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.*