“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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

____________________

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.

 

Living David’s Prayer of Repentance

I have had a remarkable week, but it’s not been about me. On Monday, I shared a providential moment when I ran into a former church member who I hadn’t seen in quite some time. We were able to mend a broken relationship.

The next day, I received a call from a former deacon. His mother had passed away following a short illness. He asked me to perform the funeral. To say I was stunned would not come close to how I felt. I knew his mother well, loved her and thought highly of her. I didn’t hesitate and was honored to do it for them.

She was an amazing woman. Three years ago, after my mother was killed in a car accident, she showed me great love. The Sunday I decided to step back into the pulpit, she stopped me in the sanctuary. She gave me a big hug like she always did, then she did something she had never done before – she gave me a kiss on the cheek. She said, “Your mama isn’t around to give you a kiss on the cheek anymore. So I’m going to do it for her.” She never missed a Sunday, either.

Her family also included the former head deacon of my church. Both of these men I have approached in the previous year, asking for forgiveness, desiring reconciliation on some level. They have both been gracious to me. That has been miraculous to me. When I first fell, I was told by many fallen pastors that reconciliation with former members was impossible. I prayed they were wrong.

When the phone call came, I was immediately concerned about other issues. I knew many from my former church would be at the funeral. I called and spoke to a member of the family. She said, “We knew there might be some who might be concerned about you doing the funeral, but you were the last pastor who really knew her.” I said, “If I do it right, it will be all about her and Jesus. No one will even know I’m there.”

Details are unimportant at this point. The love shown to me and Allison was overwhelmingly positive. Sure, there was a little awkwardness at times, but I stayed in the background. The death of a loved one isn’t about the minister, it’s about grieving and loving the family.

Several former members showed me great love and said extremely kind things to me that I will cherish forever. My former head deacon, the one who had first found out about my adultery and reacted with such great disappointment, approached me right before the funeral and said, “You know I love you, don’t you?” I said, “I do. And I love you too.”

About an hour before the service, the funeral director wanted to change the order of service a little. I was to give my normal eulogy, but he wanted me to add a small five minute talk between a couple of songs. I thought, “No problem.” I had her bible in my hand and I went to the Psalms. She had marked up her bible, noting passages that were very important to her. The Psalms are always very important to people and always help people who are grieving. I decided I would share part of the Psalm she had marked the most.

I thumbed furiously through her bible and found it. But it couldn’t be right. I looked again. And again. It was Psalm 51, David’s prayer of repentance. She had marked a set of verses halfway through and written the following statement, “A life lived in Christ is a life lived with virtue for all to see.” She had touched my life so many times before and she had done it again, even in passing.

I rose to the podium and read these words: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;  you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;  a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:14-17 ESV)

I remember when I interviewed Hershael York, professor from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, for my book, he told me two things that really stuck with me. First, he told me that if people were going to be mad at me for my fall, let them. I was the one who sinned and created the situation. I had to show them grace and love because it was something I expected as well.

Secondly, he told me, “Your repentance has to be more notorious than your sin.” I don’t know if I’m quite there yet. I do know that when I was done with the funeral, people were grieving. No attention was being paid to me. That’s the way it should be. People came and shook my hand and said, “You knew her, thank you for your words.” And that was it. That was what it was supposed to be about.

There was a fellowship meal after the graveside at my former church. I went for a little bit, but left. On my way out, a close friend of hers chased me out of the church and stopped me in the parking lot. He said, “I want you to know something about her. She never judged you for what you did. She always loved you.”I hugged him and told him thank you.

That was something I needed to hear. And it was worth more than anyone will ever know. I am thankful for my God, who continually works to restore His people, reconcile them to one another and to Himself.

The Shift: Time For A Change

I have not blogged in a while. Sorry for that. I’ll get to my point in a minute.

I’ve been editing my book after my publisher sent my manuscript back. I figured something out. I don’t get to the point quick enough. I’m very bad at dancing around the issue. I’ve spent two years apologizing for my sin. Yeah, I’m sorry for what I did. I really am. But, there is a larger issue at stake. There are a lot of pastors out there who are falling day by day.

They aren’t falling because they’re just sinful men. They don’t just wake up one day and say, “Hey, I think I’ll commit adultery.”

These men are called by God and are serious about their mission. They are serious about the church. They love their wives, their family and the church. Yet, after years in the ministry, they fall. Why? It’s a problem, isn’t it? Friends, it commands our attention.

There has to be something going on. And there is. There are several factors in place that leads to their fall.

However, don’t ever hear me say that these men’s sin isn’t their own fault. It is. But there is a culture out there that is contributing to their downfall. It needs to change and it has to be challenged. And starting today, I’m going to stop apologizing for my sin. I’ve done that enough. I’m going to start calling out the culture that leads to the fallen pastors downfall.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again. 1,500 pastors a MONTH leave the ministry due to conflict, stress or moral failure. And they fall off the grid. Often, we never hear of them again. My concern is for those who leave for moral failure.

