Here’s part two of my interview with Pastor Fred Luter, current president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Make sure you check out part one before you pick up here. We covered all kinds of topics.
In the second half, we talk about what should happen to pastors who commit adultery, whether churches are properly equipped to handle the fall of a pastor, how pastors can be restored, and part of Pastor Luter’s own personal journey.
Fallen Pastors, Restoration, and How the Church Can Manage It
Ray Carroll: I believe there’s a moment when a pastor has forfeit his right to be the shepherd of his congregation.
Fred Luter: I believe that too. I’m not saying he can’t do anything. But he’s not fit to shepherd the people.
RC: Whether it’s an African-American church, or a Caucasian church that kicks a guy to the curb or gets a guy six months of counseling, everyone seems to be handling it differently. Six months of counseling isn’t going to fix what’s wrong with your heart, you know?
FL: That’s right.
RC: I believe when a man falls, it’s because there’s something wrong with your relationship with God and there’s something wrong with your relationship with your wife. And it’s going to take a whole lot longer than six months to fix both of those things.
FL: I agree with that. I’m on the same page as you.
RC: Churches are ill-equipped, rather, they don’t even know where to go where to look when their pastor falls. Whether it’s a Caucasian church or an African-American church, they most often don’t know where to go for help.
FL: I like the statement you made that when a brother falls, he’s not ready to be a senior pastor. See, that’s the problem in many of our African-American churches. Many of our churches, we didn’t have staff members. The pastor was the head honcho. We had associate ministers who were volunteers or bi-vocational. An African-American church, if the pastor isn’t there, it’s going to crumble. It’s going to fall because we depend so much on that person.
I think if there were more opportunities in the African-American church for preachers who fall and they can still be used in other positions other than senior pastor, I don’t think the damage would be as bad.
RC: I agree. I’ve seen guys who say, “I shouldn’t be pastoring right now. I need to be restored.” And when I say restored, I don’t mean to ministry, I mean to Christ. They need to get their life right with Christ before they start thinking about a return to ministry. I think if they do that, there’s a chance for them for a return to some sort of ministry. And whatever form of ministry they return to, that’s not up to me, that’s up to God.
“I’ll never forget when I started running for the position of Southern Baptist president, I started getting calls from all over the country from white media asking, ‘Why in the world does a black man want to be president of the Southern Baptist Convention?‘”
I believe what you’re saying is absolutely right. Galatians 6:1 says to “restore such a one.”
FL: Exactly. And that’s the problem with a lot of our brothers in the body of Christ. They don’t look at that Scripture. It says, “restore,” it doesn’t say “kick them to the curb.” I know you’ve heard the saying that the church are the only ones who shoot our own wounded. I know you’ve seen it personally and seen it other places. Where is the restoration? And it’s a problem.
And your ministry and I appreciate what you’re doing and the ministry Johnny Hunt has for fallen ministers. Johnny has helped a lot of pastors. We can’t just kick these guys to the curb. What if Moses had been kicked to the curb? Or David?
So somewhere, somehow, we’ve got to look at how we deal with a fallen brother or a fallen sister and the ultimate goal is that there needs to be restoration.
RC: We have a battle of extremes in many of our churches when it comes to fallen pastors. We either let him stay where he is without seriously dealing with his sin or we kick him out, which is saying, “If you sin, we’re done with you.” Instead, we should be saying, “When you sin, there is grace and restoration back to Christ for the repentant sinner.” What a model of restoration that is for the body of Christ to witness.
High Expectations for Church Leaders
FL: I think the problem lies in that we tend to feel that because of a pastor’s position that they should know better. But we’re human just like anyone else. I tell that to people at my church all the time, “I have marital issues just like you do, we have financial issues just like you do, and many nights I’ve slept on the sofa.” I’m very transparent with my congregation.
Yes, I’m in a position of leadership, but I’m a human just like you are. I have the same struggles and issues that you do. That’s why you need to keep me in your prayers. But when I do mess up, don’t say, “Well you should know better, you’re the pastor.” That’s the problem we have in a lot of our churches. We’ve put this guy on some kind of pedestal. And when they do fall how we deal with them is very inappropriate.
RC: That’s one of the factors I found when I interviewed pastors for my book that can weaken men to a dangerous point was overly high expectations. I also found that pastors have more unrealistic expectations for themselves than anyone else places on them. Many have become consumed with doing ministry and have forgotten about pursuing Christ and letting Him do His work.
FL: And in the beginning we spend so much time in the Word and in prayer because we need help. There’s really only depending on God. But now we’ve got a few sermons under our belt and we look back and do some good things here or there and we don’t depend on God as much.
Recommendations for Fallen African-American Pastors & Churches
RC: So what would you tell me when an African-American brother or sister contacts me and says, “I’ve fallen or my husband has fallen and the church leaders are telling me I’ve got to stay or my husband has to stay and to keep quiet about it.” Generally, what’s your advice?
