Monthly Archives: September 2008

Honest thoughts from the pew

One of the realities of a pastor’s fall is that it affects those in the pews in dramatic ways.  Some fall away from the faith, others use the pastor’s sin as an excuse for their own sin. Most are hurt, but choose to trust the Lord to heal them.  Here is a wonderful article written by a good friend in our church family.  I’m sure her words will give you an understanding of how painful a pastor’s fall is for those who trusted him as pastor.

The dam has burst. Tears course down my cheeks. My heart is broken and my trust is shattered. I’m mourning. If it were Old Testament times, I doubt there would be enough sackcloth for the tearing. How can good possibly come from something this bad? Don’t remind me of King David. I didn’t know him; he wasn’t part of our church. And I can’t handle being told once more that “he’s just a man.” To me – to all of us – he certainly was more. So much more: a gifted teacher, an intelligent spiritual leader, friend, mentor, founding church member and senior – now former – pastor.

I’m not naïve. I hear the stories and read the newspapers: various ministers, priests, even high-profile pastors are convicted of crimes or forced to resign amid confessed legal, moral and ethical breaches. But this kind of thing happens at other churches, not at ours.

My husband and I arrived at church recently, and we knew immediately that something wasn’t right. There was a heaviness, an atmosphere of death. The stage was empty. No joyous praises rang out, only an old hymn played softly on the piano. There were no sermon notes in the bulletin.

The clock ticked. Five minutes past the hour … six, eight. Curiosity turned to worry. Ten minutes late. This has never happened before. My jaw tightened. Something was wrong, very wrong. An accident? A tragedy?

The board of elders filed somberly onto the stage as the deacons headed to the front. I grabbed my husband’s hand. Oh Lord, please let it not be the death of our pastor!

Through tears and a cracking voice an elder delivered the shattering news. I heard only a few words: “senior pastor, resigned, immediately, adultery …” For the next 30 minutes two of our pastors – their own wounds visibly raw – attempted to soothe the sea of stunned believers before them. I’m certain their carefully prepared words were compassionate and truthful, but my head was too full to comprehend, my heart too shattered to care.

When the shock subsided, the mourning began. I went to bed on a tear-soaked pillow only to wake to another sorrow-filled day. I hadn’t felt this kind of pain since the death of a family friend. Eventually, sorrow was replaced by ugly feelings of anger and betrayal. I couldn’t listen to sermon recordings or read material penned by our pastor. It hurt too much.

In time the sting diminished, but my questions lingered. What went wrong? How could a gifted teacher who counsels against infidelity be ensnared in its trap? How could a man of God fail his wife, children and church family?

Whether sprawling-metropolitan, country-quaint, mega-, denominational or independent … no church is immune from failure at the highest level. According to Roger Charman, manager of Focus on the Family Pastoral Ministries, “Sadly what we hear about in society regarding immoral behavior happens inside pastors’ homes too.”

According to the “2003 State of Ministry Marriage and Morals” by Save America Ministries, one in five pastors admits to having had an affair. However, statistics provide little comfort for church members struggling to process such news.

How do we move past the pain of pastoral failure? For me, it happened over time and through unexpected blessings that blossomed out of the ugliness. A local pastor and good friend of our fallen leader spoke the following Sunday. His sermon was truly a gift. He wept with us from the pulpit. His ache soothed ours. The apparent depth of his loss seemed to lessen ours. His words and counsel were balm for our wounds.

“In some ways, this is worse than a death because of betrayal, sin and other junk on top of the loss,” he said. “This stinks! It’s confusing and it hurts. It’s also serious. The reputation of many people, a church, and most importantly a Savior, hangs in the balance.”

He reminded us that pastors are human – not immune from temptation. He demonstrated through Scripture that restoration is always God’s desire. Sin doesn’t necessarily disqualify a person for ministry, he explained, but a hard heart does.

“Don’t think there was something you could’ve or should’ve done that would have stopped this from happening,” he warned. “The truth is, we are all responsible for ourselves, our own actions. I might be responsible to another, but I’m never responsible for another.

“Pseudo-accountability is more dangerous than no accountability at all, because it gives a false sense of security,” he added. “A person can lie to an accountability partner as easily as to a spouse.”

