Category Archives: grace

Can I Forgive Myself?

Should Christians forgive themselves? I’m not addressing anything new here. If you’re not aware of the disagreement, let me give you a brief synopsis. It centers around the questions, “Can I forgive myself? Is self-forgiveness possible?”

shameOn one hand, there are those who say that Christians are fooling themselves when they seek to “forgive themselves.” Self-forgiveness is not biblical. If we have sinned and repented, God has already forgiven us. We can’t forgive ourselves any further. Here’s how John MacArthur puts it:

The person who complains about not being self-forgiving is often simply looking for flattering or consoling words from others as a way of salving the hurt that guilt has caused to their pride.” (Another helpful article here on this side of the argument.)

On the other side are those who say that self-forgiveness is necessary. Christians may have the knowledge that forgiveness has been applied, but they still wallow in guilt. However, their continued self-doubt has trouble accepting it. Here’s what blogger Michelle Van Loon writes:

On the other side of the equation, I think . . . we need to receive Christ’s forgiveness first and foremost in order to be empowered to extend forgiveness to others – and ourselves.”

I believe in a form of self-forgiveness, but I am careful to define the terms. I think both arguments have tremendous merit and I think both are saying many of the same things. The first group, I believe, is trying to keep Christians from justifying sin – which is important. The second group wants to make sure that Christians understand that some people have trouble accepting God’s forgiveness.

Alright, so let me break this down with a very personal example. I fell from ministry. I committed adultery. My own personal repentance before God took a long time. It took a while before I was humbled before Him and knew that my heart was right and I had begun to walk a path of brokenness and obedience again.

The sin of adultery is a heavy one. I did it, it was my fault. The consequences are mine to bear for the rest of my life. I knew theologically and in my mind that I was forgiven. There was no doubt that I stood clean before God and that the sin of adultery had been cast as far as the east was from the west. Scripture promised it and it had been appropriated to my heart and life.

But for a long time, I struggled to accept God’s forgiveness. Why? Several reasons. First, my shame. I was still ashamed of what I had done. I carried it around with me like an albatross or a scarlet letter. Even though I knew the truth of forgiveness, I had not assented to it yet.

Secondly, maybe I doubted that God could really forgive me. Maybe it wasn’t doubt. Maybe it was wonder at His grace. Why would He forgive me? There were plenty of people who still hated what I did. I hated what I did. I still asked daily for His forgiveness even though I knew that sin had already been forgiven.

Thirdly, I think I didn’t truly understand grace. I felt like I had to do something to gain God’s favor. On one gracemercyhand, I was trying everything to get back the favor of people I had hurt. So it only seemed natural that I had to make God like me again. But that wasn’t the case. He had forgiven me. He loved me because of the sacrifice and work of Christ. But I hadn’t accepted that yet.

But one day it finally hit me. Call it whatever you like. I forgave myself. It was a moment where I said to myself, “God has forgiven me. Why am I continually bringing up this sin to Him if He’s forgiven it? I’m the only one who is holding on to it. I need to let it go.” In that moment, I forgave myself. Maybe that’s not the best word. If you want a theological term, I recognized the appropriation of God’s forgiveness and grace to my life.

Whatever happened, it was all God. My self-realization did nothing to save me. My “self-forgiveness” didn’t make more sin go away. Christ had already done the work. But thanks to the Holy Spirit, my eyes were opened to His continuing grace in my life.

So, self-forgiveness? I can live with the term if it’s used in the right way. MacArthur has the right approach. The other blogger is right too. No, we can’t excuse away our sins by ourselves. But if we don’t understand the grace that has been applied, we can be hindered from understanding the amazing love we have been shown.

Other helpful articles:

Christians Must Forgive Themselves” by Mike Ruffin

Can Christians ‘Forgive Themselves’?” by Michelle Van Loon

Forgiving Ourselves” by Charles Stanley

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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.

Fallen Pastors and Divorce

2percentThis isn’t an easy post. Some fallen pastors who have committed adultery end up with the woman they commit adultery with. I was one. How should we approach the issue of fallen pastors and divorce?

Let me share with you a couple of things before I start. The statistic is non-negotiable – 2% of marriages that are built on adultery succeed. You get that? That means if you marry someone that you commit adultery with, you are looking down the barrel of a 98% failure rate.

Now, let me share with you this quote from Dr. Hershael York, preaching professor who I interviewed for my book. He had a great reason why marriages built on affairs don’t really last. It’s because when you’re engaged in an affair, it’s really a fantasy world that you can come and go from. It’s not a true relationship that is founded on the marriage ideal:

Every time you have an affair with anybody, I don’t care who you are, in a sense, you’re having an affair with a fantasy and not a real person. Because the person you’ve got to pay the mortgage with, deal with the kids’ soccer schedule with, the one whose vomit you wipe up when they’re sick, that’s the real person you live with. Twenty minutes in the sack on a Tuesday afternoon is really not love. You’ve got to tell yourself that. You’ve got to awaken yourself to the fact that it’s fantasy. If you end up with the person you had an affair with, I guarantee you once you get married you have to face the same issues and same struggles. You cannot take two totally depraved human beings, stick them in the same house and not have friction.” (Fallen Pastor, p. 172)

He’s right. The thrill of the affair is not the same as a marriage covenant.

