Pastors in the News – And What it Means

Several pastors have been in the news in the past week. Let’s look at three stories and what we can learn from each of them.

Aspiring Pastor Accused of Fatally Stabbing Wife Says He Took Too Much Cold Medicine

In a tragic story from North Carolina, Matthew Phelps alleges that he woke up to find his wife stabbed, then called 911 and claimed that he thought he might have done it under the influence of cold medicine. In the call he said, “I took more medicine than I should have. I took Coricidin Cough and Cold because I know it can make you feel good. A lot of times I can’t sleep at night. So, I took some.

Phelps, who is studying to be a minister has been charged with murder. The makers of the cough medicine have denied that taking their syrup leads to violent behavior. This is a horribly tragic event where a precious life has been lost and in which details are still being gathered. Several years ago, I wrote a post about pastors and NyQuil addiction. The post related to ministers using over the counter medications to self-medicate for stress, burnout and lack of sleep. Self-medicating for these things is not a solution to ministry problems. Hopefully, more details about this case will come to light in the coming months. Pray for the family of Lauren Phelps as they attempt to move forward through this difficult process.

Book by Hillary Clinton’s Pastor Will be Pulled from Shelves Due to Extensive Plagiarism

Rev. Bill Shillady shared spiritual encouragement for Hillary Clinton through an email when she lost the election. The email he shared with her was published in a book by Abingdon Press. It has been discovered that sections of the book were plagiarized from other sources. According to Abingdon Press, “we have discontinued sales, will remove existing copies from all sales outlets, and will have them destroyed along with our existing inventory.”

Rev. Shillady has had an impressive career as a minister. He is currently the Executive Director of the United Methodist Society. Before taking that position, he served as a pastor for 29 years in several different churches. However, at this moment, he is now only being noticed for his alleged plagiarism. When I talk to pastors about how they serve, I always remind them, “Make sure you finish strong because people will often only remember the last thing you did.”

Robert E. Lee Descendant Resigns as N.C. Church’s Pastor Over Racial Justice Comment

Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, a “distant nephew” of Robert E. Lee stood before the MTV awards show last week and made a speech about racism and social justice. His comments were about the events in Charlottesville and said, ‘we have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin.'” He also mentioned Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March and Heather Heyer in his speech.

His speech was applauded heavily at the MTV awards, but not as appreciated by his church. He expressed that some members of his congregation were supportive, but that many were uncomfortable with the content of his speech. He said the church “made it clear that I was no longer welcome there.

I remember in seminary being told by a professor, “Make sure if you have a disagreement with your deacons or with your church to be careful. Make sure that if you’re willing to go forward, it’s a hill you’re ready to die on.” Apparently, for Rev. Lee, this issue matters much to him. Whether you agree with him or not, his courage is to be admired. It’s a reminder that if we want to stand for an issue, we must know that there will be those who will oppose it much could be lost because of it.

Final Thoughts

Three pastors in the news for three very different things. However, there is a common theme running through them all. When you’re a church leader or a pastor, your actions have consequences. And actions should have consequences. People in positions of moral authority are being judged and held to a higher standard than others. When they fall or take a stand contrary to what others believe, they will be judged more harshly.

If you’re a church leader who is burned out and on the edge, reach out for help before it’s too late. If you’re a pastor who has taken a stand that you felt was right and punished for it, also know that there is help available for you as well. We aren’t in this battle alone. If it’s happened to you, it’s happened to someone else.


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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