Contact infoOne in five pastors will fall in their lifetime. That means that many churches will suffer and the people in them will need help and direction. You may be in one of those churches and that's why you have found this site. After serving in a church where this has happened I have become an unwilling "expert" in what to do right and what to do wrong. It seems a shame to go through all of this and not share what I have learned. If your church finds itself in the midst of dealing with the fall of a pastor I would be glad to help. Ask your leadership team to contact me and I will help you get through those first and most difficult months. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike
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Category Archives: forgiveness
“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.
One of the things that rarely happens when a pastor falls is reconciliation. There is simply never closure on the sin that destroyed his life, family, another family and the church.
This morning a friend and I were visiting about reconciliation and God’s work in our lives. It made me ask…who have I wounded and not reconciled with? And so I offer this note for your response, for your consideration. If it’s something that applies to you in your relationships with me would you offer me the opportunity to pursue reconciliation in our relationship? If it’s a reality in your life, your family, or your church would you use the following paragraph to heal wounds, mend relationships and demonstrate the love of Christ to others?
Share these words with someone you have hurt,
“I’m thinking through the people I’ve known and cared about for many years and fear that I have left something undone with you. Are you and I “ok”? My goal is reconciliation, the healing of any wounds I may have caused. Is there something between us that I can address, deal with or repair? Have I offended you in some way and left you wounded? Please do let me know. And thank you for the grace you give me to be broken and still on the journey to become like Christ.”
I wonder what would happen if we humbled ourselves and took the first step to healing wounds in our lives and the lives of others.
I just wrote a post titled, “Sin is messy”. In a way it was a chance for me to vent a bit about how destructive this sin is, this sin of adultery for a pastor, but as I read it I was struck by two things, 1. the truth of the words, and 2. the harshness of my own anger at the devil and the results of this sin in our church and others I talk to. I’m frankly very tired of good and godly men being stupid!
But what I need to address is this- even though we might sin, destroy our marriages, our lives, our churches….God loves us! He is constantly reaching out to the broken, fallen, failed with his love. And, who needs it more than a fallen pastor? My friend who fell found himself with nothing and no one. His wife divorced him and as she prepared to leave gave him a few dollars. That’s all he had. Everyone had abandoned him, a man who was dearly loved only weeks before. We just don’t know what to do with all of this, do we?
In the middle of the sin of a pastor there is one truth we have to tell them, remind them of and tell ourselves as well- God loves him. He loves me. He’s madly in love with his children no matter what the sin. It’s God’s love the fallen pastor needs the most because all others abandon him and he finds himself alone.
I’m in the middle of a book titled, “Good and beautiful God” by Smith. Today I read chapter four in preparation for a small group. It just brought this truth back to my mind that even in the middle of the most terrible sin a church could experience God is still madly in love with the sinner.
Our response? It has to be the same. We must love that fallen one, embrace them, restore them in some way (not to the pulpit, but to the family) and we must forgive. If God still loves the fallen man or woman how can we possibly do any less?
There are ripples (problems) that resonate for years after a pastor’s sin is discovered. They are not about the pastor any longer, but they are the result of his sin and how people have responded. You will find that people need help processing how to think, what to do, how to respond to the changes that happen because of a pastor’s fall. Here is a note I sent to one of our members this week in response to a visit I had with them last Sunday in our lobby. This person had decided to not serve anymore because they didn’t like the direction we are going. Here is my response to them. I hope it might help you as well.
Thanks for your note. It was a real joy to visit with you about our church and our personal responses. May I do it in bullet points? That might be easier to sort out. Feel free to dialogue on these points and make any comments you wish in response, ok?
Here we go,
1. This church is God’s church. He is in charge. He’s still Lord of heaven AND earth (that includes this little community of believers). He’s in charge of what happens here. Often we don’t like it or more importantly don’t understand his ways of doing things, but our call is to, a. trust him, b. pray for his direction and, c. let him rule the church.
2. The elders chose the pastor. They were given the responsibility to lead our body and in that role our pastor was chosen. Neither he (nor any other pastor) will be all that the body wants or needs. Some will want one thing, others another, but he is the pastor that God has given this church for this time. As Spurgeon said years ago, “If you don’t like the pastor you have then pray for him and God will change him.” The pastor is God’s problem and he answers to God for his role, his leadership and his teaching. Accountability for the pastor’s job is first to God and then to the elders. God will watch over his church and he will work in the pastor’s life as we pray for him. Our role in the body is to pray. I’ve already seen God working in our pastor. I know he wants to walk with God and know him better, but he is different and his gifts are different than what some would want. In spite of that here he is. Now what?
