I was arrogant. I thought I had the black and white truth and biblical authority to lash out against people. I thought the pulpit was my right to say what I wanted, when I wanted. Uh uh. Doesn’t work that way.

I’d hear about someone living together, having an argument with another church member, being stupid inside a committee meeting, or whatever, and I’d make a whole sermon point about it. I wouldn’t mention a name, of course, but I’d make sure they’d hear my point.

On one occasion, after the music director left after the deacon controversy, I preached a whole sermon out of anger. It was basically a “don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you” sermon. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t well received.

You know why it wasn’t right? First, because I was angry. Secondly, because if I had a problem, I needed to deal with it in private with the people I had a problem with. I used a bully pulpit to make a point to people and stirred the pot. I was airing dirty laundry that was personal business and I had no right to do it.

Does the pastor have the right to preach on adultery, anger, gambling, etc.? Absolutely. But in the course of normal preaching. Not when we’re using another person to make a point. Not when we’re showering down the Word of God on someone to lash out on them instead of going to them first.

It’s the misappropriation of the pastoral office, plain and simple. It’s the abuse of the Word and the pulpit. And it does harm to the congregation and those who have sinned. It doesn’t make the situation better, it makes it much worse.

You know what to confront from the pulpit? The enemy. Other church members are not our enemy. If a church member sins, we seek them out and restore them, plain and simple. If they don’t want restoration, we grieve the loss and pray for them wholeheartedly. We tell the church to pray for them.

But we never, ever air their dirty laundry. Because we might just find ourselves in their position one day. God help us all when we do.

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