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Pastors and Killer Expectations, Part 3: How to Cope

How can a pastor cope with killer expectations? He can’t. If you find yourself coping, you’re not doing it right. You need to go back and read the first two posts on this topic. Coping is getting by. It’s like using one oar to paddle a cruise liner through the Bermuda Triangle. It’s...

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Fallen Pastors: Three Very Common Questions

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, affair, brokenness, church, church leadership, fallenness, humillity, ministry, pastors, repentance, restoration | Posted on 27-06-2014

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I love helping (and am always more than happy to help) anyone who contacts me through this fallingministry, but I am closest to the messed up, confused world of the freshly fallen pastor. And it is a horrible place to be. I tell fallen pastors, “No one really understands fallen ministers like a fellow fallen minister.”

One of the most confusing things for people on the outside looking in is the messed up morality of a fallen pastor. Here’s the deal – when a guy has committed adultery for a while and hasn’t been caught, he’s not thinking clearly or biblically. And when he gets caught, he’s going to try to justify and excuse his behavior any way he can. Often, he will use Scripture to justify his sin. I tried it. It even sounded good to me at the time. But it was wrong.

To everyone else, it sounds rotten. It is rotten. That’s why I always tell people to be kind and patient with a fallen pastor. Don’t let him twist the truth, but do show him compassion. Understand that he is going to come around eventually. He is living the life of the prodigal son – one day he’s going to wake up and smell the pig droppings. And when he does, he’s going to need people who care about him.

I want to answer a couple of the most frequently messed up questions I get from fallen pastors today (I introduced this issue in my last post). The answers will seem pretty obvious. But that’s just it – when you’re waist deep in the crud of sin, the answers aren’t obvious because we aren’t looking for truth.

You know what’s even more troubling? I get these same questions from church leaders who want to ignore the sin of their pastor because they don’t want the church’s reputation to suffer damage. They would rather hide the pastor’s affair (even though his wife knows), tell the woman he had an affair with to move on (because she’s usually a church member or member of the staff) and sweep it under the rug so that the church isn’t traumatized. I’m just gonna tell you that a decision like that always comes back to haunt a church and those involved.

quesr2So here are the three most common messed up questions I get about fallen pastors – questions I even considered when I wasn’t thinking clearly when I was mired in my sin.

1. “God has forgiven me, so why do I need to tell the church/my wife what I’ve done?”

God is a God of forgiveness. That is clear. He does cast our sin as far as the east is from the west. I am thankful for the amazing grace that God has shown to us by His Son Jesus Christ.

I blogged a little about this question before but want to give the response clearly again. If you are a church leader and you have committed adultery, you should ask God for forgiveness. But you also have a duty to tell your church and leaders.

When you were hired, voted in, appointed by a council – you were given the position of head elder/pastor and expected to fulfill the duties of 1 Timothy 3:1-13. Those people put their trust in you. They expected you to be faithful to your calling and be a person above reproach. When we commit a major sin, we violate their trust. When we violate their trust, we need to let them know and we have come under church discipline.

The same goes for our spouse. We took a vow. And even if we commit “emotional adultery,” there is something wrong in our marriage that needs to be fixed right away. If it doesn’t get fixed, we are going to do it again. Our spouse deserves to know that we violated our vow and that we have become vulnerable to sin.

2. “I committed adultery/had an emotional affair with a woman in the church. sorrycoupIt’s okay if she stays at the same church as I do, right?”

When guys ask me this question, I know a couple of things. First, they are in trouble spiritually and morally. They are not thinking clearly. Why? Because they think they are/or may actually be in love with the woman they are having an affair with. They cannot stand being apart from her. They don’t want to be away from her.

Second, if at this point a pastor has “only” admitted to an “emotional affair” and he asks this question – I can almost bank on the fact that he has crossed the line into the physical but he’s just not being forthcoming about it.

The big problem is this – if a man has been caught and he’s saying all the “right” things like, “I know I’ve sinned and I want to make things right with my wife.” But his actions are saying, “I still want to be around this woman and I’m still texting her and talking to her,” then what he’s saying and what he’s doing are two different things. He’s not repentant. He’s still trapped.

Listen carefully though. I have a tremendous amount of concern for the woman the pastor has been involved with. I think churches should have the same amount of concern, especially if she is a member or a part of the staff.

