I’m the kind of guy who takes things very personally. If someone looks at me sideways, I start to wonder, “What did I do to offend that person?” Some people are just wired that way. I like to act like things just roll off my back but I’m fairly sensitive.
I’ve gotten better since I started blogging about not taking things personally, which is a good thing for all of us to learn. Today, I want to link two ideas together – who the fallen pastor sins against when he falls and why that sin cannot be taken personally. Hold on tight, because while those ideas might seem a bit strange now, I promise they will begin to make sense.
I care about everyone on every side of this issue: Fallen pastors, their spouses, those they’ve been involved with, their churches, their families, their fellow pastors, their children – everyone. Know why? Because they are all worthy of the love and care of Christ.
Who gets hurt when a pastor falls?
When a pastor commits adultery and falls from the ministry, it hurts many people. Since my fall, I’ve had time to listen to people on every side of the fall. Of course, I was the adulterous pastor. I knew what it was like to be selfish, leave the ministry and not listen to anyone.
I’ve also had time to listen to the wives of fallen pastors and hear their side of the story. I’ve also heard from the women who committed adultery with the pastor. I’ve talked to church members and friends of the fallen pastor. I’ve seen this issue from all sides and I must say, it has humbled me even greater than before.
After a pastor commits adultery, it breaks hearts. It wounds people. Sometimes it ends up on the front page of the newspaper if the church is big enough. It always makes the rounds in gossip in the community. Regardless, it is an act that hurts many people. It angers many. It leaves many asking, “Why? How? What are the reasons?”
Who does the fallen pastor sin against?
Let’s take a look at some Scripture. After David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he wrote Psalm 51. He said in verses 3-4:
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
(Psalm 51:3-4 ESV)
I used to wonder what David meant when he told God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” Surely David knew he had sinned against Bathsheba’s husband by killing him. Surely fallen pastors know they sin against their own wives when they commit adultery. So what’s the deal?
Here’s the deal – when any of us sin, the sin debt we owe is owed only to God. (Romans 3:23; 6:23) We will only face Him for judgment. Him alone. At the end of it all, we face no man. We face God Almighty. That’s a lot of judgment to answer to.
That’s why it’s so important for us to walk a righteous path, to be justified in Christ and to then walk a life of holiness. We must repent after we have sinned and cry out to God after our transgression.
Taking a pastor’s fall personally
Now, to the tough part. When a pastor sins, he hurts a lot of people. I’ve heard a lot of pastor’s mothers, sisters, brothers, mentors, cousins, grandparents, church members and so on say, “How could he do this to us?”
Let me say this very gently. He didn’t do it to you. It feels like it though, doesn’t it? Your pastor didn’t sin directly against you. He did a very selfish, sinful thing, but he did not directly do it to hurt you. Don’t take it personally. He chose a path of sin, did it consciously, with his own flesh in mind, but he did not have you in mind when he did it. He was not trying to directly hurt you in the process. It does hurt and it is devastating and painful, but the act wasn’t directed at you personally. Does that make it any less painful? No, but stay with me here.
Who does a pastor’s fall effect?
Maybe a better way to say it is this – he didn’t sin against anyone but God, however, the pastor’s sin affects many people devastated by it’s wake. When King David sinned, his sin debt was owed to God and God alone. However, the consequences of his sin was felt by many people. It caused death, destruction and heartache.
I can speak to this because I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve been hurt before by the direct actions of a family member. He hurt me. He left our family. Hurt us. And I took it personally. He even told me he didn’t mean for me to take it personally. Looking back, I know he was right. He didn’t mean to hurt me personally.
I was also the one who did the hurting. I was the fallen pastor. I hurt other people severely and deeply by my sin.
The fallen pastor, like my family member did what they did because they were sinners. They were selfish. Did your fallen pastor hurt you? Absolutely. Did it have an effect on your relationship with him? Yes, without a doubt. Was he under the influence of sin? Yes. But did he do it maliciously to harm you? More than likely not.
Now let me ask a question. When you are selfish in your life, when you sin, when you do things to please yourself or when you commit sins of gossip, lying, covetousness, idolatry, stealing, lust, pornography, covering up other sins – are you necessarily doing it to personally harm someone else? A family member? Probably not. You’re in a state of self-satisfaction and sin. When you get caught, there are consequences for you and your family, but when you were doing them, you weren’t thinking of anyone but yourself.
Consequences of taking sin personally
The real problem of taking someone else’s sin personally is that we might be hindered in what comes next. When my family member sinned, I was so angry for so long that I never worked on forgiveness, restoration or reconciliation. I was too busy taking it all personally. I was too busy asking, “How could he do this to me?” instead of asking, “How can God work through me to change this person’s life?”
The Christian’s responsibility to the fallen pastor
So what is your role now? If you’re a relative, a church member, a fellow pastor or a friend? Well what does Scripture
say? Does Scripture say to take it personally and hold his sin against him? No. It says in the spirit of Galatians 6:1 to restore him. But you may say, “But I don’t have it in me. It hurts too much. I don’t understand why he did this.”
In my experience in helping fallen pastors, you may never understand. But you have to keep praying. Keep the door open slightly. Keep letting him know you love him. That doesn’t mean condoning his sin, but let him know that you love him for who he is, in Christ as a brother. That doesn’t mean loving him for his sin, but loving him because he’s him. That may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it may mean more to him that you’ll ever know.
When I fell, I had about three people reach out to me. None of them were family. It took family about three months to talk to me. It took four months for the first church member to say something. But these were people who were able to put their ideas aside that I had done something personal to them and reach out.
I want you to know something very important. A pastor is just as much a member of the body of Christ as anyone else. If he falls, we are to go after him. If he shows signs of repentance, no matter how small, we are to rescue him. He has the responsibility to repent and the church has the responsibility to restore.
Just because he gets a paycheck doesn’t mean we get to fire him because he sins. It doesn’t mean because he commits a sin we get to toss him by the side of the road. The body of Christ includes all of the members. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV)
Above it all, try not to take it personally. Don’t run to Facebook and say, “How could he do this to me?” or to the woman he was with “You are such a *@&$#” as one person did to my wife. He didn’t do it to you. He has a higher standard to answer to. Instead, go to him. Run to his side. Don’t judge him immediately, but find out what is going on in his heart. Ask him, “Let’s work through this.” He may not want to talk right away, but he will know you are there.
The body of Christ is made up of many parts. At least one of them might be able to reach out to the fallen 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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