This dear man aptly comforted and supported us, then warned us against excusing our own straying with our pastor’s poor choices. “I would urge any person contemplating this same path to first consider the cost and consequences. I figure what your pastor and my dear friend has lost in his marriage, his children’s eyes and yours, in his ministry, teaching, writing and finances … Oh my goodness, the loss is huge, overwhelming,” he said. “If you calculate the cost, you’ll wake up to the absurdity of walking in the same kind of sin.”

He reintroduced us to the Leader of our church – pointing us to a stable in Bethlehem, to a miraculous birth, and to a Man who walked the earth, ministering to many before dying a horrific death and rising again.

“Truth is, your Leader did not fall and never will. He was the leader of the church 2,000 years ago, a month ago and will be 200 years from now,” he concluded. “Nothing has changed in the senior leadership of this church. In this season, learn that Jesus is enough.”

Our church calamity was a wake-up call: If it can happen to our pastor, it can happen to anyone. Married couples reignited their relationships. And instead of imploding, our church exploded – in ways never before experienced. We embraced each other, rallying around our church staff, deacons, elders and pastors. We listened, learned, and in time comprehended that no matter who or how many pastors serve in our building, the Head of the church never fails, never sins, never forsakes, never changes, always loves, is always present, was, is and will always be – Jesus Christ our Lord.*

* http://www.freemethodistchurch.org/Magazine/Jan-Feb_2008_Contents.html

Advertisements

Honest thoughts from the “inside”

As a pastor on the staff of a church going through our own recovery from the fall of our senior pastor I wanted to take a few minutes to share my own thoughts with you.  You might not hear these words from another pastor, so I wanted to tell you my thoughts after 2 years of living in the middle of this earthquake and the tremors that have followed.  These are honest thoughts, and are my thoughts at this moment…having just passed our 2 year anniversary of the pastor’s fall.  Some may seem obvious, but I hope they will help you understand the reality of what your own pastoral staff may be going through if this happens in your church.  Ok, are you ready? Here’s some of my HONEST thoughts-

– There are many days I wish I could just run away.  This is much too hard!

– I know many of our people are angry with the pastor for his sin, I just feel sorry for him….he has a sad life ahead of him.  This can’t end well.

– I often feel really hurt by many who just left the church without a word or call.  They were friends of mine, and they didn’t even call me.  I know the body was hurt by this, but don’t forget…this hurt me too.

– I thought we were a family, but it wasn’t really true.  Many that we thought were part of our church really weren’t.

– I’ve been angry. I hope all of this doesn’t make me bitter too.

– I’m tired…this is a long ordeal.

– Why did God put me here to go through all of this?  What am I supposed to learn from this?  How do I use all of this to help others? (This web site is intended to help address this last question.)

– At what point does a man decide that he will give up EVERYTHING for a few minutes of sex with another woman?  I would love to know when he made that decision, and what he was thinking.

– I hate sin!  After living through the mess of these last two years I HATE sin.  I hope that feeling remains strong in me.

– Was there anything I could have done to help?  I didn’t see any of the signs of this, I wonder if there was anything I could have done.

– I know I could leave and pastor a church of my own and start over…..I’m often tempted to do that.  I’m tired.

– I know God has worked in my life through these two years….I wonder what I can do with all of this? 

– I know that lust and sex are alluring, but how could a guy give up everything for it?  He must have just lost his mind for a bit….no sane person would ever do that.

– When the “junk” of all of this gets too much at times I would love to find the former pastor and give him a good swift kick in the pants!  He deserves it!  How could he do this???

– The devil is sure good at making us do stupid things.  How does he make a smart man act like a stupid fool and think it’s a good thing?  He’s a really good liar!

– I wonder how long it takes before things begin to get better?

– I wonder when I won’t think about this every day?

– I hope this hasn’t hurt my walk with God.  Have I allowed sin in my life because of the struggles of these two years?

Ok, there are just a few of my running thoughts….they go on, but you get a taste of the battle here.  So, if you find yourself in a church going through this please pray for your pastors.  They are in the middle of this battle as well.  We will each need God’s help for the recovery and restoration of our church and it’s family.

Your church will change

Ok, here’s the good news…or rather the bad news….no, maybe it’s good news….wait, I’m not sure.  But here is the reality you must prepare for- your church WILL change. 

You will see good friends leave. 

You will see new people attend.

You will watch a new pastor come in who will be different.  Yes, I said it…he will be different.  He won’t be like the pastor you lost. 

Things will change.

