I was happy to do a quick interview with George Hemminger on YouTube about the alarming rate of ministry failure among pastors. I appreciate him taking the time to talk to me.
When we mess up and need forgiveness, one of the most frustrating things can be when people withhold that forgiveness. I’ve tried to outline some reasons people do that, but today I want to get into one of the really nasty things that can happen after someone grants a sort of half-hearted forgiveness. You...
I was happy to do a quick interview with George Hemminger on YouTube about the alarming rate of ministry failure among pastors. I appreciate him taking the time to talk to me.
There you sit at your desk. You’ve got a sermon to get ready for Sunday morning, not to mention Sunday night. There are two messages for you about two sick church members in the hospital, not to mention the three people you really need to visit in their homes. On top of that, you still have to get out and see those families that have been visiting the church. You kick yourself mentally for not having done it yet. Maybe a phone call will suffice.
Then there was that contentious conversation you had with the wife of one of your deacons on Wednesday. She wasn’t happy about one of the recent church events. It had something to do with how one of the members of the youth group had been acting. She talked and talked. You listened patiently, but you were doing your best not to just snap. It wasn’t the first, or last time she will complain.
There’s an associational prayer breakfast you really should go to Saturday. There’s a couple in the church who is getting married and you have to set up counseling. You’ve got the next two months schedule to set up. Part of you just wants to throw all of it in the trash. You’re not lazy, you’re just overwhelmed.
Why did you get into this in the first place? It takes you a minute, but you remember – because you wanted to preach the word of God. To see people saved. You remember how hungry the people were for the word of God in the beginning, but now it seems like the little things are catching up.
You’ve had times of being weary before. You think you remember what vacation was like. You remember what it was like to spend time with your family. No one really understands what it’s like to be a pastor. But you trudge along, doing the work. Because there are so many rewarding moments.
Then, the phone rings.
Here’s the deal – you’re not alone. There are a lot of frustrated pastors out there who feel like they’re at the end of their rope.
Here are a few statistics that I quoted in my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World“:
That’s just a few of the statistics that should let pastors know that they’re not suffering alone. It should also let us know that there’s something wrong when pastors feel that way.
Not every pastor goes through that either. I’ve had several pastors say, “I don’t identify with any of the statistics you present at all.” Good for you. I hope you never do.
But if you are going through a tough time, understand that you may be feeling that way for a reason. Maybe there are unrealistic expectations on you. There should be high expectations for you. But unrealistic expectations are not good. Whether you put them on yourself or someone else has.
Know this – everyone has a breaking point. And before you get there, reach out for help. I’ve been on the other side of the breaking point and known men who have been there. You don’t want to be there. Especially when there are a lot of people who can help you before you break.
If you’re in an association, look to the leaders there. Find a mentor or friend for guidance. If you’re struggling with sexual temptation, contact me and I can help or send you to someone who can. I’m also part of a network who helps struggling pastors.
The worst thing you can do is pretend you don’t have a problem or act like you’re not struggling. It’s not easy having people come to you for their spiritual needs, shepherding the flock, balancing time with your family, and finding time for yourself. It is difficult.
Please get help if you need it. For you, your family and for those you minister to.
Ray Carroll is author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.”
I’ve written about whether fallen pastors should be allowed to return to the pulpit. Some fallen pastors reconcile with their wives, some are unable to. I’ve seen men go through a process of repentance and return to a lifestyle of holiness and return to ministry.
Each time I blog about it, I mention the verses in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul’s qualification for an overseer in the church. Among the qualifications, an overseer must be “above reproach, husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent, not quarrelsome, manage his household well, keep his children submissive, not be a recent convert, and be thought of well by outsiders.”
Tough list. But I think when we approach this passage, we’re missing the forest for the trees. It gets broken down into each individual characteristic. And that’s important. But we forget that basically, this is a letter from Paul to Timothy. And what is Paul doing? Answering a question on how the church should be organized and how leaders should be selected. More on that later.
