When a pastor falls and ends up out of the ministry – whether permanently or temporarily – he finds himself lost. A lot of things are going on in his life – counseling, restoration, working with his wife, working through his sin, trying to make sense of it all, possible court proceedings, etc.
One of the most significant things that the fallen pastor now realizes is that he is without a ministry position for the first time in many years. For a time, this may be a blessing. A lot of fallen pastors at the time of their sin were tired of ministry and were at a crisis point to begin with. They had been at odds with staff, hounded by phone calls, the blessing of ministry had become a job, and it was less than enjoyable.
However, as time rolls on, pastors tend to realize that while they don’t miss the pain of the job, they do miss authentic ministry, preaching, and pastoring. Deep down, they want to be part of ministry again, but they’re not sure if they’re ready or honestly, if anyone will have them.
Where can a fallen pastor fit in?
Most fallen pastors go through this thought process: “I want to be part of a church. But what do I tell a church that I’m visiting? Do I just walk up to a pastor and tell them what I did? Do I wait to tell them before I join? Do I tell them after? Should I just keep it to myself?”
Here’s what I’ll say about what to tell churches about your past - they have a right to know the basics. I don’t suggest running into every church and telling them everything the first day you walk in the door. In fact, take time to visit a few places. Enjoy sitting in the back row for a while being anonymous. Like a place? Stick around. Listen to what people are saying. Get a feel for it.
Heck, worship for once.
And if you enjoy it and want to stay, approach the minister. But listen. And I’m serious about this – don’t expect a favorable response. If you tell him what you did, that you committed adultery and are looking for somewhere to rest and restore, you just might get a boot in your rear end. I’ve seen it happen more often than not.
Guess what? If it happens, it’s not about you. It’s about him. And that’s fine. If he can’t be loving and Christ like enough to take time to listen, love and help, you don’t need to waste your time there.
If you do find a place, here’s my advice – don’t rush too fast to accept any kind of ministry, teaching or leadership position. Remember where you just came from? A fallen ministry. Guess what will happen if you don’t get help and find out what went wrong in the first place? It’ll happen again.
You say, “No, I’ve got it this time. I’ve been humbled.” I’ve said it before and will say it again – humbling circumstances do not necessarily humble us.
After you fall, it takes time to be restored to Christ. Well meaning church people will hear about you, love you and will rush you into positions too quickly. And you will want to do them because your pastoral nature won’t want to say no. But guess what? It’s okay to say no.
On the other side of that coin you might find that there are churches that won’t ask you to do anything. It’s not because they don’t like you or trust you – it’s because they just don’t know what to do with you. They’ve never had a healing minister in their presence and they really don’t know how to proceed. Don’t take that personally.
So what can you do?
In fact, I’ve found something that is very, very rewarding that you can do as a freshly fallen pastor that keep you on the path of restoration and keeps you out of leadership roles for the time being. And it’s something that you already know how to do.
Remember all those times as a pastor you thought things like, “I sure wish people appreciated me more,” or “I don’t get enough compliments or good critiques on my sermons,” or “I wish I had someone to listen to my problems and take me out to lunch,” or “I really don’t have anyone who understands what it’s like to be a minister that I can talk to.” Remember all that? Now you can be that for someone else.
You can be that joy and help in someone else’s life. You’ll be surprised at how amazing it can be. Don’t be overwhelming. Start small. Don’t talk too much. Just drop by on occasion. Gain his trust. Pray with him. Offer to do things for him. Don’t ask for anything in return.
Be the person for him that you wish you had when you were pastoring. In time, you’ll see two lives transformed and you’ll be doing ministry for someone.
* I do want to recommend to pastors who have left ministry an excellent resource. PIR Ministries has helped train churches across the country to help and minister to “exited” pastors. Please visit their website for more information and to see if they have a trained church near you or to train your church to help an “exited” pastor.
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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