Back to the issue at hand. Pastor, if you have committed adultery and you want your marriage to work out, you’ve got to distance yourself permanently from the person you were with. End of story. On top of that, you have to be transparent for a long time with your wife about your cell phone, email, Facebook and anything else you have passwords on. Give her access to everything. It’s freedom. It one step back towards trust.

repenta3. “I’ll be okay pretty quick, right? I won’t be out the ministry very long.”

When you get caught, what you need is to be restored to Christ. Something went wrong. Lots of somethings. I write about it on this blog and in my book. Those things need to be fixed before any kind of ministry can ever happen again. A life of brokenness and humility need to occur while God restores you.

This doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a few weeks. If you’re lucky, it might happen in a year. It happens in God’s timing.

But when you’re honest about your sin and how you came to it, God will be longsuffering and will heal your heart. It’s not easy being honest, but it is rewarding. It’s tough, but it is the narrow road for those who want peace.

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

Other helpful links:

Sexual Sin in the Ministry” by Harry Schaumburg, Desiring God Ministries

Pastors on Moral Failures in Church Leadership: Don’t Hide It” by Lillian Kwon, Christian Post

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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.

What Can The SBC Do About Adulterous Pastors?

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in fallenness, Fred Luter, ministry, southern baptist | Posted on 13-06-2014

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This post was originally written on 2/28/13. I modified it today to reflect changes in my own heart over time. You can read the original post here.

sbccWhat can the SBC do about adulterous pastors? I don’t ask this question lightly. And I do it with a heavy heart. I also do it as a lifetime Southern Baptist. I ask it as a fallen pastor who committed adultery while serving as a pastor over four years ago. I ask it knowing the ins and outs of the largest protestant denomination in the United States.

I also ask it as a man who has talked to many fallen Southern Baptist pastors in the past three years. Some of them fell, chose not to repent and kept living a sinful life. However, many of them got help, repented, walked a path of holiness and were restored to a relationship with Christ.

There are some issues to be looked at before anything else is said. First, Southern Baptists pride themselves in their autonomy. The Southern Baptist Convention is a meeting that takes place once a year to make resolutions and talk about missions. The other 51 weeks a year, each church makes decisions on their own, based on the basic rules of faith set out in The Baptist Faith and Message. Not all Baptist churches agree with one another on all details. Some churches might elect divorce deacons to serve, other may not. Some might allow female music ministers, others may find that idea horrendous.

There is some diversity within the practice of the Baptist churches, but all pretty much agree on the doctrines of their faith. Some might even have stricter guidelines within their association regarding other issues, but most follow general Baptist principles.

The crux of the problem is one I have shared over and over again – pastors are leaving the pulpit in large numbers each week due to moral failure. There are statistics to back this up. I can also back this up with anecdotal evidence. I get emails everyday from pastors who have fallen, the wives of fallen pastors, and the women who have committed adultery with pastors.

In my book, I outline warning signs that lead pastors to commit adultery. In the end, it is their sin, theirs to own. It seems that on a regular basis, we hear of these stories. I even quote one statistic that 33% of conservative pastors have had an inappropriate relationship with a member of the opposite sex and have kept it under wraps.

thrownUnfortunately, it would appear that the most common response in the Southern Baptist church is to remove the pastor immediately from the pulpit and push him away. No counseling, no help, no kind of compassion or attempt to reach out to him. Yes, most of the time, when he is caught he is defensive or he is going on a course of his own. But it is my conviction that a large group of Christians have the duty to at least reach out in the spirit of Galatians 6:1 and pursue the pastor.

But for the most part, in my interviews with pastors, in my counseling with them, this does not happen. Do most of them want it at that moment? No. But should that stop us? No. When someone is caught in sin, rarely do they desire to hear about God. But that is when we must pursue them the most.

When I fell three years ago and when I began to understand the great sin I had committed against God, I started to look for help within the SBC. The closest thing I found was a church in the South that ran a program of restoration. They had over 400 applicants a year, but were only to take on about 18.

I understand the main focus of the SBC. Missions, the Great Commission, discipleship. I respect that. We should be people who are missional. We should be reaching people for the Gospel. The funds we drive for every year for the cooperative program does so much good. In fact, it helped me get through seminary.

In the last post I wrote about this, I was calling for the SBC to do more to help fallen pastors. It was my hope that my beloved denomination would put a program in place to reach out to help those pastors who had left the ministry because of moral failure.

