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Fallen ministers, I need your help. I’ve been blessed with a great opportunity to write a book. The book is about how it is difficult for fallen pastors and churches to reconcile because churches tend to place their pastors on a pedestal. In the book, I’m going to include real stories from...

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When a Pastor Falls, pt. 1: What Can Leaders Do?

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, affair, church, church leadership, church members, churches, conflict, fallenness, gossip, leadership, ministry, pastoring, pastors, preachers, reconciliation | Posted on 02-10-2014

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I wanted to be able to write something to help churches and leaders have a guide for when their pastor falls. The crisisproblem is that no two situations are quite alike. And yet, all situations are very similar. For the next few posts, I want to give some help that comes from my experience and from the things I’ve read in the past four years.

When a pastor falls, it’s not an easy experience for anyone. The advice I’m giving is general advice for when a church learns that their pastor has fallen morally. He might have committed adultery with another person, he might have been engaged in what he calls an “emotional affair“, or he might have been engaged in a long time addiction to pornography. This post is designed to help the leaders in the church when the find out their pastor has fallen.

I want to start off with a few basic reminders before I start throwing out advice.

1. Remember that each and every decision needs to be bathed in prayer. People will be quick to act, easy to anger, and will be very hurt. Prayer has a way of focusing us in the right way.

2. Remember that decisions based on God’s Word, no matter how difficult they might be, will always be the right ones. A pastor who has committed adultery has forfeited his right to shepherd the flock for a time (that topic to be covered later).

3. But always remember that decisions based on God’s Word are always to be made with grace, love, and humility. If the pastor is removed, it should always be done with the grace of Galatians 6:1.

4. Never forget that there are many people involved in this matter. One man’s sin may be at the forefront, but there are many others who need care and need to see the church act with truth, love, and grace.

5. Keep it confidential until a decision is made. If your church leadership is gathering facts and talking to the pastor, gossip should not be part of anyone’s life. When the facts come in, your pastor may be cleared. If one of the church leaders goes home and tells his spouse all the details of an important meeting and word gets out and severely twisted, the damage may be too great.

6. Finally, never be afraid to ask for outside help. If your church leadership team isn’t sure about what to do, or you feel like you can’t seem to agree, find a mediator. Ask an expert for help. There are a lot of people I know and there are people provided by your denomination or association who can offer wisdom. Never feel like you’re alone or that you’re the first ones to go through this.

truefalseSo let’s get to some first steps in this matter. I don’t want to assume anything – like I said, people tend to find out differently and people tend to react differently.

Get The Facts Straight

Finding out that the pastor has committed some sort of adultery is not easy. The information can come in many different ways:

  • A rumor that has spread in the community
  • A church member might approach the church leadership with a printed out series of emails or Facebook messages that prove the pastor’s infidelity
  • An anonymous letter is sent to the pastor and church leadership from a woman claiming to be his mistress
  • The pastor’s wife might approach a deacon regarding her suspicions about the minister and a church member or staff member
  • A staff member might tell church leadership of an ongoing affair
  • At the end of a service, a church member/staff member might confess that the pastor has been cheating with them
  • The rumor might begin on a social media site (Facebook, Twitter) and get picked up by local media

There are many ways that church leadership can get informed of an issue the minister might be having. I’ve heard of or witnessed all of the scenarios listed above. The easiest thing to do is panic. The knee-jerk reaction is to fire the pastor.

The best thing to do is for the church leadership is to respond in a calm and biblical manner. Most church by-laws require some sort of due process for the minister. It is important to have a meeting with him. Before that meeting takes place, it is a good idea to do fact gathering from people who are knowledgeable about the situation.

The church leadership should take seriously any first-hand evidence that is presented to them. Always be wise with any evidence, discernmentunderstanding the people presenting it. Such a time requires discernment. If a person asks for a meeting with the church leadership and confesses to an affair with the pastor, should their claim be taken seriously? Absolutely. They have a right to be heard. Their claim should not be rejected outright. If they have evidence of communication, it is even more helpful. A problem can arise when someone rejects their claim because this person, “Isn’t the pastor. They aren’t trustworthy.”

Every person who has a justifiable claim has a right to be heard. Again, the claim may later be rejected as false or partially false, but all evidence needs to be weighed before rejecting any outright.

Gossip, innuendo, and rumor is not typically helpful. Anonymous letters are not the greatest. However, I have known many women who have written such letters and were truthful in what they wrote. Of course, the fact that they did not sign them led many to reject the claim. The church leadership should be careful in approaching such communication.

The pastor’s side of the story should be heard as well. He needs to understand the facts that have been gathered or given to the church leadership. One of the worst things that can happen in a meeting is for things to get personal. Sticking to the facts is very important.  I’ll talk more about meeting with the pastor later. But understand that it is important to always gather as much information as possible.

Don’t Read Into The Situation

If you do hear gossip, receive a letter, or have someone approach your leadership about your pastor’s fidelity, treat it as a serious matter.

One of the worst things we can do when an accusation is made (and no fault has been found in the pastor yet) is to think, “You know he has been acting weird lately,” or “He has always hugged the women in the church too long,” or “I never did feel comfortable around him.” You may feel those statements are true, but those statements may have nothing to do with the matter on the table now.

As church leaders, examine the facts as you have them, pray over them and prepare your heart for what decisions may lie ahead. Next time, we will examine meeting with the pastor, his reaction, and his spouse.

Want to leave a comment? Click the “keep reading” button and join the conversation.