I did in fact, marry Allison, who was the woman I met and had an affair with. We are still here after four years. We are not the norm. I do not encourage fallen pastors to run after the women they had an affair with. For some reason, Allison and I have made it work. She is great for me. She loves me for who I am and I love her with all my heart. Does that make our sin right? Nope. But we are here, attempting to move on past what we did and trying to live a life of holiness.

I’ve often said that pastors don’t just wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll commit adultery today.” They don’t. It takes a long time to get to that point. Know this – their sin is their responsibility. There are factors that weaken them and I list them in my book – poor relationship with spouse, overly high expectations, church conflict, isolation and many times a huge trauma.

pastorkidsOne thing that many fallen pastors don’t think about is what the fallout will be. When I was on the road to leaving my wife and the ministry, I just knew I wanted to be with Allison. I knew it would cost me my job and the contact I had with my children.

When I finally got caught, it became more real to me. It was all over. All of it. Especially the contact I would have with my children.

I won’t sit here and tell you that it was an easy thing. It was the most difficult thing. In fact, all of the fallen pastors I talk to tell me that losing full time contact with their children in cases of divorce is the most devastating thing for them.

There are some statistics that should bother anyone involved in church today. The statistic that a vast majority of ministry couples feel that serving in the church has a detrimental effect upon their marriage. That most ministry couples experience anxiety and depression.

People ask me, “Would you do it again if you had the chance?” I don’t like hypothetical questions. What I do consider is being able to provide for my children, making sure they are happy, and being involved with them and being free to talk with them when they desire.

They are daddy’s girls. I am proud to say they love me. We discuss things that I know they only share with me. They know what I did was a sin, but they love me anyway.

Divorce is a terrible, sinful thing. They know this. But each time I see them, they wrap their arms around me and call me “Daddy.” They love me despite my flaws and care about the ministry I’m involved in now.

What is the point I’m driving at? Well, there are two. First, if you are a pastor who is thinking about adultery, please think about the consequences. If you fall, it will effect everyone around you. Your church, your wife, your kids and people in the community. If there is something there to salvage, work on it.

Secondly, if you have fallen, do what it takes to work things out with your family. Your kids, parents, siblings, trustgrandparents, whomever. Not everyone will be easy to trust or forgive you right away. You need to understand that you are the one who sinned. If you are truly repentant and understand grace, then you will give people time to heal.

Divorce is a serious thing. Fallen pastors, are you ready to go into those proceedings? Many hurt pastor’s wives want to leave you immediately. It’s because they are hurt. They often listen to the counsel of their family or those in the church who are hurt as they are. If you want your wife back, try to get an impartial mediator involved.

If divorce is pursued, seek the heart of Christ. Don’t be an angry person. Always be thinking about your children. Don’t respond with hatred when hatred is thrown back at you. Remember that the reason your spouse is acting as she does is because you did what you did. Show true, repentant humility.

You might not be able to stop a divorce, but beginning with true, Christ-like humility can put you on the right step toward a lifetime journey of repentance and holiness.

Finally, I will tell you this. When a wife has been cheated on, she has the right to be angry. Don’t expect her to forgive you or gain your trust overnight. I’ve seen a lot of fallen pastors say to their wives within months of the act of adultery, “God says you should forgive me.” Wrong approach. When we commit adultery, we have caused depths of hurt that we do not understand.

Step back, repent to God and allow Him to work on the hearts of others. Know that trust takes a long time to be restored. It may never be restored. I’ve seen fallen pastors whose wives never forgive them or always hold their adultery over their head.

How does one respond to that? With grace. With the same grace we desire after we committed adultery. We cannot expect to change anyone’s heart but our own. When you sin, turn to God. Allow Him to change in you what it is that went wrong. Even if your marriage ends in divorce, be patient with others. Allow God to make you a new person.

As Dr. York taught me, “Make your repentance more notorious than your sin.”

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.

How God Uses The Fallen

Forgiveness: Who's Saying What?, Part 1Four years ago yesterday, I married my best friend. Not too long before that, I had fallen from the ministry because I had committed adultery. It was a sin that hurt many people, my family and others. It took me a long time to see what the fallout and consequences were.

A few months after my fall I started this blog to try to make sense. Throughout my life I’ve written for many reasons. I write when I’m happy, when I’m sad and a lot of times I write when I’m trying to make sense of things. Those days, I was writing to try to make sense of all the competing voices in my head. I had theological voices, voices of my dead parents, selfish voices, voices of guilt, happy voices – and I didn’t know what to do.

So I wrote.

These four years later, I think back to something Allison said to me one time. She says a lot of smart things when I take time to listen to her. She said, “God uses us because of our mistakes.” For a long time, I had been saying, “God uses us in spite of our mistakes.” She was saying something different.

I had made a mess. A big sinful mess. And for a long time I wasn’t sure God loved me, cared about me, or would forgive me. I didn’t think anyone wanted to love me or talk to me ever again. I had alienated my family, the people close to me, a church, and people who cared about me.

