Monthly Archives: August 2008

Who will stay and who will go?

We had heard that fully 1/3 of a church would leave when the senior pastor fell due to an affair.  We hoped for a better outcome, but knew that others before us found the statistics to be close to reality.  So, we braced ourselves and did what we could to connect to our church family and communicate with them.  We discovered very quickly that communication was more important than we knew.  Wounded sheep needed to be cared for, and part of the care was communication.

One of the things we had in our favor was our home group ministry.  We had over 40 home groups and more than 1/2 of our church family involved in a home group.  They were and are a core part of our church life.  What we discovered quickly was that those on the fringe, those not connected in relationship, quickly fell away and left the church.  There were some who felt they had to leave.  I was dealing with several couples at the time who were recovering from affairs in their marriages and both couples told me they couldn’t stay, it was simply too painful for them.  There were many on the fringes who left rather quickly.  Some told me, “I’ve been through this before, and I’m not doing it again.”  But one of our new families, who came for the first time on the day we announced our pastor’s affair, told me, “if this is how your church handles sin like this then this is our church!”  And they have stayed and become part of our familly.  When a pastor falls really strange things happen.

One of the things that surprised me was who left.  There were many who had been part of our church for years, but when our pastor fell they were the first ones out the door.  It was a surprise to me who left, but even more interesting was who stayed.  When all the dust settled what we discovered was that those who were in home groups stayed.  They had a support system, they had friends…..this was their church.  In fact, what we discovered was more than 90% of those in home groups are still part of our church family.  It was, and is, their family and no one person’s sin would run them off.  In fact, as I connected with people in our church, I would often ask, “So, are you staying?”  Most in our home groups would respond, “why would I leave, this is my church.”  Community made a huge difference in our survivability.

We are now almost 2 years after our earthquake and tremors continue to interupt our lives as a church. I think they will for a few more years, but we are beginning to see a hint of the sun rising in the east.  Our dark night is nearly over.  God has sustained us through this time, and the body of Christ has cared for its members.  Who will stay?  Those who are part of the family of your church.  Who will go?  Those who have come for the music or the pastor….they will not stay.

As the old story goes when two pastors met, one asked the other, “did you have any additions to your church this year?” The other pastor responded, “no, but we had some blessed subtractions.”  An earthquake like we have endured will bring the shepherds and sheep together to care for one another, and it will also show who your “fringe people” are.  Sometime losing a few people isn’t such a bad thing.

We are growing again.  Now we are seeing new people who have no idea what we have been through.  They love the church and are getting involved in our home groups.  They are the new sheep who are making this their church home.  It’s now our goal to make sure everyone in part of our small group ministry.  It made an amazing difference for us.

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After the earthquake, part 2

In my last post I talked about what we do in the aftermath of our earthquakes.  In this post I want to talk about how to deal with the “aftershocks.”

What do I do after the earthquake?

How do I deal with what I’m going through?

Earthquakes have some interesting characteristics:

1. universality (It affects everybody in the geographical area, in our case everyone in our church family.)

2. spontaneity (It cannot be foreseen, we talked about that last week.)

3. irreversibility (it has forever touched us and our community. This is now part of our life experience as a church family.)

Most earthquake damage comes in the aftershocks- falling glass, bricks from chimneys, falling walls….Every earthquake has aftershocks. They are the results of the earthquake, and affect the area of the earthquake for weeks, and even months.  Those in an earthquake may be affected for years to follow.

All of us remember “earthquakes” in our lives- Where we were when we experienced them or heard about them. And the aftershocks from our earthquakes have become part of our lives-

The aftershocks of losing a child, a divorce, a parent’s death, an unwanted move.  Each of these earthquakes have aftershocks that affect us.  

What are the aftershocks we have seen and heard from our earthquake?

-in some, initial shock that has turned to anger (very common)

-feelings of betrayal

-disbelief

-leaving the church- “this was the last straw!”

-loss of faith, or a struggle of faith

-reopening of scars from things that have happened in our own lives (bringing up bad memories in our own lives)

-disappointment

-discouragement

-desire to run away

-desire to blame someone, anyone!!