Here was my inner monologue: “Well, we put a lot of resources into training men for ministry, so why don’t we seem to care about these same men when they fall from ministry? What I see are men who have fallen from a great height. The SBC has a large number of resources, like the North American Mission Board who could help these men. Surely these men would be considered a mission.”

I had an awakening of sorts. Over time, I realized a couple of things. It all came together when I had the honor of sitting down with SBC president Fred Luter. He talked about a lot of great things going on in the SBC and I was able to fluter6share with him the number of fallen pastors within our own denomination. He seemed a little shocked.

At that moment, I realized that the SBC does a lot of wonderful things. But they’re also limited in their resources. They can’t do everything. At the moment I realized that, I started thinking back to my time when I served as a pastor of a small church.

Our resources were limited. We could handle a lot of things, but not everything. When someone would come up and say, “We really should start a summer program for kids,” or “maybe we should start a preschool.” All I could think was, “We don’t have the money. Are you kidding?”

Before and while I was meeting with Pastor Luter, I was thinking, “Does the SBC really need to start a program for fallen pastors? Maybe God has already started one.”

Almost five years ago when I started blogging anonymously, I never would have conceived that I would be getting emails from people who needed help on a daily basis. Fallen Pastor is a ministry. There are other ministries out there that I network with that are doing the same thing.

I’m not discounting the SBC when I say that God is doing something outside of the denominational sphere to help fallen pastors. I talk to all kinds of people from different backgrounds. I don’t have to answer to a denomination or clock into an office. God saw fit to turn my mess into a ministry. That’s where I am right now and I’m more than happy to be here. He’s even involved my wife to counsel women who are involved with pastors.

Comparing my feelings now with my previous post – no, I don’t think the SBC needs to be involved. Not because they wouldn’t be able to a great job. But because God has graced others with the work. And I’m overwhelmed with the prospect.

His love, grace, and mercies never cease.

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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 Churches Aren’t Growing: Transparency & The Fallen Church

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in apology, bitterness, church, church face, church members, community, evangelism, fallenness, forgiveness, ministry, reconciliation, relationships, restoration | Posted on 12-05-2014

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altarSo 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. angry churchThese 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.

nogrowthIf 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.”computer

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)

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.

Could Your Church Survive Without You?

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in burnout, church, church members, churches, expectations, leadership, ministry, pastoral care, pastoring, pastors, prevention, responsibility, rest | Posted on 06-05-2014

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It’s a question for all pastors. And think about it for a minute before you answer: “Could your church survive without you for two panicweeks?

Your immediate, heart-felt response is your honest answer. If it’s “yes,” you probably don’t have much to worry about. But you might want to keep reading because there might be something here for you.

If you shrugged a little and thought, “maybe,” or said a firm, “no,” then there are a few things you might want to consider.

I don’t want to discount the fact that pastoring is a very difficult job. And when a minister has been at a church for a while and has things running well, has it fine-tuned, and knows the people, it’s can feel like a well-oiled machine. It can really feel that way when the pastor has taken on responsibilities that no one else will do or he’s started programs that only he knows the inner workings of.

A minister can even feel more irreplaceable when he has done things that he feels no one else will do. For instance, I know small church pastors who clean toilets. Who wants to do that? I know mega-church pastors who are so well-connected in their state and national conventions that they feel they are at the top of their game. No one in their church could do that kind of thing.

When we’re pastoring, we do a lot of tasks that are difficult and unseen. We visit the sick, we hold the hands of the dying, we visit people in prison, we pray for the lost, we counsel members going through difficult situations – things people never hear about. And that’s fine. But pastors are often frustrated by complaints of, “Why didn’t you visit my aunt when she had her knee surgery?

It’s a difficult job to keep up with so much and to stay on top of the preaching of the Word.

And don’t get me wrong. Most pastors are extremely valued by their churches. I post a lot of statistics on here about ministry burnout and cautious warnings about failure. But ministers are in the ministry because they love Christ and they love people.

pastorsignBut there is something to remember for all of us -  especially those who minister. We are not irreplaceable.

When I wrote my book about fallen pastors, I found four factors that weakened ministers that led them to consider adultery. One was unrealistic expectations. Most of those unrealistic expectations come from the minister himself. Over time, a pastor gets so locked in to performing the act of routine ministry that he loses sight of personal worship, his family, and chasing after Christ. He can also begin to inflate his own self-importance within the church.

