Hershael York Interview, Pt. 1: True Repentance & Brokenness

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Hershael York Interview, Pt. 1: True Repentance & Brokenness

york2Dr. Her­shael York is known by many as the preach­ing pro­fes­sor at The South­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary. By some, he’s known as an out­spo­ken critic for moral and Chris­t­ian issues. To a few hun­dred, he’s the pas­tor of Buck Run Bap­tist Church in Frank­fort, Ken­tucky, in the midst of pay­ing off their debt and mov­ing to a new facil­ity. By a priv­i­leged few, he’s a father, grand­fa­ther, husband.

I used to know him as that guy in sem­i­nary that “if you take his preach­ing class, be pre­pared to have your rear end handed to you.” So I never took his class and I regret it.

After I fell from the min­istry, years after my sem­i­nary expe­ri­ence, I was encour­aged by a friend to call him. I heard that Dr. York was some­one who had expe­ri­ence reach­ing out to fallen pas­tors with love and com­pas­sion. Strangely, that did not mesh with the image I had in my head of him.

I was happy to be proven wrong. When I inter­viewed him, he was gra­cious, kind and his wis­dom is pasted through­out my book, “Fallen Pas­tor: Find­ing Restora­tion in a Bro­ken World.” Bet­ter yet, I see him as a spir­i­tual father of sorts now.

“We’re totally com­fort­able when a dope smok­ing, meth lab own­ing guy gets saved and we rejoice in that; but what if a Chris­t­ian falls into that and returns? Our dis­com­fort sort of negates the book of Gala­tians. In Gala­tians, Paul says, ‘What don’t you under­stand? Now if you began in the Spirit you are not per­fected by works!’”

In fact, when my wife and I trav­eled to Frank­fort recently to see and inter­view him (partly for this blog but mostly because I missed see­ing him), the first thing he told me was how proud he was of me. Some­thing I had longed for my own father to say.

Enough of that. I’ve tried to break down the inter­view the best I can. If you go and talk to Dr. York about any­thing, you’ll end up with a repos­i­tory of awe­some mate­r­ial that’s hard to repli­cate on the page. So, I’ve tried to do my best.

Fallen Pas­tors and Repentance

One of the top­ics we dis­cussed was fallen pas­tors and when they repent. A lot of times, the fallen pas­tor will repent imme­di­ately and be restored to Christ, but other times, as in my case, he won’t. Dr. York dis­cussed the issues with a late repent­ing pastor:

Chris­tians want things to end clean and neat. And they’re uncom­fort­able when they don’t. What peo­ple are uncom­fort­able with is what every­one wants; we want to see rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with his wife which means they get back together and live repentshap­pily ever after. But you know what? That’s not always how it works. At the point peo­ple wake up and become really bro­ken over their sin — at what­ever point that is, then they have to deal with what­ever con­se­quences have occurred up to that point.

“There’s no going back, you can’t roll back time, and so what’s the godly way to deal with this? Have we read our Bible? What about Abra­ham and Hagar? There were con­se­quences. We can lament what Abra­ham did all we want, but we have to deal with it. And I think a lot of Chris­tians miss that at some point and we have to answer the ques­tion, ‘How do I honor God now?’”

That turned him to the mes­sage of the Gospel:

“If we really believe the gospel — the gospel takes you where you are. We say we believe the gospel isn’t about ‘try harder and do bet­ter’ but it’s about rest­ing in God’s grace. And then we act upset when some­one actu­ally does some­thing that demands that.

“We’re totally com­fort­able when a dope smok­ing, meth lab own­ing guy gets saved and we rejoice in that; but what if a Chris­t­ian falls into that and returns? Our dis­com­fort sort of negates the book of Gala­tians. In Gala­tians, Paul says, ‘What don’t you under­stand? Now if you began in the Spirit you are not per­fected by works!’

“If true holi­ness is real­iz­ing our com­plete depen­dence upon God, then some­times the Lord has to allow the con­se­quences of our own sin to get us to that level of depen­dence on Him. If any­one else is uncom­fort­able with it, then so be it, they’re just going to be uncom­fort­able with it.”

