The news of the suicide of New Orleans Baptist seminary professor John Gibson is awful to hear. According to his family, the pastor and long-time professor confessed in a suicide note that his name was on the recently released Ashley Madison list.
This is an awful thing. It is not the first time a pastor who has had a moral failure has taken his own life. I’ve talked to several men who have fallen over the past five years who thought that suicide was their only option.
I don’t know Professor Gibson’s specific situation. I am sure he was surrounded by an amazing staff at the seminary. I’m sure he had an amazing church and wonderful family. I’m sure he knew many people he could have talked to. I know that when a person chooses suicide, there are many things running through their mind and often they feel there is no turning back. I know that many who choose suicide have suffered from depression.
I’ve counseled over 500 fallen pastors in the past six years. I almost always ask, “Have you considered suicide?” Most often the answer is, “Yeah, I’ve thought about it. Sometimes it seems pretty hopeless.” Most of the time guys don’t consider it a serious option. But a few guys needed further help.
All that being said, we have a serious situation in the Southern Baptist Convention. We have had one for a long time. And we can do something about it. I know that what I read in Romans 8 is true and that Christ is bigger than all of our pain, hurt and moral failure. He is at work in His people and we can do something about the problems in our midst.
We talk a lot about moral failure in our leadership. We talk about prevention in our seminaries and in our men’s groups. We write books, articles, have workshops – but we still have a problem.
We have leaders every week who are still surfing the Internet for pornography. We have pastors committing adultery. We have leaders whose marriages are vulnerable and weak.
We have severely depressed leaders who are at the end of their rope. We have pastors who are isolated, suffering from unrealistic expectations, haven’t had a vacation in years, are facing severe crises in their churches, and need help now.
Does anything give a pastor or leader an excuse to commit adultery or have cause for moral failure? No. Absolutely not. There are factors that can lead a man right up to the door, but he chooses to walk through it.
We have a lot of men in crisis. There are statistics that bear this out. I know this because of the weekly emails I get from men who have just fallen, from their churches, from the women who they are seeing and their wives. I know this because of the ministries I network with. I know this from the pastors I am friends with who are battling in the trenches.
I’ve counseled over 500 fallen pastors in the past six years. I almost always ask, “Have you considered suicide?” Most often the answer is, “Yeah, I’ve thought about it. Sometimes it seems pretty hopeless.“
Southern Baptists, we cannot continue to act as if nothing is happening. What exactly do I mean by that?
First, let me ask this – what is the primary response/reaction of a church when a pastor falls? Typically, he’s gone. Fired, out the door. Sometimes he will get a severance package, but they don’t want to hear from him again. Sometimes, the leadership will contact someone who will get the leader some counseling and aid.
I’m not saying that a fallen leader shouldn’t be removed from the pulpit. But the knee-jerk reaction of a hurt congregation is to remove the man as far from them as they can. It’s not the Galatians 6:1 model.
There has to be some desire to restore a fallen leader back to Christ – not to the pulpit – but back to Christ. He’s a brother, a member of the body, and he needs to be loved if he shows signs of repentance.
Second, what do you think life looks like for a pastor who has sinned to the point of adultery and been caught? I can tell you. For many, it looks hopeless. They have made a sinful choice and know that it will cost them their family and their ministry. It will cost them their livelihood. For some, they think for the moment that their life is over.
I know many will read this and think, “The fallen pastor doesn’t deserve anything. He messed up and has to face the consequences.” Yes, he absolutely does. There will be consequences for him for the rest of his life and he will live with them.
But as Christians, we are called upon to restore such a one back to a relationship to Christ. We may have hurt feelings, we may not like the situation, but when one is repentant, we have to do what we can to love that person – just like we would want to be loved – just as Christ loved us when He saved us – just as He keeps loving us over and over again.
So what can we do? I know that First Baptist in Woodstock, Georgia has a program called City of Refuge for wounded ministers. They have been running this intensive program for a while. I interviewed the director for my book. It’s a model program and is one of the many ministries this amazing church has. The problem is that they can only take on a handful of people a year and they have an overwhelming number of requests. Woodstock is a good place for the SBC to start looking.
PIR Ministries is a place that trains churches to take on “exited pastors.” They train churches to love on pastors who have left their church for whatever reason (burnout, moral failure, etc.) and they even help pastors find other work. This kind of ministry helps re-purpose pastors so they don’t feel like their life is over.
And if we can’t start there with something big, how about a simple 24-hour pastoral crisis hotline? A place where any hurting pastor can call and just talk to someone? There are thousands of guys who don’t feel like they have anyone to talk to. Guys who are burning the candle at both ends and just want to know they aren’t alone.
SBC, the time is now to get started on being proactive about our leadership. We have to let our leaders know that there is a safety net for them. No, it’s not okay to sin. But if they do, we still love them and we aren’t done with them.
My goal is to never see another story like I saw about Professor Gibson. I’d be happy in ten years if I got to fold up this website because the world knew nothing at all about “fallen pastors.” To know that a group of people who cared about their leaders got intentional about how we treat ministry failure, loving those who have already fallen, and making sure our burned out pastors have a place to go.
If you agree with me, please repost this on your favorite social media site and let your voice be heard.
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.
If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.
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