I hear one comment a lot, “Well, by that list, no one could ever be a church leader. None of us is perfect.” The logic often follows that since no one could keep any of those things, the list isn’t a hard and fast list of rules. They aren’t suggestions, but a lifestyle to be maintained over the course of one’s ministry.
I suppose that there are two extremes to this. The first extreme is that no one should pastor. No one is perfect. A lot of pastors attempt to keep a perfect image, but we are all sinners. The other extreme is that anyone can pastor, regardless of sin, ongoing or repentant.
One of my guilty little pleasures is to visit my blog stats every day and find out how people found my site. It’s interesting to look at some of the search terms. Recently I saw someone searched, “My pastor is texting my wife late at night.” Another, “Can a convicted felon be a pastor?” Those are some intriguing situations.
One of the statistics I quote in my book is that in a survey of conservative ministers. 30% of them said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner. And it hadn’t been reported or caught. Add on top of that what seems to be a rampant amount of pornography use by ministers and there is a serious problem lurking in the hearts of ministers today.
If the list is a hard and fast pattern of rules that once broken, disqualify people for ministry, then a lot of people are disqualified. Right now. Anyone who has lost control, not been hospitable or become violent is out. They can be mixed in with the adulterous, those who can’t keep their children in control and those who are deemed in the category, “husband of one wife.” (And that depends on who you ask. Those can be divorced men before or after becoming Christians, the single, etc.)
If a pastor has a serious, unconfessed sin and is ministering and a church holds fast to the strict interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, then I would argue that a tremendous amount of our pulpits should be vacant next week. Heck, take a look at the man’s kids. If they aren’t submissive to him, then he should be taking a sabbatical or be dismissed immediately.
I don’t think those verses are an ultra-strict mandate for ministers. If that’s the case, ministry leaders across the country are in serious trouble. For all of the ministers whose sin is discovered, I’d be daring enough to say that the hidden sin is twofold.
So why this list? Is it merely a suggestion? I don’t think that’s appropriate either. Surely we don’t want rampant sin from our church leaders. We should hold our leaders to a higher moral standard. We should expect them to be hospitable, to not commit adultery, to not be violent. Right?
I think we get into trouble when we take these verses and make them into something they were never meant to be. When we emphasize parts of them with great vigor but lessen the overall picture. The church is greatest served when we imagine ourselves sitting across from Paul as he addresses Timothy and Paul answers the question, “So, what kind of church leader should we be looking for?” That way, we can see the forest for the trees.
Can you imagine it for a moment? “Hey, Paul, what kind of leaders should we be getting?” “Well, Timothy, for sure, you need overseers who are husbands of one wife.” “Wait, Paul. Do you mean by that they can’t be previously divorced or single?” “Timothy, listen. What did I say? I’m trying to give you some simple rules for leadership. Look around you. You have some people in churches who are going to the pagan temple and engaging in prostitution. So, I think being the husband of one wife is pretty simple.”
In our time, maybe we don’t allow enough humanity from our leaders. We place them on a higher pedestal than they should be. We don’t see them as completely human. When they err, we are shocked. I’m not talking about major sins, I’m speaking of just daily interaction. Do we place them under too much pressure? The Barna Group suggests that pastors are expected to juggle 16 major tasks at once.
And with this list, I think there’s a reason ministers should be mentored and trained. There’s a reason all of us are living the continued process of sanctification. All of us are growing in holiness. Any pastor worth his salt will admit that he made mistakes early on that he wouldn’t make today due to pride or ignorance. But that’s part of the growing process.
Sin is not to be taken lightly. The men who aspire to it should know that much is expected. But an over-eager application of 1 Timothy 3 isn’t going to help anyone. It will increase judgment and self-righteousness among the believers. What we should be doing is living in grace and an expectation of holiness, mentoring and discipling one another. Knowing that all of our work will be going to serve Christ and glorify what He is doing in the world.