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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.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

When Pastoral Adultery is Discovered 20 Years Later

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, church leadership, church members, repentance, restoration, sin | Posted on 17-09-2014

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oldpulpitOver the past five months, I’ve gotten at least four emails that were almost identical, asking the same question. They all came from church leaders and asked this question: “What do we do when we just found out our current pastor committed adultery over 20 years ago? The deacons at that time knew of it, told him not to worry about it, he repented to them, and they went on, business as usual? But now, people are finding out and it is hurting the ministry of our church and the credibility of our pastor.”

In most cases, the pastor’s infidelity led to a long term relationship, sometimes with children. The current leaders are right to ask the question. And the question isn’t so simple. In fact, there are a lot of things to consider.

It’s not too surprising. In my book, I share the statistic that 1 in 3 pastors has crossed the line with another woman sexually, but is still serving as a pastor.

First, if it was properly handled the first time, is it wrong to bring it up again? Won’t it be doing more damage to the pastor, his family and the church? Second, if it wasn’t handled properly, is there a sort of “statute of limitations” on this type of thing? If it happened decades ago and hasn’t been noticed until now, why does it matter? Third, most of these men are late in their lives. If they go out on a scandal now, it will probably ruin their ministry career.

Needless to say, the first time I got one of these emails, it had to be handled prayerfully and with great discernment. I asked for advice and help from some friends and I think there is a solid answer to the situation, so I’m going to try and put it in words as best I can here for people to reference when they find themselves in a similar situation.

Let’s start with something I’ve always said about pastoral infidelity – or, for that matter, any sexual sin. It leads to messy, awful circumstances. Scripture teaches that very clearly. When we sin, there will be consequences. Let me be clear – there is forgiveness available for all sinners. Christ wipes the slate clean for us when we are repentant. However, the consequences of our sin may last a lifetime.

Whether we sinned five minutes ago or thirty years ago, we may have to deal with circumstances that stem from our sin. consequeAnd guess what? That’s expected. That’s part of humility and repentance. A person who is truly humbled by the grace of God and the consequences of their actions will live a life that proves that humility over and over again.

I meet people frequently who aren’t familiar with my story – how I was a Baptist minister and committed adultery – and some will say, “How could you?” My response, if I am humbled by the grace of God, will be, “I sinned, but I have been forgiven. God has been more than gracious to me.

Let’s turn to the charge of whether a pastor who confessed his sin only to his church leadership should have to bring it back up twenty years later. When I thought about this the first time, something bothered me about it. The church leadership either caught the pastor in sin, was informed about it, or the pastor told them. The leadership then decided for whatever reason, to not tell the rest of the church and keep the pastor in his place of ministry.

I believe this to be a huge mistake. And I believe it to be a mistake Scripturally. When a church hires a minister or has one given to them as their leader, they place their trust in him. They look to him as a man qualified per 1 Timothy 3. Are leaders perfect? Absolutely not. I’ve said more than once that leaders are held to unrealistic expectations. However, a pastor has a bond between himself and the leaders as well as the membership. When he violates any sort of trust with them, the membership needs to be made aware.

Let me be careful here – the response to an adulterous pastor is not to throw him into the street or ignore his sin. He should be removed from the pulpit. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times – the pastor needs to be restored to Christ per the standard of Galatians 6:1. He needs counseling, support, and Christian restoration. What he does not need is to be thrust back into a leadership role while the church is unaware that he has committed a major sin.

restoreFurther, in all of the men I have seen who have returned to the pulpit after sexual sin, it takes a very long time to be restored. First, they must be restored to Christ. They have to be restored to their wives. Then and only then can they even begin to think about the ministry. This process doesn’t take a few weeks – it takes months, or even years.

Next, is there a “statute of limitations” on this kind of thing? If it happened twenty years ago and no one noticed, should the church just keep ignoring it? Listen, if you as a church leader know and a couple of other people in the church know, chances are, a lot of people know. In fact, there are people in the community who have probably known for a long time as well. The sin that was committed a long time ago may have been a barrier to many people who might have been otherwise coming to your church. Sin does nothing but fester and grow. Like a disease, it has to be brought to light so it can be dealt with – lovingly and with discernment.

So how in the world is anyone supposed to handle this? I’m not going to tell you that there’s an easy answer. There’s not. A few decades have built up between the pastor’s sin and he’s had time to push it down and explain it away. And in that time, God has blessed the church in spite of his sin – assuming he is unrepentant.

Here’s a good way to tell if your pastor is repentant or unrepentant. Take a couple of the wisest, most discerning leaders to  meet with the pastor who know the facts. Approach him in a gentle manner with what you know. You will typically get one of two responses. The response will tell you whether he is  a man who is repentant over his sin or not. Here are the menmeettwo responses:

Response 1: “Are you kidding? We dealt with this twenty years ago. It was taken care of  and that’s all there is to say about it. All you’re doing is bringing up gossip and trying to run me down.

Response 2: “You’re right, you’re missing some of the details and I will tell you anything you want to know. At the time, we didn’t know how to handle it and when I talked to the leadership, that’s what we decided. Maybe it wasn’t the best thing to do. But I feel like I repented. But I want to do what’s right for the church and move forward. I’m open to working with you and whatever is best for my family, this church, and our ministry.”

Obviously, it won’t sound exactly like that. But you get the point. The pastor will have either lived a life of repentance from the point of his sin, or he will have spent his entire life justifying it.

Friends, it’s messy. It’s awful. And it’s because of sin. If you’re in this situation as a church leader, I’m sorry. But know that handling it with compassion, love, grace and kindness will get you a long way. Using accusative, bitter, angry language will simply shut the door. Threatening to leave or split the church will do nothing.