It doesn’t happen to everyone. But it’s slow and seductive. It can very mildly with thoughts like, “Look at all I do and I don’t get any appreciation for it,” “These people don’t ever thank me,” “All I do is bust my rear end around here and people just complain and nag,” “I can’t even remember the last time I got a raise. I’d be happy with a thank you card.”

There may even be some truth in those statements. But behind them is bitterness. Bitterness stems from anger. But who are we angry with? The ministry? The church? God? Ourselves? When we find ourselves in such a place, it’s a good time to return to God and His Word and begin asking questions of ourselves.

That’s why the question, “Could your church survive without you for two weeks?” is so important. Because the answer is, “yes.”

I remember having some of those same thoughts I just listed. I know a lot of pastors feel that same way. And in moments of anger, there were times I would answer that question, “No, they couldn’t. Who would put together the bulletin, make phone calls, make visits, preach the sermons, counsel, etc.?

In my case, it was frustration. I remember reaching out to a mentor of mine and sharing my feelings with him. He said, “Ray, every pastor I burnedoutknow has felt the same way. What you need to do is let go of trying so hard. You have to let go of trying to let programs fix everything. Just use the Word of God and concentrate on those who want to grow. Christ said He would grow the church. You’re trying to do it for Him.”

He was right. That’s what I did. Not only did it work, but it took a great weight off me.

What would happen if you were gone for two weeks? The church would function. Even if you were gone tomorrow, it would function. You are there by appointment from God. There to minister the Word of God into the lives of the people. Allow Him to work through you. I promise He doesn’t want you burned out, stressed, screaming, angry, full of anguish, and preaching with venom every week.

He promised us peace. Live in it and share it with those in your fellowship.

____________________________

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 the Pastor Falls 4: What’s Next For the Church?

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in advice, anger, church, church leadership, church members, churches, forgiveness, gossip, leadership, ministry, pastors, reconciliation, relationships, restoration, struggles | Posted on 14-04-2014

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If you’ve been reading this series in order, then you’ve arrived at this point where the church leadership has done the zs.worth.0050best they can after they’ve learned that the pastor committed adultery. (Part 1, part 2, part 3) Hopefully, the pastor and his family are receiving prayerful support from the church and are being attended to by a ministry/counseling team that specializes in helping them.

But now here you are, a church leadership team without a pastor. Many churches are equipped with staff who can fill in for the interim, but many are not. In the past four years, I’ve seen how this process should not be done. So, I’d like to give some practical advice on how to proceed for the next few months with some do’s 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.

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.

____________________________

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.

If you are a church leader and still have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

When the Pastor Falls 3: Biblical vs. Unethical Response

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, church leadership, churches, leadership, ministry, pastors | Posted on 12-04-2014

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This series is designed to help church leaders have a broad concept on how to handle the situation when their pastor has been accused of moral failure. Not all situations are the same, but the response should always be one of love, grace and truth. When the pastor falls, there is a difference between a biblical and unethical response.

Take time to catch up on parts one and two before reading today’s post.

The Church’s Response to the Pastor’s Sin

ashamedpThis post assumes you’ve sat down with the pastor and you know he has committed a sexual sin. He’s either admitted to adultery or you are convinced he has and you have the evidence. In my last post, I quoted Dr. Hershael York (I strongly encourage you to go back and read that quote) who said that the church’s response should be guided by how the pastor reacts. (Dr. York’s quote and other ways to handle a pastor’s reaction are also found in my book.)

At this moment, the pastor has forfeit his right to shepherd the church. He was appointed to be the pastor of a congregation under the guidelines of 1 Timothy 3 and he has lost the trust of the congregation. I am of the belief that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the church should be informed of the sin.

A couple of important things need to be remembered. First if your pastor shows any sign of repentance he needs to be restored. I’m not talking about being restored to ministry. That’s something that is so far off that it’s not even in the conversation at this point. He needs to be restored to Christ and his family. And as a member of your congregation, it is upon you to find him help. Does he need to remain at your church? Probably not. But he is a member of your local body of believers and I don’t believe it is Scripturally acceptable to kick the man to the curb if he is showing any sign of repentance.

Find a program, counselor, group, or organization that can get him help. There are several out there. Check with your denomination. Check out pirministries.org. Give him severance pay so that he can find a way beyond what has just happened and have hope. Remember that this man has sinned. Has he hurt you? Absolutely. But we are commanded to treat one another with love and restore one another to Christ.