-worry about how leadership will deal with everything

-concern for our fallen pastor and his wife

-regret, I wish I would have…

-uncertainty about a new senior pastor

-fear

-there might be another earthquake

-there’s no place safe

-there’s no place to hide

-feeling vulnerable

-future, what will happen?

-tired! Expressions of exhaustion are common. This IS tiring! (I have heard that a lot!)

 We each will deal with our feelings, and our aftershocks.  All of these kinds of feelings are normal, they are real, and they are important.  Our challenge is to deal with them in a Godly way.

Let me suggest some choices for each of us-

I have chosen these from the writings of an earthquake maker, Paul. Paul, before faith, was an earthquake  maker. He created earthquakes.  Saul of Tarsus, went into homes, arresting Christians, forcing them to recant and even killing some, and now, as Paul he comes back into the lives of those people and gives us direction to deal with our aftershocks.  The very lives he tried to destroy, and in many cases did. There may have been women, listening to Paul’s teaching, knowing he was the one who made them a widow. There surely were survivors of his torture, now under his ministry.  

There is no one better than Paul to tell us how to deal with earthquake aftershocks than a man who created earthquakes in the lives of others.

First, here is how the earthquake maker dealt with his own earthquake making days-  Phil. 3:13-14,  (also Heb. 12:1-2- heading for the finish line.)  Here are the choices Paul made.  (These are the choices we need to make as well.)

Paul’s choices- (observations on Phil. 3:13-14)

1. to stay in the race

2. to not let those who quit the race discourage him

3. to keep his eyes on Christ

4. deal with sin and the past properly

I would like to take a quick look at a few of Paul’s instructions for us “earthquake survivors”-

Paul uses, what I call, “exhortations and invitations” to teach.  (Exhortation followed by an invitation- LET…)

 1. Romans 6:11-12- In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  (2 Cor. 7:1- Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.)

 Exhortation- Christ has taken care of sin

Invitation- don’t let sin reign in your life

 2. Romans 13:10-12-Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (1 Thessalonians 5:8- But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.) (Note also Eph 6-put on the full armor of God.)

Exhortation- The days demand an action

Invitation- Get dressed! (He’s provided the clothes!)

 3. Romans 14:16-19- Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Exhortation- There are ways to please God

Invitation- Do them

 4.  Galatians 5:25- Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Read this whole chapter)

Exhortation- We live by the Spirit

Invitation- Walk with Him  (he will walk at your pace.)

 5. Gal 6:7-10-  Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Exhortation- You are planting crops that bear fruit

Invitation- plant good crops

 6. Col. 3:12-16- Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Note also Phil. 4:6-7)

Exhortation- You are God’s people

Invitation- Use His resources for your walk

 7.  Col. 4:5-6- Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Exhortation- You are God’s representatives

Invitation- talk like one, people are listening

We all know that these days at our church are hard days, but as you have heard from many in these weeks…

This is God’s church,  And you are God’s children.  

In the days ahead the aftershocks will die down, and we will continue to grow together, pray together, and reach our world together.

Paul, the earthquake maker, has provided us with the exhortations and the invitations. 

Take a moment, take your fears and aftershocks to the Lord, and let Him take care of them.  He will, he has promised to do it….he will.

After the earthquake, part 1

Two weeks after our senior pastor fell I was in the pulpit to help us, as a church, take the next step.  The Lord graciously gave me a concept that has become a part of the vocabulary of our church family.  We now talk about “after the earthquake” as a common term to describe our pastor’s fall, the announcement of it to our church family and our life together since that day.  This message was given over two weeks, and was so important that I want to share it with you.  It’s a quick and easy read, but what you will find is that a pastor’s sin is much like an earthquake.  Its destruction is massive, and the church and people in it will never be the same again.  It will change you, and it will change your church.  So, here is part one of “After the earthquake”-

 “We have an amazing church family! Your responses to what we have been through as a church have been amazing!

You have said, “What can I do?”

“How can I help?”

“What do you need me to do?” 

Of course we are going through a grieving time, and a loss, but almost everyone we talk to is saying the same thing, “We will grieve, but this is our church, where are we going next?”

I am so excited to be part of this family. The unity and love of this church body is very encouraging.

