I’ve been off the grid for about a week and I have a pretty good reason. And it turned into a good illustration for a blog (I hope).
Last Monday, I was finished up with covering a basketball game in a neighboring county for my sports medicine job. I went to my car and when I got in, I had terrible...
I also ask it as a man who has talked to many fallen Southern Baptist pastors in the past three years. Some of them fell, chose not to repent and kept living a sinful life. However, many of them got help, repented, walked a path of holiness and were restored to a relationship with Christ.
There are some issues to be looked at before anything else is said. First, Southern Baptists pride themselves in their autonomy. The Southern Baptist Convention is a meeting that takes place once a year to make resolutions and talk about missions. The other 51 weeks a year, each church makes decisions on their own, based on the basic rules of faith set out in The Baptist Faith and Message. Not all Baptist churches agree with one another on all details. Some churches might elect divorce deacons to serve, other may not. Some might allow female music ministers, others
may find that idea horrendous. There is somediversity within the practice of the Baptist churches, but all pretty much agree on the basics of their faith. Some might even have stricter guidelines within their association regarding other issues, but most follow general Baptist principles.
I also want to point out that the stories and notes I’m about to share don’t come from statistics. They come from living as a Baptist, hearing stories across the nation and hearing about trends. My evidence is anecdotal. But I would guess that much of it is pretty spot on and that most people who know Southern Baptist life can identify with it.
Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in blog | Posted on 26-02-2013
I want to apologize to many of you. I have been using a program to filter out comments. But apparently, I was not using it correctly. Unfortunately, some of you have contacted me and I hadn’t read your cries for help until just now (which I just emailed you back) or you were unable to leave a comment.
I am so sorry! I think I fixed it. Again, I hope it is all well and you will keep reading and commenting. I have a direct email link on my contact page if you find I’m not responding in a timely manner. If you need help immediately, I want to help you immediately. I take all contacts very seriously.
It’s been over three years since I fell from the ministry. I don’t spend a lot of free time these days thinking about my days as pastor. I have the occasional conversation with former church members in whom I can confide. When I do, it helps me see things from a different angle.
I know for a fact that this isn’t just unique to me. It’s good to be right, don’t get me wrong. Pastors preach the Word of God, the truth of Scripture. But I think there may be moments when we preach that we get confused and believe that just because we’re preaching God’s truth, it means that it’s our truth. If I can say it differently, it’s almost like we trap ourselves in a protective bubble where we think that standing behind a pulpit gives us freedom to say what we want and believe we are right. We can win any argument “just because we’re the pastor” or “because I have a seminary degree.” We may not phrase it that way, but that subtle pride does sneak in from time to time and it needs to be beaten down with a big, ugly stick.
2. I would make sure to mix in more of the compassion and grace of Christ in my preaching.
I preached as an unabashed Calvinist. That doesn’t mean I never preached on the saving grace of Christ. I did. One of my seminary professors said, “If the gospel isn’t present in your sermon each week, you’ve failed.” I took that to heart. But there were times when I was so caught up in the depravity of man and I punched that card so many times, I wonder if I properly balanced it with the Savior. On this side of my life, I’ve seen the compassion and love Christ has for outcasts. He didn’t approach sinners with their depravity, he went to where they were and spoke truth and love to them. There is a time to share sinful nature. But there is always time to let people know how amazing, deep, and fervent the love of Christ really is.
3. I would make time to really, really listen more.
I did visit shut-ins, make hospital visits, phone calls, perform funerals, console the grieving, counsel, etc. Like most pastors, those were things that were expected. That’s not what I’m talking about. What about the people we see each Sunday who you ask, “How are you?” And each Sunday they say, “Doing great!” What if they aren’t? What if some of those people, those who are working two jobs to make ends meet and can barely stay awake in church, those youth who look sad on occasion, those older members you see who look lost and sad once in a while – what if we went out of our way to just engage them for a moment. Don’t talk, but just listen. If they don’t want to talk right then, they know you care. And it may open up a chance for them to come to you later.
4. I would spend less time worrying about things that I had no control over.
There are a lot of things pastors can’t control, but we spend a lot of time preaching about them. Gossip, giving, committee meetings, people who don’t like us, etc. We try and pray about it, we put it in God’s hands, but a day later, we’re still worrying about little conflicts here and there. Somewhere in the black and white of Scripture it says, “remember your calling.” Our calling isn’t to get all anxious and worked up about things we can’t control. Jesus told us not to worry or get anxious. Being anxious doesn’t do any good because most of this world is out of our control anyway. The best we can do is gauge our reaction to the events in front of us. It’s a very hard thing to do as a pastor, but I think I’ve learned to do a better job.