I’ve got a fallen pastor friend that I’ve grown close to. I don’t think he reads my blog, but I hope he does. He has gone through some of the same issues I went through three and a half years ago when I fell from ministry when I committed adultery.
Him: “I know you’ll be able to identify with me on this. At least I think you will. You’re the only one who seems to understand what I’m going through.”
Me: “Go for it.”
Him: “Since my wife and I divorced a while back, I’ve been seeing someone. Everything is going great, you know? I feel like despite everything, life is good. I couldn’t work things out with my wife. We tried, but we moved on. I have been working things out with God. I’m cautiously seeing this woman. I’m part of a church and that’s going well. But…”
Me: “Let me guess. You feel like the bottom is about to drop out because you don’t think you should be happy.”
Him: “How did you know?”
Me: “You said you thought I’d understand because I’d been there before.”
Him: “That’s right. It’s been a long road and I know I have a long way to go still. I don’t believe in karma, but I can’t put my finger on what it is. It’s like I’m waiting on the other shoe to drop. It’s like I don’t deserve to be happy after what I’ve put everyone else through. Like I don’t deserve to feel this good. It’s almost like God is out there waiting to punish me or put me down the second things really start going.”
Me: “I know exactly what you feel. But I need you to do something. Take a deep breath for a moment and listen. What you’re feeling is normal. But what you’re feeling comes from several places.
“First, guilt. I know you’re still working things out with God. You have a long way to go with the sin you committed. God is still working on you and I know He’s forgiven you, but you still have to reconcile that to yourself. You still have a lot of guilt stored up. You don’t feel like you deserve anything good after you cheated on your wife and hurt an entire congregation, right?”
Me: “Next, your view of God has suffered a little. In fact, it may not have ever been exactly right. Mine never was. A lot of people see God as some dude up in heaven ready to strike us down the second we get a little bit happy. Worse, we see him as a cosmic killjoy.
“I’ve told you before about how much John 8 and the story of the woman caught in adultery means to me. She was taken to Jesus and they were ready to stone her. Jesus sent them away and He did not judge her. What did He say to her after that? ‘Is anyone left to condemn you?’ I would ask you the same question, friend. If you’ve reconciled to God, is anyone left to condemn you?
Me: “No one can stand as your judge if you are forgiven by the judge of all mankind. Only God can know that. And what does Jesus say next to her? ‘Then go and sin no more.’ Listen, Christ sees our flaws, took those sins and sacrificed Himself for them. We are, indeed, awful, wretched people. But He loves us. And thank God for that. But we are free from those sins when we are forgiven, right?”
Him: “Right. We are, but it’s difficult.”
Me: “Sure it is. Both me and my wife Allison still, at times, feel like we don’t deserve anything good in life. After we committed adultery, after I hurt an entire church, hurt my ex-wife, disappointed a community, hurt my family, I didn’t feel like I ever deserved to be happy again. And still those feelings come up once and again. But Christ doesn’t withhold His blessings from me. Do I still suffer consequences because of my sin? Sure. But I have been made pure by Christ and He no longer holds my sin against me.”
Him: “You’re right, but it’s still a struggle for me.”
Me: “And it will be. It should be. It takes time. Broken relationships with people take a long time to heal. Work on your relationship with God. Live a life pleasing to Him. Work on the relationships you have that are good. When you have a chance to make things right with people, do it. Say kind words to those you have hurt. Let them see the progress Christ is making in your soul. It happens, just not overnight.”
Him: “It does take time. Thank you.”
Me: “We can sin in a moment, but coming back from it can take a very long time. But Christ is worth it. And I promise you, He wants us to be happy in His will and the life He has for us. Enjoy the life before you. Don’t spend time worrying about the sin behind you that He has forgiven. Mend those broken relationships when you can. But embrace the gracious future.”
But then again, there’s always a dissenting opinion:
It’s a story of my own journey back to restoration. I hope it offers hope to those who have fallen, insight to those who might have anger towards those who have sinned, and maybe understanding for all.
