Category Archives: aftershocks

Regret

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”  -2 Corinthians 7:10
Regret is something I think about often.  We all do it when we think about the bad choices of the past.  I regret so many things it’s hard to keep up with them.  I regret not saving more, I regret not saying I’m sorry when I needed to, I regret not playing with my kids more.  There are so many.
I’m sure, if you made a list, there would be several that you wish you could have a mulligan on, a do-over.  That’s the way of regret, once we have done it or said it we must live with the consequences of the action or the word for the rest of our lives.
Most of our sins leave us with small regrets, but the sin of a pastor who has fallen rings with an amplified regret.  It’s in bold letters for them if they are tender to God.  But with regret comes two other emotions we each must deal with- the fantasy of what could have been and the fear of what might be.  All of these are the results of bad choices and not trusting God with our lives.
Regret is real, but God’s desire is that we use it to repent and be restored to him and his family.  We can’t undo what we have done, but we can use the regrets of our sins to make good choices in the days ahead.
God’s desire for the fallen pastor is that he would repent and walk with God once more, a son restored, forgiven, rejoicing in the savior who gave his life for all our sins….even this one.

Modeling Christ

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

-Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:1

Paul did something I have not seen others do.  He offered himself as the model of what a Christ follower should look like.  As I read these words this morning they once more stopped me to think about what that would look like in my life and yours.

Paul was so confident that he understood the Christ life and was living it that he invited others to follow him and imitate his life.  “Boys, just watch me and do it like I do it” would be Paul’s words to a young disciple.

It demands two important things in a life, 1. that you know what a life lived as an imitator of Christ looks like, and 2. that you are actually living that way.  It demands a clear map of the route and a confidence you are on the path as a disciple yourself…that you are in fact imitating Christ.

But this is exactly what we are supposed to be doing in our lives, isn’t it?  Dads, are you telling your sons and daughters, “just watch me live the Christian life and you will be ok”?  Pastors, are you inviting others to follow you around and imitate your life, your words?  You should!

Paul has given us the foundational principle of discipleship- modeling.  “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” are heady words to say to someone.  It means you must know where you are going, what it looks like, and actually be going the right way. It means you know that others are watching you, following you, imitating you.

If someone is imitating your life will they get it right? Will they be a follower of Christ or a deformed version of one?  Have you invited someone to imitate you as a Christ follower?  If not, what do you need to change? Where are you going that you wouldn’t want another to follow?  Are you modeling Christ for others to follow?

This is our greatest need in the church today…men and women following Christ and inviting others to imitate them in the way.  What do you need to change to make that offer to another?  Could it be that most of us don’t know where we are going in the first place?  If you have never offered this invitation to another what must you change to invite another to follow you?

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”  What an amazing invitation from the pen of Paul.  I’ve never been invited to follow another in this way, nor have I made the invitation.  I wonder what would change if we did…….and this very discussion is the reason a pastor’s fall is so devastating to a church.  He is the one we are following.  When we discover he is not on the right path it brings disappointment, confusion and loss of faith.

We, as pastors, are to model Christ.  When we don’t the disaster that follows is devastating.

We are going through the same thing — is it OK to feel this way?

(I’ve received a number of notes over the last few years from those of you going through this same thing.  I would like to share the stories of others going through the fall of a pastor.  I will remove the names, dates and locations to protect their privacy, but their stories from the pews are so important that I wanted to share them with you.  Here is the first one.  -Mike)

I am writing this on behalf of my husband and I.

I’ve found your site to be very helpful, and beneficial.

I write to you because our church underwent a similar situation. In 200-  our pastor had been unfaithful to his wife, which he admitted to us in a letter of resignation. The incident had occurred months prior, but he felt it was right to resign, even though they were in the middle of reconciliation. I worked for the church at the time and the shockwave of the sin and resignation hit all of us staff. It shocked the rest of the congregation as well. At the time I was ready to forgive, completely understanding that he’d chosen to resign for the better of the congregation.