Allison and I had made a decision. We were all the other wanted. And there we were. And I had doubts. I didn’t have doubts about me and Allison. I had doubts about whether God would have any use for me.

I started blogging. Now, let’s fast forward to today. I’ve learned a lot since those days. Those confusing days that ran together. I know that God doesn’t want us to sin. He doesn’t want His leaders to commit adultery.

I also know that I get a lot of emails from all kinds of people. Fallen pastors, churches whose pastors have fallen, fallen pastor’s bluewives, etc. It used to be one or two emails a week. Now its more like seven or eight a week. Guess what I tell them? I tell them what’s biblical. I tell them what’s loving. I tell them what I didn’t understand before. The things that are Christ-like and loving and compassionate.

I don’t affirm sin, but I love them. I reach out. I just listen and let God do His thing.

And in all of that, God uses me – uses us – because of our sin. I had a fallen pastor a few weeks ago call me. He started talking to me and my heart broke for him. And he sounded just like I did when I was spilling my guts out to a guy four years ago. Every story sounds almost exactly like every other story except the details change just a little. I stopped him for a moment and told him, “Hey, I understand – and let me ask you – were you feeling . . . ” and I gave him the four things fallen pastors usually feel and experience before they fall.

He stopped. He said, “It’s like you’re in my head.”

That’s right. I was. Because I’ve been there. I don’t like the fact that I’ve been there, but guess what? In some way, I’m glad I have been there. Because I get to minister to people that most pastors, denominations, churches, and leaders throw into the trash. When these guys have been cast aside, I get to talk to them. And know what? Not many people get them. In fact, no one really understands what it’s like to be a fallen pastor except a fallen pastor.

God uses me because of my sin. Broken, fallen, cast aside – He picked me up, looked at me and said, “I still have use for you. Let me put you back together and give you purpose.”

I cannot express to anyone how much I love the depths of the grace of God for that. And how one day I will be happy to simply fall at the feet of Christ and throw all I have – which will be the most stinky, worthless rags in the world – at His feet and thank Him.

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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.

“So You’re The Adulterer!”

SIX FEET UNDER: Michael C. Hall, Peter Krause. CR: John P. Johnson/HBOI love talking to people who work in funeral homes. They have some of the most amazing personalities. They deal with people and care for them at the worst point in their lives on a daily basis. Yet, most of them have the best attitude when you get to know them.

A couple of years ago, I was riding in the pallbearer car back to the funeral home with a woman who was one of the managers. We had talked a bit and she said, “What do you do?”

Now, for me, that is a loaded question. And it can turn very quickly into a shocking answer for a lot of people. As I’ve written before, the reaction can often times be very interesting.

We had already talked enough that she knew I worked in sports medicine. What this 50-something woman who knew people really wanted to know was, “What was I doing as a pallbearer at this funeral?”

I said, “I used to pastor this church that most of these people went to.

She said, half-joking, “What did they do? Kick you out?

I had to smile because she probably wouldn’t have asked it like that if she had known. Or maybe she would have. She had a great sense of humor and, like most funeral directors, shot pretty straight.

What made the trip more interesting was that a former church member of mine was sitting in shockedthe back seat. He had left the church a few years before I fell and I knew it had been hard on him to talk to me about it. On several occasions, I had seen him, shaken his hand, and that was all he really had wanted to do. But I wasn’t going to miss a chance to talk to this woman or answer her question.

So I did.

I committed adultery,” I said.

Her mouth dropped wide open, “Ooooooohhhh!” I thought for a second the car was going off the road as she adjusted her sunglasses. Then she looked at me and said, smiling, “I’ve heard about you.

I said, “Most of it is probably true, I’m sure.” Her statement would have bothered me two years ago, but thanks to a lot of helpful people, time and forgiveness, I just smile.

She said, “You wrote a book! Didn’t you?

Yes ma’am, I did. Did you read it?” I asked.

No, I didn’t think I needed to, I’m not a pastor,” she said.

Well, it’s not just for pastors,” I told her. “It’s for everyone. It’s about learning to forgive, what we expect of our pastors, how we can restore people, how we’re all sinners…

She stopped me and continued my thought, “You know, you’re just a sinner like me. You’re no different. We all mess up. Why is it people find it so hard to forgive pastors?

That’s a great question,” I said. “We are all sinners. I disappointed a lot of people who expected more from me. And they should have.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t forgive,” she said with a slight frown.

No, it doesn’t,” I said. “It just takes some longer than others. Hurt can last a long time. I haven’t always been perfect and no one else is either. The good news is that I’m running a ministry now online for fallen pastors like me. To help them, give them encouragement and hope. I also am there to help other pastors prevent what I went through.

We talked about other stuff on the way back to the funeral home. For instance, I found out it was easier to make creme brûlée than I thought. I still haven’t been able to master it though. Darnit.

jeremiah179She let me out at my car and said, “Thanks for sharing that. You’re a good person.”

I knew what she meant. And I appreciated her saying so. But I’m not good. None of us are. None of our heroes are good. They are all stained with sin and mere moments from a fall. When they do fall, I pray we all have courage to forgive.