This is one of the most important things I’ve written and I hope you’ll take time to click over and read it. Thanks!
It’s said that to get people to read your blog, write short titles. I can’t do that sometimes. I want everyone to read this one.
There is a crisis in our land and in our churches. I’m going to address several people and groups in this blog. Keep reading because you are surely listed here. Don’t give up before you get to how you can help.
Pastors who are in need of help. The statistics show that about a third of pastors have already committed some sort of sexual immorality with a member of their own church but are hiding it. Worse, about 80% are viewing porn or have viewed porn in the past few months. We have a problem.
If you’re a pastor who is in the midst of this, feel comforted. I have fallen. I commited adultery. I wrote a book about it. There is freedom to be had in Christ. But you have to acknowdledge your sin and come right with God. You are not alone. There are men and women like you across the country who have sinned. Failed. Like you. Don’t think you are alone. Contact me. Talk to me. Know that in God, in Christ, there is forgiveness. But the first step is coming to terms with your sin.
If you talk to me, I won’t judge you. I won’t condemn you. I will love you for the person you are. We will just talk. One study showed that 1,500 pastors a month are leaving the ministry due to burnout, conflict or moral failure. There’s something wrong with the culture. It’s not just you. It’s the system. Yes, you are responisbile for your sin. But let’s slow down and save your soul. One step at a time.
Churches who have lost a pastor due to moral failure. I know it hurts. Since I fell in the ministry three years ago, I have seen the consequences. I have seen what it does to a church. Honestly, the easiest thing to do is to get angry, shut yourselves in and hire someone quickly who you think will fix everything. It doesn’t work that way. Everyone needs their hearts to be healed.
Everyone in the church is looking for an answer. Guess what? There isn’t an easy one. You need help, guidance and love. And most often, the church leadership doesn’t know any better than you. There are many answers in my book and I’m here to help as well if you want help. I also have networked with several organizations who can help you.
Don’t get bitter or out of sorts because of the mistakes of one man. Know that the church is the sanctuary of Christ. Any hurt, pain or wrong action will be felt by him as well. Take time to heal before you jump to the next action. Get help. As a body. Please.
To the wife of the pastor who fell. What a horrible thing that has happened. He was looked upon as a role model. But he was more than that to you. He was provider, husband and father. Overnight, you lost trust in this man who was guided by God. You might be wondering where God is in all of this. There is hope for you as well. Don’t give up too quickly. You will be driven into the arms of family, friends and a lot of people who will give you good and bad advice.
What can I tell you? Get in a quiet place. Listen to the voice of God. Above it all, listen to the voice of your children. Give them hope. Give them love. There will be days that they will not understand what is going on. And there will be days you want to scream and shout. But stay strong. There are organizations that give hope to you as well.
Over the past three years, I have had the priveledge of understanding more about my own fall. Better, I have been in contact with people who have helped me understand my fall and have come to my side, showing me how to walk in the light of Christ. There are several organizations out there that can help those involved in the fall of a pastor.
But looking forward, there needs to be more.
Most fallen pastors are kicked to the curb after a moral failure. I pray that changes. I pray that as a community of faith, we will learn to surround him, his church, his family, and his wife with love and understanding. Regardless of how it all plays out, they all are in need of our love and support.
I got an email a few weeks ago from a friend of mine, Ben Simpson, who reminded me of the dangers of pastors loving their churches more than Christ. I suggest you go read his blog. He’s a great thinker and theologian and as a young man, has a lot to offer us in today’s world. He has a heart of gold and much to share in this ever changing world.
He reminded me of a section in my book where I wrote about the church as the pastor’s “first mistress.” Shocked? Well, hold on. Let me go back and explain myself.
I’m writing this series to help people understand all the people who are effected by the fall of an adulterous pastor, or a pastor who falls for any reason. People are left in the wake of his sin. Churches, wives, friends, denominational leadership, associational leadership, family, etc. What is everyone supposed to make of this?
