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: repentance
“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.
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,
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.”
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?
My friend and pastor who fell told me at our last lunch that his voice for the kingdom of God has been muted. He’s right. His sin has silenced his voice. It’s tragic because his was a wonderful voice for truth, grace and God’s word. There were few men I have known who loved God’s word as he did. But today his voice is muted by his sin.
How long should a pastor “sit on the bench?” Should he ever be in the pulpit again? When is repentance and reconciliation accomplished for a pastor who commits adultery while in the pulpit? I have strong opinions on this topic, but there are too many factors to be dogmatic in print. The questions that would come from this discussion are many,
Has the pastor reconciled with his church where the sin was committed?
Has he reconciled with his wife?
Has he submitted to other godly men in a period of repentance and healing?
Is he getting counseling? (And, may I add…He should!)
Should he ever pastor again? Here’s where my opinion will be clear- I don’t think any pastor who has committed adultery should be back in the pulpit for at least five years! AT LEAST five years. That much time is the minimum for a man to restore his marriage first of all and then there is the need to deal with a life that would choose this sin. Yes, pastors are attacked by the enemy in many ways, but when sin has occurred there is the need for some time to heal, grow, restore, repent, recover. Should he ever pastor again? Maybe, but not for a number of years. Isn’t that too harsh? Not at all! The pastor who commits adultery has broken trust with everyone. It takes times to rebuild that trust.
Muted? Yes, the voice of any pastor discovered in sin has muted his voice for God. He’s destroyed his witness and walk. He’s broken trust and wounded many. Some will never recover their faith and walk because of the sin of a pastor. Don’t, dear pastor, don’t return to the pulpit until you have taken years away to heal, restore and redeem. Don’t take this sin lightly. The pains this sin creates for everyone around the pastor is more than he will ever know. Muted? Yes.
Can restoration happen? YES! But it will take time. Don’t be impatient. You broke trust with everyone around you, it will take time to restore it. Don’t be in a hurry. Love your wife, love God and humbly repent and restore the hearts and lives you have betrayed. It will take some time….
Pastors, if you have fallen into sin and are on the other side of it would you send me a note? I would like to hear from you. How are you? Where are you in your walk with God? What would you say to the flock you hurt? What would you like to tell them about this sin and its results? Would you write me and let’s share with those who are hurting what it has done to you as well. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear your story.