As to what can you do? We will be addressing those things soon…thank you all for being part of this family and being willing to help. So, let me give you one assignment right now. This is easy. Are you ready? Pens in hand?  Ok, here it is- connect with others in the body you don’t know. Reach out to one another. We have people here who are new, and aren’t connected yet, help them. 

 We have received so many words of encouragement from you all, many in person and many more by letter and e-mail.

Here are some of your comments to us-

 “My daughter (Jenna – age 8)  and I are committed to praying for you each night this week as you prepare for your sermon; that you be lifted up by God, that you are not nervous (Jenna prays this) and to communicate God’s word effectively.  God bless you and we know you will do well.”  -Kent

 “There is such a beautifully sweet spirit at CBC right now….undoubtedly we are being cared for by our Savior and King. We just need to keep our eyes fixed on HIM.”  -Marsha

 “We would like to begin giving to your church but do not have envelopes (we are not members).  Could you please mail us some envelopes?  Thank you” -John

 “What a challenge and test of our faith we have ahead of us as a church body. I am also praying that God will mightily use me and other men in this time to lead, serve, and minister to the church body as we seek to emerge from this even stronger than we were before. Your brother in Christ” -Chris

 “…We must keep pressing on, not wavering and picking up the weak ones along side of the road as we keep walking this journey.  It has been a long time since my wife and I prayed for the church staff and body like we did last night. I know this will only make all of us stronger. I hope this will be some encouragement for you on this new day that the Lord has created. Keep your chins up, there will be people watching.” -Jason

 These last few weeks have been an earthquake for us as a church family…

 An earthquake is different than any other natural disaster because you don’t see it coming….it happens, and then we must deal with the results-

 the devastated roads,

 the broken buildings,

 the shattered lives.

 Earthquakes are destructive. They literally shake our foundations.  Often the problems caused by the earthquake destroy more than the earthquake itself.

 The 1989 San Francisco earthquake broke gas lines that started fires that destroyed whole city blocks.  Broken water pipes flooded homes.  Some damage didn’t show up for months. Weakened homes had to be torn down.  One house was destroyed and one next door untouched.

 Earthquakes destroy lives. They cause fear. They are felt far from the epicenter. They are expensive!  And, after the earthquake you have to rebuild your life.

 Earthquakes bring change. 

 Church family, we have been through an earthquake.

 Shake a building and you will see how well it’s built, shake a church and you will see what it’s built upon.

 We are blessed that our foundation, as a church, is Christ alone.

 So, what do we do now? Where do we go from here? 

 In these next two weeks called, “After the earthquake” I would like us to look ahead, and focus on two things-

 1.     What do WE do? (corporate)

 2.     And what do I do? (individual)

 Rebuilding after an earthquake is a challenging time.  It’s a time of grief about what we lost. 

 And a time of hope about what can be in the future.

 As you rebuild you do things that you may have wanted to do, but simply didn’t do before.  “I think I’ll paint this place blue, always wanted to do that.  I think I’ll put in a new bathroom since the old one is destroyed.”

 After an earthquake things change.  As a church family we will find ourselves making some changes too.  As we move away from our earthquake we all will look back with sorrow and loss, and look ahead with hope and promise, but WE WILL DO IT TOGETHER.

 And, after our earthquake things will change… They always do after an earthquake. 

 The hard part for us is we don’t like change!

 Recently, before all of this happened, our senior pastor started a series in Philippians.  I wondered why, but after coming through the earthquake our church family has experienced I find that the very next verse in the study brings us to the very place we need to be. 

 The passage we will go to today will give us directions on what to do after the earthquake, what to do next….what WE, as a church family, are to do next….

 Philippians 1:27-2:8 (New International Version)

 27 Whatever happens, 

 We are at a “whatever happens” time. We will all have many “whatever happens” times in our lives, but this is a big one for our church family.  I don’t know about you, but this is the biggest “whatever happens” time I have ever seen! We have all had some “whatever happens” times in our lives- a death, an illness, financial problems.

 The instructions that follow are instructions for the whole church, in the middle of a “whatever happens” time.

 conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  In the Greek-  act like citizens. Not Roman citizens worshipping Caesar, but citizens of the new kingdom worshipping God. Remember who your Lord is and live like one of his citizens.

Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you

 1. stand firm 

 2. in one spirit, 

3. contending for the faith of the gospel

 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved-and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

 Did you notice that? It has been granted to you? It sounds like a priviledge, doesn’t it? And it is!

 Philippians 2- Now Paul moves us into choices we must make because of what God has done for us:

 1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude (to exercise the mind, that is, entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; by implication to be (mentally) disposed (more or less earnestly in a certain direction) should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

 Here’s what it looks like:

 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,    being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!

 Our model for body life is Christ. This passage of scripture gives us the picture of what the proper Christian family life looks like- each of us serving Christ by serving one another.

 Christ has set the bar very low….we can only go under it on our knees, serving HIM by serving one another.

 Here are some basic things you need to know about this kind of life that Christ modeled for us:

 1.     It’s different than how the world acts.

 2.     It’s not about me, it’s about others.

 3.     If you act like a servant, people will treat you like one, be a servant anyway.

 4.     Not all the jobs of servants are fun or glorious.

 5.     It’s the very lifeblood of the church- the servant’s heart. That’s what makes us look like Christ. 

 6.     And, last, it’s not an individual calling, it’s a body calling…all of us, serving Christ together by serving one another.

 This is the answer to “What can we do?”  Here it is.  After the earthquake, imitate Christ and serve Christ by serving one another.”

 “God does not have to come and tell me what I must do for Him, He brings me into a relationship with Himself where I hear His call and understand what He wants me to do, and I do it out of sheer love to Him… When people say they have had a call to foreign service, or to any particular sphere of work, they mean that their relationship to God has enabled them to realize what they can do for God.” –Chambers, Oswald

 There’s part 1 of “after the earthquake.”  It’s very simple, but important.  After a pastor falls the one thing that any leadership group must do is gather the body of believers together to love and care for those who have been hurt by the fall of a pastor.  It’s a very difficult time, but with the Lord’s help you will find that all of you are much stronger on the other side.  God will take care of his church even if the shepherd falls.

What do we do now?

It’s a strange feeling to find that you are suddenly in a crisis you didn’t see or expect.  That’s where we found ourselves on that Monday after the big announcement.  What do we do now?  We talked about the weeks ahead and immediately had an offer from a prominent pastor and friend from another large church in our area who said he would be glad to come the next week to speak and help us as we picked up the pieces of our church and ministry.  It was a wonderful offer and  we accepted his offer gladly. 

In our first week after our discovery and announcement we discussed all the things we thought were ahead- who would preach, how would we work through this, what would happen to our church family, what about giving, and a hundred other topics.  Quickly we realized we needed help.  We knew about a large church like ours which had gone through the same thing a few years earlier so we called them and asked, “Can we come down with some of our elders and meet with your pastor and elders to discuss what is ahead of us?”  They accepted gladly, so the trip was planned.  We were blessed that they are only a few hours away and so I and several of our elders made the trip to meet with this church that had traveled the same road we were about to go down.

This wonderful church was very gracious and gave us a conference room and a day of their time.  They told us about their experience and all that they learned from their pastor’s fall.  We asked questions, discussed thoughts we had, and talked about a number of problems and issues.  Personally, I think this was one of the wisest things we could have done.  We saved ourselves from a number of mistakes by following their wisdom from their own odyssey. 

The road ahead would not be easy, but we made a great choice in seeking advice before we made mistakes we wouldn’t have known about.  The great news for us, as we traveled back home, was their encouragement that we would get through this and would be even better when we got to the other side of our trial.

WHAT WE DID RIGHT: We sought help from another church who had already traveled the road we had ahead of us.  I encourage you, if you are facing this situation in your church, to ask for help.  Find another church family that has traveled this road and seek their help.  That is the reason for this site, I want to help those who are facing this kind of crisis.  God will see you through this time, but you will be amazed at how many mistakes you can avoid with the help of others who are ahead of you on the road you are forced to travel.