I was there, as a pastor, three years ago, almost to this day. I blogged about it anonymously and wrote a book about it called, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.” It’s a book for fallen pastors, churches who have been betrayed by fallen pastors, wives of fallen pastors, anyone who has sinned greatly, those who distrust religion, and anyone looking for answers. No holds barred. I obviously have a heart to love on anyone who has fallen from grace. Why? Because Christ did. He loves us regardless how far we fall.
But let’s get back to reality. The pastor has committed adultery. He has been caught, red-handed. He has led your church for however many years. He has baptized your children, has led passionate sermons, put together some great programs for the lost, assembled numerous Vacation Bible Schools, but now, he’s a wretch. A complete loser. He violated the seventh commandment. Let’s kick the guy out.
Let me start with this little fact that you, as a church member, may not know. Keep reading after the jump.
Thank goodness the temperature is dropping. I thought the summer of 105 degree heat indexes was going to last forever. I walked outside today to my favorite weather. High 70s to low 80s. Rain. I thought it was heavenly.
Change is good. Most of the time. Don’t tell that to a bunch of Baptists during a business meeting. Change usually means progress and forward movement. But change can also bring danger and sin.
I’ve talked to a lot of pastors since my own fall from ministry who were thinking of leaving their wives for another woman. For that matter, I’ve talked to non-pastors as well.
Typically, they sense something has changed in the relationship with their wife. That is the biggest factor. The problems may have begun years ago, but there comes a day where they just sense they want something else. For some men (or women) they find a relationship with someone that is completely different than they had with their spouse.
The new relationship is change. It starts out with conversation, texts, lunch dates and can easily accelerate. The new person offers them what their spouse didn’t give them. Change. Newness.
Now, this may sound ridiculous, but I’m throwing it out there. In my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” I talk about factors that lead a pastor who never would have considered an affair before to the point of failure. I talk about isolation, church conflict, tragedy, and becoming idolized.
Those things do have a tremendous influence in the breaking down of the American pastor. Thom Rainer had a great article recently about depression and anxiety showing the stress pastors are under.
But there does come a day when the pastor makes his choice. And his choice is all his. Make no mistake, the reason he ultimately cheats is typically a bad relationship with his wife. I don’t write that to put it on his wife. Ministry can have a horrific impact on spouses and they need to work together to stay strong.
The danger is when the pastor begins to blame everything else for his ultimate failure. When he makes that choice, the season may have just changed and Spring may have just settled. In his mind, he may feel renewed and ready to start a new relationship. Does that sound strange? It shouldn’t. All of us who engage in sin look for justification for our sin.
We may blame our church for treating us so poorly. Yeah, things may have been bad at church, but church doesn’t drive
us to commit adultery. We may have walked through grief, and that grief may have been horrific, but grief is not the direct cause of our fall.
Those are all factors that may push us in the direction in which we feel justified to sin. But in the end, we are typically unsatisfied with our spouse and pursuing our own desires.
There are two important things to remember. First, the pastor is human and vulnerable just like the rest of us to faulty thinking, sin, and bad relationships. Second, anyone who falls is worthy of restoration back to Christ. We are to pursue those who fall in love, in person, and encourage their repentance.
If they don’t repent? We don’t cast them into the trash heap of society. We still leave the door open. We still love them. Major sin has a huge effect on people and it may take years before they turn to God and pursue holiness again. Will they look exactly like they did before? No. But we are to forgive as Christ did.
The season is changing now. If you’re vulnerable, find out where. You may be vulnerable and not realize it. Find a friend to talk to. Pour out your frustrations and heart and get an objective view.
Let all your change be positive and pleasing to the Lord.
Interesting article I found in researching for this blog post: http://www.divorcemed.com/Articles/ArticlesByDiane/Affairs.htm
What if I told you that giant rats were moving into your area and were very likely to infest your home unless you took some precautions?