I also remind churches that the world is watching how we will react to a sinner in our midst. This time, the sinner is the pastor. What will we do with a man who just got caught and is asking for forgiveness and is showing some level of repentance? The unbelieving world is watching how we treat those in our midst and how we treat one another.

How NOT to Respond to Your Pastor’s Sin

I think the most horrifying decision I see is when churches decide to cover up the sin. I don’t think a lot of the churches think of it that way. What I usually hear from church leaders is, “Are we doing anyone a favor when we throw him out? Isn’t it enough that we know he’s sinned? He’s repented to God and to us. Isn’t that enough?”

No, it’s not enough. I’ve blogged about it here extensively and mentioned it a few paragraphs ago. When a pastor falls, he has hidingsinned against God and he needs to make that right. But he has violated the trust of every church member in his care. He has (at least for a while) forfeit his right to hold the office of overseer.

When a church leadership team along with the pastor decides that the church “doesn’t need to know,” they are making a mistake that has repercussions that are sinful and will come to bear in many ways.

First, their decision often does not take into account the pain that the wife of the pastor is enduring. It is the case that many times the church leadership will tell the pastor, “You’ve sinned, but you can stay. But you and your wife need to take six months off for counseling.” Guess what? Six months doesn’t fix it. In my experience, the wife still has trust issues and after her husband returns to the pulpit, she watches him in that position of authority and asks, “How can he be preaching while our marriage is still in so much trouble?

On top of that, six months really doesn’t fix him either. Restoration takes a very long time to fix a man whose relationship to Christ was so broken that he committed adultery. After that, then he can work on his marriage.

Second, when I talk to churches about their decision to retain the pastor, I will almost always eventually hear, “Well, if he leaves, we’re going to lose a lot of people. He sure brought a lot of people here and they’ll leave if he leaves.” I cannot imagine a more selfish, man-centered response. The leadership is really saying one of two things (if you care to read between the lines): “We can’t do the Scriptural thing because our attendance will decline. Membership numbers are more important than standing by doing what is right.” Or, the more frightening alternative: “We can’t get rid of him, the offering will be lighter.

When I counsel pastors who have committed adultery and haven’t told anyone, they are very worried about losing their jobs. Of course they are. It’s scary. It’s usually the only job we have. It’s what we spent our lives training for. And if we lose it, what are we going to do? But it’s a consequence of our sin. We knew that when we crossed the line.

directionBut there’s always hope. I always tell guys, “You know what? Telling people the truth and being honest is always the right thing to do. It’s not easy, in fact, it hurts. But I can promise you that God always helps and stands by those who make the decision to start walking again in the right direction.

Third, when church leadership decides to hide the truth from the congregation, it doesn’t stay hidden. It will eventually come out. It may come out a year later or I’ve seen it come out 20 years later. But the truth comes out. And the members say, “Why didn’t you tell us? Why would you allow our pastor who committed adultery to keep preaching? Don’t you think we deserved to be informed?”

Still, some of you are unconvinced. The church needs to know. And a wise, loving, caring leadership with a biblically based message can share the truth of what the pastor did in the right way. Moreover, the leadership will have a team of people or experts on hand to help the congregation through it all.

Worse yet, when you hide such a thing from the congregation, you’re keeping a secret from everyone. You’re asking every leaders, the pastor’s spouse, his family, those involved, and anyone else who knows to keep quiet. You’re telling them to keep this horrible secret to themselves and never talk about it to anyone. To push down the hurt, pain and grief over a sin that needs to be dealt with.

It’s just not right. And that’s why church leadership needs to be trained in this before it happens. That’s why they need to know how to handle this situation beforehand. Lovingly, with wisdom. They need to know what resources exist. They need to be able to discuss openly with one another how they would deal with such an ordeal if it ever occurred.

Pray to God it never would. But be prepared if it does. Because if it does, people’s hearts need to be protected. Individuals need to be counseled and healed. A pastor and his family need to be embraced. And the truth of God needs to be uncompromising.

Next time, we will look at the post-pastor fallout and how to deal with the church members.

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.

