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 email@example.com. Mike
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Category Archives: recovery
“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.
New beginnings are exciting, but often hard. They are especially hard when a church family is considering a new pastor after the last one fell in sin. The church is fearful and still untrusting. The new pastor is hopeful, but he has much to deal with in this broken and hurting church.
The church thinks a new man will dull the pain and scars of the last pastor, but he can’t. No man can. The scars and wounds, the lack of trust and forgiveness needed must all be done over time. Healing will take a while. It’s a work of God, not of a new pastor.
Can the new pastor survive the healing process? Does he know what he’s dealing with? Usually he doesn’t last long and honestly, most of the time has no idea what he’s facing. Soon he’s gone and the church is still in pain.
If you are part of a church dealing with a fallen pastor or a pastor coming into a broken church here are some things you both need to know. Let me list them as they come to my mind. There are more, but here are a few:
1. The church is hurting. The church and the new pastor need to acknowledge that. Don’t try to pretend it’s not true. Deal with it honestly and deal with it biblically.
2. The church’s trust has been broken. Most of the people in the church, although unaware of it, will not trust the new pastor. The last one, the one they loved, failed them. How can they trust another pastor? Trust is something that will have to be earned. The new pastor needs to know it’s not given easily in a broken church, he will have to work on this intentionally.
3. Forgiveness is needed. The new pastor will need to talk about what forgiveness is and what the process must be for a church to heal. Forgiveness is a must if the church and the new pastor are to survive.
4. Trust in another area has been dealt a blow as well. Wives, who always trusted their husbands in the past, are now more likely to lose trust in their own husbands for a period of time. If the pastor, a “godly man”, could fall then how can I trust my husband? That question will be in the air even if never spoken. A wise pastor coming into a broken church will soon teach a series on marriage. It will be vital for the church and for the couples who were struggling before all of this happened.
5. Those who might have been thinking about an affair in their marriages before now have “permission”. If the pastor did it….then… And some, in spite of the price paid by the pastor who fell in sin, will consider it permission for them to do the same thing. Some marriages will fail because of the fall of the pastor. The next pastor needs to be keenly aware of this being a temptation to a few in the church.
6. And last, for this post….although I will deal with this again, the next pastor must be overly careful about his own marriage and how he handles himself. He must be overly careful. He must make sure he never counsels a woman in the church alone. He must never meet with a woman alone. He might be completely trustworthy and would never repeat the sin of the former pastor, but because of the pain and hurt in the church family people will be watching VERY closely. He has to be especially careful in his actions to help the church heal. The next pastor may think this unfair. He would never repeat the same sin, but that’s not the point. His role is one of healer, restorer, shepherd and in that role he has to guard the sheep…even from their own suspicions.
I have many more in my thoughts as I write, but this post is already a little long. I’ll revisit this topic again soon. I hope you all have a great new year and I pray you and your church heal, forgive and grow in the grace of Jesus Christ.
It never struck me until now. I had missed it and only recently realized what was happening. Now, six years later, I realize that one thing that was lost when our pastor fell was trust. Trust was broken and only now do we see the effects of broken trust in the lives of the people in our church. It shows up now because a new idea is being introduced to our church family. What we discover happening is that our people who aren’t sure this is a good thing are going to the Internet for information about it instead of talking to us.
Why? As I watched this and prayed about it I suddenly realized that this is the result of something that happened six years ago and has yet to be resolved. The people who stayed lost trust in our pastor when he fell and have never dealt with this breach of trust in their lives. Now, when something new is talked about in our church family, they don’t trust us to care for them. They don’t trust us to have their best interest in mind.
Broken trust was nothing I expected to still be a problem all these years later, but what it reveals is how pervasive one sin is as it ripples through a church family. Now, six years after the fall of our pastor, trust is still an issue. My visits with members of our church family begin with this question, “So why are you afraid? What do you think we are going to do?” And from that beginning it becomes clear that at the core of all of this is a trust issue. They don’t trust us! If they couldn’t trust the pastor who fell why should they trust us?
The fear we are seeing over a small and insignificant issue has its roots in trust. Now we must deal with this broken trust and the fear that has resulted in the lives of each one we visit with. We are still in the middle of this so I’m sure there are other nuances we must confront, but honestly I have been surprised to see that something we took for granted had been lost six years ago. Now, we must go back to foundational issues and reestablish a trust in the shepherds of our flock.
Broken trust is another ripple in the tidal wave of a pastor’s fall. If you are a member of a church where a pastor has fallen realize you have a trust issue that you will have to resolve if you are to grow in faith in your life. If you are a pastor of a church where this is part of the history realize you have some work to do.