No, I expect you’d do whatever it took to keep two foot rats from invading your home and making a mess of the place.
I’ve been beating the drum on this website about pastoral adultery. It’s the pastor’s fault he sins, but there is also a cultural problem within the church that may attribute to the environment in which that sin committed.
Before you think I’m blaming the church for a pastor’s sin, let me give you a non-adultery example of a dysfunctional church. There’s a church close to me that hires and fires a pastor every two and a half years. You could set your watch to it. Why does this keep happening? There’s a vicious power struggle there and there are a couple of families who don’t want the pastor changing anything. When he tries, he gets R-U-N-N-O-F-T.
I was talking to someone about this the other day. I said, “I honestly don’t think the power group realize (for the most part) that they are causing such undue pressure on the pastor. But it escalates and eventually explodes. In the end, everyone blames everyone else without understanding the root cause. And the root cause for the behavior started decades ago.”
Pastors are dropping out of the ministry at an alarming rate due to conflict, moral failure or burnout. When it happens, it’s easy to say, “I guess that guy couldn’t handle the pressure,” or “What a sinner.” But there is so much more to a pastor’s fall. Environmental factors, interacting with the church, relationships, failures, successes, marriage troubles, and relationships between people that existed long before the pastor even arrived.
The fall of a pastor never happens in a vacuum. He has to stand before God for his sin. But there are a lot of reasons things fall apart. Things that don’t get explained when someone asks, “Why did the pastor leave?”
Over the next few posts, I want to examine the culture of a fall. We all know the pastor holds blame. But what if the fall of a pastor could be prevented? What if, like keeping giant vermin out, the church could do things to strengthen relationships, turn to prayer, help the pastor and his family, and rely on the strength of God so that sin could not make such a horrible entrance?
What if churches in a cycle of sin could break free from their bonds and become the fellowship of faith they were always meant to be? Stay tuned.
(Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk about several reasons why the book “Fallen Pastor” is for anyone concerned about the future of the church. We are in the midst of a crisis and need to understand how to approach it).
I don’t think that made me too different than many other seminary graduates. Well, at least the prideful ones. In my mind, I was going to bag a smaller church, move to a medium sized church, then WHAMMO! I was going to be sitting pretty at a megachurch one day. Heck. I deserved it. I had a seminary degree. In the middle of all those church exchanges, I was going to earn my Doctor of Ministry (so everyone would have to call me “Doctor Ray”, of course) and I would be sitting pretty.
If you read my blog, you know what happened to me in 2009. I committed adultery. Pastoral ministry was a thing of the past. It was long gone. My relationship with my first wife was over and irreconcilable. I married Allison and we moved on. I started anonymously blogging after that and wrote a book about what happened and how future pastors could avoid the temptation of moral failure.
I interviewed a lot of fallen pastors. Their stories broke my heart because they sounded identical to mine – and I’ll blog about that later.
But I also interviewed a lot of experts. One in particular was Hershael York. His official title is the Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the Associate Dean of Ministry and Proclamation.
I interviewed him for my book. But before I get to that, let me tell you what I thought about him when I was at seminary.
I was scared to death of him. I heard horror stories. “If you want an easy ‘A’, don’t take Dr. York. Seriously. He will tear you up and spit you out.” Then I would hear this: “But if you want to become the best preacher possible, take him as many times as you can. He will make you into an honorable preacher and a man of God.”
I heard one apocryphal story (apocryphal meaning, ‘If it isn’t true, it should be’) that a student went up to him and said, “I want you to grade me as hard as you can on my sermon.” He agreed. After the student minister was done, Dr. York gave him the heavy hand on everything he had done wrong, but said, “You have a great heart and a ton of potential. You will do well.”
That scared me. I stayed far away from Dr. York while in seminary. I got ‘A’s’ while in seminary in my preaching classes. But I’ll tell you this – all of my friends who took him for preaching have become phenomenal ministers of the gospel. They took him and his loving criticism and became better men for it. Thank God for men like Hershael York.