But giving began going down after his resignation, although much of it probably related more to the economy, and I was among those staff members laid off as a result. The pastor completed reconciliation/recommission and then started another church in our area, which resulted in a church split. Individual congregants, including my husband and I, have endured some pretty hard, heavy-duty financial and physical trials, which we continue to this day.  When I lost my job that was when I became angry with the pastor and the situation. I knew people who were my mentors or friends who left our church to go to his and it was like a pain going through my heart. I am still hurt because his sin ultimately caused my job loss and helped contribute to our financial struggles. I’ve struggled with feelings of betrayal, feeling as if he abandoned our church after so many years invested in it.  I feel hurt because he apologized in a letter instead telling us face-to-face.  I have not been able to visit the pastor’s new church. Now I don’t want to harbor unforgiveness, and I have asked the Lord to help me to forgive, but the situation is still painful. Is this OK? Will I get to place of forgiveness? How do I really get over this and truly forgive? Is there any support groups that address this situation?

What now?

It’s September. Five years ago this month we discovered our pastor’s sin. I think, for me, these have been the toughest five years of my life! I have seen many leave our church and some walk away from the faith. Sin does that, but it’s still painful to watch.

I just had lunch with our fallen pastor last week. He’s in a secular job now, trying to rebuild his life, but he still misses the ministry…..it was his first love. He told me he feels his voice for God has been silenced. He’s right. Sin does that.

He asked, “do I need to ask your forgiveness again?” He has done that many times. I told him, “no, we are done with that, let’s just have a nice lunch as brothers in Christ.” But what he knows is that his sin has made him a leper of sorts among the Christian world. We seem much better at killing our wounded than trying to heal them.

What’s sad for me to watch is this brilliant man who built a great church is now impotent in the work of God because of sin’s great attraction.

How can we so easily lose our heads, our ministries, our families over the passions of a moment? But many have. In fact 1 out of every 5 ministers will fall. It’s the devil’s best weapon to destroy ministers and the church.

What can we do? Pray for your pastors. Get good accountability around them. Check on them, check on their families. This is too important to let this continue.

What now?  We are rebuilding. It’s been a most painful 5 years. Over 1,000 people have left our church. Our people who have stayed are discouraged, the staff is tired and the ministry is unfocused. It’s all the results of a leader falling.

What now? We press forward. Care for the people God has given us and move forward, scars, wounds and all, as we attempt to serve God and the people who attend. No church will ever be the same after the pastor falls. No pastor will ever be useful again in ministry after this sin. That’s the reason the devil is so busy about tempting pastors. If he can get them to fall he has won his biggest victory!

Years ago a woman called my wife in the parsonage and said, “I’m going to steal your husband!” My wife, being the wonderful lady she is replied, “Give it your best shot sweetie.” She knew me and trusted God. But honestly, church, this is one of the sins that hurts the church the worse and we deal with it the least. I encourage you to pray for God’s protection of your pastor. He’s under attack, even if he doesn’t admit it. He needs your support and your prayers.

Update May 2011

It’s been almost five years now. I continue to see comments come in from churches going through this same thing. It is heartbreaking!  I just read a note from Rich. Sorry I didn’t see it sooner.  Rich said they are going through this now and he needed help. I know so many people and churches don’t know what to do.  It’s one of those things you never expect and think “will never happen to us.”   But it does.

Let me offer this to those of you who find this site.  If you are going through this now and need help I would be glad to respond to any e-mail.  I know it’s very difficult, but there is a path through all of this.  God will help you and I will help as requested too.  My e-mail is whenapastorfalls@gmail.com.  Feel free to send me a note.

So, after almost five years here’s our situation-  We are STILL working our way through all of this mess.  Our church has almost completely turned over, in other words almost everyone here is new in the last five years and nearly everyone who was here five years ago has left.  That is heartbreaking and devastating, but I do understand.  We have a whole new family of people who don’t even know what happened and have no idea who the pastor was before the one we have now.

There is still our core.  About 20-30 % stayed through it all.  They were the core at the beginning.  All the rest seem to be those who look for the next good “show.”  I know, I sound a little frustrated by that, but actually I’m just trying to put what I see in honest words.  There is a fringe of people in any growing church that will not stay if something, anything, goes wrong.  If you are going through a pastor and his affair just know that 1/3 to 1/2 of your people will leave.  It’s ok.  It happens.  Don’t be shocked, don’t panic.  God will take care of you.