The best part of the trip came when we arrived at the funeral home. The man who used to go to church where I preached and I got out of the car and we waved me down as I walked to my car.

Ray!

I turned around to see him there. This man I had apologized to yet had not been able to have a meaningful conversation with since I had fallen. He was much older than me, but wiser, and spoke softly. He had his bible in his hand and I approached him. I honestly had no idea what he wanted to talk about.

He said, “I was listening to what you told her. And all I wanted to say was I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s a good thing.” He wished me well and walked off.

Sometimes, it’s hard for people who have been hurt to ever say anything at all. And that’s probably all I’ll ever hear him say. What I really want from people is, “Ray, we forgive you, just like God has.” But it doesn’t always work like that. And that’s fine.

I’ll take the little moments when they come.

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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.

 

“List of Fallen Pastors”

list-500x250Once in a while, I like to look at my site stats and see what people are searching for. More and more, people have searched for “list of pastors who have committed adultery,” or “names of pastors who have committed adultery.”

I blogged about this topic for Provoketive Magazine on March 7, 2012. The article gets its fair share of hits.

For four years, the majority of searches that have led people to this site were searches like “pastors and adultery,” “how to forgive a pastor,” “how to help a fallen minister,” or “should pastors who commit sin be allowed back in the pulpit.” But more and more, people are simply asking for lists.

What is our fascination with lists? Go to Google and type in “list of pastor scandals” and you’ll get more than one blog that has a list of “Hall of Shame” of pastors or how pastors who fall are the most horrible people imaginable.

The trend of people searching and looking to compile such lists should give us pause. I have a few ideas why this trend exists and would like to share them.

1. People are searching for a specific pastor who fell. fallen

It might be that someone is using a search engine to find out whether a specific pastor they know, or their pastor who committed adultery, found his way on a master list somewhere. This supposes that a master list exists in the first place.  But why would a church member want to find their pastor’s name? Maybe they want details, maybe they’re trying to make sense of why he committed the sin in the first place, or maybe they are looking for a way to share the story with others.

2. People are noticing the alarming trend in pastor failure.

Pastors are falling at an alarming rate. In my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” I list several pages of statistics that should make the average Christian shudder. Pastors are under a tremendous amount of stress, their ministries are crumbling, they are looking outside their marriage for love, some are sinning and not getting caught, and it’s not getting much better. Typically, when we hear about a mega-church pastor falling in the news, it is just the tip of the iceberg. We never hear about the small-church pastors, bi-vocational pastors, or medium-sized church pastors who are falling at the same rate.

3. People want to do something and don’t know where to start.

Fallen_Pastor_Cover_1200wOver the past few months, my inbox traffic has picked up. Fallen pastors, their wives, churches, church members, and any number of people looking for help. Several new blogs have popped up over the past year of fallen pastors telling their story of their fall from ministry. Some have even emailed me telling me that they were inspired by my story.

All of this tells me something important. Something exists today that did not exist five years ago – a better awareness of a serious problem. When I fell almost five years ago, there was almost nothing online to help fallen ministers. Today, there is a groundswell of help. It’s not always easy to find, but it’s there for those who are really interested in searching for it.

This year, I’m hoping for big things. I’ve talked to people about serious plans for speaking to more church groups, conferences, and men’s groups. I hope that one day, some of us will be able to hold a conference on pastoral health and share what we’ve learned. I pray that the epidemic of fallen pastors will become nil. That it won’t be a news story.

I pray that this is the year when the dreams I’ve shared with others will begin to materialize and God willing, lives will be changed.

I pray that this is the year that churches become aware that their pastor is under a tremendous weight and that the institution needs to change. I pray that churches and their leadership come together to help the pastor before weakness can take hold of him.

I pray that no longer will pastors say that the ministry is a thing that weakens their marriages, but bolsters it.

And I hope and pray that when people search for “list of fallen pastors,” the top result will be, “list of pastors whom God rescued.” Lord willing, we can and will make it happen.

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

____________________________

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.

Hershael York Interview, Pt. 1: True Repentance & Brokenness

york2Dr. Hershael York is known by many as the preaching professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. By some, he’s known as an outspoken critic for moral and Christian issues. To a few hundred, he’s the pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky, in the midst of paying off their debt and moving to a new facility. By a privileged few, he’s a father, grandfather, husband.

I used to know him as that guy in seminary that “if you take his preaching class, be prepared to have your rear end handed to you.” So I never took his class and I regret it.

After I fell from the ministry, years after my seminary experience, I was encouraged by a friend to call him. I heard that Dr. York was someone who had experience reaching out to fallen pastors with love and compassion. Strangely, that did not mesh with the image I had in my head of him.

I was happy to be proven wrong. When I interviewed him, he was gracious, kind and his wisdom is pasted throughout my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.” Better yet, I see him as a spiritual father of sorts now.

“We’re totally comfortable when a dope smoking, meth lab owning guy gets saved and we rejoice in that; but what if a Christian falls into that and returns? Our discomfort sort of negates the book of Galatians. In Galatians, Paul says, ‘What don’t you understand? Now if you began in the Spirit you are not perfected by works!'”