What is true repen­tance and bro­ken­ness? Dr. York shares a per­sonal story:

On to another impor­tant topic and a sen­si­tive one that is often chal­lenged. How do we know if a fallen pas­tor (or for that mat­ter – any­one) is really repen­tant or bro­ken over their sin? I told Dr. York I had a church con­tact me once and tell me that they had a can­di­date apply for a job who had fallen 25 years prior. When asked about it, he became defen­sive. I said, “If he was truly repen­tant and bro­ken over his sin, his response would have been, ‘I com­mit­ted adul­tery 25 years ago, I was for­given by God, but I am more than will­ing to dis­cuss any­thing with you, even the con­se­quences of my actions.’”

Dr. York:

“You couldn’t have said it bet­ter. Years ago, I coun­seled an asso­ciate min­is­ter who had an affair with some­one else in the church. He and his wife decided to rec­on­cile imme­di­ately and he agreed to undergo coun­sel­ing and fol­low a path to repen­tance, but he was asked to leave. He and his wife came here to our church.

conseque“The first time I met with them, the man said to me, ‘I just want to get past this.’ And I thought, here comes the speech. You get the speech for that one. I told him, ‘You’re never going to get past this. There is no get­ting past this. This is going to be whis­pered about you wher­ever you go for the rest of your life. You bet­ter get used to that. When your chil­dren get older, some­one is going to tell them and it’s going to crush them.

“I laid it out clearly and said, ‘This is what your future looks like. Now lis­ten, you’ve only got one hope here. And this is the only way for you to do this – and that is if when some­body does whis­per what you’ve done, some­one else says, ‘That is just so hard to believe. Because look how he just loves the Lord and fol­lows Jesus in the gen­uine whole­ness of his life.’ To get there requires bro­ken­ness and it is a long hard road.

“His wife had a fam­ily reunion once a year and when he went, no one would speak to him. The fam­ily even called Dr. York and was furi­ous that he was coun­sel­ing this man. And he said to them, ‘As long as he is act­ing like he wants restora­tion, and he def­i­nitely does, then it all remains to be seen and proved over the course of time. It’s judg­ment on my part whether he is or isn’t repen­tant.

“The man came back from the reunion and was angry. He said, ‘They treated me hor­ri­bly.’ I said, ‘Why did they have the oppor­tu­nity to treat you like this? Who put them in this posi­tion? You have to own the fact that you got the choice and they didn’t, so you can’t judge them for the way they react to your sin’ He said, ‘What do I do?’ I said, ‘Sit there qui­etly and kindly, don’t force any­body to speak and when it comes time to pick up after a meal, do it and help out. Be a will­ing ser­vant. Just have the atti­tude of the prodi­gal son after he came home and say, ‘Just let me be like one of your hired ser­vants and that will be enough for me.

“And if you have that atti­tude, even­tu­ally, you’re going to win. How long? How many years? I don’t know. But even­tu­ally, they’re going to say, ‘His repen­tance is real, this is for real.’ For now, they might say, ‘This is an act.’ Four or five years down the road, they might not say that any­more. The ques­tion is, are you will­ing to do that? And if you’re gen­uinely bro­ken over that, you will.’

“It’s been almost ten years for them now and he called him because a church asked him to take on a lead­er­ship role. The man turned that down. He told Dr. York, ‘I knew it had the poten­tial to appeal to my super­fi­cial nature which got me in trou­ble in the first place.’ Dr. York said, “He gets it now.”

Dr. York reflected on the real­ity that the sit­u­a­tion could have ended very differently:

“There were moments where it was touch and go. The wife would call and say, ‘I don’t think this is going to work.’ But reconnow, he’s walked in repen­tance and the Lord has been good. In their case, their mar­riage was saved and peo­ple look at it dif­fer­ently. But let’s say it had ended.

“Frankly, his walk of repen­tance would not be sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent. His life cir­cum­stances would be dif­fer­ent, but the repen­tance would still have to be there. He would have to hum­ble him­self in front of his fam­ily, his chil­dren, and her. Repen­tance is repen­tance. The con­se­quences you’ve inher­ited might be dif­fer­ent based on what point it hit you. It’s not the con­se­quences you’re answer­ing for when you stand before the Lord. It’s the sin. And I think Chris­tians mis­un­der­stand that.”

Stay tuned for part two of this inter­view. In it we dis­cuss the true cause of min­istry fail­ure, pornog­ra­phy, and pre­vent­ing a fall.

