I love my ministry to fallen pastors. Not a week goes by that I don’t get an email from a man who has fallen and needs help. Whether it’s a man who has fallen from ministry, a church whose pastor who has fallen, the other woman, or a wife whose husband has fallen, I put everything I have into helping them.
I am not here to help you commit adultery.
I got a call from a pastor a while back that about made my head explode. I thought it was the typical call from a broken pastor who was struggling with temptation. He was telling me how his marriage was a wreck and how he was tempted to have an affair. Then he said the most remarkable thing:
“I’m ready to leave the ministry and my wife. I want you to tell me how to commit adultery. You did it. Tell me how.”
It took all my energy to exercise patience. But I did. I’ll finish this story in a moment. For those who are unaware, let me tell you how I got to that point.
When I fell six years ago, I fell in love with a woman who was a member of my congregation. She was my wife’s best friend. You can read all about it in my book. We are now married. The details are all there. It is in the past. God has forgiven that sin. We have moved on.
Here is my concern, though. I don’t want people coming here thinking I will condone the sin of adultery. I will not. In my book, with the help of my friend Hershael York, I mark out the stages a fallen pastor goes through. In my experience, all fallen pastors go through these stages in some degree: Justification, Anger, Fighting against God, Defensiveness, Repentance, Brokenness and Restoration. There are many more stages, but if you really want to know what a pastor goes through and how he got there, the book is required reading.
What I don’t want is fallen pastors coming here and thinking that I’m going to tell them that adultery is okay. It’s not.
“I want you to tell me how to commit adultery. You did it. Tell me how.”
After my former wife and I had a breaking point and discovered that restoration between us was not going to happen, I still had to face God.
It was a weekday. I was months after my fall. I was angry at people for not accepting me for what had happened and the fact that they had not forgiven me. I was justifying my lifestyle.
One night, in despair, grief, and in shame over what I had done, God spoke to me. This is very typical for fallen pastors who come to a place of repentance and recovery. I can’t exactly tell you what happened. Nor can the other men who I have talked to who have committed adultery. What I can tell you is this – remember when Jonah ran from God? He had him swallowed by a giant fish.
When a pastor sins, God is patient, but he will find you. He will break you down to your sinful heart and demand you listen to him. That happened to me. It was very personal. For other fallen pastors I have spoken to, it was very personal for them as well. It was the day that I began my walk back on the road to holiness. It was the day I stopped blaming everyone else for my problems and started saying, like David, “Against you, God, and you alone, have I sinned.”
It was a devastating experience.
But it had to happen. Immediately after it happened, God showed me grace. Grace like I have never known. I was lifted out of the dungeon of guilt, despair and self-inflicted wounds and made whole again. He made me worthy of a child of His. Why? I don’t know. I guess because He’s God. But also because He is full of love and grace.
Pastors, I want to share with you a quote from my book that Dr. York gave to me about women we are tempted by:
“Every time you have an affair with anybody, I don’t care who you are, in a sense, you’re having an affair with a fantasy and not a real person. Because the person you’ve got to pay the mortgage with, deal with the kids’ soccer schedule with, the one whose vomit you wipe up when they’re sick, that’s the real person you live with. Twenty minutes in the sack on a Tuesday afternoon is really not love. You’ve got to tell yourself that. You’ve got to awaken yourself to the fact that it’s fantasy. If you end up with the person you had an affair with, I guarantee you once you get married you have to face the same issues and same struggles. You cannot take two totally depraved human beings, stick them in the same house and not have friction.”
The affair is a mystical journey you go on. It’s when you find someone who understands you for who you are. It’s someone who understands you for who you are. It’s someone who understands you better than your wife or your congregation. At the end of it, though, you will find yourself with another wife, if that’s how it ends up.
Guess what? If you don’t fix what was wrong with YOU in your first marriage, you won’t succeed in your second. I read a statistic once that only 2% of marriages built upon affairs last.
I fear many people come to me wanting me to tell them that adultery is okay. It’s not. It is a sin. It is grievous to God and it tears churches and families apart. It is outside the laws of God and it is sin. “But Ray, you did it.” Yeah, and I will pay the consequences for it for the rest of my life. Daily.
Do I love my wife? Absolutely. Do we have tough days? Sure. Do we pay consequences? You better believe it. But listen, pastor: Running off with someone else is not the cure. Understand that there are factors that are making you look in the first place – church conflict, poor relationship with your spouse, people placing too high expectations upon you, isolation, etc. Those circumstances aren’t excuses; they lead you to the door of temptation. But it is ultimately your decision to walk through that door.
Don’t go looking or have a relationship with a woman unexpectedly show up to cure your ills. I am not the Scriptural standard by which you should measure your life by. Wake up and allow God to do a work in your life. Get help before it’s too late.
Back to the guy who called – I said to him, “Sir, you need to understand that I am not your moral model. You are leaving out years of consequence and pain that we have endured because of our sinful choice. Just because we chose it doesn’t make it right or worth following. Other men are not your standard – Christ is. You’re living in a world of fantasy where sin is your only way out.”
I gave him some helpful resources and worked with him to fix a marriage that had been falling apart for years. Is it easy? Nope. But following Christ never is. I can tell you this – chasing after your sin is ten times harder.
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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