Offer him help, guidance and counseling. Know that I am here to help and I have other people I can put you in touch with.

guilty2If you’re a pastor who is serving who is in this situation, I urge you to do what is right. Stop living under the shadow of guilt and confess your sin to your church. To the people who trust you. As pastors, when we sin, we owe it to them to tell them that we have violated their trust. It won’t be easy, but it is the right thing to do.

Above all else, Christians, don’t let a situation like this ruin your church. Your community is watching to see how you will treat a sinner in your midst. Church members are watching to see how you will react. Always remember that all of us are sinners, saved by grace, who need correction and restoration. When times get difficult, don’t give up.

I’ll close by giving the advice I gave one church. I said to them, “One day, you’ll have to share with your children what happened to the pastor they knew when they were young. After you tell them, make sure you’re able to say, ‘Even though he couldn’t be our pastor anymore, we still loved him and treated him as Christ would have.'”

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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.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

 

Why I Do This Ministry

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, blog, ministry, pastors, reconciliation | Posted on 09-09-2014

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Today I had two significant phone calls.

One was to an old friend who told me that my book helped him give him the energy to give him the courage to get back into the ministry again.

The other, I can’t really talk about. I’ve gone a month without an email from anyone. A month without a contact. A month without a person emailing me. No fallen pastors. No fallen pastor’s wives. There was one person in there that who needed help. But it has not been like it has been.

But today…

Please pray for the person who contacted me today. Please. It was the most challenging contact of my ministry since I started five years ago. It was as if God was saying, “I’m giving you a month off, now deal with this, my son.”

I love my Lord. I love this ministry. I do it for free. I expect no donations, no money, no reward. The only reward I get is when the ministers say to me, “I didn’t think anyone understood me. Now I know I’m not alone.” That is what brings tears to my eyes. That is reward enough.

I started watching “The Wire” – the TV show, recently. I couldn’t get through it. Even though people said it was one of the best TV shows ever, I didn’t care for it. Sorry. I loved Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, etc. But there was a moment that stuck out for me. A character said to another, “When they ask you what you don’t want to do, don’t tell them.” In other words, the sergeant was saying that he had done something wrong. His commanding officer was asking, “What don’t you want to do?” And his answer would have been to assign him to do that thing.

When I fell from ministry, I don’t know what I would have said to God, “what I don’t want to do.” But right now, I’m in the midst of helping other fallen pastors. They are in the same shape I was five years ago. I see them struggling. I seem them justifying their sin. I see them trying to make sense of it all.

I see them with so few answers. But I can guide them. But they don’t want the answers. They want justification. They want a way out so often.

I hurt. I am in pain for them.

I want to grab them by the shoulders and say, “Listen to me! I know where you are! I can help you!

But they think they know what is right. But it’s like talking to your kids. They have to figure it out on your own. So be it.

I still love them. I will listen and love. And be there while they mourn and kick and frustrate and cry. That’s what I do. I love fallen pastors. Because I was there. They are my people.

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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.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

Why Fallen Pastors Are Like Snakes

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, forgiveness, pastors, reconciliation, restoration | Posted on 03-09-2014

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snakeyThis blog post title may be a bit misleading since this ministry is dedicated to helping fallen pastors and those hurt by a fall.

But fallen pastors are a lot like snakes. Why? Because you either like them or you don’t. A friend of mine who ministers to the fallen wrote this on Facebook the other day: “Keep us in prayer. As you know, the fallen are not well liked. We are doing all we can to help get them back up.

He’s right. Many people have a dim view of those who fall from ministry. Now, let me illustrate with something very bizarre that happened to me yesterday.

It started when my wife Allison and I were traveling to my work. She said, “Did you not see that huge snake you just ran over?

No, I didn’t. I have a soft spot in my heart for snakes. I like snakes. I’ll pick up the nonpoisonous ones and pet them. I’m pretty good (so far) at telling the nonpoisonous ones from the poisonous ones. When she said I had run over one, my heart sank. I asked her to describe it to me. What she described to be was a copperhead. Lethal. Deadly. An ominous snake. But in its own habitat, it’s fine. I didn’t feel good about running it over.

Later that night, as we often do, we sat on our back porch. Allison screamed. A large spider had made its home on our porch. It was huge. I love spiders. It was harmless. It had just made its way there to feed on the insects that gathered on our porch near our security light. Its abdomen was the size of a silver dollar. It was beautiful. It was building a web that was intricate and lovely. At one point, it got into a fight with an insect and fell four feet to the deck. I helped it back to its web with the aid of a fly swatter. It never knew I had done it. But I admired the spider.

I had left the porch lights on so the spider could feed, but also for another reason. My daughter, Katie, is working on a project to collect

The wasp chasing me around my house was 100 times this big. Really.

The wasp chasing me around my house was 100 times this big. Really.

insects for her biology class. We get a lot of tobacco moths and other interesting insects so I was hoping to get some critters for her.

About midnight, I went outside to see what I could gather. I didn’t see anything, so I came inside. But something followed me in. It buzzed like a horsefly. I chased it around the kitchen for a few minutes. Then I realized it wasn’t a horsefly. It was a yellow jacket.

A yellow jacket. It was pretty big; about an inch and a half long. I chased it around but I had no fear of it (There’s only one thing in nature I’m afraid of – whales. And on some WBFFA Saturday, maybe I’ll explain that.) I took me about five minutes, but I finally trapped it. When I did, it made me a little sad. I wanted my daughter to have it for her collection, but I also wanted to set it free. But a school science report demanded it be pinned to a board (FYI, Katie wasn’t happy about killing insects either.)

Now, most people can’t stand spiders, snakes, and stinging things. I’m drawn to them. I’m fascinated with them.