In fact, when my wife and I traveled to Frankfort recently to see and interview him (partly for this blog but mostly because I missed seeing him), the first thing he told me was how proud he was of me. Something I had longed for my own father to say.

Enough of that. I’ve tried to break down the interview the best I can. If you go and talk to Dr. York about anything, you’ll end up with a repository of awesome material that’s hard to replicate on the page. So, I’ve tried to do my best.

Fallen Pastors and Repentance

One of the topics we discussed was fallen pastors and when they repent. A lot of times, the fallen pastor will repent immediately and be restored to Christ, but other times, as in my case, he won’t. Dr. York discussed the issues with a late repenting pastor:

Christians want things to end clean and neat. And they’re uncomfortable when they don’t. What people are uncomfortable with is what everyone wants; we want to see reconciliation with his wife which means they get back together and live repentshappily ever after. But you know what? That’s not always how it works. At the point people wake up and become really broken over their sin – at whatever point that is, then they have to deal with whatever consequences have occurred up to that point.

 “There’s no going back, you can’t roll back time, and so what’s the godly way to deal with this? Have we read our Bible? What about Abraham and Hagar? There were consequences. We can lament what Abraham did all we want, but we have to deal with it. And I think a lot of Christians miss that at some point and we have to answer the question, ‘How do I honor God now?’”

 That turned him to the message of the Gospel:

“If we really believe the gospel – the gospel takes you where you are. We say we believe the gospel isn’t about ‘try harder and do better’ but it’s about resting in God’s grace. And then we act upset when someone actually does something that demands that.

 “We’re totally comfortable when a dope smoking, meth lab owning guy gets saved and we rejoice in that; but what if a Christian falls into that and returns? Our discomfort sort of negates the book of Galatians. In Galatians, Paul says, ‘What don’t you understand? Now if you began in the Spirit you are not perfected by works!’

 “If true holiness is realizing our complete dependence upon God, then sometimes the Lord has to allow the consequences of our own sin to get us to that level of dependence on Him. If anyone else is uncomfortable with it, then so be it, they’re just going to be uncomfortable with it.”

What is true repentance and brokenness? Dr. York shares a personal story:

On to another important topic and a sensitive one that is often challenged. How do we know if a fallen pastor (or for that matter – anyone) is really repentant or broken over their sin? I told Dr. York I had a church contact me once and tell me that they had a candidate apply for a job who had fallen 25 years prior. When asked about it, he became defensive. I said, “If he was truly repentant and broken over his sin, his response would have been, ‘I committed adultery 25 years ago, I was forgiven by God, but I am more than willing to discuss anything with you, even the consequences of my actions.’”

Dr. York:

“You couldn’t have said it better. Years ago, I counseled an associate minister who had an affair with someone else in the church. He and his wife decided to reconcile immediately and he agreed to undergo counseling and follow a path to repentance, but he was asked to leave. He and his wife came here to our church.  

 conseque“The first time I met with them, the man said to me, ‘I just want to get past this.’ And I thought, here comes the speech. You get the speech for that one. I told him, ‘You’re never going to get past this. There is no getting past this. This is going to be whispered about you wherever you go for the rest of your life. You better get used to that. When your children get older, someone is going to tell them and it’s going to crush them.

 “I laid it out clearly and said, ‘This is what your future looks like. Now listen, you’ve only got one hope here. And this is the only way for you to do this – and that is if when somebody does whisper what you’ve done, someone else says, ‘That is just so hard to believe. Because look how he just loves the Lord and follows Jesus in the genuine wholeness of his life.’ To get there requires brokenness and it is a long hard road.

“His wife had a family reunion once a year and when he went, no one would speak to him. The family even called Dr. York and was furious that he was counseling this man. And he said to them, ‘As long as he is acting like he wants restoration, and he definitely does, then it all remains to be seen and proved over the course of time. It’s judgment on my part whether he is or isn’t repentant.

“The man came back from the reunion and was angry. He said, ‘They treated me horribly.’ I said, ‘Why did they have the opportunity to treat you like this? Who put them in this position? You have to own the fact that you got the choice and they didn’t, so you can’t judge them for the way they react to your sin’ He said, ‘What do I do?’ I said, ‘Sit there quietly and kindly, don’t force anybody to speak and when it comes time to pick up after a meal, do it and help out. Be a willing servant. Just have the attitude of the prodigal son after he came home and say, ‘Just let me be like one of your hired servants and that will be enough for me.

“And if you have that attitude, eventually, you’re going to win. How long? How many years? I don’t know. But eventually, they’re going to say, ‘His repentance is real, this is for real.’ For now, they might say, ‘This is an act.’ Four or five years down the road, they might not say that anymore. The question is, are you willing to do that? And if you’re genuinely broken over that, you will.’

 “It’s been almost ten years for them now and he called him because a church asked him to take on a leadership role. The man turned that down. He told Dr. York, ‘I knew it had the potential to appeal to my superficial nature which got me in trouble in the first place.’ Dr. York said, “He gets it now.”