FL: What I would say is in spite of what the leadership says, you request some time off. Call it a sabbatical, call it a vacation, and just say you need some time. You don’t have to make it a public announcement, but the key leaders will know why. Tell them you need to work on yourself and you need to work on your marriage.
Franklin Avenue is the only church I’ve ever pastored. We started with 50 members. I was a street preacher after I got saved. I was preaching at Greater Liberty Baptist Church and came to Franklin Avenue. Technically, that’s how I became a Southern Baptist. Franklin Avenue was at one time an all-white Baptist Church.
I’ll never forget when I started running for the position of Southern Baptist president, I started getting calls from all over the country from white media asking, “Why in the world does a black man want to be president of the Southern Baptist Convention?” I told them when I became a pastor, this was an all-white church and that’s how I became part of the Southern Baptists.
I never will forget there were times I was burning the candle at both ends, I felt I was the poster child for the Southern Baptists and I was on every news program. And it just got to the point when I used to go continually and I would come home and my kids would say, “Hey Dad, it’s good to see you!” But it got to a point where they would just say, “Hey Dad.”
And I said to myself, “Wow, I’m losing my family.” I’m going all over the country, preaching at all these places to all these people who are having me sign their Bibles, but I’m losing my family. And one Sunday I got before my church and said to them, “Folks, I need to take some time off. I’m going so much that I’m losing my family. And shame on me if I’m going all across the country and trying to save the world and I lose my own family.” I told them it wasn’t scheduled but I need a week off.
And guess what? They stood up and applauded and were very supportive. I will never forget that day as long as I live. My wife and kids had no idea I was going to do that.
People need to be honest with themselves. Like I always say – a drug addict can never be set free until they look at themselves in the mirror and say, “I’ve got a problem.” An alcoholic can never be set free until they look at themselves and say, “I have a problem.”
So the pastor needs to look at himself in the mirror and say, “I’ve got a problem.” Admit to yourself you’ve got a problem and tell your church, “I need to have some time off. I need to regroup. I need to get back to God.” Then pray like David did in Psalm 51, “Have mercy upon me, O God.” Do whatever you need to do to get away with your wife and reconcile. She may not, but you’ve got to work at it.
“And that’s the problem with a lot of our brothers in the body of Christ. They don’t look at that Scripture. It says, ‘restore,’ it doesn’t say ‘kick them to the curb.’ I know you’ve heard the saying that the church are the only ones who shoot our own wounded. I know you’ve seen it personally and seen it other places. Where is the restoration? And it’s a problem.”
I’ve seen us as pastors go an awful long way to work with families and help their kids and others, but we don’t always do the same thing for our own families. And that’s because we assume that our families should understand.
I also recommend to the church to set up some accountability procedures when he comes back. When he goes out on a preaching engagement, assign one of the men of the church to go with him. Have someone go with him, whether it’s a deacon or a trustee, but someone he’s comfortable with. And have the church cover the expense. Because you know how temptation is always there. Even at the church, there should be some accountability there. You shouldn’t be with a female in the office by yourself. Have a window in your office if you’re behind closed doors. Just some things that will protect you.
Because the temptation will always be there. The enemy will always make sure. That’s an area where you will fall. The enemy says, “Oh, that’s what you like? Then I’m going to keep pressing that button.” Satan, he studies us. My weakness may not be yours and yours may not be mine, but we all have one. And the enemy will study it. “Oh, Krispy Kreme donuts is yours? Okay. Alright.”
RC: Krispy Kreme is everyone’s weakness.
I get this question a lot and you’ve talked about it some in regards to different situations. I have my own feelings on the issue. If a pastor has committed adultery, he needs to tell his wife and he needs to tell the church leadership. Does he need to tell the congregation? They don’t need to know the details, but they need to know. I feel that he’s violated the trust of the church and at least for the time, he’s forfeit his right to be the shepherd.
FL: I totally agree. They don’t need to know the details. But call a special meeting, church members only, but that doesn’t always work because you’ll have all kinds of people showing up.
The church needs to know. And that will say to the people, “Wow, he’s human like us.” Because there are a lot of people in the audience who have messed up like him.
RC: I’ll tell you what. Since I’ve been preaching again and sharing my testimony with congregations, many times during the invitation, I will have people come up and confess their adultery to me. And a lot of them are church leaders, Sunday School teachers and deacons. They say to me, “I never thought a leader could mess up like I did.” And they needed to hear that God could forgive them.
FL: I think that needs to happen. And that could be the start of reconciliation. For not only him and his wife and between him and God, but for him and the church. But those wounds need to heal. It’s a wound. And if it’s not dealt with it will just spread.
RC: Anything else you want to add?
FL: As president of this convention, I see a lot of things, I get a lot of letters, and there is just a need for guys who have fallen to be ministered to. We are known for shooting our wounded. But Paul says, “Considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.”
Pastor Fred Luter, Jr., is the Senior Pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana and the first African American to be elected as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Read more about him here.
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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Special thanks to Dr. Randy Johnson for his help in making this interview a reality.