While Allison and I were on the back porch and she was backing away from the spider and I was inching toward it, I had an idea. I said, “You know, maybe if it weren’t for my love for creatures like this, I wouldn’t have a ministry.”

She said, “That’s a really good point.

I am a fallen pastor. And I’m invested in the lives of fallen pastors. Men, women, fallen pastors and ministers who the world has shunned. Those whom the church see as dangerous. Those whom people see as flying around the house and ready to sting everyone in their path. Those whom people see as setting up webs of destruction. Those whom everyone sees as ready to strike, being serpents, getting ready to devour the next church member in their path.

“Do you want to be defined by one sinful action in your life? Would Christ define you by a single sinful action in your life?”

But that’s just not so. Most fallen ministers have made a one time mistake. They have been caught up in a path of failure. They have messed up royally and need the help and attention and restoration of the church. They have wandered far from their calling and need a Galatians 6:1 restoration response from the community of faith. What they don’t need are people looking at them as if they are snakes, spiders, or yellow jackets, ready to do more damage. They need the people of the community of faith seeing them as believers who made a one time sinful mistake and want to repent of it.

You see, wasps, spiders, and snakes have it in their nature to bite, sting, on a regular basis. That’s not so for the majority of hurt pastors. They have been plagued by circumstances that have been weighing on them for a long time. Did they sin? Absolutely. And that sin is a consequence they have to face. They have to lay claim to it. They have to repent of it. (There are regular offenders out there – pastors who continually commit adultery over and over again. I’m not speaking of these people. I’m talking about the ones who have sinned and need help and restoration.)

But that doesn’t mean that they have become the wasp, the spider, or the snake. The fallen pastor does not need to be defined by one sinful action in their life.

Let me ask you, Christian. Do you want to be defined by one sinful action in your life? Would Christ define you by a single sinful action in your life? I don’t think so. That’s not the way of our Master. Maybe the fallen minister won’t be able to pastor again. That’s fine. But we are not the judge of one man. We are not allowed to define a person by one single action they make. What if God judged us by the standard we judged others?

If He did, we would all be in serious trouble.

Is that what we want for each other? No. Christ calls us to be something different. He calls us to reconcile. To forgive. To love. To see beyond faults. To set boundaries, yet love and help one another be restored back to Christ.

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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.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

The Rejection of the Fallen Pastor’s Wife

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, church, church leadership, church members, churches, repentance, restoration, wife | Posted on 29-08-2014

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Over the past five years as I’ve ministered to fallen pastors, their wives, their churches, and the women caught in adultery, there is one upwifeprofound and disturbing scene that plays over and over again. It is a story that is told in my book by eyewitnesses. It is a story I have heard numerous times over the past few years.

When a pastor or minister falls in adultery, the church is often quick to put him out. There is much anger, frustration, and sometimes hatred.

One of the questions that comes to bear quickly is, “What will his wife do?

This question is asked by her family. I’ve seen the wife’s family most often say, “You need to leave him. He’s cheated on you. Get rid of that man.

The response from the church is often the same: “He cheated on you and has abandoned his calling. Divorce him.

I don’t really know how to reconcile these thoughts. Let me say out front that adultery is awful. It’s terrible. When a man chooses to willingly commit adultery, he has abandoned his family, his marriage, and if he is a pastor, he has chosen to leave his ministry position. It is a terrible, sinful situation.

The feelings that occur when the pastor has been caught are tremendous. People feel betrayed. They are hurt. They have a sense of grief and vengeance at times. When any of us are hurt, we often lash out and want the person who has hurt us to feel the same hurt that we feel.

The cultural and secular response to adultery is to divorce. It is to leave your spouse. It’s the feeling the church has when they find out their pastor has committed adultery. It’s a typical response. It’s the most common response. The church wants to distance themselves from the pastor and they fire him, kick him to the curb, without any further mention of his name or consideration of his future. It is a very human and visceral response.

What I’ve been arguing for in this blog for five years is that the visceral response is not a biblical response. If the pastor shows no signs of repentance at all, it may be best to let him go on his way. But if he is caught and shows any kind of repentance, then Galatians 6:1 kicks into gear and we are to restore him as we are to restore anyone within the community of faith who has fallen into sin. That is what the body of Christ is about. I’m not talking about restoring him to the pulpit. But I’m talking about getting him help so that he can be restored to Christ. Back to his wife and family.

“What is most disturbing to me is the reaction I see when the pastor’s wife wants to restore her marriage to the fallen pastor and she is held in contempt.”

What is most disturbing to me is the reaction I see when the pastor’s wife wants to restore her marriage to the fallen pastor and she is held in contempt. This happens when the church has reacted harshly to the minister’s sin and they have no desire to restore him at all. They have decided that the best thing for the minister’s wife is to leave him. But, she has decided that the best thing is to stay with him and restore their relationship.

I have seen it play out over and over where churches see the pastor’s wife reject her as an ally of the fallen pastor. They see her as damaged goods – just as damaged as the fallen pastor.

What they should see is a woman who is deciding to be a restoring, Christ-like agent in the life of her husband. They should draw up beside her and give her and him the support they need to restore their broken marriage. Unfortunately, what happens too often is that the church throws both of them out. They see her as a blind person who can’t see that he is just a terrible, lost sinner who has fallen too far from grace and cannot be saved.

Is this the Christian response? Is this a biblical response?

hurtspI don’t want to be too hard on the church, because I believe in most cases, the church is responding out of anger and hurt. Most churches are ill-equipped to handle the fall of a pastor or minister in this situation. They may not have the ability to walk alongside their pastor and his wife, but they should be able to find people who can.