5. Demonstrate the love of Christ, not my own bitterness.
So many times I would hear of sin in the church. I would get angry and want to do something about it. I’d fret, worry and react. Church discipline has it’s place when it’s done for restoration. But my heart wasn’t balanced right. I was out to remove cancers, not to heal hearts. Christ showed compassion for sinners. When they didn’t have another friend in the world, he chose to stand by them. He chose understanding over judgment. And later, he would give his life so that they might be free from their sin.
Interestingly, I would not even venture to change anything about the church. If change is to happen, it has to start with the man in the pulpit. Christ changed this world. How? Because of who he was. And with Christ in us, we can also make changes. Attempting to change people through guilt, anger, lashing out, or other means is useless. Changing ourselves by allowing Christ to work in us is how the church will be transformed.
I’m thankful for the years I got to spend as a pastor. I do miss preaching to a great degree. I’m told when I preach now that I’m a totally different person, and I choose to take that as a compliment. Falling and failing into a great pit is a great way to be humbled, especially when it’s your own fault. But we can always know that Christ will be there to drag us out of it.
I’m thankful for the man God has made me into today. He’s not done with me and I’m not perfect by a long shot. I just pray that I may be able to help those who were in my situation before they reach a crisis point. I pray that all of us, pastor or church member or nominal Christian would be able to reflect upon ourselves in the light of Christ and follow him and let him show us what he sees in us.
My blog typically focuses on stories about fallen pastors and how they can be helped. Overall, it’s theme is to point to the glory of God. Today, I’d like to start occasionally letting others share their stories of how God helped, rescued, or redeemed them. Today’s story is a unique one and it concerns a friend of mine. I hope you enjoy it.
Almost a year ago on Leap Day, 2012, a series of strong storms ripped through Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. In all, there were 15 fatalities and almost $500 million in damages. The scene was horrific as families were left without homes, businesses were destroyed and lives were lost.
It had begun on the evening of the 28th as it swept through the west and destroyed places in Branson, Missouri and leveled Harrisburg, Illinois. The storm wasn’t done as it kept moving eastward.
Stevie Joe Vaught was sitting in his trailer in Greenville, Kentucky on the morning of the 29th and got a call from a friend at 7:30 in the morning telling him that tornado warnings were popping up in the area. In the friendly community of Greenville, people take care of each other like that. Even when sirens are going off, neighbors tend to make calls to friends and family.
Stevie Joe said to himself, “Okay, I’d better watch the weather.” He did. He kept looking out at the ominous clouds outside as they passed, but nothing serious seemed to be materializing. He knew that if something did, he’d have time to go a few yards away to his sister’s house and take shelter in the basement.
At 8:45, the warnings were cancelled and he said, “they said everything was all clear. So I turned on Sportscenter and laid on the couch.”
But everything was not all clear. A year later, he can describe the details as if they happened yesterday. He can do it because he dreams about them almost every night:
About five minutes later I heard the scariest train you ever heard in your life. So I jumped up and looked out the window and there was just all kinds of debris outside spinning around and I thought, “Oh no.”
I took two steps, I was going to pick up my dogs so we could get in the closet and I took that second step and my trailer just lifted off the ground and just started rolling. I was inside it for about 40 or 50 yards.
I was up in the air.
Right before I got to where I ended up at, while I was spinning, it was like a warm blanket wrapped around me and held me tight. And I now know it was the good Lord wrapping me up and He sat me down outside on the ground right beside my stove.
I sat leaned up against it and I watched the rest of my trailer go about another 30 yards, what was left of it, and hit this big tree. When it hit this tree, what was left of it just exploded. Then it just picked up the frame of my trailer up, laid it down beside the tree and it was gone.
It felt like it took two hours, but I know it wasn’t in the air probably two seconds.
His first thought was, “Are my dogs okay?” They were. Dizzy and confused, he stood up and started yelling, walking towards his sister’s house. Everything was in shambles. The house next door had some damage and his sister’s house had significant damage.
The news crews showed up. People who knew Stevie Joe and the kindhearted guy he is were touched by the interview. It was aired on CNN and even those who didn’t know him were touched by his emotion.
He was overwhelmed with the love shown to him by the community, churches and people he didn’t even know. “It just showed me how good a community I actually lived in.”
I asked him what life was like for the next few weeks:
I was just in shock. I didn’t have anything. I lost everything. Spiritually, I got stronger because I knew why I was alive was because of the Lord.
How did people react to his saying that it was God who saved him?
