This post was originally written on 2/28/13. I modified it today to reflect changes in my own heart over time. You can read the original post here.
What can the SBC do about adulterous pastors? I don’t ask this question lightly. And I do it with a heavy heart. I also do it as a lifetime Southern Baptist. I ask it as a fallen pastor who committed adultery while serving as a pastor over four years ago. I ask it knowing the ins and outs of the largest protestant denomination in the United States.
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 some diversity within the practice of the Baptist churches, but all pretty much agree on the doctrines of their faith. Some might even have stricter guidelines within their association regarding other issues, but most follow general Baptist principles.
The crux of the problem is one I have shared over and over again – pastors are leaving the pulpit in large numbers each week due to moral failure. There are statistics to back this up. I can also back this up with anecdotal evidence. I get emails everyday from pastors who have fallen, the wives of fallen pastors, and the women who have committed adultery with pastors.
In my book, I outline warning signs that lead pastors to commit adultery. In the end, it is their sin, theirs to own. It seems that on a regular basis, we hear of these stories. I even quote one statistic that 33% of conservative pastors have had an inappropriate relationship with a member of the opposite sex and have kept it under wraps.
Unfortunately, it would appear that the most common response in the Southern Baptist church is to remove the pastor immediately from the pulpit and push him away. No counseling, no help, no kind of compassion or attempt to reach out to him. Yes, most of the time, when he is caught he is defensive or he is going on a course of his own. But it is my conviction that a large group of Christians have the duty to at least reach out in the spirit of Galatians 6:1 and pursue the pastor.
But for the most part, in my interviews with pastors, in my counseling with them, this does not happen. Do most of them want it at that moment? No. But should that stop us? No. When someone is caught in sin, rarely do they desire to hear about God. But that is when we must pursue them the most.
When I fell three years ago and when I began to understand the great sin I had committed against God, I started to look for help within the SBC. The closest thing I found was a church in the South that ran a program of restoration. They had over 400 applicants a year, but were only to take on about 18.
I understand the main focus of the SBC. Missions, the Great Commission, discipleship. I respect that. We should be people who are missional. We should be reaching people for the Gospel. The funds we drive for every year for the cooperative program does so much good. In fact, it helped me get through seminary.
In the last post I wrote about this, I was calling for the SBC to do more to help fallen pastors. It was my hope that my beloved denomination would put a program in place to reach out to help those pastors who had left the ministry because of moral failure.
Here was my inner monologue: “Well, we put a lot of resources into training men for ministry, so why don’t we seem to care about these same men when they fall from ministry? What I see are men who have fallen from a great height. The SBC has a large number of resources, like the North American Mission Board who could help these men. Surely these men would be considered a mission.”
I had an awakening of sorts. Over time, I realized a couple of things. It all came together when I had the honor of sitting down with SBC president Fred Luter. He talked about a lot of great things going on in the SBC and I was able to share with him the number of fallen pastors within our own denomination. He seemed a little shocked.
At that moment, I realized that the SBC does a lot of wonderful things. But they’re also limited in their resources. They can’t do everything. At the moment I realized that, I started thinking back to my time when I served as a pastor of a small church.
Our resources were limited. We could handle a lot of things, but not everything. When someone would come up and say, “We really should start a summer program for kids,” or “maybe we should start a preschool.” All I could think was, “We don’t have the money. Are you kidding?”
Before and while I was meeting with Pastor Luter, I was thinking, “Does the SBC really need to start a program for fallen pastors? Maybe God has already started one.”
Almost five years ago when I started blogging anonymously, I never would have conceived that I would be getting emails from people who needed help on a daily basis. Fallen Pastor is a ministry. There are other ministries out there that I network with that are doing the same thing.
I’m not discounting the SBC when I say that God is doing something outside of the denominational sphere to help fallen pastors. I talk to all kinds of people from different backgrounds. I don’t have to answer to a denomination or clock into an office. God saw fit to turn my mess into a ministry. That’s where I am right now and I’m more than happy to be here. He’s even involved my wife to counsel women who are involved with pastors.
Comparing my feelings now with my previous post – no, I don’t think the SBC needs to be involved. Not because they wouldn’t be able to a great job. But because God has graced others with the work. And I’m overwhelmed with the prospect.
His love, grace, and mercies never cease.
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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