Friends, there is sin in this world. It happens to our leaders. And when a pastor falls and his wife bravely and Scripturally chooses to stay with him, they should be supported by the local body of believers. They should not be shunned or cast out. If the local church cannot find it within themselves to help, they at least should find someone on the outside who can walk with them.

Abandonment of a hurting ministry couple who are going through the worst time of their lives is not the answer. If we are going to address the serious issue of ministry failure, we have to do better. As church leaders, members, associational directors, denominations, and Christ-followers, we must do better to take care of those who we call brothers and sisters.

Here’s help:

Is Your Church Equipped To Handle Ministry Failure?” Fallen Pastor

Unmasking the Secret Pain of Pastor’s Wives

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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.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

3 Ways To Dig Your Way Out Of Sin

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, affair, help, repentance, sin | Posted on 27-08-2014

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You might have found your way to this site because you’re in the middle of a sin. Possibly adultery, mishandling money, pornography, maybe you’re about to commit adultery or have been getting too close to someone who isn’t your spouse. Also possible, you’re a pastor or minister.

I’m about to propose three ways you can start digging your way out of that sin. The obvious answer, most will say, is to turn to God and repent. That’s right. (To be clear, I’m not talking about human effort being able to save us from sin.) But when you’re a leader who has been engaging in deceit and deception, you feel like you’re as far away from God as you can be. I’ve been helping fallen pastors and leaders for five years and many of them ask, “How do I get out of this?

What a lot of people really want to know is, “How can I escape without anyone knowing?You can’t. Sin finds us out.

It’s a theme that’s repeated throughout Scripture. Sometimes we can hide from God and discovery for years. Sometimes months. But sin finds us out.

So what do we do when we’ve had enough of the lies and the deceit and we know we just want out?

1. Realize that getting out of sin costs at least as much as getting in. When we make the decision to sin, it costs. When we decide

This scene from "The Shawshank Redemption" aptly describes what it feels like to escape sin.

This scene from “The Shawshank Redemption” aptly describes what it feels like to escape sin.

to commit adultery, it will cost us our marriage (or a lot of therapy), our ministry, friendships, and a lot of other personal relationships. It will cost trust with other people. When we finally decide to get out of that sin, those accounts come due.

Sinning costs. And it costs a great deal. It’s not free. It comes with a great price. And when we’re tired of carrying it around, we have to realize that cost and be ready to face the consequences of it. Will we be forgiven by Christ when we are truly repentant? Yes, absolutely. Will we have the hope of reconciliation with people one day? Yes. But we also have to realize that we have crossed a line and we are responsible. That our sin costs and we have to be ready to pay the consequences for what we’ve done. (You might check out my previous blog post on punishment vs. consequences for more about this).

What I’m saying is that when you come to the point where you realize that you need help and you want out, push forward. Get out. The consequences will come. It is going to be tough. But God is merciful, there will be people who will help, and there is a future for you.

2. You can’t go wrong following Scripture. I like to ask pastors who are sinning, “What would you tell a church member in the sinning situation you’re in?” A lot of times, they say, “I don’t know.” That tells me that they really are blind to their sin. They know. They know exactly what’s wrong with what they’re doing. They just don’t want to stop doing it.

One of the best things you can do to find your way back is get on Google and type in your sin and “bible verses.” So if it’s adultery, Google, “bible verses on adultery.” Read them. If you’ve been sinning, it’s a good bet you’ve been doing two things. First, you’ve been hiding from God’s Word. Second, you’ve even been using God’s Word to justify your sin. Stop. Just read it for what it is. Listen for His voice.

3. Start telling the truth. If you’ve been in a pattern of sin, the best way out is to start telling the truth. It’s hard to stop lying and being deceitful when you’ve been doing it for so long. That’s why it’s best to find someone you can be truthful to. A mentor. A fellow pastor. A best friend. Heck, email me. And it’s going to be hard. It will be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. But you have to do it. Because the deceit that has taken root in your heart is not who you are.

It’s not who God designed you to be. It’s not who God planned for you to be.

It’s time to stop the sin. And it’s time to reclaim who you are. Get help. Reach out. That’s why this ministry is here. There are others out there who have been what you are going through. You’re not alone and you’re not worthless.

Other helpful articles:

You Can’t Unscramble the Egg” by Fallen Pastor

How Do I Stop Sinning? Overcoming Your Worst Sins” Beginning and End

How Can I Overcome Addiction and Sin in My Life?” by Jack Wellman

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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.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

Restoring the Adulterous Plumber and Pastor

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, church members, churches, forgiveness, restoration | Posted on 25-08-2014

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Fallen pastors go through a series of stages after their fall from ministry. It’s a topic that consumes a lot of space in my book, “Fallen Pastor.”plumber

Fallen pastors spend a lot of time being angry and justifying their actions. I know I did. Anyone caught in sin, as we all know, have the same reaction. Whether we get caught stealing, lying or breaking any number of God’s laws, each of us has an instinct to further sin and justify our actions. In our self-justification, we often become angry at those whom we have hurt and are angry with us.

Several of the fallen pastors I interviewed for my book (as well as me) had a response like this: “The local plumber, architect, or attorney can commit adultery and no one cares. But if the pastor does it, it’s the worst sin imaginable. He’s thrown out of church, everyone gets angry and forgiveness is never granted to him.

There is a lot of truth in this statement. However, as time has passed and repentance came, I realized that there were better ways of looking at the situation.

First, people do still gossip and talk when others commit adultery. However, when the pastor falls, the volume does get turned up. There is a reason for it. Scripturally, more is expected from church leaders than others. They are to be “above reproach.” When they are found to be otherwise, it can be an awful shock to those who placed their faith in him as well as a chance for an unbelieving world to cast doubt upon the message of Christ.