Some of them didn’t believe it or didn’t believe that’s what I felt or what I saw. Some of them said God had something planned for me and that’s why He kept me alive. And even some of the ones who said they believed me you could just see it in their eyes that they were doubtful. But I know what happened and that’s all that matters.
Why did he think some people, even Christians, had such a hard time believing it was God who delivered him?
Why do you think people have such a hard time believing it? They have doubt in their beliefs, whether God really exists or not, whether He’s really out there. To me, I know He is. He proved it to me that day.
I would say they have trouble believing that He exists because of things that happen in their lives. They might say, “Why would he let something like that happen to me?” or they just don’t believe in a greater being.
I had to ask, “You know you’re not supposed to survive a tornado in a trailer. So you’ve obviously thought, ‘Why me?’ Which is a strange question. Usually, we’re asking the opposite question when something bad happens to us. But you’re asking, ‘Why me?’ when you survived a serious event. Do you have an answer?
No, none whatsoever. I guess he’ll show it to me when he gets ready. The only thing I know right now is that I’m telling people my story. Hopefully I’m telling them in a way that they can believe it. I’m just trying to spread His word. Other than that, I don’t know what He’s got planned.
I asked him one final question: What has changed about you?
Not much has changed about me. God’s still the same, maybe I just see Him differently.
A great answer, I thought as we wrapped up our talk. Stevie Joe is still going through some serious PTSD, I think. He dreams about the tornado frequently. In some of those dreams, he sees his father who passed on a year before the tornado hit with him. He says his dad is right there with him saying, “You’re going to be alright Son. You’re going to be alright.”
The events that he went through are undeniable. He survived an amazing event and has chosen to give God the glory for his survival. He believes God has a purpose for him and most certainly, God does. More importantly, Stevie Joe Vaught sees God differently, and that may be the most important lesson learned.
Please keep Stevie Joe in your prayers. He’s always been a good friend to me at all times and is one of those people who would give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it. And thanks be to our God who protected Stevie Joe in such a fragile moment.
Today marks three years of marriage for me and Allison. It’s been a fantastic three years. I won’t say that it’s always been easy. If you’ve read my blog, you know a little about what goes on around here.
She saw me reading and said, “Getting ready for a sermon, Ray?”
I laughed hysterically/sarcastically as I am often inclined to do. My friend was laughing as well.
She looked back and forth between us as we laughed. “What’s so darn funny?”
(For those not in on the “joke” we were laughing at how an adulterous Southern Baptist minister – really any sinful Southern Baptist is kept pretty clear of the pulpit for the rest of his life. Regardless of how his heart changes. Is it really funny? I don’t know. But if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.)
I said, “I committed adultery three years ago. I don’t really get to preach anymore.” My other Baptist friend said, “Yeah, that about sums it up.”
She said, without missing a beat, “Well, where’s the forgiveness in that? You repented. Shouldn’t you be at least preaching to people somewhere?”
I stopped laughing for a second. Then I said, “Not everyone sees it like that. I’m dealing with a denomination where a lot of people don’t think I should ever step foot in a pulpit again. Not even to guest preach. There have been rare exceptions.”
My Mormon friend said, “Well, that’s hypocritical. You have a message, sounds like to me. One that needs to be heard. That makes me sad.”
Funny how someone comes along and just says things like they are.
Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in cynicism, hope | Posted on 15-02-2013
I remember my eight years as a pastor like it was yesterday. There were great moments – baptizing new Christians, serving communion, seeing members go out and share the gospel.
But unfortunately, like many pastors, the negative is what sticks in my throat. The bickering. The complaining. The fighting over what matters least. People showing up in your office and riding you over things that won’t matter in eternity. Those are the things that make you lose sleep. That and the petty gossip, people fighting in business meeting over an allotment of $45, two people arguing over a matter that won’t matter in eternity.
Pastors, not just fallen pastors, get very discouraged over things like that.
I remember on my first day of orientation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. We were waiting to take some test for basic grammar or writing. The proctor said, “Half of you won’t graduate. Those of you who do, half of you won’t be ministering in two years.” Ouch. I thought, “I will be.”
I made it eight years. But now I see what he was saying. There were times when petty things came up and I sent out my resume. I couldn’t understand how the people of God could act the way they were acting. But God kept me where I was.
I say all of that to share with you a simple story. I’m a cynical man by nature. I find it hard to trust anyone. I never expect anyone to do what they say they are going to do, especially after years of ministry. You might say, “Well, look at you, jerkweed, you left a wife and congregation behind, why should anyone trust you?” Point taken.
But if you could get your pastor in a corner, if you could touch his inner feelings and soul, you might find he is a man who doesn’t trust many people.
