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A Pastor’s Story That Has Haunted Me

ReadabilityA Pastor's Story That Has Haunted MeWhile writ­ing my book, I was inter­view­ing a fallen pas­tor. He shared this with me: “I heard about a pas­tor who com­mit­ted adul­tery in August then killed him­self in Decem­ber. I won­dered, ‘Did any­one reach out to him? Did any­one...

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My Mess, His Message: Introduction

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, affair, anger, blog, Christ, church, circumstance, commandments, david, forgiveness, grace, hypocrisy, pastors, preachers, repentance, writing | Posted on 23-04-2011

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My Mess, His Message: Introduction

I promised I’d write out my tes­ti­mony. It’ll take more than one post.

I fell from the pas­torate in Octo­ber of 2009 after pas­tor­ing a church for eight years. The fol­low­ing March, I started blog­ging under a pseu­do­nym at blog​ger​.com. I had to write. Writ­ing helped me clear a lot of the depres­sion, the ideas, and the feel­ings that were flow­ing around in my head. Recently, I had to drop the pseu­do­nym of Arthur Dimmes­dale, so I deleted a lot of the story and trans­ferred every­thing here to WordPress.

The pseu­do­nym of Arthur Dimmes­dale, of course, is the name of the min­is­ter in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel, The Scar­let Let­ter, who com­mit­ted adul­tery. I was writ­ing to answer a ques­tion his char­ac­ter asked in that novel that I posted at the top of that blog — “What can a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the redemp­tion of other souls? — or a pol­luted soul, towards their purification?”

I changed my name, loca­tions, and a lot of details. Strangely, in the begin­ning, a lot of peo­ple thought I was mak­ing the whole story up. They thought it sounded too fan­tas­tic. I wish. But unfor­tu­nately, I was liv­ing it.

I also got accused of try­ing to jus­tify my sin. I want to be clear on this. Don’t ever hear me try­ing to jus­tify what I did. I’m respon­si­ble for my adul­tery. I did it. I’m the sin­ner. No one forced me to do it. No set of cir­cum­stances made me do it. All of the blame rests upon me. So, if you ever read this blog and think I’m try­ing to shuf­fle off my sin on some­one else or some­thing that hap­pened — you’re read­ing it wrong.

Also, don’t expect a lot of details. It’s really not about the story. I’m not writ­ing to pro­vide a provoca­tive novel. I hurt a lot of peo­ple. I broke the heart of my ex-​wife, I harmed my chil­dren, and I hurt an entire church. I hurt my extended fam­ily and a lot of friends. I dis­ap­pointed a lot of people.

One other thing. I don’t write to gar­ner pity or com­pas­sion. This isn’t a blog to get you to say, “Well, he did sin, but now I’m sup­posed to feel sorry for the adul­terer.” Nope. That’s not the point either. I sinned and the con­se­quences of that sin will fol­low me for the rest of my life.

So what is the point of all of this? Great ques­tion. There are sev­eral points. I didn’t know what some of them were when I started writ­ing, but I know what they are now.

First, I’ve learned that despite my sin, God still loves me. He still loves sin­ners. I don’t know why He does, but He does. On the list of peo­ple who get looked down in soci­ety, pas­tors who com­mit adul­tery are close to the top. Why? Because we knew bet­ter. We’re the ones who preached week after week about moral­ity, holi­ness and God’s truth. Then we showed the great­est hypocrisy by for­feit­ing it all and in front of God and every­one, we broke His law.

In the wake of that sin, peo­ple get hurt. Then they get angry. And that is very, very under­stand­able. They tend to stay angry and hurt for a long time.

Accord­ing to The Barna Group, 1,500 pas­tors leave the min­istry every month due to moral fail­ure or burnout. What are those fallen pas­tors sup­posed to do? I get emails and mes­sages from fallen pas­tors fre­quently. Despite what the world thinks of them, they’re hurt­ing and need help. There is hope and God still loves them. They need to repent and hum­ble them­selves. It took me almost a year to hum­ble myself.

Before I hum­bled myself, I was angry. I was pride­ful, made a lot of angry remarks to peo­ple, wrote some angry let­ters, and acted like Balaam’s don­key, if you know what I mean.