For us it means we are about 1/2 the size we were.  There are other mistakes we made in the fall out from the affair that made this number higher, but going through an affair of a pastor you will make mistakes.  For us the mistakes were attempts to “get a different kind of pastor” so this wouldn’t happen again, but honestly it’s not the style of the man it’s his heart.  That mistake cost us…..and there are others.

Five years out now I’m meeting regularly with the pastor who fell.  When we meet all he can talk about is those days five years ago.  He’s stuck there.  He is out of the ministry, knows that he threw his whole ministry and life passion away, but there is nothing he can do to get it back.  He told me, last time we had lunch, “this is my purgatory.”  I understand what he’s talking about.  Has he repented? Yes, but not to the satisfaction of those he hurt.  I don’t think some of them would be happy until he’s strung up on a cross to pay for his sins.  The wounds go that deep for some.

There is still unforgiveness in our church, some who won’t or can’t forget or forgive.  We are praying for them. But, as of this writing, the church doors are still open, we are still teaching God’s word and looking to the future.  The scars from our past have made us a different church. We may never again be what we were, but isn’t that the way with sin? It changes everything.  But, God is good and his grace has brought us to today.  We will trust him for tomorrow.  You will have to do that as well.

Thoughts two years later

This morning, as I’m reading through old notes, I came across a note from one of our ladies the day after our announcement about our pastor’s fall.  It is interesting to read it two years later, and I thought the raw emotion of her “day after” thoughts would help you know how serious a pastor’s fall really is.  It’s a life changing event, and to express that here are Stephanie’s words:

What can I say?

After receiving shocking news yesterday, I spent the morning reading all the blogs that I could find that were written by people from my church. I found myself with an intense desire to connect with other people and find out what their thoughts and feelings are. The result? I find myself feeling incredibly blessed to be a member of such an amazing church family. The grace and love illustrated in those blogs that I found and read was overwhelming.

I don’t know what I could possibly say that would encourage others the way that I have been encouraged by others; yet, I feel myself driven to start one of these crazy blog things of my own. Maybe all this will do is help me to get to know these people and help them to get to know me. If that is all I get from writing, that would be worth it.

What happened yesterday was shocking and heartbreaking. I find myself unable to stop dwelling on it. I get distracted by something the kids say or do, only to get stuck right back with thoughts of yesterday’s news. Maybe writing about it will help me close that door, if just for a little while. But, I just don’t know what to say.

I feel such a great hurt for the family, for EVERYBODY in the family. I feel such a longing to DO something. What? I have no idea. What could I possibly do that would be worth anything to them? Nothing. They don’t even know me. All I can do is pray for them. And that is what I will do. I will pray for their healing. I will pray for the healing of our amazing church family. I will pray that people will have forgiving spirits and that they will choose to support the healing of everyone involved. I will pray for the good that the Lord will bring out of this.

I feel a great sense of loss. I was supposed to experience the legendary teaching of a wise woman in a class about mothering this fall. I feel robbed of her ministry. I am comforted in the knowledge that there are still other women with wisdom to share with us. Yet, my emotions are still screaming “It’s not fair!” It’s not fair to lose the opportunity to learn from such a great teacher either. I am feeling very selfish in that. How…..human of me, I suppose.

I am a bit scared as well. I don’t particularly like change. A big change like this is scary. What will happen next? How will the people of our church react? People have told me to expect a drop of at least 50%. That is scary because my job depends on people coming to church as well as the giving of those people. But, besides my job security, I love those people, and their kids, who I care for and I don’t want to lose their presence in my life. Once again, I am being selfish.

There is a man out there. I wonder what he is feeling? I wonder what he is thinking? I wish I could embrace him and tell him that it will be okay. Somehow it will be okay. I wish I could tell him that he has my support, not my judgement. That he has my love, not my anger. That he has my understanding, not my criticism.

There is a woman out there. I wonder how she is feeling right now. How will she begin the healing? I wish I could embrace her and tell her that I understand. That she has my support and love. I am in awe of her strength….to sit through all four services yesterday. Truely amazing. I wish to thank her for her show of support at a time when she was in such great need of support for herself.

What can I say? What can I do? I don’t know. I don’t know.

We are all human. We are all fallen. We are all sinners.
How wonderful is it that there is a God who is always forgiving and will always love us?
It is beyond comprehension.

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.