FACTS TO KNOW: One out of every five pastors falls.  It is a major problem for the church today.  Every pastor needs other men around him to help him, encourage him and hold him accountable.  Do not assume that because a man is a pastor he is exempt from temptation.  A pastor is the very one the enemy will tempt with  sin, so encourage him, pray for him and build a support ministry around him to help him.

He did what?

It was a Friday morning in the fall as another pastor and I drove to an off campus meeting with several of our elders.  We had no idea what was coming, but we knew something was wrong. Something had been wrong for a long time, but we simply couldn’t figure out what it was. We both knew that our senior pastor was having problems. He had seemed depressed for some time and had gradually withdrawn until he was no longer available for us to engage.  The morning before our meeting with the elders I saw him looking out the window of his office and stopped at the door to ask, “Are you ok?” He responded, “No…..”  That’s all he would say, so I said, “You don’t look good.  You need to talk to someone.” and with no further dialogue from him I went on with my task, but I had no idea what was coming next.

We drove to our meeting with the elders.  As we sat down with them the looks were grim, the mood somber, and then one of the elders spoke, I don’t even remember now which one, and he said, “We have some bad news. We discovered yesterday afternoon that our senior pastor has been having an affair….”  He continued to speak, but I don’t remember what he said. I couldn’t believe it!  This was something I never expected. How could this happen? When could this happen? Why would he do this? I thought he was a Godly man. What will we do now? A thousand questions raced through my mind in those minutes.  The whole visit is a blur to me now, it was a surreal meeting.  This couldn’t be happening, and yet it had.  Now what do we do?  For the next two days we planned furiously for our Sunday service and how we would tell our church family.  We have a large church with several thousand people and we were growing quickly, but as the senior pastor began to struggle we had seen a slow decline in attendance for several months.  This announcement was not going to help at all! 

The initial plan, since I was scheduled to preach that Sunday, was to make the announcement, and then I would get up to preach as planned.  Can you imagine how hard that sermon would have been? Would anyone have heard a word I said? I knew that wouldn’t work, so I made it clear I would not do that. This was a funeral, and had to be a special service….a funeral service focused just on this announcement. If it only lasted 30 minutes it had to be the whole focus of the day, and so we planned it that way.  My fellow pastor who had gone with me to hear the grim news and I planned the service for the day.   We had no idea of what the outcome would be, but moved ahead with our difficult task. 

Sunday came. We turned the lights down, the worship pastor led the church in several hymns and the elders sat on the front row together.  When time for the message came one of our elders got up and read the announcement of what had happened.  He didn’t hide anything, he didn’t dance around it, he spoke right to the sin and the results.  Then I got up and read the passage from 1 Timothy 3 that speaks to the requirements of elders and pastors.  I commented that the biblical requirements were our guidelines, and we were operating according to the scriptures as we dealt with this sin by a loved pastor.  Then my fellow pastor gave a short message and we closed in prayer.  It was a funeral….crying, gasps as the announcement was read, a solemn hush as people left.  A part of our church had died that day.

WHAT WE DID RIGHT: I’m glad, as I look back, that we hit the problem head on.  I’ve heard of many churches that try to hide these sins and hope they will go away or never be found out, but it never works and the results are much worse.  We announced what our pastor had done, read his resignation, and took our blows.

FACTS TO KNOW:  The statistics say that when a pastor falls a church will lose up to 30% of their members and will be below budget for at least 6 months.  We have found that this has proven true, but we have seen God work in our church family and care for us in amazing ways through this time.

When a pastor falls

Welcome to a site designed to help both pastors and churches when a pastor falls.  My name is Mike.  I’m an associate pastor at a church in the Dallas, Texas area.  Several years ago we discovered that our senior pastor was having a relationship with another woman.  It has been an amazing odyssey- amazingly hard and an amazing blessing. 

After all we have gone through I wanted to share with other churches and pastors what we have experienced and hopefully help others who are unfortunate enough to go through the same thing in their churches.  I will try to address a number of issues and will also walk through some of the choices we made as we realized what had happened in our church family.

I invite your questions and will help in  any way I can if you find your church in this same situation.  You can survive it.  The church can become stronger through this ordeal, but you need to know from the beginning that your church will never be the same again, but God will see you through it all.

Ok, are you ready?  Let me share with you the path we have walked….