But God was patient. So what can God do with us? I think part of the answer is in Psalm 51 when David prays for restora­tion after his sin with Bathsheba. In verse 12, he asks God to restore to him the joy of his sal­va­tion, then in verse 13, he promises that he will teach sin­ners to return to God. In other words, David will teach oth­ers to learn from his mis­takes. I hope that I can do that.

Sec­ondly, I’ve spent a lot of time talk­ing to fallen pas­tors across the coun­try. For the most part, it seems that most fallen pas­tors find no rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with their for­mer churches. I’m not talk­ing about them return­ing to the pas­torate. I’m just talk­ing about for­give­ness. Even 20 or 30 years down the road, it doesn’t seem to hap­pen. I would love to see it hap­pen. I don’t know how, but I know that our God is great enough to make it hap­pen. But a change has to hap­pen in both the fallen pas­tor and the church.

Finally, (and there are more rea­sons, but I’ll stop here for now), I don’t want this to hap­pen to other pas­tors. Let me be care­ful here. I have hon­estly had peo­ple come up to me and say, “Ray, I’m really unhappy in my mar­riage and am think­ing about com­mit­ting adul­tery. What do you think.” I say, “Uh, no. It’s a sin.” They say, “Well, you did it and you seem so happy.” I say, “Just because I did it doesn’t make it right, friend.”

Pas­tors are weak peo­ple, whether they admit it or not. They face a lot of prob­lems, crises, and con­flicts. The same prob­lems you face. There are pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures that can be put in place to safe­guard their mar­riages and keep them strong for their churches. I get emails from pas­tors who say, “I’m think­ing about com­mit­ting adul­tery, what should I do?” Don’t do it. Get help.

The whole issue of my life now, God’s sov­er­eignty, my hap­pi­ness, and my abil­ity to help peo­ple because of what I’ve been through is a whole other post. But for now, know that I don’t want to see any­one com­mit adul­tery. Ever. What I went through after vio­lat­ing God’s law was an awful time.

That being said, the bless­ings I am expe­ri­enc­ing now are noth­ing but the result of God’s grace. I don’t deserve them. I don’t deserve Him. In spite of my sin, He has blessed me. My heart soars because of His for­give­ness. Do I still expe­ri­ence con­se­quences? Yes. But He has cov­ered all of my sin and I do not stand before Him guilty anymore.

That’s a mes­sage, no longer a mess.

I promised I’d write out my testimony. It’ll take more than one post.

I fell from the pastorate in October of 2009 after pastoring a church for eight years. The following March, I started blogging under a pseudonym at blogger.com. I had to write. Writing helped me clear a lot of the depression, the ideas, and the feelings that were flowing around in my head. Recently, I had to drop the pseudonym of Arthur Dimmesdale, so I deleted a lot of the story and transferred everything here to WordPress.

The pseudonym of Arthur Dimmesdale, of course, is the name of the minister in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, who committed adultery. I was writing to answer a question his character asked in that novel that I posted at the top of that blog – “What can a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the redemption of other souls?—or a polluted soul, towards their purification?”

I changed my name, locations, and a lot of details. Strangely, in the beginning, a lot of people thought I was making the whole story up. They thought it sounded too fantastic. I wish. But unfortunately, I was living it.

I also got accused of trying to justify my sin. I want to be clear on this. Don’t ever hear me trying to justify what I did. I’m responsible for my adultery. I did it. I’m the sinner. No one forced me to do it. No set of circumstances made me do it. All of the blame rests upon me. So, if you ever read this blog and think I’m trying to shuffle off my sin on someone else or something that happened – you’re reading it wrong.

Also, don’t expect a lot of details. It’s really not about the story. I’m not writing to provide a provocative novel. I hurt a lot of people. I broke the heart of my ex-wife, I harmed my children, and I hurt an entire church. I hurt my extended family and a lot of friends. I disappointed a lot of people.

One other thing. I don’t write to garner pity or compassion. This isn’t a blog to get you to say, “Well, he did sin, but now I’m supposed to feel sorry for the adulterer.” Nope. That’s not the point either. I sinned and the consequences of that sin will follow me for the rest of my life.

So what is the point of all of this? Great question. There are several points. I didn’t know what some of them were when I started writing, but I know what they are now.