Right now I’m in prayer for our church family that they will each be able to deal with the fear that has come because of broken trust. I pray that we will once more become a place where the sheep feel safe with the shepherd taking care of them. There is much yet to do….even six years later.
I received this note from one of our former members today. It was very interesting to receive this more than six years after our pastor fell.
“After Pastor’s awesome service on Grace and how God loves no matter what (at another church) , I turned around and saw T— (our fallen pastor) and his wife. I was truly taken back. I wanted to hug him. That experience, our discussions after, and of course God having a hand on me really shaped me.”
Even after all these years people don’t know how to respond to T—. He’s a saint, saved by the grace of God, who fell into sin and yet we don’t know what to do with him. I told my old friend who sent me the note, “Do hug him next time you see him. It will really help him. Ok?” He may have fallen, but he’s forgiven and growing in faith.
How do we deal with fallen pastors?
When do they get to be forgiven by us?
How do we connect with them?
I’ve seen this as I’ve pulled my old friend and pastor back into relationship with me. He was deeply wounded, not only by his sin but also by the response of the body of Christ. It’s as if some would have “strung him up” if they could. Unforgiveness, bitterness, discomfort and avoidance were the responses he encountered and sadly still does at times.
So, what do we do? As a body of believers, we don’t do well with forgiveness and reconciliation. We don’t know how to extend it, what to do about the “sinners” in our midst. What do we do with a fallen pastor? A man caught in homosexuality? A friend addicted to pornography?
What do we do? We seem to think we must be the moral police and protect God’s reputation, but that has never been our role. We are called to forgive…up to 490 times! We are to be known as the forgivers…why? Because we have been forgiven so much.
So, what do you do when you encounter a “sinner”? Approach them, hug them, love them, accept them….it will be like pouring burning coals on their head, because it will be painful for them, but we are called to imitate Christ and he was the master of forgiveness. Even on the cross he said, “Father, forgive them…” So should we!
When you encounter a fallen pastor approach him, love him (not for his sin, but because Christ died for him) and extend grace. You will surprise him and that’s a good thing!
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.
Often I get notes from pastors who have fallen. They tell me of their odyssey and how they are doing now. This morning I received a note from Bill with his story. I asked his permission to share it here because he has done the difficult things, he has returned home to his church to find restoration. (On a personal note let me extend high praise to Bill’s church for how they have handled all of this.) Here is Bill’s story in his own words,
I have been reading your blog this morning as I sit at my new job as a teacher for a Junior High School. I feel like there is so much I would like to say but will save opinions until I am asked. I will give you a synopsis for what I have done and what I am doing and the path it took to get here….
My failure has been my entire life. I was taken as a child and put into foster care and orphanage at an extremely young age. I have no bad memories at all of my early childhood as I have no memories at all up to the age of 5, the day I moved in with a family that became my home. I had no idea that my biggest wound and hurt was neither my foster days nor the orphanage. My biggest wound was brokenness of Intimacy and trust that honestly I never even knew I had. All I knew was that everyone else was valuable and wanted and I wasn’t. So I worked very hard at everything I did, including my faith.
Ok, so here is my story…
This past December (2011) I called my wife and told her I needed to talk with her. We got in the car and drove to a nearby parking lot where I told her I answered an ad on Craigslist and the woman who responded was trying to embezzle me for money to keep silent. She told me everything about my life (she had researched me) and wanted money to keep quiet. I told my wife that I was not going to give her anything and that I wanted to come clean about my life. I did not confess much at all, I actually lied and made it seem like this was a porn issue. I told her I wanted to tell the leadership of our church, knowing I would be fired. She was very concerned about me doing this but I told her I really wanted to get some counseling about some deep seeded wounds from my childhood. She agreed and we told the leadership.
The leadership at first said they would let me resign and would give me a severance for time served (over 8 years) and would pay for counseling. I was so excited! What happen next rocked my world and my family’s world. The pastor asked if there was anything on my computer that was inappropriate, as he would be having it analyzed by professionals to make sure. I told him there should be nothing on it. I don’t know if it was denial or my mind blocked out what I had done on the computer but I wasn’t trying to lie I just really didn’t think there was anything on it. Three days later I was called to a meeting and they had opened all my personal emails that I had through yahoo. They knew everything…. completely! They then told me they had gotten my wife from work so I could tell her everything. I did this and fell apart! They took me to a hospital because I wanted to die. They admitted me to a mental hospital for 4 days to make sure I wasn’t going to kill myself. I really didn’t want to kill myself I just didn’t want to live anymore.