Dr. York reflected on the reality that the situation could have ended very differently:

“There were moments where it was touch and go. The wife would call and say, ‘I don’t think this is going to work.’ But reconnow, he’s walked in repentance and the Lord has been good. In their case, their marriage was saved and people look at it differently. But let’s say it had ended. 

“Frankly, his walk of repentance would not be significantly different. His life circumstances would be different, but the repentance would still have to be there. He would have to humble himself in front of his family, his children, and her. Repentance is repentance. The consequences you’ve inherited might be different based on what point it hit you. It’s not the consequences you’re answering for when you stand before the Lord. It’s the sin. And I think Christians misunderstand that.”

Stay tuned for part two of this interview. In it we discuss the true cause of ministry failure, pornography, and preventing a fall.

___________________________

Dr. Hershael York is the Victor and Louise Professor of Christian Preaching and Associate Dean of Ministry and Proclamation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Senior Pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky. Tanya, his wife of twenty-seven years, is a popular speaker at women’s conferences, and they have two married sons, Michael, 25, and Seth, 23. For a full biography, please click here.

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.

Strange Fire?: There Is A Larger Elephant In The Room

Seminary, Being Judgmental, Self-Righteousness, and Other Thoughts, Part 2Last week, well known pastor, author and evangelical John MacArthur hosted a conference at his church called “Strange Fire.” The three day event was based upon the idea that the “Charismatic movement is leading people astray and dishonors the Holy Spirit.” At stake is whether certain gifts of the Holy Spirit are still in operation. Popular blogger Tim Challies live blogged the event and did a good job of covering it. For those interested, he had a good post covering the issues.

Like any theological topic, things got heated during the event. People are still discussing it. Why? Because there are people on both sides of the aisle who believe they are right. On one side are those who tend to come from charismatic or Assembly of God backgrounds and the other come from Baptist or other traditional backgrounds.

Now, before you comment, I know there are those who are in denominations who take the other side. Got it. That’s not why I’m writing today.

MacArthur has been writing on this issue for years. I remember reading his book, “Charismatic Chaos” when I was just 14 or 15. The debate has been going on for a long time. One writer said that MacArthur, in his arguments at the conference, was accusing half a billion Christians of blasphemy.

So, this disagreement between denominations and Christians is nothing new.

What concerns me is that there is a huge epidemic occurring that to the best of my knowledge, no major church, mega-church pastor, or denomination (or denominations) has set up a conference for. It is a scourge that is bringing our church leadership down at what appear to be record rates.

I speak of course, of pastors who are leaving the ministry due to moral failure.

There is no Christian denomination that is untouched. I am not picking on any denomination by any means. I plan to getdepressedpastor to them all.

Let me tell you this – my inbox has been filled with questions from charismatic pastors and churches asking, “What is happening to our pastors and leaders?A few months ago, several charismatic pastors in the state of Florida fell. More recently came the tragedy of Ron Carpenter’s wife.

And if you want to look at Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans or Fundamentalists, feel free. They have had their own share of fallen pastors in the past few years.

It is a very serious issue that no one wants to talk about or address at the local, associational, state or denominational level. Think it’s not a problem? In my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” I have a ton of stats that show what lead to a pastor failing morally in the ministry. In the Kindle edition, there are some stats that users highlight that stand out the most to them. Here they are:

  • According to the following statistics, one in three active pastors admits to having an affair, 70% of pastors deal with depression, seven out of ten report having no close friends.
  • 77% of pastors reported they did not have a good marriage.
  • 1,500 pastors a month are leaving due to burnout, conflict or moral failure.

There are a lot more than just that. Meanwhile, the best we seem to be able to do as evangelicals is respond to the situation. Do a Google search and you’ll find such articles like, “Should Fallen Pastors Be Restored?” by John MacArthur (his answer is “not to the ministry”); or an article that interviews evangelicals on whether pastors should be restored after a fall.

fallen pastorFriends, asking whether a pastor should return to the pulpit is a question. But it’s just one. And it’s not even the most important one. I’ve only lightly addressed it on this blog because there are about 100 questions to be asked before you get to that one. Addressing the failure is like creating awareness the disease after it has happened instead of trying to prevent it in the lives of thousands.

It’s easy to get pastors to attend a conference around things that are popular to talk about and that people will defend tooth and nail. But why is it so difficult to gather up leaders who will sponsor a conference/conferences over a topic that is removing ministers from our midst on a daily basis? To organize a conference so that we might learn (or remind ourselves) that ministry failure is absolutely preventable?

What makes matters worse is we are facing a generation of church leaders, members, deacons, elders, associations and denominations who are not equipped with how to handle a fallen pastor. Most don’t know what to do with a fallen pastor. He either gets kicked to the curb or his sin is ignored and he is immediately placed back into the pulpit. Both are wrong responses, but come because people just aren’t prepared. To MacArthur’s credit in his article mentioned above, he said, “The church should do everything possible to minister to those who have sinned and repented.”

I fully agree. On top of that, after four years, I have learned there are at least four distinct causes that lead a pastor to a fall. He is ultimately responsible for his own sin. But if he is not careful, there are factors that will weaken him to a point of no return.