When a Pastor Falls 2: Confronting the Pastor

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, affair, church leadership, churches, deacons, Hershael York, leadership, ministry, pastoring, pastors, reconciliation, repentance, restoration | Posted on 10-04-2014

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This series is about how church leadership can effectively handle the fall of their pastor when he has been accused of sexual Three businessmen having meeting in officeimmorality. It is a horrible situation for any church to find themselves in. It is seemingly a no-win situation for anyone. But it is a situation that more and more churches find themselves in. I am a fallen pastor and over the past four years, I have counseled many fallen ministers and hurt churches and I hope to help others find a way through this process that creates healing for all involved. When a pastor falls, what is the best way to confront him?

Please take time to read part one here. Today, we will focus on meeting with the minister after all the facts have been gathered, the pastor’s response, and how to minister to the fallen pastor’s spouse.

Meeting With the Minister

There are two situations you could be facing when you meet with him. You’ll either have evidence of his adultery or you won’t. Either way, what should you do? I suggest you have a straightforward meeting. It’s not the time for any type of mind games. Always remember that God is in control of every situation. If there’s sin involved, God is always at work and will be the one to take care of it.

Before the pastor arrives, make sure the church leadership is on the same page about what you’re going to discuss. If there is any disagreement whatsoever about how to handle the meeting, take care of it before the pastor arrives. The church leadership needs to be of one mind and heart before the meeting takes place.

Agree that this is not an angry confrontation. This is a meeting among brothers in Christ. There are two things to always remember. First, how would you want to be treated if you were the one being confronted about a possible sin in your life? Second, always remember Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

upsetIt’s best if just one leader does most of the talking so you can stay on point. You’ll probably know which of you is best suited for the job. If you don’t think any of you are able to do it, ask an outside mediator to help. A pastor from another church you trust, an associational director, or a strong Christian from the community.

Then, it’s time for the meeting. If you don’t have any physical evidence, share with him what you do have then let him speak. If you have evidence, let it be addressed.

The Pastor’s Reaction

I’ve been blogging here for four years. I’ve been talking to fallen pastors for the same amount of time. There are all kinds of pastors out there. When a pastor falls, it’s always a shock. Sometimes a pastor falls and the church can’t believe such a wonderful man of God could do such a thing, but he’s been committing adultery behind his wife and the church’s back for ten years. I’ve talked to churches whose pastor had kids with other women years ago and no one knew about it.

What I’m saying is that each situation is different. And when you sit down to talk to your pastor about suspected sexual immorality, he may be completely innocent. Then again, the man you are talking to may have been putting on a front for years that you have been fooled by. I got away with it for a few months. Some get away with it for years. In some ways, all of us know how to put up a front and keep people from knowing who we really are.

When you sit down and confront a pastor about his sin, he may break down and confess everything. He may have been wanting to get caught. But some will flat out deny everything. Even if you have the most compelling evidence in the world, they may lie and try to talk their way out of it. They may say, “Well, I was involved emotionally with someone.” Or they might say, “Whoever gave you that information is crazy. How long have you known me?”

That’s why this calls for discernment on the part of church leadership. That’s why you have to have your information together. That’s why when you talk to the minister about this, you have to gauge his reaction carefully. You should be able to tell pretty quickly whether he is involved in sin. It should be apparent to everyone in the room. And whatever response he gives, it needs to be handled with love, grace and compassion.

The Proper Response

I’m going to write more later about how church leadership should handle the pastor when sexual immorality is confirmed, but I defensivewant to share this quote from Dr. Hershael York. He’s the preaching professor at Southern Seminary and runs an excellent site at pastorwell.com. I interviewed him for my book and asked him how a church should respond to a pastor when they find out about his sin. When should they help him recover and get him counseling and when should they just let him go? Here’s what he said:

“A church’s posture has to be guided by whether or not there is repentance, because your posture has to be one thing if a person is living in defiance and embracing their sin. Then you have to confront. 1 Corinthians 5 kicks in and Paul describes as turning them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. There’s nothing pretty about that. But if a person is broken and repentant over their sin, even if they want to be and they’re not there yet, but they want to be.

“They may say, ‘It’s hard for me to leave this 23 year old girl who thinks I hung the moon and go back to a wife I struggled with for the past 20 years, but I want to do that because it honors the Lord.’ Well, if a guy says that, then by all means, you’ve got to walk that walk with him, or see that someone does. Because sometimes the unity of the church matters too and the leaders in the church have to take care of the church but what they cannot do is just abandon the one in sin and say, ‘Well, you’re on your own.’”

