The day comes out of nowhere and the news hits everyone hard. Everyone learns that the pastor has committed adultery. Or, for that matter, they’ve discovered he’s embezzled or been lying about something horrible.
There are a myriad of reactions from many types of people. I was a pastor and I fell when I committed adultery. I had kept it secret for a few months, but you can’t sin under wraps forever. What I knew then about the reactions of people is different from what I know now.
I’ve learned something very important over the years – one of the most important things anyone can do is listen to what people are saying. When a pastor falls, the most important thing a church can do is listen. If we don’t listen, we can’t communicate. If we aren’t listening to the real hurt and concern of the people around us, we will never get to a place where we understand one another.
Everyone has the right to react and feel hurt. Everyone has the right to feel disappointment in the person they listened to, trusted and loved.
I remember when I was writing my book, I was still having anger toward people who were lashing out at me about what I did. One of the most helpful conversations I had was with Dr. Hershael York who basically told me, “Ray, you don’t get the right to get angry with those people when they lash out in anger. You’re the one who committed adultery. You put them in that position. Even if their anger is unbiblical, which they’ll have to answer for, you need to keep silent. That’s part of being humble.”
He was right. Now I’d like to share with you 4 common reactions to fallen pastors that I’ve heard over the years. I’m writing them so that we can see the larger picture. Once everything comes out, where do we go? Remember that a lot of things said in the first few days of discovery are said in anger or disappointment:
Reaction #1: Church Members:
Church member #1: “I can’t believe it. He baptized my kids. I trusted him. How could he do this? I guess it goes to show you that you can’t trust anyone.”
Church member #2: “Let’s get him out of here as fast as possible. The sooner he’s gone, the sooner we can heal and forget him.”
Church member #3: “I never trusted him anyway. That’s horrible. His wife should leave him right away. He has got to be fired right now. He’s probably been doing this for years.”
Reaction #2: Church Leaders:
Church leader #1: “You know, we could just sweep this under the rug. Surely we can do damage control on this. If this gets out, it could hurt the church.”
Church leader #2: “He’s done. This is an embarrassment. He needs to type a letter of resignation now and we have got to move on as quickly as possible.”
Church leader #3: “He’s in trouble and I don’t like what he did. He can’t stay on here as pastor, but we do have a responsibility to help him and his family. Let’s go talk to him. I’m not sure what we can do, but let’s see if we can get him and his wife some help.”
Reaction #3: Pastors in the Community:
Community pastor#1: “Wow. I never thought he would do that. Goes to show you it can happen to anyone.”
Community pastor #2: “What a disappointment. He just makes us all look bad.”
Community pastor #3: “I need to call him. I don’t know what I can do, but I can at least reach out.”
Reaction #4: The Fallen Pastor:
The pastor #1: “I cannot believe this is happening. I don’t know how I got here. I mean, I know how I got here. But, I don’t know what to do now. I’m about to lose everything. It’s all my fault. I need help.”
The pastor, reaction #2: “I’m done. I’m getting all these angry calls. I’m leaving anyway. I don’t want to have anything to do with church or any of this. My marriage has been awful and I’m leaving. No one can stop me.
Some might say, “Good, they deserve it.” Know what? We all deserve it.
There are a lot of different reactions. Not everyone is on the same page and every member, leader and pastor has a different set of dynamics. The pastor has sinned and is responsible to face the consequences.The pastor, reaction #3: “I got caught. I know I did something wrong. Maybe I can get a little counseling and get back to ministry soon.”
Here at Fallen Pastor, I do two things. First, I listen to people who approach me with questions. If they want advice, I give it. When a fallen pastor contacts me, I help. I’ve heard from all three of those types of pastors I listed above. I listen to them. And I love on them. I let them know that life isn’t over. I want them to be reconciled to Christ. I tell them that I will stand with them and help them get back on their feet.
Sometimes, they don’t listen to what I have to say. Sometimes they just want the answer to one or two questions and I never hear from them again. And that’s okay too.
But what I also do is help churches be aware that the fallen pastor needs help. His family needs help. I know that’s a tall order. I do. He just got caught sinning. He messed up royally. He has brought a dark cloud to rest on the church. People in the community will be gossiping for months about this.
Then we come to Galatians 6:1 where we are told to restore people. Not to the pulpit – but to Christ. We are to restore people when they fall. Know what we are to do when someone sins? Help them out of the pit they’ve dug for themselves.
In the beginning, it sure is hard. We are hurt, angry and want to put that person as far away from us as possible.
And the guys who get tossed to the side after they sin – I’ve talked to them too. Years after they fell, they are in a really bad place. Some might say, “Good, they deserve it.” Know what? We all deserve it. And I will never argue that a fallen pastor shouldn’t face up to the consequences he sowed. He will for the rest of his life.
What I am calling for is the Christian community to do what they can to restore people who sin. Restore them to Christ. And if you need help, reach out. We’re here. If you can’t do it yourself, find someone who can.
Some related articles to help your current pastor:
“5 Ways to Pray For Your Pastor” by Nicholas Batzig
“Pray For Your Pastor!” by Tim Challies
“20 Ways To Encourage Your Pastor” by Dennis Rainey
“10 Ways to Help Your Pastor” by Kevan Bartlett
“10 Ways to Support Your Congregation’s Pastor” by Rev. Emily C. Heath
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.
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