So what holds us back from forming such a conference where we can invite pastors, church leaders, church members, elders, deacons, and anyone who wants to learn how to prevent ministry failure? I believe there are several reasons.

crossing-the-lineFirst, I believe many pastors won’t admit they are capable of such sin. Sure, they may say, “It could happen to anyone, even me. I’m a sinner like anyone else.” But do pastors really believe that? I hope they do. Because it happens all too frequently.

One statistic I share in my book is that at least a third of evangelical pastors (still serving) have had a relationship with a member of the opposite sex where they felt they crossed the line. Heck, this website quotes a study that says 54% of pastors admit to looking at pornography in the past year. If one is not aware of the signs and symptoms and does not take the steps to prevent it, they will be susceptible to a fall.

Secondly, such a conference might not be appealing is because we don’t want to think our pastor or a member of our church leadership could be capable of such a think. We see our church leader on that platform every Sunday preaching or performing the act of worship. We look up to them. We might even hear of another minister falling and think, “Well, my pastor would never do that.” That statement has been said by many unsuspecting church members whose pastor eventually fell.

We don’t want to think our leaders will fall. But it happened to many of our heroes in Scripture. But thanks be to God that He is gracious and loving. But we need to be aware of how we can help our leadership.

Third, pastors place a great amount of pressure upon themselves. They hold onto the need to keep up appearances. I know this because I was a pastor that did that. And I have talked to fallen pastors who did the same. And I have pastor friends now who tell me they do it.

When you create such pressure for yourself and you get invited to a conference on “How to Avoid Ministry Failure” you might feel like it would make you feel weak. Like you can’t handle the job on your own. Like you can’t just tough it out. But that’s not reasonable. Everyone, especially pastors, need support and encouragement.

In closing, I think it is interesting how different denominations handle fallen pastors. In my book and in my counseling, I have spoken with manyGalatians6_1-2 fallen pastors from several denominations. Those who tended to come from a charismatic background were often given counseling or given a chance to return to the pulpit. Those who came from Baptist backgrounds or other evangelical churches were often fired and kicked out with no offer of counseling.

I think the model for restoration lies somewhere in between. Galatians 6:1 should be our guide. If one of us is caught in a sin, the church should seek to restore. Restore to what? Restore such a one to Christ. That process takes a long time. But as I’ve counseled fallen pastors, I’ve found it is worth it.

I pray and hope that one day, we will understand the need to have meetings, conferences, talks, messages at our churches that are designed to let people and pastors know that ministry failure is a huge deal. It is tearing churches apart. We cannot simply continue to ignore it. It must be dealt with through prevention. The church leadership must work together lovingly with the pastor and the pastor must recognize his own limitations.

I pray that soon we will stop ignoring this horrific sin and kill it before it enters into the minds of any more church leaders.

________________________

Are you a fallen pastor, burned out pastor, pastor on the brink or a church that has gone through a tough time? You might start out by reading, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.” (Available in paperback or on Amazon Kindle). There are a lot of things in there that will help pastors prevent ministry failure and a lot of things to help pastors after they fall. There are also helps for churches whose pastors have fallen.

Need more help than that? Feel free to contact the author of this blog and the book, Ray Carroll. He’d love to talk to you. Anything you say will be kept confidential.

 

Four Years After Being Caught In Adultery

The Fallen PastorFour years ago, I was a pastor caught in adultery. I’ve told the story on my blog and in my book. It was one of the darkest moments of my life and it was one I had created. I let down many, hurt many, and could not erase any of it.

However, and thankfully, we are all given second chances. I had no idea of what might happen. Over the course of months, I went through many actions and feelings. I justified my actions, was angry, stubborn, and distant. Then, God slowly began to work on my heart and He broke me. He humbled me.

The past four years haven’t been a story of my adultery. They’ve been a story of the unfathomable grace of Christ.

I want to share a few things I’ve learned and observed over the past four years. It may help anyone: Christians, non-Christians, churches, fallen pastors, pastors, people struggling with forgiveness. But I trust that it will help the right person at just the right time, like this blog always has.

First, I’ve learned that forgiveness isn’t what I always thought it was. For some it comes easy. Others demand it. Some fallen pastorthink they’ve repented and demand others forgive. For some it takes time. The best? For God, it is instantaneous to the broken-hearted.

Second, I’ve found some amazing friends. I don’t want to list them here because I fear the name-dropping tag. They all know who they are. They pray for me, have supported me and have given me chances I didn’t deserve.

Third, I never imagined fallenpastor.com would become what it is. Like my mom, I love to write. And through this blog, I have been contacted by countless fallen pastors, churches, women who were/are caught in affairs with pastors, and wives of fallen pastors.

There’s something about talking to fallen pastors that I love. Unless you’ve been there, you just don’t understand what it’s like. It’s awful. No one knows. That’s why I started blogging in the first place. There wasn’t anything out there like this. So now when I talk to a fallen pastor on the phone and he’s in such a horrible place because of his sin and I’m shedding tears on the other end of the phone and he says, “I feel like you’re the only one who gets me.” I know, brother, I know.