_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​

Dr. Her­shael York is the Vic­tor and Louise Pro­fes­sor of Chris­t­ian Preach­ing and Asso­ciate Dean of Min­istry and Procla­ma­tion at The South­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary and Senior Pas­tor of Buck Run Bap­tist Church in Frank­fort, Ken­tucky. Tanya, his wife of twenty-​seven years, is a pop­u­lar speaker at women’s con­fer­ences, and they have two mar­ried sons, Michael, 25, and Seth, 23. For a full biog­ra­phy, please click here.

Ray Car­roll is author of “Fallen Pas­tor: Find­ing Restora­tion in a Bro­ken World.” If you are a fallen pas­tor, a pas­tor in trou­ble, a church whose pas­tor has fallen, or need some­one to talk to your group about pre­vent­ing min­istry fail­ure, please feel free to con­tact Ray here. All mes­sages will be kept confidential.

york2Dr. Hershael York is known by many as the preaching professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. By some, he’s known as an outspoken critic for moral and Christian issues. To a few hundred, he’s the pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky, in the midst of paying off their debt and moving to a new facility. By a privileged few, he’s a father, grandfather, husband.

I used to know him as that guy in seminary that “if you take his preaching class, be prepared to have your rear end handed to you.” So I never took his class and I regret it.

After I fell from the ministry, years after my seminary experience, I was encouraged by a friend to call him. I heard that Dr. York was someone who had experience reaching out to fallen pastors with love and compassion. Strangely, that did not mesh with the image I had in my head of him.

I was happy to be proven wrong. When I interviewed him, he was gracious, kind and his wisdom is pasted throughout my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.” Better yet, I see him as a spiritual father of sorts now.

“We’re totally comfortable when a dope smoking, meth lab owning guy gets saved and we rejoice in that; but what if a Christian falls into that and returns? Our discomfort sort of negates the book of Galatians. In Galatians, Paul says, ‘What don’t you understand? Now if you began in the Spirit you are not perfected by works!'”

In fact, when my wife and I traveled to Frankfort recently to see and interview him (partly for this blog but mostly because I missed seeing him), the first thing he told me was how proud he was of me. Something I had longed for my own father to say.

Enough of that. I’ve tried to break down the interview the best I can. If you go and talk to Dr. York about anything, you’ll end up with a repository of awesome material that’s hard to replicate on the page. So, I’ve tried to do my best.

Fallen Pastors and Repentance

One of the topics we discussed was fallen pastors and when they repent. A lot of times, the fallen pastor will repent immediately and be restored to Christ, but other times, as in my case, he won’t. Dr. York discussed the issues with a late repenting pastor:

Christians want things to end clean and neat. And they’re uncomfortable when they don’t. What people are uncomfortable with is what everyone wants; we want to see reconciliation with his wife which means they get back together and live repentshappily ever after. But you know what? That’s not always how it works. At the point people wake up and become really broken over their sin – at whatever point that is, then they have to deal with whatever consequences have occurred up to that point.

 “There’s no going back, you can’t roll back time, and so what’s the godly way to deal with this? Have we read our Bible? What about Abraham and Hagar? There were consequences. We can lament what Abraham did all we want, but we have to deal with it. And I think a lot of Christians miss that at some point and we have to answer the question, ‘How do I honor God now?’”

 That turned him to the message of the Gospel:

“If we really believe the gospel – the gospel takes you where you are. We say we believe the gospel isn’t about ‘try harder and do better’ but it’s about resting in God’s grace. And then we act upset when someone actually does something that demands that.

 “We’re totally comfortable when a dope smoking, meth lab owning guy gets saved and we rejoice in that; but what if a Christian falls into that and returns? Our discomfort sort of negates the book of Galatians. In Galatians, Paul says, ‘What don’t you understand? Now if you began in the Spirit you are not perfected by works!’

 “If true holiness is realizing our complete dependence upon God, then sometimes the Lord has to allow the consequences of our own sin to get us to that level of dependence on Him. If anyone else is uncomfortable with it, then so be it, they’re just going to be uncomfortable with it.”

What is true repentance and brokenness? Dr. York shares a personal story:

On to another important topic and a sensitive one that is often challenged. How do we know if a fallen pastor (or for that matter – anyone) is really repentant or broken over their sin? I told Dr. York I had a church contact me once and tell me that they had a candidate apply for a job who had fallen 25 years prior. When asked about it, he became defensive. I said, “If he was truly repentant and broken over his sin, his response would have been, ‘I committed adultery 25 years ago, I was forgiven by God, but I am more than willing to discuss anything with you, even the consequences of my actions.’”