One of my angry arguments used to be that the church shouldn’t be any more angry at the layperson who committed adultery and was allowed back in the church after forgiveness than they were the fallen pastor. That might be a poor choice of words. But it cannot be denied that pastors are to be expected to be held to a higher standard as overseers of the flock. Does that mean that Bob the plumber doesn’t have to follow the ten commandments? Absolutely not. It does mean that a pastor is called to be a church leader. A shepherd. He is Bob’s leader and has a responsibility to display a life of righteousness inside and outside the church.

“Does that mean that Bob the plumber doesn’t have to follow the ten commandments? Absolutely not. It does mean that a pastor is ordained to be a church leader. A shepherd. He is Bob’s leader and has a responsibility to display a life of righteousness inside and outside the church.”

This doesn’t mean the pastor is “better than” Bob. It just means he has a life that is supposed to display qualities of biblical leadership that people should be encouraged to follow.

There are other leaders in our society who are held to a higher standard as well. Politicians, for one.  I blogged about Congressman Anthony Weiner and his fall from office after inappropriate Twitter conversations with women other than his wife. It should be noted, I don’t care for politics. But as far as I’m aware, there is no moral rule regarding politicians versus others. There have been immoral politicians since politics began, regardless of party, and each time there are people with demands that they should step down.

My point is this – there is no rule for career politicians to be moral, as far as I am aware. But there is a law for God’s people. All of God’s people. The law is the same but the standard is higher for leaders. “Let it not even be spoken of you.

There is another matter, one of forgiveness. When a Christian violates God’s law and repents, forgiveness is available immediately. Our God is just and loving and will forgive. We may not escape the consequences of our sin on earth, but we may find His peace now.

The sin of a layperson will probably not hurt a church as much as the moral fall of a pastor. When a pastor falls, the repercussions last for many years. The fallen pastors I speak to tell me that decades later, they still have not found reconciliation with their former church.

Regardless of who sins within the church, all members of the community of faith should be approached with the restoration attitude of Galatians 6:1. When one among us sins, we should see them as a fallen brother or sister in Christ, one who needs restoration back to Him.

Restoring the Sinning Brother,” John MacArthur

Restoring the Sinner,” by wordandspirit

Restoring Fallen Brethren,” by Ryan Hicks

Bearing Burdens: How One Sinner Relates to the Sin Of Another,” by Bob Deffinbaugh

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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.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

Why Didn’t God Stop Me From Committing Adultery?

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, affair, Christianity, church, church leadership, restoration | Posted on 20-08-2014

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adulteryIt’s a question that comes to me often. It comes across my blog search engine more than I’d think. “Why didn’t God stop me from committing adultery?

There are two different points of view on this question. Most people are on the outside of this question. Most people reading this blog are probably saying, “What kind of ridiculous question is that? Are you serious? A pastor is asking how God could keep him from committing adultery? What a sick person! He shouldn’t be in the ministry to begin with!

I hear you. I understand your objection. And you’re right. But slow your roll for a second. I’ll get to you. Remember before you get too excited that all of us have been in some situation where our sin has overtaken us and that we will find some excuse for it. All of us have fallen well short of the glory of God. All of us are despicable people. And when we are in our sin, we find a way to justify it. It’s just that when we see a pastor committing the worst sin we can imagine, we are quick to heap on him judgment.

Yes, he is wrong. Let me answer the folly of the question. I was there. I fell from the ministry and committed adultery. I didn’t ask that question, but I asked a lot of questions like that. And when I was asking questions like that, I was doing it to justify my sin.

There is no justification for sin. There is no justification for adultery. God will not stop any sin that He has clearly laid out in Scripture as wrong. He has given us His Word to let us know what is wrong. Stealing? Yeah, He covered that. Coveting? It’s there. Lying? All there. Gossip, drunkenness, slander, hatred, anger, coarse language? Sure. Adultery? It’s overwhelmingly there. There is no reason God would attempt to stop any of us from committing those sins. He has warned us over and over again from the folly of committing those sins. Cover to cover, He has shown us that it is counter to a life that is healthy, spiritual, and amazing.

Why would we even pray a prayer that started, “Lord, if you don’t want me to be an adulterous relationship, then stop it.” Seriously? He’s already given us so many written and revealed passages of why it is dangerous to the life of a believer. It is damaging to the soul. It is counter to His will. When we pray a prayer like that, I’m not even sure that He can even entertain the heart of that prayer.

So, let’s back up for a moment and think about our horrible little hearts. All of us.

If as a church, we think the best medicine for a pastor who has fallen is to throw him as far away from the healing power of Christ, then we should be ashamed.”

In my book, I detail the thought process of the fallen pastor. When he crosses the line into adultery, he starts living a lie. He crosses that line for several reasons. Once again, I must mention that there are circumstances around him that push him into that sin, but he owns that sin. He chooses that sin. He may get pushed to that brink, but that choice is his to make. He may be isolated, the church may be in conflict, he may have gone through horrible personal circumstances, his marriage may be horrible; but adultery is a choice he makes.

The pastor chooses adultery. When he does, he begins to make a framework of lies to cover up his sin. He has to hide from his marriage, his family, his church, his fellow pastors, his congregation, and his God. It may be for weeks, months, or years. He lies to everyone he knows. He does this to seek out a relationship that he feels will give him something he thinks will make him whole. It’s something he think he hasn’t felt in a very long time.

He keeps pursuing it at the risk of everything he has pursued for his entire life. In his hubris, he doesn’t think he will get caught. Some pastors hope they will get caught. They want out of the ministry. They want out of their marriage. But some think they can continue on for their entire lives.