While in the hospital the leaders of the church and my wife discussed what to do about me. They sought council and decided it would be best to send me away to an inpatient program designed for addictions. This was a Christian based place just north of Atlanta, GA. I spent the next 3 months there.
While in Atlanta this is what I experienced…
– I hit rock bottom and truly repented and confessed fully my sins.
-20 plus hours of 1 on 1 counseling
-480 hours of instruction in a classroom setting
-No less than 100 hours of group counseling
-I discovered my woundedness and got professional help in understanding myself
-Read 12 books assigned me about sexual brokenness
-Did a full disclosure to my wife who flew in to see me
-Experienced a public confession of what I had done
-Did counseling with my children
-Had a touch from the creator of the universe
-Came to peace with trusting God about my family
-And so much more!
I say all that to say – I did the hard stuff to the best of my ability. I was there with 25 others who I can honestly say never reached brokenness – but I was broken fully!
When I left my church the pastor was angry and told me I could not set foot on church property again. He said this out of his anger and honestly felt like I had lied and deceived him about the computer and therefore was protecting the church. I understood this and agreed.
While I was away the church leadership was amazing. They demonstrated the love of Christ for my wife. They paid for her and my children to fly to see me and get the counseling we needed. They helped her with bills and truly loved my family while I was getting help.
While away, I felt God was telling me to quit hiding. I felt like God wanted me to return to my community, where I was very well known and my sin was public knowledge (a letter was sent to the congregation about my failure). I moved home to the town in which I failed. I went to the leadership team and apologized. I told them all that I had experienced. They welcomed me back to the church as a part of the body.
This is what I did…
-I got a job
-I attended a small group with my wife (they embraced and loved us)
-We attended Sunday Morning worship (very difficult)
-I met with different men every day for the first 2 months for accountability
-I met with a staff member 1-3 times a week for the first 3 months
-I went to counseling weekly
-My wife and I went to counseling together
-My wife went to counseling
-I lived with friends for the first 2 months I was back and spent the day at my home
-I continued my care with the program I left (weekly call and journaling)
-I continued reading and learning about myself
I have learned so much about who I am and about my wounds. It’s very sad to think that I was extremely successful as a pastor while all along being so wounded. I am now healing and free from some deep issues in my life. I believe God has so much more for me and I am excited to see what they are, BUT for now I am being obedient in living in my community where everyone knows what I’ve done and I’m working hard on my family, with my wife, and in my relationship with God.
I know its unusual for a pastor to come back to his hometown and walk it out in front of his congregation (by the way I was the youth pastor) but I feel like this is what God has called me to do. My desire is to walk out restoration fully – whatever that may mean!
I am willing to answer any questions. I share my story with any who desire to hear it.
In Christ and Living Free,
I received a comment from a reader that we need to talk about. He said that the topic of repentance is rarely discussed when talking about the sin of a pastor.
I would agree with his observation.
Repentance is rarely discussed because in most cases, when a pastor sins, we don’t get the opportunity to deal with or see repentance. The pastor is dismissed and the church tries to survive the tragedy. We rarely get to resolve these sins in a biblical way. Most people in the church where the pastor sinned will either leave or simply try to “move on”. Although repentance for the fallen pastor is part of his healing we may not see it and seldom have a chance to encourage it. Frankly I know that it often takes years for repentance to happen in a pastor’s life if it happens at all.
But there is more to this process if we are to heal properly. There are other things that should happen, but will rarely be done in this kind of sin. The church not only needs to see and be part of repentance in the pastor’s life, but there is reconciliation, restoration and recovery needed. Few of these, although all needed by the church, will actually happen. So the church limps away from the sin of a pastor and gradually tries to heal.
Are there things left undone? Yes. Should we pursue repentance, reconciliation, restoration and recovery for the fallen pastor? Yes, but honestly the wounded body cannot do much of this right away. It takes time and the next task for the church body, after the pastor leaves, is trying to survive what has happened!
After the pastor is gone how do we biblically pursue repentance? Reconciliation? Restoration and recovery? From my experience, as I have watched our church go through this, I find that we still have unfinished business. The wounds of a pastor’s sin and the results in the body make these important issues difficult to accomplish. Do we need them? YES! Will we achieve them? Not often.
So what do we do knowing that these are needed for the fallen pastor and for the church? Pray, forgive, heal and trust God for the day when the final chapter of the story will be a pastor who has repented, is reconciled to the church family, restored to fellowship and a church recovered from the wounds of this sin. It will be a day when the fallen pastor can attend his former church and be welcomed with smiles and hugs. There is much yet to do isn’t there?