The Pastor’s Wife

upsetwomanNot to be forgotten about in all of this is the pastor’s wife and his family. When a pastor is caught in adultery, his wife is absolutely devastated. Most often, the pastor cheats on her with a staff member, church support staff, or a family friend. Church leadership needs to be able to be ready to surround the pastor’s spouse with support.

I have seen wives who decide to stay with their husbands and they are shown scorn from people in the church for doing so. I have also seen the opposite – wives who leave their husbands and are shown contempt for doing so. It is a traumatic event for the spouse and what she needs is not to be surrounded by people telling her “you need to divorce that creep” or “you know, the Bible says divorce is a sin.” Advice given may be correct, but what the spouse needs for such an awful moment are people who are willing to simply comfort her, cry with her, and allow her to be herself.

Helpful article on helping the pastor’s wife during a crisis:

Helping Your Pastor’s Wife After a Church Crisis” by Paraleko

Next time, I want to focus on the church’s public response to the pastor’s adultery.

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.

When a Pastor Falls, 1: Help For Leaders

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 08-04-2014

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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.

____________________________

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.

Pastors In Trouble: What Can Be Done?

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in burnout, church, church leadership, community, conflict, ministry, pastors | Posted on 18-03-2014

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fallingWe’ve been looking at the current crisis facing the church today – pastors are falling at an alarming rate. Many are feeling tremendous pressure, conflict, and other forces that they are leaving the ministry, committing adultery and some are committing suicide.

In summary, what can be done?

Associations, denominational leaders, bishops, and state leadership groups need to be intentional about the situation. I get the feeling that “at the top,” the feeling is that the local church needs to be handling the situation. That’s true – when a pastor falls, it’s the responsibility of the local church to handle the situation as they see fit.

But there needs to be some type of help from groups higher up the chain. Those groups need to provide help if asked for it. It’s important for them to suggest guidelines on how to handle the fallen pastor situation. Even more important is understanding the root problem and helping prevent it.

Local church leaders, elders, and deacons need to be aware of how fragile their pastor is. Are they aware of the hours he’s working? What is churcholdtheir impression of how stressed he is? When was the last time the pastor had a real vacation? Has he had any recent crisis events? Are the church leaders doing all they can when conflict arises to stand by the pastor and help fix the situation?

Church leaders also need to be aware of how demanding pastoral ministry is. Any pastor can fall. Any minister can be weakened to a place where he will want to quit the church. Unfortunately, many pastors are so good at hiding their stress and frustration that their departure will come as a surprise. There are many good books and resources on helping the pastor and understanding him. But one of the best things to do is just talking to him.

What can the church do? I have argued more than once that today’s church is not what it was designed to be. The modern church looks more like a club where religious people attend on Sunday than a community of faith that can transform lives.

When people can be part of something and be real, open their hearts to one another on daily basis by sharing themselves through prayer and through the Word of God, it will be a community where everyone – including the pastor – can be real. It will be a community not driven by programs, numbers, budget or power groups – but a group of people gathered for the glory of Christ and consumed with loving each other.

What can the pastor do? He can start by remembering where he began. God called him – a foolish, weak man. He didn’t call him to the ministry because he was a good-looking, amazing speaker. He called him because he was a willing vessel. He just wants us. He wants our brokenness.

pastorofficeAt some point, all of us tried doing too much. We thought in our effort, we needed to do something better. And when we did, we let pride in the door.

One day, we found ourselves in an office, surrounded by books, with less time to pray, with too many commitments, with a ton of programs, and less time for Christ.

When I tell people that pastors are in trouble today more than ever before, I don’t mean the guys who have already fallen. I mean the guys who don’t think they’re in trouble. I mean the guys who think they’re okay. The guys who have convinced themselves that even though they’re stressed, burned out, working too hard, whose marriages aren’t as good as they used to be, who are unhappy at the core – those are the guys who are in trouble.

Because on the inside while they are hurting – on the outside they keep telling everyone that “everything is fine.”

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.

Pastors In Trouble 5: Unrepentant Questions

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, affair, brokenness, church, church leadership, fallenness, humillity, ministry, pastors, repentance, restoration | Posted on 12-03-2014

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I love helping (and am always more than happy to help) anyone who contacts me through this fallingministry, but I am closest to the messed up, confused world of the freshly fallen pastor. And it is a horrible place to be. I tell fallen pastors, “No one really understands fallen ministers like a fellow fallen minister.”