When they do get caught – and they will – they get asked about it. And they will lie to protect their ministry, their livelihood and their reputation. And then the justification will come. And it will come in a series of questions or angry rebuttals.

Why didn’t God stop me?” “Why didn’t my wife love me more?” “Where was the church when I was hurting?

And you know what? I don’t want to dismiss those questions entirely. These men were hurting. They were under extreme amounts of hurt reachingand failure. They needed help at some point and probably felt like no one was reaching out to give them that help. Does that excuse their sin? Nope. But it does mean that they need restoration.

It does mean that the fellowship of Christ shouldn’t kick them to the curb. It does mean that they need restoration back to Christ. I’m not talking about restoration back to the pulpit. But I’m talking about wounded men and their families who need serious help. Men who have been hurt for a very long time who need to be able to put the pieces back together. Men who have been looking for answers and have been wounded by the ministry, by conflict, by isolation and need Christians to walk beside them in their most dire hour of need.

If we look at a fallen pastor and say, “Well, he cheated on his wife and we need to kick him out,” then we have probably violated the spirit of Galatians 6:1. If as a church, we think the best medicine for a pastor who has fallen is to throw him as far away from the healing power of Christ, then we should be ashamed.

There are better ways, friends. That’s why this ministry exists. I have networked with people to help pastors, their families, churches, the women they have committed adultery with and others. There is a better way. Pastors will fall. And we need to take care of all those involved. So let’s start doing it right.

Helpful links:

Restoring the Fallen” by Douglas Weiss

Restoring Fallen Pastors” by Eric Reed

Can restoration occur after a pastor has been caught in a scandal?” from Gotquestions.org

Is Your Church Equipped To Handle Ministry Failure?” Fallen Pastor

3 Things a Church Can Do When a Pastor Falls” Fallen Pastor

__________________

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.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

A Haunting Story of Pastor Suicide

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, book, Christ, church, churches, fallenness, hope, pastoring, pastors, self-harm, suicide | Posted on 15-08-2014

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psuicWhile 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 love him? Did anyone seek to restore him?’ It brought back so many memories of when I wanted to die.”

That story has haunted me. In fact, it has come to fruition many times since then. Recently, I got an email from a man who told me that a pastor who fell killed himself after committing adultery.

Once again, recent events have brought the suicide question to our thoughts and hearts.

I recall a long time ago a story about a youth pastor who hadn’t committed any kind of sin, but felt all kinds of anxiety and pressure. He was a seminary student. He called his insurance company and asked if his plan covered suicide. They told him it did. The next day, he wrapped himself in carpet in his car and pulled the trigger.

Ministry is very intensive. Extremely intensive. Whether you have committed a huge sin or not. In my book, I list the pressures ministers face.

Here’s what I want to convey to you today: Pastors are under a huge amount of pressure. They may put on a front that their lives are wonderful. I know I did.

A while back, I ran into a former church member of mine. Here is how the conversation went:

She said, “I thought your marriage was so wonderful.

I said, “It wasn’t. It hadn’t been for many years.”

She said, “But it looked so good.alonepastor

I said, “Yeah, but it wasn’t. What I’ve learned is that many pastors and their wives have learned to hide their sorrows and pains of their marriages very well.”

She said, “You did a very good job.”

Friends, isn’t about time that in the church, we started being real with each other? Especially in our church leadership? I hid the failures of my own marriage from myself. What if I had gotten help earlier? What if the church leaders, members, and people actually started being real with each other?

When I talked to the fallen pastors in my book, they lamented that they couldn’t be real with the people in their churches. Unfortunately, I see story after story about pastors who commit suicide because they see no end but to kill themselves. They can’t be real with anyone. Is it an excuse? No. But they have no one to reach out to.

Maybe you are the one to reach out the them. Maybe your pastor has fallen. Maybe you are disappointed in them. Maybe you have lost faith in them. But let me tell you this – God has never given up on them. And neither should you. Don’t ever give up on another human being, regardless of how you feel about them.

Pursue them. Love them. Remember the father of the prodigal son. Never let another person feel alone, regardless of their sin. Don’t abandon anyone. Ever.

Providence And DepressionRemember the mission of Christ. He never gave up on any of us. He went to the cross for us. Bleeding, weeping, when all was lost. And he made it count.

Even when your pastor committed adultery, embezzled money, lied to you – you don’t have to agree with his sin. But gracious me. You still have to show compassion. There is still some Christ in you to forgive. To show friendship. To say, “I may not understand why you did what you did – but the Christ in me still loves me for who you are.”

That’s all that is asked of us.

Other helpful articles:

I understand that the people at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are really awesome to talk to. Feeling like you’re on the edge? Close to it? Call them. Please: 1-800-273-8255 Check it, they have a website too: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

More links:

Why are so many pastors committing suicide?” by Crosswalk.com

Pastors: Mental Illness and Suicide” by Rev. Mark H. Creech

A Pastor’s Suicide: Addressing Mental Health in Black Churches” by Darnell Moore

Suicide: When Pastors’ Silent Suffering Turns Tragic,” by Greg Warner, USA Today

Pastors in Trouble 6: Pastors & Suicide” Fallen Pastor

Do Christians Who Commit Suicide Go To Heaven?” Fallen Pastor

Junior Seau and ‘The Easy Way Out‘” Ray Carroll on Provoketive.com

Whitney Houston and Humanity’s Most Important Question” Ray Carroll on Provoketive.com

Is Your Heart Right & Is Whitney Houston in Heaven?” Fallen Pastor

Robin Williams and Why Funny People Kill Themselves” by David Wong at Cracked.com (Warning: Strong language and images – a very informative and helpful article, however concerning depression, people of humor, and how they mask it)

__________________

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.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.