3. As I mentioned in #2 our primary job in response to the pastor is to pray. Pray for God to work in his heart, pray that God will give him a passion for the word, a passion for the message and love for the people. All of that can ONLY come from God and the work of HIS Spirit in his heart. We can’t make him do it, we can’t nag him into doing it…none of that will produce a work of God. Only prayer is the right response.
Some have asked, “why did God bring this pastor here?” I don’t know entirely, but could it be that part of God’s work is in his life? There is much he is doing in us as well. We have always loved to be taught the word, but for what purpose? With our former pastor it was for the teaching alone. Teaching the word was the end in and of itself. We were a bunch of spiritually fat Christians. We honestly never did anything with it. I know the word is life changing, and so there were results of course, but application was not our former pastor’s strong point.
Now about our current pastor. Could God have brought him here to work on him, on us or both? He was deeply wounded in his last church, maybe this time is for him. God loves him as much as he loves you and I. I assume he wants to redeem him and work in his life, right? But, maybe all of this is for us….to knock us about a bit and get us on our knees. We had a bit of arrogance because “we had verse by verse bible teaching” (which I dearly love by the way) and now we don’t. Is God working to bring this body to a point of dependence on God alone? I honestly don’t know or understand God’s ways here, to be sure I have asked, but I will trust him and pray. And pray I do, for our church, for our pastor, for me and my attitude.
Now to you, you are a gifted teacher. You love doing it. Your gift is from the Spirit and by using it you are doing your part in the body. When you or I refuse to use our gifts because we don’t like something about the church we are handicapping the church, making it less effective and we are disobeying God. The pastor is God’s problem (as are you and I). We do nothing to help the body grow or become what it should if we fold our hands and say, “I’m not going to use my gifts because I don’t like the pastor God gave us or the way he does his job.” It honestly sounds like you are in more trouble than the pastor, doesn’t it? I know that you have a heart for God and a passion for his transforming word, so use your gifts, serve where he places you and pray for the other members of the body that God will work in their lives. It is the body of CHRIST after all isn’t it? Is he able to make it work as he wishes? Is he able to place different members in our body where he wishes?
YES, and our response must be, “Lord, YOUR will be done, work in him and in me for YOUR glory. I don’t like the way things are going, but that’s your problem. I will pray for the church and for our pastor and will serve with the gifts you have given me.”
Honestly, the rest is God’s problem and we have to take it to him, leave it with him and serve him with joy. He is able and will bring glory to his name if we will trust him.
I know I may have left something out, but let’s start our discussion with these words and go from here, ok?
We are a proud race.
We all try to look good to others.
Pastors are not exempt from this pride. We are not only playing to the congregation, but we are “competing” with other pastors around us. Pride is a wicked master. It focuses the camera on us and not on God, it responds to praise and avoids criticism. Pride is one of the reasons that honestly about our sins is so hard. We don’t want to deal with the results of sin in our lives.
The ugly side of pride is shame. Our pride makes us hide our sins so no one will know, no one will find out. In some way we think God doesn’t see either, but he does. And in the revelation of our sins shame comes. A shame that we have lost the admiration of others, but hopefully also a shame for what we have done. There are two sides to shame, the shame of loss and the shame of sin. One is healthy, the other is not. When sin is revealed and shame is part of our new reality the number one task is to come before God on our knees and share with God all that pride and sin have done. He already knows, but there is no better way to deal with shame than to open it up before God.
Shame dealt with well brings repentance. Shame dealt with badly is just another face of pride. When sin is revealed the best response for any of us is simply this, “Lord, I am the man. I deserved the cross you bore for me. Thank you that you have already forgiven me because of what Christ has done. I am sorry. Let this shame I feel bring me before you in repentance each time it comes and let me become one who rejoices in your grace once more.”
Use your shame rightly. Realize there are two sides to this thing called shame. One is an aspect of pride that wants to hide what we have done. The other is a right response to our sin and makes room for the restoration God wants to accomplish in our lives.
You need to know that shame is a healthy part of any sin. It’s how you respond to the shame you feel that makes such a difference in the outcome of your life and walk with God.