First, I’ve learned that despite my sin, God still loves me. He still loves sinners. I don’t know why He does, but He does.  On the list of people who get looked down in society, pastors who commit adultery are close to the top. Why? Because we knew better. We’re the ones who preached week after week about morality, holiness and God’s truth. Then we showed the greatest hypocrisy by forfeiting it all and in front of God and everyone, we broke His law.

In the wake of that sin, people get hurt. Then they get angry. And that is very, very understandable. They tend to stay angry and hurt for a long time.

According to The Barna Group, 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month due to moral failure or burnout. What are those fallen pastors supposed to do? I get emails and messages from fallen pastors frequently. Despite what the world thinks of them, they’re hurting and need help. There is hope and God still loves them. They need to repent and humble themselves. It took me almost a year to humble myself.

Before I humbled myself, I was angry. I was prideful, made a lot of angry remarks to people, wrote some angry letters, and acted like Balaam’s donkey, if you know what I mean.

But God was patient. So what can God do with us? I think part of the answer is in Psalm 51 when David prays for restoration after his sin with Bathsheba. In verse 12, he asks God to restore to him the joy of his salvation, then in verse 13, he promises that he will teach sinners to return to God. In other words, David will teach others to learn from his mistakes. I hope that I can do that.

Secondly, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to fallen pastors across the country. For the most part, it seems that most fallen pastors find no reconciliation with their former churches. I’m not talking about them returning to the pastorate. I’m just talking about forgiveness. Even 20 or 30 years down the road, it doesn’t seem to happen. I would love to see it happen. I don’t know how, but I know that our God is great enough to make it happen. But a change has to happen in both the fallen pastor and the church.

Finally, (and there are more reasons, but I’ll stop here for now), I don’t want this to happen to other pastors. Let me be careful here.  I have honestly had people come up to me and say, “Ray, I’m really unhappy in my marriage and am thinking about committing adultery. What do you think.” I say, “Uh, no. It’s a sin.” They say, “Well, you did it and you seem so happy.” I say, “Just because I did it doesn’t make it right, friend.”

Pastors are weak people, whether they admit it or not. They face a lot of problems, crises, and conflicts. The same problems you face. There are preventative measures that can be put in place to safeguard their marriages and keep them strong for their churches. I get emails from pastors who say, “I’m thinking about committing adultery, what should I do?” Don’t do it. Get help.

The whole issue of my life now, God’s sovereignty, my happiness, and my ability to help people because of what I’ve been through is a whole other post. But for now, know that I don’t want to see anyone commit adultery. Ever. What I went through after violating God’s law was  an awful time.

That being said, the blessings I am experiencing now are nothing but the result of God’s grace. I don’t deserve them. I don’t deserve Him. In spite of my sin, He has blessed me. My heart soars because of His forgiveness. Do I still experience consequences? Yes. But He has covered all of my sin and I do not stand before Him guilty anymore.

That’s a message, no longer a mess.

Comments (3)

Good for you Ray. There IS healing in writing – and it’s good for you to tell others about what happened and the best part – God’s forgiveness and grace to cover any sin. I was thinking about your testimony last night – the one from last Sunday in that church and I’m reminded of Brittany Hamilton from “Soul Surfer” the one who lost her left arm in a shark attack. As a Christian – she was wounded and broken – but God used that story to encourage others in a way that she could not have done – without the world wide publicity about her story. She was quoted as saying “I can now embrace more people with one arm” – and in many ways when something happens to us – we walk with a ‘limp’ – we don’t feel whole anymore – but in your case – God is using your brokenness and failure to reach people who never could have if nothing had happened to you. You would have stayed in your home church preaching and teaching and being an influence in your own small community – now because of something terrible – God took what the enemy meant for bad – and turned it around and used it for good. It is your journey – your story to share yourself with thousands through your story – and I know God is now through with you yet – you will launch new ministries to hurting people than you ever thought possible. That’s the grace of our Lord. That’s your awesome victory – finding purpose again.

Thanks Cindy. Anything good that happens from here on out is all Him. Good illustration too – thanks for sharing it.

I have a lot of times where I wonder about my usefulness. As David said in Psalm 51, my sin is ever before me. But we move on.

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