How does a pastor’s fall effect a community? How should local pastors react? What is the church supposed to do when the pastor commits adultery? Whether you’re a regular attender, member, or visitor, you might be looking for help or a way to cope.
When a pastor falls, a sort of shock wave goes out through the community at large. The church finds out first and word spreads through many different sources. Some of the stories are shared accurately and some of the details become distorted as the tale is passed on.
Let’s look today at how the fall of a pastor effects the different parts of the community and how people can make things better for the church.
1. Those attached to the church
The local church is typically considered to be those who are members and attend with some regularity. Those who are attached might be regular attenders who have never joined, those who are members who consider it their home church, those who live in the community who attend strictly for special services, or those who send their children to the church but do not attend themselves. All of them hold some fondness for the church for a particular reason.
In the years since my fall, I’ve had a chance to talk to some of these folks and how the pastor’s fall had an effect on them. For some, there was great anger toward him and his sin. They were angry that he could commit such a sin and some returned to the church during the turmoil to show support. Some, if they were still members, would willingly show up to vote him out if he had not yet resigned.
I’ve also seen the opposite reaction. Some in this group showed the attitude of, “He’s a sinner/human like the rest of us. He should lose his job, but out of place anger isn’t going to help anyone.”
Why the two reactions? The same two reactions can be seen in a cross section of regular membership, but anger typically prevails. Possibly they don’t have as much of an emotional stake. Perhaps they did not know the pastor well. Or maybe it was a response they learned elsewhere. We will address that in a moment.
2. Local pastors
It actually takes a little longer for local pastors to find out that another pastor has sinned in the community. He typically hears from a church member or from another local pastor. Sometimes he will hear it during a weekly pastor’s meeting.
Again, the responses are different. Many local pastors will distance themselves from the fallen pastor. Even if they’ve known the man for years or from seminary, communication will be shut off. Why? We would hope our pastors would be the most compassionate.
After talking to fallen pastors, ministry leaders, associational leaders and others, I think I’ve put together a pretty good list of why local pastors seem to turn their backs on the fallen pastor.
One, they might feel as if they have nothing to say. What could they say to him? What counsel could they offer? It’s difficult even for a pastor to talk to someone who has fallen so far. Two, they might feel that if they talk to him or help him, they might be seen as being guilty by association. Many pastors are image conscious and don’t want to be seen associating with a pastor caught in adultery. Third, deep down, they each know that lurking within them is the same propensity for sin. Within each of them is lust waiting to be drawn out by temptation. A fallen pastor reminds us all of our frailty.
3. The media and the public at large
Thankfully, this is something I really didn’t have to deal with in a big way. I did have to answer people in public when they had questions, but they were rare.
But I’ve talked to many who have had large churches and their adultery was a news story on television or in the newspaper. Living with that is called consequences. And from what I understand, it’s pretty awful. Most people think the guy deserves it.
What Should We Do?
Let’s step back from these three groups and make an assessment. How are we to react? What are we supposed to do?
I’ve found that people are going to respond to the fall of a pastor in one of three ways, typically. One, they will try and sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen while asking him to resign. Two, they will force him out and kick him to the curb in anger. Third, they will ask he resign, but surround him in love and godly counsel, seeking to restore him to Christ.
The different reactions, I believe, are a mixture of what we’ve witnessed, what we’ve been taught, and our personalities.
So what about those who aren’t in church very often? If your voice is one of compassion, help and restoring the pastor to Christ, than its important. If you’re going back to add more pyres to the wood pile, don’t.
Do I say that because I’ve been there? Yes. And I’ve been on both sides of it – the side that stirs it up and the side that is being condemned. Before ever moving to condemn anyone, always remember, “There, but for the grace of God go I.”
If you can help the pastor, do it. I had two pastors who reached out to me. That was it. But I had several friends who didn’t go to church reach out to me. All of these people loved me for who I was and not in spite of what I did.
Also, don’t believe everything you hear – from the rumor mill OR the freshly fallen pastor. Bottom line: he sinned and needs people to walk with him. To talk with him, not condemning him, but pushing him towards repentance and restoration.
It’s also important to ask what your role is in the fall of a pastor. Is it your pastor? Is it your church? If not, pray for him. Don’t spread gossip. Support those you know within the church. If you have godly advice for the church that follows Scripture, offer it. But pray for the church’s leadership that they handle things in a godly manner.
If the fallen pastor tells you his story, it will be from his point of view and it may sound like he is justifying it. You will know he is repenting when he begins to understand that he sinned in the face of God.
And when someone calls you to tell you “what they heard”, don’t listen. Just remember there are people involved all the way around who need love, prayer, support and guidance. Remind yourself what it’s like to be gossiped about.
Above all, have the heart of Christ. Have love for the angry church member, the hurt spouse, the fallen pastor, the other woman, the children, and the church. You can’t go wrong by showing love.
Ray Carroll is author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.” If you are a fallen pastor, a pastor in trouble, a church whose pastor has fallen, or need someone to talk to your group about preventing ministry failure, please feel free to contact Ray here. All messages will be kept confidential.