One of the most confusing things for people on the outside looking in is the messed up morality of a fallen pastor. Here’s the deal – when a guy has committed adultery for a while and hasn’t been caught, he’s not thinking clearly or biblically. And when he gets caught, he’s going to try to justify and excuse his behavior any way he can. Often, he will use Scripture to justify his sin. I tried it. It even sounded good to me at the time. But it was wrong.

To everyone else, it sounds rotten. It is rotten. That’s why I always tell people to be kind and patient with a fallen pastor. Don’t let him twist the truth, but do show him compassion. Understand that he is going to come around eventually. He is living the life of the prodigal son – one day he’s going to wake up and smell the pig droppings. And when he does, he’s going to need people who care about him.

I want to answer a couple of the most frequently messed up questions I get from fallen pastors today (I introduced this issue in my last post). The answers will seem pretty obvious. But that’s just it – when you’re waist deep in the crud of sin, the answers aren’t obvious because we aren’t looking for truth.

You know what’s even more troubling? I get these same questions from church leaders who want to ignore the sin of their pastor because they don’t want the church’s reputation to suffer damage. They would rather hide the pastor’s affair (even though his wife knows), tell the woman he had an affair with to move on (because she’s usually a church member or member of the staff) and sweep it under the rug so that the church isn’t traumatized. I’m just gonna tell you that a decision like that always comes back to haunt a church and those involved.

quesr2So here are the most common messed up questions I get – questions I even considered when I wasn’t thinking clearly when I was mired in my sin.

1. “God has forgiven me, so why do I need to tell the church/my wife what I’ve done?”

God is a God of forgiveness. That is clear. He does cast our sin as far as the east is from the west. I am thankful for the amazing grace that God has shown to us by His Son Jesus Christ.

I blogged a little about this question before but want to give the response clearly again. If you are a church leader and you have committed adultery, you should ask God for forgiveness. But you also have a duty to tell your church and leaders.

When you were hired, voted in, appointed by a council – you were given the position of head elder/pastor and expected to fulfill the duties of 1 Timothy 3:1-13. Those people put their trust in you. They expected you to be faithful to your calling and be a person above reproach. When we commit a major sin, we violate their trust. When we violate their trust, we need to let them know and we have come under church discipline.

The same goes for our spouse. We took a vow. And even if we commit “emotional adultery,” there is something wrong in our marriage that needs to be fixed right away. If it doesn’t get fixed, we are going to do it again. Our spouse deserves to know that we violated our vow and that we have become vulnerable to sin.

2. “I committed adultery/had an emotional affair with a woman in the church. sorrycoupIt’s okay if she stays at the same church as I do, right?”

When guys ask me this question, I know a couple of things. First, they are in trouble spiritually and morally. They are not thinking clearly. Why? Because they think they are/or may actually be in love with the woman they are having an affair with. They cannot stand being apart from her. They don’t want to be away from her.

Second, if at this point a pastor has “only” admitted to an “emotional affair” and he asks this question – I can almost bank on the fact that he has crossed the line into the physical but he’s just not being forthcoming about it.

The big problem is this – if a man has been caught and he’s saying all the “right” things like, “I know I’ve sinned and I want to make things right with my wife.” But his actions are saying, “I still want to be around this woman and I’m still texting her and talking to her,” then what he’s saying and what he’s doing are two different things. He’s not repentant. He’s still trapped.

Listen carefully though. I have a tremendous amount of concern for the woman the pastor has been involved with. I think churches should have the same amount of concern, especially if she is a member or a part of the staff.

Back to the issue at hand. Pastor, if you have committed adultery and you want your marriage to work out, you’ve got to distance yourself permanently from the person you were with. End of story. On top of that, you have to be transparent for a long time with your wife about your cell phone, email, Facebook and anything else you have passwords on. Give her access to everything. It’s freedom. It one step back towards trust.

repenta3. “I’ll be okay pretty quick, right? I won’t be out the ministry very long.”

When you get caught, what you need is to be restored to Christ. Something went wrong. Lots of somethings. I write about it on this blog and in my book. Those things need to be fixed before any kind of ministry can ever happen again. A life of brokenness and humility need to occur while God restores you.

This doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a few weeks. If you’re lucky, it might happen in a year. It happens in God’s timing.

But when you’re honest about your sin and how you came to it, God will be longsuffering and will heal your heart. It’s not easy being honest, but it is rewarding. It’s tough, but it is the narrow road for those who want peace.

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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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