It wasn’t until over a year ago that I even talked to him. I was a miserable fallen pastor looking for help with my book. I heard that he had a heart for fallen pastors. At that time, I had perceived him to be some seminary professor living in an ivory tower, ready to destroy anyone who was full of sin. But I was terribly, terribly wrong. My first instinct came when I got his voicemail. It said, “You know who it is, you know what to do.” BEEEEEEEEEP. I let my daughter, who was 12 at the time listen to that. She loved it so much it’s her voicemail to this day.
When I interviewed him about fallen pastors and what they go through, I found a man who was so loving, so caring, and yet so passionate, I found myself being counseled by his words. While I was talking to him, I suddenly wished I had taken him for every class possible while I was at Southern.
He listened to my story of my failure, hurt for me and asked me questions. Then he was very honest with me. Scripturally honest with me. It was more than an interview. It was him helping me in my process. One of the first things he said to me was this about pastors who fall:
“It’s like a diamond being cut and polished. I saw this happen once in Tel Aviv. I asked the man cutting the diamond, ‘What happens if you make a misktake? What happens if you cut too deep?’ The cutter said, ‘Well, then I have to go and cut every other side exactly like that to match.’ So I said, ‘If you miscut you’ve diminished the value of it.’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ I think of it like that. A man who has fallen, there’s no question he’s diminished something. He’s still a diamond and of great worth, but he’s not what he could have been had he not fallen.”
He was one of the first people who heard through my anger, my problems and spoke directly to me. He read my book and I don’t think he agreed with all I had to say, but he let me quote him anyway. But one quote he gave me is one that I keep close to my heart every day. He said this: If a fallen pastor is going to make it in this world, “his repentance has to be more notorious than his sin.”
We talked about pastors who are looking for comfort beyond their spouses. Men who break and find a woman who is meeting their needs. He brought it down to very simple terms for me:
“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.”
Finally, I asked him, “When does a church give up on a pastor? How long do they wait for him to be repentant? How long do they walk with him?” This question had haunted me for a long time and Dr. York gave me a very down to earth answer:
“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.’”
I love Dr. York. He’s been at the forefront of a lot of political issues in the Bluegrass state and hasn’t backed down. He is a man of great character and loves his wife deeply. He knows what is at stake for pastors and lets the men he teaches at seminary know the dangers. I am proud of him and that Southern has such a great man there to help them.
I was intrigued recently by a Twitter/Facebook interaction he had regarding the removal of Joe Paterno’s statue at Penn State.
His first post said this: The removal of the Paterno statue is brutal evidence of the limitations of human judgment. “All of our heroes are flawed–except One.”
Of course, he got some flak from people who didn’t understand the point he was trying to make. Then he posted this: “Will they be taking Michelangelo’s David down now?” The idea is that since David committed adultery and killed Bathsheba’s husband, should we take down Michelangelo’s David? Excellent point. But he still got grief.
Then, the most beautiful post of the day, which I referenced in a recent post of mine: “To clarify my previous tweets, I fully support the removal of the Paterno statue. My point is that the people we idolize are all fallen.”
When I interviewed him, that was the underlying idea. We are all fallen. Every one of us. Every one of us is moments away from a fall. But that’s why we all need to be surrounded by accountability, strong wives, and an understanding of the fear of God.
In fact, he told me at one point – and I don’t have the exact quote – that if he fell from the ministry, he would have nothing. He’d be delivering pizzas. He has an amazing fear of God, something that is strangely missing from this society and from many of our pastors. It was missing from me.
When we lack the fear of God, we will no longer fear man. Or our sin. Or ourselves. That’s what Dr. York taught me. I wish I had learned it from him sooner. I wish I hadn’t been afraid to take his classes when I was a student at Southern.
All quotes from Dr. York were taken from his Facebook page or from “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World” by Ray Carroll. This post was approved by Dr. York before it was published and I am indebted to him for that.