I wish there were more organizations, services, groups who were there at point of contact to help the church and fallen pastor.

blueFinally, I can sum up the worth of it all in a simple story. A fallen pastor I’ve counseled called me a couple of weeks ago and said, “I heard about a pastor I know who fell. He just left his whole family to be with another woman. I told the church leadership, ‘I want his number. I want to talk to him. He may not talk to me right away, but some day he will want to talk. And when he does I want him to know I won’t judge him, that I love him, and I want to listen.‘”

He was speaking back to me the same words I had left for him a couple years ago in several voice mails, letters, and text messages until he finally contacted me two years ago. As I relayed this story to my wife, tears running down my face, she said, “That’s what it’s all about. That’s why you started your blog. God has been good to us.

Yes He has. More than I deserve.

___________________________________

Ray Carroll is author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World” a book for hurting churches, ministers seeking to avoid failure, fallen pastors, those who want to understand the pressures of ministry and anyone looking for help with forgiveness. If you are in need of help or would like Ray to speak at your seminar, conference, event or church, you can contact him here.

A Pastor’s Story That Has Haunted Me

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. In the past week, I got an email from a man who told me that a pastor who fell killed himself after committing adultery.

I recall a long time ago a story about a youth pastor who hadn’t committed any kind of serious 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 on a daily basis.

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 couple of weeks ago, 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.

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.”bm

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 to 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.

comcrPursue 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.

Remember 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.

_______________________

Ray Carroll is author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.” If you are interesting in having him speak, or are a fallen pastor or church in need of guidance, please click here.

What Does God’s Forgiveness Feel Like?

I had an interesting text conversation with a fallen pastor recently. He fell in the ministry some time ago and is still dealing with a lot of issues. He still has a lot of guilt over his actions. I was sharing with him about the forgiveness of God and he was telling me he has prayed for forgiveness many times.

forgiveHe then asked me a question I had never considered: “What does God’s forgiveness feel like? What does it feel like to be forgiven?

I had to consider that for a moment. His question cut through so many different layers of me that it really confused me for a moment.

The first layer it hit was my hardened seminary layer. My knee-jerk reaction was, “Forgiveness, in a theological sense, doesn’t feel like anything.” You have to understand my background to get that. I was raised listening to some staunch biblical teaching. It was solid, but there wasn’t a lot of grace in it. Feelings and emotion were acceptable, but only in a black and white world.

But I had to reject that. The whole purpose of my ministry here is that people need forgiveness. In the case of many fallen pastors who have been humbled, they are seeking forgiveness. They are thirsty for it. And when it is finally realized, it feels like nothing else.

The second layer the question hit was the world of the modern church in which we live. It’s not true everywhere, but the modern church is a place that is often devoid of forgiveness. When a church leader, pastor, or member sins, many times, there is often no seeking after restoration for that person in regards to Galatians 6:1.

A local pastor and I had lunch recently and he wanted to clarify with me what I meant about restoration. He was exactly right. The church should seek to reconcile with those who sin. I often use the terms interchangeably. Every church should seek out the fallen Christian actively, to restore them to the path to holiness.

Restoration to active ministry is a different story. I have my own convictions about that as did the pastor I had lunch forgiveness1with.

But reconciling one another to fellowship is non-negotiable. But too often, we are quick to throw sinning members and leaders overboard when they commit great sins by isolating them, gossiping about them, or sending them away after they sin. Those who sin may not feel any kind of forgiveness for a while. The lack of reconciliation/restoration by the church or attempt to do so may actually hamper it.

Don’t get me wrong – when someone sins, it is their fault. They bear the responsibility before God. But Scripture is clear that when one among us sins, we are to chase after them. If they are unwilling to listen, then that is to be taken into consideration as well.

The final layer his question hit was the essence of his question – “what does God’s forgiveness feel like?

I can tell you what it felt like for me. After months and months of running from God and justifying myself, He humbled me. I cast myself before Him and confessed my sin. I was overwhelmed by His presence and His grace like I had never been before.

It was not merely a theological process. It was an amazing and overpowering feeling of being free of the sin that had been upon me. At first, it hurt. It hurt because I had realized as David did in Psalm 51 that ultimately, I had sinned against God and God alone. My sin had been poured out upon Christ at Calvary. The pain that I felt in my confession was difficult, but necessary.

But that emotion was quickly followed by a sweeping away of my pain and a sudden realization of God’s grace toward me. I was undeserving of it, but in total need of it. He was under no compulsion to grant it to me, but He did. And He loved me. Even a pitiful sinner like me.

forgive2What did it feel like? Like the greatest thing ever. Like a man who had been starving who had just been invited to the banquet table. Like a man who had gone without water for weeks who had just been allowed to drink from a crystal clear stream that would never end.

I won’t lie to you either. There are days I struggle with guilt from the past. Where my old sin likes to creep up and say, “Hey, you’re still worthless. You’re still a fallen pastor who everyone hates.” There are moments when I listen to that voice in my head and it brings me down. There are days when someone will say, “You never really repented. You are still in your sin.

But Christ is there to remind me that I am His, that the sin I committed is gone. And because of Him, I have new life. And there is no one left to condemn me.

____________________________

Ray Carroll is author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.”