3 Things a Church Can Do When a Pastor Falls

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, church, church leadership, church members, fallenness | Posted on 13-08-2014

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Most churches are not equipped to handle the difficult event of a pastor who has fallen due to moral reasons. In the past four years, I’ve seen memberphow this process should not be done. So, I’d like to give some practical advice on how a church can proceed for the next few months with some dos and don’ts.

1. Do acknowledge the hurt and sin that has occurred. Don’t dwell on it negatively from positions of power.

You’re going to have hurt people. In fact, leadership is going to be hurting for a while. Make sure your church has a way to cope with all the different feelings that are going on – hurt, anger, disappointment. And there will be a lot of questions as well. Questions like, “How could he have done this?” and “Why don’t you tell us all the details?

It really is like a grief process. It’s like losing someone unexpectedly. Some members will leave the church. Do your best to check on them. Some may not want to talk. Some may want to talk too much about it. Whatever the case, provide appropriate and biblical ways for people to address their feelings.

facebook3One thing that might need to be addressed (if it gets out of hand) is the use of social media. Remind the church that they are messengers of grace to the community. It is good for them to share forgiveness and okay to express hurt, but gossip is never a good way to heal.

Leadership can lead by example. It may be difficult not to preach on topics that pinpoint the sins of the fallen pastor. It may be difficult not to say angry things in public that do nothing more than make the situation worse. Remember that many in the church will take their cues from you. Leaders are to be Christ-like in their reactions. Do they ignore sin? No. But they also understand that once sin has been committed and handed off to God, it is in His hands.

When the pastor is gone, it’s time to focus on those left behind. Begin the healing process.

2. Don’t allow the lack of a pastor put a stop to true ministry. Do choose to be active in what God is doing around you.

A lot of people, for better or worse, identify the pastor as the head of the church. He’s not. Christ is. But the pastor is the face of the church. He stands in the pulpit each week, he’s the one who carries out much of the visitation, he does the funerals, he shakes people’s hands with a smile, and his name is on the church sign. It’s good to remember the legacy he left. He did do a lot of good things in the name of God. It may take a long time to remember those good things in the wake of his sin – but he did them.

“Most pastor search committees ask really, really bad questions. In fact, many pastor search committees always tell you what the last guy did wrong by the questions they ask you.”

What I’m trying to say is that a lot of people are going to feel a little lost. That doesn’t mean that a member of leadership needs to step in and try to act like the pastor. In fact, I’d call for the opposite. When I wrote my book, I found that the reason a lot of pastors get so weak in the first place is that they spend too much time chasing after the “stuff of ministry” and not chasing after Christ.

Get the leadership together and take some time to look at what is going on in the church. Look around and see what God is doing. Sometimes we are so focused on what we are trying to do and what ministries we are trying to grow that we completely miss out on where God is at work. Sometimes God is working on a few people who are on fire for Him. Losing a leader doesn’t mean the end, sometimes it gives the community of faith a chance to reassess their love for one another and their role in the community.

3. Don’t be afraid to be without a pastor for a while. Do make sure your fellowship is ready for the next pastor God has for you.

I’ve seen churches whose pastor fell put a pulpit committee together the next week. I don’t really think that’s the wisest thing to do. This is a crude analogy, but I think you’ll understand. Have you ever been through a breakup? Relationships are tough, aren’t they? And if you tried started dating someone right away, it just didn’t work. Why? Because you were always comparing that person to the person you were just with. Because you were thinking about them.

Can I tell you a little secret that every pastor who has ever been interviewed knows? Most pastor search committees interviewask really, really bad questions. In fact, many pastor search committees always tell you what the last guy did wrong by the questions they ask you. I got into this conversation with some pastor friends of mine once. Here are some of the questions they got asked by search committees: “Do you allow women to pray?” “Do you think it’s important for the youth to sit up front?” “You do think it’s important to go visit the shut-ins, right?” “Your wife doesn’t argue much, does she?

Seriously.

Your church needs time to heal. And that’s a good thing. There are a lot of denominations that offer interim ministers that are trained to help after a pastor falls. There are men like me who are able to come in even for a few months and do training with churches to talk with them and help them with some of the issues they are going through. Make sure the church and the leadership has a healthy heart before you ask a new pastor to come in. Because it won’t be fair to him if you’re suspicious of him for sins the last pastor was guilty of.

Overall, work toward holiness and healthiness as a church body. Is it easy? Not always. Focus on the members who want to make things better. Chase after the members who are confused and frustrated. Don’t give up on anyone. Be ready to partner up stronger Christians with weaker ones. Disciple one another. Love one another. Christ gave us the church for days such as these – so that we might live abundantly and share all things together.

forgivemeOne final thought. And tuck this waaaaaaaay back in your mind. There may come a day a long time in the future when your pastor has gone through his restoration process. And a few of your members want to contact him and say, “I forgive you.” Let them. He will desperately need to hear those words. He really will. And if you’re even braver, five years or so down the road, have the church leadership contact him and ask him how he is. And offer forgiveness to him if he’s repentant. You have no idea what that could mean to him.

I and other fallen pastors still live in a time where we are repentant and living lives in the best way we know how and we would love to reconcile (or hear “I forgive you”) with those we hurt all those years ago. It may never happen on this earth or in this lifetime. But you never know.

Other helpful resources for church leaders and churches:

How can a church survive/recover when a pastor leaves?” from Gotquestions.org

Is Your Church Without a Pastor?” by Dan Reiland, Global Christian Center

Want to leave a comment? Click the “keep reading” button and join the conversation.

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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.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.