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 He had seemed depressed for some time and had gradually withdrawn until he was no longer available for us to engage.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.