It’s been almost eight years since I fell from the ministry. I don’t spend a lot of free time these days thinking about my time as pastor. I have the occasional conversation with former church members in whom I can confide. When I do, it helps me see things from a different angle.
Surely, the sin I committed, followed by the humbling circumstances and my eventual turning back to Christ made me a different person. I willingly chose to commit adultery and I hurt many people in the process. By God’s grace and love, in these eight years I’ve been able to help hundreds of people in the same circumstances. I’ve learned a lot about myself, the church, people and God that I never knew. If I could go back in time and do it again, there would be at least five things I would change about the way I pastored.
1. I would resist the urge to always be right.
It’s good to be right, don’t get me wrong. Pastors preach the Word of God, the truth of Scripture. But I think there may be moments when we preach that we get confused and believe that just because we’re preaching God’s truth, it means that it’s our truth. If I can say it differently, it’s almost like we trap ourselves in a protective bubble where we think that standing behind a pulpit gives us freedom to say what we want and believe we are right. We can win any argument “just because we’re the pastor” or “because I have a seminary degree.” We may not phrase it that way, but that subtle pride does sneak in from time to time and it needs to be beaten down with a big, ugly stick.
2. I would make sure to mix in more of the compassion and grace of Christ in my preaching.
I preached as an unabashed Calvinist. That doesn’t mean I never preached on the saving grace of Christ. I did. One of my seminary professors said, “If the gospel isn’t present in your sermon each week, you’ve failed.” I took that to heart. But there were times when I was so caught up in the depravity of man and I punched that card so many times, I wonder if I properly balanced it with the Savior. On this side of my life, I’ve seen the compassion and love Christ has for outcasts. He didn’t approach sinners with their depravity, he went to where they were and spoke truth and love to them. There is a time to share sinful nature. But there is always time to let people know how amazing, deep, and fervent the love of Christ really is.
3. I would make time to really, really listen more.
I did visit shut-ins, make hospital visits, phone calls, perform funerals, console the grieving, counsel, etc. Like most pastors, those were things that were expected. That’s not what I’m talking about. What about the people we see each Sunday who you ask, “How are you?” And each Sunday they say, “Doing great!” What if they aren’t? What if some of those people, those who are working two jobs to make ends meet and can barely stay awake in church, those youth who look sad on occasion, those older members you see who look lost and sad once in a while – what if we went out of our way to just engage them for a moment. Don’t talk, but just listen. If they don’t want to talk right then, they know you care. And it may open up a chance for them to come to you later.
4. I would spend less time worrying about things that I had no control over.
There are a lot of things pastors can’t control, but we spend a lot of time preaching about them. Gossip, giving, committee meetings, people who don’t like us, etc. We try and pray about it, we put it in God’s hands, but a day later, we’re still worrying about little conflicts here and there. Somewhere in the black and white of Scripture it says, “remember your calling.” Our calling isn’t to get all anxious and worked up about things we can’t control. Jesus told us not to worry or get anxious. Being anxious doesn’t do any good because most of this world is out of our control anyway. The best we can do is gauge our reaction to the events in front of us. It’s a very hard thing to do as a pastor, but I think I’ve learned to do a better job.
5. Demonstrate the love of Christ, not my own bitterness.
So many times I would hear of sin in the church. I would get angry and want to do something about it. I’d fret, worry and react. Church discipline has its place when it’s done for restoration. But my heart wasn’t balanced right. More often than not, I was out to remove cancers, not to heal hearts. Conversely, Christ showed compassion for sinners. When they didn’t have another friend in the world, he chose to stand by them. He chose understanding over judgment. And later, he would give his life so that they might be free from their sin.
Interestingly, I would not even venture to change anything about the church. If change is to happen, it has to start with the man in the pulpit. Christ changed this world. How? Because of who he was. And with Christ in us, we can also make changes. Attempting to change people through guilt, anger, lashing out, or other means is useless. Changing ourselves by allowing Christ to work in us is how the church will be transformed.
I’m thankful for the years I got to spend as a pastor. I do miss preaching to a great degree. I’m told when I preach now that I’m a totally different person, and I choose to take that as a compliment. Failing and falling into a great pit is a great way to be humbled, especially when it’s your own fault. But we can always know that Christ will be there to drag us out of it.
I’m thankful for the man God has made me into today. He’s not done with me and I’m not perfect by a long shot. I just pray that I may be able to help those who were in my situation before they reach a crisis point. I pray that all of us, pastor or church member or nominal Christian would be able to reflect upon ourselves in the light of Christ and follow him and let him show us what he sees in us.
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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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