I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing fallen pastors and reflecting on my own thoughts after my fall.
One of the themes that came after my own fall was this: “How could they have such harsh, unforgiving thoughts for me? I loved them, cared for them while they were in the hospital, performed their marriages, did the funerals for their loved ones, stood by them while they were sick, preached hundreds of sermons – how dare they reject me after one sin!”
I hear that too in the voices of other fallen pastors. It’s the idea of entitlement. We did this for you, so how could you turn your back on us after we committed one sin?
I would love to defend myself here, but it’s just not possible. The sin of adultery is a heinous one. It is a sin against God and God alone, to be sure. But to the people in the pews, it is one of trust and betrayal.
Not everyone in the church reacts the same way. Some are able to look beyond the sin and forgive immediately. They see the pastor as human, full of fault, just as they are. They accept him as a man who had a past and incurred a horrible downfall. A man who could sin just like them. They forgive and love immediately. These people are far and few between.
Most are not able to forgive so quickly. They feel disappointed in this man who stood in the pulpit week after week preaching the Word of God. He baptized their children, he organized Vacation Bible School, he was the voice in the wildnerness. They bragged on him and invited people in the community to come hear him. But the fallen pastor thinks one thing, “How could they turn their backs on me?”
There’s a dynamic that most people don’t think about. On one hand, the pastor was mired in a difficult situation that strung out for years. In his mind, he wasn’t turning his back on his congregation, but on his wife and his God. He needed help, he knew it and he found himself in a place where he needed comfort. Was it right? No. But he went ahead anyway.
From the congregation’s standpoint, all they see is betrayal.
I think that’s why Galatians 6:1 calls upon the Christian fellowship to “restore” such a one to Christian fellowship. To understand people who fall. To come along side any fallen person and love them. We never understand the circumstances, but we always know it is right to try to understand and restore, no matter how hard it may be.
It’s a wide gulf to span. From the pastor’s view, he’s been suffering for a long time in crisis and malcontent. From the congregation’s view, the pastor abandoned them for greener pastures. If there is a common ground to be found, it has to be found in the person of Jesus Christ. Because in Him, we will find common ground. In Him, we will find peace and restoration.
Now, let’s take this a step further. Let’s look at the church at large. The church culture has had a huge sense of entitlement for years. As a disclaimer, it’s not all churches, but many churches in the mainstream.
It’s the feeling that because we have a building, because we have a congregation, because we have been in place for a long time, we don’t need to do anything but exist. We have a set of people in place, a clique. Everyone looks mostly like us, acts like us, and our leadership keeps things under control. We invite people to church who look like us and act like us.
For the most part, there is no reason to make any kind of change. We are an entitled community. And we back that with our belief that Jesus is happy with the way we are running our churches.
But what if He’s not?
I’ve visited several white congregations when an African-American shows up. What is the reaction? Everyone stares. What happens when a person of less than standard means shows up to a medium-class church? People begin to think, “That person must be here to ask for money.”
Strange that Jesus has called the church to go out into the world, into all people and make His church a place for all people. Yet, when someone like us shows up to church, we get very uncomfortable. Why? Because churches across America has become more like a country club with exclusive access than a place where anyone, regardless of socioeconomic background, racial status, educational background or disability can come worship.
We are an entitled church. We are an entitled society. We are a people who do not wish to restore anyone, even if it is someone within our midst.
When the stranger enters into our midst, it should be a sign from God that He has sent them there, providentially. We should seek them out as a friend, a fellow traveler. Could it be dangerous? Could it be difficult? Sure. But I never saw Christ shrink away from a challenge.
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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