Whether you’re a Christian who was kicked out of church and is looking to return, an unchurched person looking for a place to worship, someone who is burned out on church and is looking for a “different kind of place, a fallen church leader, or just a new Christian with a rough past who wants a place of fellowship, I’d like to offer some suggestions/tips on finding a church.
Tip One: Don’t Go Out Of Guilt (Or For The Wrong Reasons)
After I fell from ministry, I was in church somewhere the next week. I don’t really know why except that I felt it was the right thing to do. People go to church for a lot of reasons. Unfortunately, a lot of them are the wrong reasons. When we return to church after a long layoff or after repenting, we may be going back for the wrong reason as well. Ask yourself, “What’s my drive? What is my heart’s intent?”
What’s the answer? You might want to go somewhere where your kids will be happy. You might like the music. You might have friends somewhere. None of those is a terrible reason. Hopefully, wherever you go, you’ll be looking to come into contact with the living God.
Tip Two: Don’t Let Anyone Guilt You Into Going
It’s the old preacher standby, quoting Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together“ during a sermon to remind everyone that church attendance is so, so necessary. I did it. We should gather together as a fellowship. It strengthens us. But people shouldn’t be guilting you into going to church. The other extreme of the argument is when people say, “I can worship God in nature/home/my car.” Yeah, you can. But do you? Find a place with others – whether it’s a garage, restaurant, home or wherever, but fellowship with like minded people. It’s good for you.
Tip Three: Remember God Doesn’t Live There
The path to discovering God doesn’t begin or end at a building. The fellowship of believers there might be key in helping you on that path, but the actual location does not contain the living God. When we’re seeking a church, it’s not the same as seeking Christ. It can be true that worship might be easier for you at some places than others, but don’t mistake that for that church as a location where God lives.
Tip Four: Don’t Always Visit On Sunday Morning
One of the common problems people have when trying to find a church is they feel overwhelmed by people. That, or they perceive that people are being “fake.” That may or may not be true, but I have a way to circumvent that. Don’t visit on Sunday morning. Go at a different service time. This does three things.
First, it will alleviate the mistrust you may have that people are acting fake and putting on false appearances just for the Sunday morning crowd. Second, the people who come on Wednesday night and Sunday night are usually some of the most dedicated. You’ll get to see the heart of the church. Third, you’ll get to hear the pastor’s heart. He gets ready for Sunday morning in a different way than he does for a Sunday night or Wednesday night.
Tip Five: Don’t Forget The Smaller Churches
When looking for a restaurant, we typically think of the popular or chain restaurants. The places where the parking lots are full. But once in a while we hear about the “hole-in-the-wall” place that has the best BBQ in the area.
Many churches are pastored by great pastors who are bi-vocational. They are very gifted, loving and love what they do. They may not have the bells and whistles of the larger churches, but they often have many things you can’t get at the big places. Try a variety of places before you settle down.
Tip Six: Remember, Christ Will Come To You
It’s easy to get frustrated when looking for a church. I know a fallen pastor who took almost ten years to find a place to worship regularly. Sometimes, the pastor didn’t want him there worshiping. Sometimes, he was asked to do more than he was comfortable with. It is easy to get the feeling that there isn’t a church home out there.
Remember that churches are made up of sinning, fallible people like you. They’re all going to have some shortcomings. If you are recently repentant or in need of help, make that clear to the leadership. Let them know you need a place of rest and you plan to take your time. Don’t be in a hurry to join. Just relax.
Above all, remember that Christ comes to us. He went and sought out the disciples while they were fishing. He went to the woman at the well. He found Zaccheus when he was in a tree. He will come to you and help you as you search for a community of faith. Where He leads you may be completely unexpected, but it will always be just what you need.
It doesn’t need my endorsement because it has a ton of them from people you already know. But it definitely has it. It’s a great tool for individual study or small groups. It works for new believers or seasoned veterans. Give it a look and share this trailer with your friends as well.
For the first week or so, I thought about the fact that I had committed adultery. By the time I had gotten to the act of it, my heart had already hardened to the degree that it hadn’t mattered. The relationship between myself and my wife had been sour for years. In my book, I talk about how most fallen pastors have a terrible relationship with their wife before they commit adultery.
I was ready to get out of ministry. Most fallen pastors are. They are tired of conflict, interpersonal turmoil and dealing with difficult people. I wanted out. I loved Allison too. That made a huge difference.
But I don’t know how to describe the day that I first felt the sting of sin. The fact that there was a definite mark on my soul. In fact, it was like it was there on my skin. For everyone to see. But no one could. No one knew my sin. I had been able to hide it from everyone. But it didn’t take long for it to be discovered.