There is an amazing story in John 8 of a woman caught in adultery….in the very act! The Jewish leaders bring her to Jesus with the intention of trapping him. The woman was just a pawn to them in their quest to destroy Jesus and his ministry. Her life, her situation and what had happened didn’t matter to them. She was caught in sin and now what would Jesus say about it? By the way…where was the man? Where was the man she was caught with? Both of them should have been brought to Jesus for condemnation, but they had only brought the woman. The whole situation looked very suspicious at best.
You can read the story yourself, but at the heart of it were Jesus words of grace to this woman caught in sin, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” He forgave her. He extended grace to a woman who needed it desperately. Did she know she was in the wrong? Of course! There was no solution for her unless someone forgave her. This is what Jesus did…he forgave her sin.
How do we treat the fallen ones in our midst? Are we like the Jews looking for a way to stone the wretched sinner or are we emulating Jesus and forgiving the sins of the one caught in sin? Forgiveness isn’t giving approval for the sin, forgiveness never validates sin, but it deals with it in the right way. Forgiveness demonstrates the love and nature of God in reaction to sin.
The right response to the fall of a pastor is not condemnation but forgiveness. Are we condoning the sin by forgiveness? Not at all! We acknowledge the sin and deal with it as Jesus did…..we forgive. Condemnation or forgiveness? The results will be completely different…one path a model of Christ-like love, the other a perfect model of self-righteous religion. Forgiveness heals, condemnation destroys. Forgiveness restores, condemnation alienates. The divide between the two couldn’t be more dramatic.
At all costs avoid condemnation!
One thing I’ve noticed about people is that things are never simple. I think it’s because we are not simple. Our lives are made up of hundreds of nicks and bruises we have each experienced. All those blows, bad relationships, disappointments and life experiences make us who we are and it’s never simple to sort out.
A few weeks ago, as I listened to a couple working through some real problems in their marriage, I thought….”this is really complicated. There are no easy answers.” Honestly, I think that same thing almost every time I talk with someone. It’s difficult to sort out all the pieces of our lives that have brought us to where we are today. How do we get it all tied together so we aren’t tripping over ourselves? How do we work through all that we are to fix what we have become? Honestly, there are no simple lives. There are no simple answers.
But as I watch Jesus in the gospels I see his encounters with people in a different way. The difference is that he knew the heart of man and was able to go to the very heart of each person’s problem. With a word, a touch, a smile Jesus healed broken lives. He knew what each life needed.
Here is a story of one man’s encounter with Jesus. In this brief encounter Jesus meets the needs of this broken man,
Mark 1:40-45- 40A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (If you are willing. It’s almost a question, Are you willing? Not can you help me? but will you help me? The most important question is this one, Lord, will you help me?)41Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” (The compassion of Jesus brought a response that I’m sure no one expected. In fact this leper was in front of Jesus contrary to the law that would keep him apart from others who didn’t have leprosy.)
42Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
43Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44“See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”45Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
This story is one of my favorites in the gospels. It’s a story of the prayer we have all prayed, “if you are willing.” We wait, hoping God is indeed willing to meet our needs, but he does so much more. This man had been without a human touch, without real love and without acceptance for so long that his first need, in spite of his obvious illness, was a touch. In that amazing moment of time Jesus did the unthinkable….he reached out and touched this dirty, diseased man. The touch did so much more than heal the disease, it healed the whole man.
Like this poor leper in Mark we each come to Jesus with all our sickness and disease visible for all to see…the bible calls it sin. Our plea is simple, if you’re willing you can make me clean, you can forgive my sins. And with a touch…that amazing touch….we each find healing and forgiveness.
As a result of that touch and the love of Jesus to meet this man’s needs a great exchange happened. It happens with us when we trust him. Some call it the exchanged life and indeed it is. But with this man the exchange was dramatic. The man who had lived alone and removed from mankind was now among them. Talking, touching, hugging and telling everyone about Jesus to such an extent that Jesus had to go to the wilderness away from mankind and even there the people, all in need of his touch, sought him out.
Mankind is still asking this man’s simple question, “If you are willing you can make me clean.” And his response is the same, with a touch of his hand he replies, “I’m willing, be clean.” And so, with all our warts and wrinkles, all our problems and struggles Jesus comes to touch the hurting and heal each one. If you’re wondering if he can fix your messy life just ask him. You’ll be amazed at the smile, the touch, the acceptance and the reply, “I’m willing, be clean.”