It won’t feel the same. It won’t be comfortable for a while.  You may even wake up one Sunday morning and find that you don’t even want to go to church. 

You will “feel” different than you did before. 

The young adults in your church will be discouraged, disillusioned and angry.  You will have to help them, talk to them, pray for them. 

You will have to meet new people. People who don’t know the pain you have been through.

There will be sad faces for a long time….it’s hard to walk away from this kind of earthquake, especially when the former pastor has not repented.

You may even find that some of the other pastors in your church will leave as well.  Men you really like, but the price of this sin is just too much.  They are tired, hurt as well, and just ready to “start over” somewhere else.

Things will change.  Just know that there will be one who will never change- that’s God himself.  He will help your church through these dark days as you watch your church change.

What to do when tremors happen

There’s a funny thing about earthquakes and about a pastor’s fall….the reminder of the events come back on occasions with a slight tremor that won’t let you forget about the earthquake that changed your life.  When a pastor falls there are a number of things that are affected-  trust, confidence, optimism, faith in your spiritual leader….literally the foundations of your church are shaken, and the faith of many who attend is affected for years to come.  So, what do you do when the tremors happen?

Let me suggest several things that every believer must do in his own walk with God when there is a breach of trust with any believer and especially when it’s a spiritual leader.  These will be simple things, but they are necessary when you feel the tremors that shake  your trust.

1. Remember that your true pastor is Christ himself.  He is the head of the church and always will be. You can trust him, and he will never let you down.  When man fails Christ will not.  When the foundations feel unsure then just move over a little and stand on Christ.  He is the sure foundation and the eternal pastor and shepherd of the church.  Look to him when man fails.  Christ will not let you down.

2. Pray. Pray for your church, for the fallen pastor, for those who have lost their balance because of the earthquake of his sin, pray for the Lord’s protection in your own life.  Pray and trust the Lord.  First, he is our shepherd and pastor, and second, he can be trusted to help us when we find ourselves in the middle of one of these earthquakes.

3. Help those around you who have been shaken by the sin of the pastor.  In any earthquake the first thing people do is make sure they are ok, and then they check on their neighbors and help them.  As we help each other and care for one another we will get through this and find that our church family is much closer than it was before.

4. Get in the word.  As we recover from the fall of a pastor the best response is to grow in our faith and become strong in our walk with God.  You have heard it said, “but for the grace of God….?”  It’s true that any one of us could be captured by sin, and many are, so when you have the example of a spiritual leader who falls your best response is to grow in your faith and trust in God.  If he can fall then the potential is not far from any one of us.  Grow in your faith so you will be able to stand against the attaches of the enemy. 

5. Realize that there is a war going on around you.  The enemy is busy attaching the church of God.  If you are unaware of it you will be an easy target.  As Paul tells us in Ephesians 6, get your armour on…there’s a war going on and you need to be ready.  If you haven’t read it in a while go to Ephesians 6:12-18 and review the battle preparation instructions.  The best thing you can do is be ready for the attaches of the enemy, because he WILL attach you.

6. When a tremor comes, a reminder of the past sins of the pastor…a discussion of the hurt he caused…a moment of anger because he thought so little of his calling and church….grief over your loss….discouragement, bitterness, doubt, fear, or whatever you are facing because of what your spiritual leader did, take it all to the Lord and lay it at his feet.  He will help you through your tremors….he will rebuild your life on a sure foundation- Jesus Christ himself.

Tremors will come….they may linger for a time, but they will gradually diminish and be forgotten, and you will find that you are stronger than you were before because you you made the right choices in the shadow of a man who made the wrong choices.  Trust the Lord, get in the word, pray, encourage one another, put on the full armour of God, use the bad example of a man who fell to make good choices in your own life.  Use the earthquakes of your life to build a stronger foundation for the days ahead because I promise, there are more earthquakes ahead…..

Will he ever repent?

One of the things we were very concerned about, almost immediately, was the repentance and recovery of our pastor.  He was and is a dearly loved man, and we hoped to restore him.  Of course a pastor could not step back into the pulpit after adultery and divorce for a long time.  He may never pastor again.  A lot has to do with a repentant heart and desire to be restored.  We hoped, prayed and pursued this from the beginning, but we were told by the church we met with early on, that in most cases repentance does not happen.  They had not seen their pastor repent and they were more than four years past their earthquake.

