Sometimes I really think I’ve got it all figured out.
When I look back on my pastoring days before my fall, I realize that I was very judgmental and had a streak of self-righteousness. To be fair, I did have some times when I was very caring and non-judgmental. But there were times when I wandered into the harshness of Pharisee-ism.
The danger of examining self-righteousness in our lives is this – we are never a really good judge at it. We are, at best, a subjective, sinful, measure of ourselves and will typically mark ourselves highly on the “Oh, I don’t judge people/I don’t look at the speck in other’s eyes before getting the plank out of my own eye/I’m not terribly self-righteous” scale.
I preached last Sunday at a local church about self-righteousness. I mentioned to the congregation that the topic was difficult to preach on because we are all guilty of it. There I was, a fallen pastor, sharing with them the dangers of self-righteousness when I had been guilty of it on a grand scale.
As this week has progressed, I’ve had some intimate conversations with God about self-righteousness. I really thought I was okay in that area.
I’ve been doing this ministry for over five years, helping people that others don’t want to help. I don’t judge the people who contact me. I love them through their problems. Where’s the self-righteousness in my life?
It’s right in front of me. God slowly began to show me and expose my tendency toward it.
What allows a fallen, chronically self-righteous pastor to be able to preach and have a ministry? Because I know no matter who I’m talking to – I know that it’s not about me. It’s about Christ and who he is and the sin he came to save us from.
One of the real issues I’ve always had in my ministry is this: I get really upset about pastors who I call “serial adulterers.” What I mean is this – I usually deal with guys who have messed up once. They’ve sinned, cheated and it’s over. They need restoration.
But there’s also pastors out there who cheat and get away with it. They do it again. Then again. They do it without concern for their families, their churches or for God. I rarely get contacted by pastors in this situation. It infuriates me.
Then God just slapped me upside my self-righteous head. I’m not as good as I think. That could be me.
There is nothing good about me or within me to keep me from being the same way. I have the same sinful tendencies as anyone else. I could fall again and be that person that I have such strong feelings against.
When I was in seminary and they were telling us about adultery and protecting ourselves, I’d think, “That’s not going to happen to me.” I even thought that when I pastored. Stuff like that didn’t enter my thinking. But it did happen. And I fell. And I’m stupid to think it couldn’t happen again, just because it happened once and just because I’m helping others.
When the conviction of God hit me this week, this was my thought process, “Ray, you really thought you were so amazing because you had done certain things to stay ‘pure.’ But it’s not about you. If you don’t stay close to Christ and keep vigilant, you could fall again.” (I’m pretty sure no one would read a blog called “The Twice Fallen Pastor.”)
What allows a fallen, chronically self-righteous pastor to be able to preach and have a ministry? Because I am able to point to the Christ who is perfect and was able to proclaim the words about judgment and self-righteousness without sin. Because he was the one who reached down to the pit my sin led me to and he rescued me from it.
Because I know no matter who I’m talking to – fallen pastor, hurt church, fallen pastor’s wife, the other woman, judgmental pastor, angry church member, anonymous commenter – I know that it’s not about me. It’s about Christ and who he is and the sin he came to save us from.
What I’ve learned in five years is pretty simple. It can happen to anyone. That’s what I tell pastors. But what I’ve learned recently is this – even after we fall and are restored back to Christ, we still have a way to go. We still need to be vigilant and focused. None of us are above sin. When we start to feel like we’ve arrived – we need to do some accounting.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
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