Should churches reach out to former fallen pastors?
What do you do when your pastor fell a few years ago and you may want to reach out to him now? What if there is still hurt there?
(Note: I finally remembered the password to my old Fallen Pastor blog. I went there and started digging around. It was fun. That was back when I was blogging anonymously. There are some real transparent and stupid moments there, but also some redeeming ones. Here’s one I’ve edited a bit but still holds true.)
There are many variables involved and I’m sure I’ll miss some. But know this – it’s not a perfect process. It just matters that you do it with the right spirit and attitude.
Whether the break between your church and fallen pastor was one year, ten or 20 years ago, wounds will be reopened. That’s natural.
I’ve previously discussed why churches and fallen pastors should reconcile. But the how isn’t quite as easy, especially when a lot of time has passed.
Before you go, get your motives right. Go with an Ephesians 4:1-3 attitude: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.“ (ESV)
Go to your former pastor out of love – NOT to settle the matter, not to fight, not to dredge up the past, not to hash out what went wrong, but to love and be reasonable.
Let me say something very important about fallen pastors. Don’t always expect a miraculous response. You may not know where he went after the fall. He may be doing well. He may be doing very miserably. He may have moved on or he may have become a very bitter, cynical man. He may welcome your contact or he may question your motives.
It may be that he does not respond well to your coming at first. But it may be that your initial approach is what God uses to begin to work in your former pastor’s life to renew his spirit as well.
If he shows no signs of repentance at all, it may be wise to send one person, or simply to wait. But if there are any signs of repentance whatsoever, you might be saving his life. Think Galatians 6:1.
You may be tempted to think, “Well, he’s the one who sinned.” That’s right. He is. And every day since, he has paid for it. Through public scorn. Through the scorn of fellow pastors. But worse, he has beaten himself up for it.
Some think he deserves the worst punishment imaginable, but Christians, he does not. He deserves the grace and love of Christ every bit as much as you do. His sin hurt you to the core, but Christ covered his sin at Calvary just as He covered yours. I can almost guarantee that your former pastor craves the forgiveness of God and your public forgiveness like you can’t imagine.
It may be that since his fall, he has said or done things that make him look like an unbeliever. He may have acted like a complete fool or done things you dislike. To this, I say, if it were you who had acted as such during his tenure as pastor, he likely would have chased after you in love. And if that was not his character, the Christ would have pursued you. And we are to be like Christ, after all.
What I’m proposing – reconciliation with a fallen pastor – the man who hurt you, your family, his family, embarrassed your church before the community, is not an easy thing. But ultimately it is very Christlike. Christ pursued us and bore the wrath of our sin and asks us to forgive likewise.
I’d like to propose to you a plan for reaching out to your former pastor. First, remember this. Your church put together a pulpit committee, selection committee or whatever your denomination does. That committee, under the divine guidance (hopefully) of God called that man to be pastor.
Your church voted, probably overwhelmingly and he served your local fellowship. God does not make mistakes. However, people do. At the same time, we know from Romans 8 that God is sovereign in all things. We also know that He is not the author of sin, but He works all things together for His glory.
Your pastor fell, for whatever reason, and despite what you believe about God’s sovereignty, God had called this man to your church.
The fall of a pastor is devastating. It can destroy a man. You’ve seen the way the national media drags nationally known pastors through the mud for adultery. When it happens in the local church it happens on a smaller scale.
One would think this would be the time for Christians to surround a fallen Christian in love and mercy. But too often, the fallen pastor is scorned and run out of town on a rail. Why? Because he has harmed the church. He hurt people on a personal level. He has betrayed them.
A pastor friend told me once the church acts like a scorned woman when a pastor falls. That comment is dead on. I don’t blame the church for this. It is understandable. However, there needs to be a race at some point to move beyond hurt and reconcile.
That does not mean that the hurt is not still there. That does not mean that the relationship between church and fallen pastor is the same. It simply means that we are able to forgive as Christ forgave us.
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. I have counseled over 500 pastors, church leaders, denomination leaders, pastor’s wives, “other women,” and more in the past six years. I will not judge you and I will keep all your information completely confidential.
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