Our conventions, denominations and committees are content with leaving them behind. I am not. I have spoken with these men. They are left behind with hurt, pain and brokenness. Some are able to pick up the pieces and able to restore their lives. But some are not. Some are working in secular jobs searching to find reconciliation with their former churches and to the God they once served.

Let me start today with this thought.

Very few people in the church are able to forgive the fallen pastor. In fact, after speaking to many fallen pastors, I would say that around 1% of churches were able to forgive the fallen pastor for his adultery.

I understand that a church would be hurt by the pain caused by the betrayal and pain that a fallen pastor leaves behind. The fallen pastors I have spoken to have ranged from 3-30 years from when they left their church. No reconciliation was to be had. None.

I’ll blog more about that later.

What I have noticed is that there are some people within the church who are able to forgive. They act outside the 95% of the church who are angry at the pastor, but they do reach out to him.

In my talks with fallen pastors, and in my own experience, it shows me that there is an active church culture that tends to place certain expectations upon a pastor. He is placed upon a pedestal and when he falls, the fall is great. The expectations are great and he may even agree to them. When he does not meet them, they abandon him. They are unwilling to forgive and place him outside of the community, without any sort of dialogue.

But there are a few who do not operate within this culture. They reach out to the fallen pastor. They see him as a human and not as an idol or as a man on a pedestal. They are kind and say things like, “I love you, regardless of your sin. You are still my friend.”

There is a dangerous culture that needs to be changed. Hopefully, in time, we will begin to see it.

Pastor as Elected Official

I’ve heard it said by many, but one fallen pastor I talked to said it best, “Churches just don’t shoot their wounded, they shoot them in the head.”

First, this is not a post on church polity or how church government should be organized.

I do keep getting sucked into this black hole of why churches and pastors never seem to reconcile years after a fall. I’ve written about it numerous times and have talked to many fallen pastors. I’ve got one main theory. Even after a fallen pastor repents and has shown a godly lifestyle for twenty years, his former church wants nothing to do with him and refuses to open their arms and publicly forgive him. My primary theory is that to do so would reopen the scars that have been shut for so long and bring them to light.

But the longer I think about all these men (including me) who have fallen, the more possibilities arise.

Today’s theory probably only works in the Southern Baptist setting or any church setting where the pastor is hired by a pulpit committee and voted in by the church. A pulpit committee spends hours looking over countless resumes, makes “nominations” as it were, settles on a few names, conducts interviews, then presents a candidate for the church to vote on.

This process is very similar to the way we elect presidents, congressmen and others for pubic office in this country. How do we view our public officials? It depends on how they’re performing, typically. If they are doing their assigned tasks well and making our country/state look good, bringing benefits to us, we’re either happy or we don’t notice. However, we tend to notice if they make a decision we don’t agree with or they are caught in moral or financial failure. When that happens, we get restless and wait until the next election, or call for their heads. We can do that, we were the ones who voted them in to begin with.

Then, there’s the pastor who was voted in to a majority vote by his congregation. He performs tasks, tries to live up the expectations of the church (and hopefully of Christ), and deals with conflict on a regular basis. I had a pastor friend in seminary who pastored a church that voted each year on whether to retain him or not.

Many pastors struggle with making friends. Those pastors will tell you that it’s a dangerous thing to make friends with people in the church. They are isolated men, working a job among people who look to him – maybe not as pastor, but as a hired hand. Instead of being a member of the body of Christ with their congregants, they are an elected official. Do they still share the good times, the bad times and love of the church? Absolutely. But often, they feel as if they are on the outside looking in.

I apologize if that sounds cynical, but I’ve run that idea past many pastors (some fallen, many who have not) and they find agreement with it. It’s not the case in every church. Many pastors have a strong relationship with their membership and feel very connected to them.

This cycle isn’t to be blamed on the church wholly, either. Many pastors have a habit of looking for the next big church and use their current church as a “stepping stone”, which could cause many churches to never form a true bond with their pastor and treat him as elected official.

What then, happens when a pastor falls from grace if he is viewed as an elected official? A similar thing that happens to our elected officials when they fall. They are quickly dismissed, told to clean out their offices and sent away. The hurt church is left behind with a ton of damage control and pain that will last a long time.

On the flip side, what does Scripture tell us to do with one who sins? Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

I’m not suggesting the church place him back into the pulpit. The first thing that needs to be examined is whether the pastor is repentant. That may take weeks. But the pastor shouldn’t be thrown out like garbage too quickly. He’s not an elected official, he’s a brother in Christ. It would be hoped that if the hurt church can’t help him, they can find someone who can.

I’ve heard of churches who found out their pastor was caught in adultery – red-handed even by a member of the staff – and they begged him to stay on as pastor. I don’t endorse that. But I might suggest that a church like that had a better understanding of pastor as “brother in Christ” instead of elected official.

Something needs to change in a church culture where pastors don’t make friends within the church and are afraid to be real with their congregations. Where churches may view the pastor as a politician. The door swings both ways to find a solution. If the problem can be fixed before a great fall, perhaps the great fall can be prevented.

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