Dr. York:

“You couldn’t have said it better. Years ago, I counseled an associate minister who had an affair with someone else in the church. He and his wife decided to reconcile immediately and he agreed to undergo counseling and follow a path to repentance, but he was asked to leave. He and his wife came here to our church.  

 conseque“The first time I met with them, the man said to me, ‘I just want to get past this.’ And I thought, here comes the speech. You get the speech for that one. I told him, ‘You’re never going to get past this. There is no getting past this. This is going to be whispered about you wherever you go for the rest of your life. You better get used to that. When your children get older, someone is going to tell them and it’s going to crush them.

 “I laid it out clearly and said, ‘This is what your future looks like. Now listen, you’ve only got one hope here. And this is the only way for you to do this – and that is if when somebody does whisper what you’ve done, someone else says, ‘That is just so hard to believe. Because look how he just loves the Lord and follows Jesus in the genuine wholeness of his life.’ To get there requires brokenness and it is a long hard road.

“His wife had a family reunion once a year and when he went, no one would speak to him. The family even called Dr. York and was furious that he was counseling this man. And he said to them, ‘As long as he is acting like he wants restoration, and he definitely does, then it all remains to be seen and proved over the course of time. It’s judgment on my part whether he is or isn’t repentant.

“The man came back from the reunion and was angry. He said, ‘They treated me horribly.’ I said, ‘Why did they have the opportunity to treat you like this? Who put them in this position? You have to own the fact that you got the choice and they didn’t, so you can’t judge them for the way they react to your sin’ He said, ‘What do I do?’ I said, ‘Sit there quietly and kindly, don’t force anybody to speak and when it comes time to pick up after a meal, do it and help out. Be a willing servant. Just have the attitude of the prodigal son after he came home and say, ‘Just let me be like one of your hired servants and that will be enough for me.

“And if you have that attitude, eventually, you’re going to win. How long? How many years? I don’t know. But eventually, they’re going to say, ‘His repentance is real, this is for real.’ For now, they might say, ‘This is an act.’ Four or five years down the road, they might not say that anymore. The question is, are you willing to do that? And if you’re genuinely broken over that, you will.’

 “It’s been almost ten years for them now and he called him because a church asked him to take on a leadership role. The man turned that down. He told Dr. York, ‘I knew it had the potential to appeal to my superficial nature which got me in trouble in the first place.’ Dr. York said, “He gets it now.”

Dr. York reflected on the reality that the situation could have ended very differently:

“There were moments where it was touch and go. The wife would call and say, ‘I don’t think this is going to work.’ But reconnow, he’s walked in repentance and the Lord has been good. In their case, their marriage was saved and people look at it differently. But let’s say it had ended. 

“Frankly, his walk of repentance would not be significantly different. His life circumstances would be different, but the repentance would still have to be there. He would have to humble himself in front of his family, his children, and her. Repentance is repentance. The consequences you’ve inherited might be different based on what point it hit you. It’s not the consequences you’re answering for when you stand before the Lord. It’s the sin. And I think Christians misunderstand that.”

Stay tuned for part two of this interview. In it we discuss the true cause of ministry failure, pornography, and preventing a fall.

___________________________

Dr. Hershael York is the Victor and Louise Professor of Christian Preaching and Associate Dean of Ministry and Proclamation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Senior Pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky. Tanya, his wife of twenty-seven years, is a popular speaker at women’s conferences, and they have two married sons, Michael, 25, and Seth, 23. For a full biography, please click here.

Ray Carroll is author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.” If you are a fallen pastor, a pastor in trouble, a church whose pastor has fallen, or need someone to talk to your group about preventing ministry failure, please feel free to contact Ray here. All messages will be kept confidential.

3 comments

  • I grew up in the same circle of churches as Hershael York. The image you describe of him meshes well with the image we knew of him (and his parents) as kids and teenagers. Dr. York (heh — it’s funny to call a childhood peer “Dr.”) and I went in different directions theologically, but share a love for Christianity and people in general. And it’s wonderful — but no surprise — to see what he’s turned into: A bigger, even more awesome version of the young Hershael we all knew. 🙂

  • Love Tanya & Hershael, Tanya was my Sunday School teacher for 6 yrs. Hershael preached a lot in the service I attended.
    Miss them.

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