Our elders worked hard to get help for our pastor and his wife which included counseling, financial support IF certain conditions were met  and many other things I don’t have time or desire to detail.  We wanted to restore him, but restoration is hard.  Restoration starts with repentance, and that means that you must abandon you pride.  Pride is the big enemy and that is what gets most of us in trouble.  The response of a proud man sounds something like this, “some people won’t be happy until I’m on the stage in a puddle of tears repenting of my sins.”  That might be true, but it’s not a reason not to repent.  Yet the fear of this very situation is what keeps so many from repentance and restoration.  Restoration is hard work.  Restoration takes time.  Restoration demands humility.  All of these things are in short supply for a man who would sacrifice everything for sex and another woman.  Proverbs says that a man who commits adultery lacks understanding.  I’m finding that this is true.  It shows more clearly after the sin than it ever did before, and now I can see the results of a man’s choices that literally cost him everything!

Will he ever repent?  I hope so, but we are more than 2 years after our earthquake, and I see no signs of it yet.  But, like most things, that’s God’s problem.  I pray for him, I feel sorry for him, I still think of him….to be this close to the fall of a man who served God as a pastor is a sad thing to watch.  To see the results of his choices is even sader.  Repentance will be God’s work. Our job, if repentance ever comes, is to forgive.

How long will this take?

This is a marathon, not a sprint.  It doesn’t end quickly.  It’s painful. You never know when you will turn the corner and finally see the finish line, but you must keep going. You can’t stop.  There are people to care for, scars to bandage, hurts to soothe, fears to calm.  When you most feel the need for a break because of your own exhaustion you have to continue the work, pray for God’s strength, and care for the sheep.

 Scars take time to heal, especially deep ones.  Trust takes time to be restored, especially when it’s been betrayed so badly.  Respect takes time to earn back, even though it was someone else who betrayed it.  But we ask anyway, “how long will this take?”  There is no way of knowing how long it will take before this is just an entry in the history of your church, but it will take time.  I think of a passage of scripture that talks about this change,

Exo 1:8 A new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph.

 Recently I got to see this transition begin to happen. I was talking with one our church family who brought up the pastor’s name, and one of our new members asked, “who are you talking about?”  Then I realized, we are near the end of this….new people coming into our church family who aren’t wounded, “who don’t know about our Joseph.”  That was a great promise of hope for me, a promise of a body of believers who don’t know all that we have been through and haven’t been wounded by the earthquake we went through.

Now, many more are coming into our church family with no idea of our past.  I’m glad for that, and gradually the scars are healing, the past is forgotten, and we are changing.  After your earthquake your church will change.  There is no way to avoid that.  You will change pastors, you will change people, you will change identity….but be aware of this one thing…you will change. 

It will take time, it will be hard, it will be painful….but keep going.  Time will bring about a day when some new person in your church family will ask, “who are you talking about?”  Then you will know you are near the end, the finish line is right around the corner.  No matter how long it takes keep going, care for your people, love them, be faithful….there is hope ahead.  For you see the great shepherd, the great pastor of the church, Jesus Christ, is in charge of your church and he will see you through.

The scars are deeper than you think

It was something I never thought about- the difference between men and women in a time like this.  I didn’t realize how deep the scars would be and how long it would take to heal.  For the men it was a short healing process.  Most men know what a sinful man’s potential is, and so their response was something like this, “Well, we all have that potential.  This is too bad.  I’m sorry he fell, ok let’s get on with it….”  And off they go, ready to look ahead.

Women don’t deal with things the same way.  Many of them are still hurting almost 2 years after the earthquake.  They felt betrayed and lied to.  Some said, “if he can do this then how can I ever trust my husband?”  Other women were in counseling with our pastor, and had even deeper scars because of a broken trust.  The scars are deeper than you think they are.

When a shepherd falls the sheep are scattered, scared and hurt.  It will take time to heal.  It will take time to rebuild trust.  In our culture of conspiracy theories there are also the questions that arise, “who else knew? when did they know? were others covering this up?”  And so broken trust with the senior pastor makes it hard to trust ANY spiritual leader because there is that unasked question, “who can I really trust?”

Scars heal, but trust and recovery will take time.  It won’t happen in a year, and as we near the two year mark I’m aware that many in our body are still struggling with their hurts, scars and trust issues.  There is still unforgiveness that must be dealt with, but that will come.  Healing takes time.