So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV)
I write a lot about reconciliation and forgiveness. There are several reasons for this.
First, I was horrible at it before I fell. I was an awful example to my family, my friends, and my congregation. I now know what it’s like to be the one who desperately wants to be reconciled with people I have harmed.
Secondly, one of my reasons for blogging is that I want to see churches and fallen pastors reconcile. Some churches actually handle the process the right way. They approach the pastor when they discover his indiscretion, they help he and his family get help as they depart and stay in contact with him.
However, this is a rarity. Most churches harbor bitterness, anger, and never get over the event. I do not believe this is the will of Christ. As the verse above states (and many others), those who have been sinned against should be the initiators of reconciliation and forgiveness. As I have stated before, this does not mean letting the minister back to a place of authority necessarily, but it does mean love and forgiveness.
There are a lot of verses about forgiveness. Some put the onus on the one who sinned. But the verse above and others put the responsibility on the one who was sinned against.
In the Southern Baptist Convention, there are literally hundreds of churches that have been hurt by fallen pastors. Some of these churches have not made amends or reconciled with these pastors.
Do not hear me placing full blame on these churches. If you’ve read my previous posts on the matter, you will know that is not how I feel. These men fell and sinned. Sometimes, they get pompous after their fall and immediately try to return to ministry. They become recalcitrant and egotistical. I understand that.
However, there is a responsibility for churches to reconcile with repentant fallen pastors.
The majority of our Southern Baptist churches are not growing. There are many reasons for this. Could I suggest that one of the many reasons for it is that we have a lot of junk in our souls that needs to be cleansed?
I know of one local church whose pastor left forty years ago on bad terms. He didn’t even sin morally. It was just a bad situation where he got into an argument with a deacon and his family who “ran the church.” Ever since that time, the church has replaced the pastor every three years like clockwork. The family who was “in charge” is still there running the show.
When you ask an outsider what is going on at that church they always point back at the event that happened forty years ago. That’s a shame.
That makes me concerned about churches all across the nation. It makes me concerned about the church where I fell, and it is my fault. It makes me concerned about the churches where other pastors fell who haven’t taken the time to heal or reconcile with the pastor.
Two things are happening in churches like that. First, a dynamic of distrust can set in where congregations will always have a weary eye of the pastor. And secondly, if the people never forgive, there is the constant sin of unforgiveness in the midst that will hinder worship, growth, and spiritual awareness.
I had a funny thought about evangelism as well. Would churches affected by a fall be less likely to evangelize? Would they be less likely to invite people in knowing that they might have potential sins to deal with?
In our Southern Baptist churches, we do a superb job of putting on a “happy face” each Sunday. We sit up straight, sing when we’re cued to, and shake hands.
If you have kids though, you know that the ride to church is completely different. “Don’t hit your sister! Be quiet back there! You’d better stop complaining about going to church! Don’t act up during the sermon this week!”
And each Sunday during Sunday School a topic will come up and we’ll shake our heads at the sinful topic brought up. Lust? “We shouldn’t do that, but you know everyone struggles once in a while.” Greed? “That’s a terrible thing, we should store up our treasures in heaven.” Anger? “Well, righteous anger is fine, but Jesus said love your neighbor.”
What if we were transparent during Sunday School? Lust? “Yes, I fight it daily, friends. Each day I struggle. Will you please pray for me?” Greed? “I’ve run three credit cards past their limit and it’s out of control.” Anger? “Me and my wife are having problems. I need help from someone. Can anyone here help me?”
What about during the week? What if we acted at church like we did at work? What if the pastor walked in on us at our most sinful moment? What if people saw us worried about our finances, fighting with our spouses, angry with our co-workers, cussing at the mechanic who messed up our car, kicking the cat, etc.?
If we acted at church like we did during the week – now that would be transparent. To have people see us as we really are – broken, sinful, wrecked, miserable, depressed. Because under those Baptist smiles are broken, sinful people who really need help.
When I was a pastor and would go to my bi-vocational job, people would cuss in front of me without knowing I was a pastor. When they found out, they’d say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were a preacher.”
I’d say, “Why are you sorry to me? You didn’t do anything to me. Be yourself.”
Why don’t we act around our church friends like we do around our weekday friends? We’re not transparent.
But guess what? God sees right through us. And yet, He loves us still. He shows us grace and mercy.
But, if one of us sees a church member sin or a church leader fall, we judge them harshly. And quickly. And we gossip. No grace. No mercy. Only judgment.
Know why we’re in decline? Because most of us (and I’m including myself in this) don’t look a thing like Christ and His grace when it comes to dealing with one another, much less non-Christians.
We haven’t forgiven those who have sinned against us. We harbor anger, bitterness and rage when long ago we should have reached out and shown mercy as Christ has shown to us.
But strangely enough, each of us will pile into our cars on Sunday, looking our best, put on our Baptist smiles and push down our troubles.
It doesn’t have to be that way. If we were all transparent, (because we practiced being real in front of one another) if we left our Baptist smiles at the door, shared our hurts with one another, reconciled our pasts, then looked out into our community and realized that we’re just like everyone else, we might just be fueled for evangelism.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1 ESV)
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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.
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