When a Pastor Falls, pt. 2: Confronting the Pastor
This series is about how church leadership can effectively handle the fall of their pastor when he has been accused of sexual immorality. 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.”
It’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 want 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
Not 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.
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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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