Leadership, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching, Uncategorized

When Pastors Fall

A friend informed me that another pastor in our area was forced to resign after the church discovered that he was engaging in extramarital affairs. That is the second lead pastor within driving distance of One Church to be caught in affairs in the past two years. We should pray for them, their families and congregations.

As a pastor, I feel the weight of knowing that some people expect me to represent Jesus Christ (a horrifying and impossible task). Of course, any socially well adjusted pastor knows that he or she does not deserve to be placed on a pedestal, but congregations tend to do it anyway. Even worse, some pastors enjoy it.

If you have been disappointed by a spiritual leader:

1. Remember that Jesus is the Leader of the Church (Matthew 16v18).

Don’t “Drink the Kool-Aid” for any pastor. Jesus has earned your trust more than any pastor ever could. You can allow a pastor to lead and teach you, but keep Jesus the main thing.

2. Resist the temptation to become cynical.

Some pastors will betray your trust. Most won’t.

3. Forgive as you have been forgiven.

We have all been disappointed, and unfortunately, we have all disappointed others. It helps to know that forgiveness does not equal trust. Forgiveness can take place in an instant, but rebuilding trust takes time.

Whenever someone disappoints us, we can remember how it feels and choose to not cause that same disappointment in others.

A Sobering Warning

Adultery is a sin to which any person is susceptible, and none of us should assume that we are immune. As the well-known Proverb warns:

“18 Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.” [Proverbs 16v18-19]

We also need to know that adultery causes more damage in the form of broken homes, disappointed friends and scarred children than anyone could calculate.

I am aware that people who have already had an affair will read this post, and my intention is not to add further pain to their lives. Anyone considering an affair, however, needs to know that cheating on your spouse will hurt your children deeply and for a long time.

Preventing An Affair

Prevention is option number one. At One Church, one of our values is, “No perfect people allowed.” What we mean by that is that we do not expect our congregation to be super Christians and pretend to have no problems.

Churches who pressure people to pretend are hypocrisy factories. While the Religious Right seems to be focused on preventing same sex marriages, hidden adultery continues to threaten all marriages. For example, I know more than one family in which a spouse acknowledged that he or she was gay after years feeling of pressured to hide it.

We are all dealing with brokenness, so there is no sense in pretending. It is surprisingly freeing to call each others’ bluffs and just admit it.

You have stuff to deal with, and so do I.

Once we admit the obvious, then we can confront our needs, anxiety and addictions. Counseling is readily available. If we don’t face them, they won’t magically go away. We will find ourselves habitually engaging in behaviors that temporarily relieve anxiety but are incredibly destructive to those we love. It’s cliche but true that “If you don’t deal with your baggage, it will deal with you.”

After the Fact

If you have engaged in an extramarital affair, there is good news and bad news.

First the bad news:

Asking God for forgiveness does not remove the pain and consequences for you or your family and friends. God specializes in creating order out of chaos, good from pain, but it will be a far longer and more painful ordering process than you imagined.

Refuse to play the victim game when the process of re-earning their trust takes far longer than you thought.

Now for the good news:

“6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” [Isaiah 55v6-7]

God offers mercy and forgiveness to the truly repentant, and He can grow you into the type of person who deals with your baggage and chooses to be faithful. There is always hope.

We pray that, in time, your family and friends will be able to forgive you and heal. They need to, but that is in God’s hands, and you cannot speed up that process.

Your continued faithfulness over the long haul will rebuild their trust.

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3 thoughts on “When Pastors Fall

  1. Lindsay says:

    A sad thing indeed. Pastors and their families need prayer support and forgiveness the most. They are putting themselves out there the most to be tempted and attacked by Satan. One thing that I disagree with in this post is that all pastors and all Christians DO actually represent Jesus. That’s why we need to be aware of our words and actions praying constantly for the holy spirit to put God’s will and love in our heart to produce the fruit of the spirit. When we become followers of Christ our burdens are lifted but we also take on God’s light burden which is carrying out his will and good works which makes us want to be like Jesus. And when we are doing the will of GOD and our unselfish we reflect Jesus. We are human and we fall short (which I think you may be trying to express). But we all represent Jesus indeed. A pastor’s position is very hard. They aren’t Jesus but I do believe they should me more knowledgeable of God’s word and have a strong relationship to God which should make them reflect jesus more than the baby Christian or unbeliever. To preach the word they should have God’s will burning through them more than ever. That makes these instances harder to read about. It makes a person esp an unbeliever of that pastor truly was a believer. Only GOD can judge and truly know that. Sin is sin and being Human we weigh those on scales. But we would expect a person with good morals following and teaching God’s word to be practicing it more than Joe who doesn’t believe in God. If you are going to put yourself in a position of teaching the word you do have extra responsibility to be an example not a hypocrite. Being a Christian is harder because you are scrutinized more and watched more carefully. If you treat someone wrong and claim to be living for God who is going to want to follow him? I think it’s a good reminder that we need God. We need to be aware esp those who follow Christ that our actions may make someone weary to even look for Jesus if we aren’t representing and reflecting Jesus. We should be different than the world. We should be a sight for sore eyes. Making others see we have something worth believing in. And pastors should be an even more exciting realization and inspiration because they are claiming it and teaching it. If they don’t have more knowledge more fire for the Lord than the monthly attended of church, isn’t that a problem?

  2. I realize that you are using the terminology used by the church in their address to the church congregation,but if his relationships were with people in his congregation, I would point out that a more appropriate term for them to use would be “sexual misconduct” — recognizing the misuse of his pastoral role, rather than “affairs”.

    If that is the case, I would add something else to the topic of how to prevent such misconduct–open acknowledgement in churches that this occurs and training for all ministry leaders as to how they can maintain appropriate boundaries with people in the congregation, as well as a clear cut protocol as to how to deal with it if it does indeed happen. This is particularly of concern in independent churches–within a denomination, it seems to me, there is some protection in that a victim can go to a district leader to report the situation. But with independent churches, there can be a tendency to have church boards that are made up of “yes men” who do not provide true accountability for the head pastor. I know it does not have to be that way–this latest situation involved an independent church–but it is something to be aware of and to plan for accordingly.

    Finally, I would like to recommend the organization, “The Hope of Survivors”, to anyone who has been victimized by a church leader. They provide support and encouragement to victims, who often feel they have nowhere to turn, or who have been pressured to “keep quiet” about the misconduct, which only delays the healing process.

    • Thanks, Sheila. While we don’t know the details of the two pastors I referred to above, you’re correct that, in any church, a pastor who engages in sexual relationships with people in the congregation is adding an extra layer of ethical and sexual misconduct on top of the extramarital affair.

      Leaving these two churches out of the discussion, because we don’t know the details, it’s true that church members in many congregations have been victimized by pastors. It may be the result of a sexual addiction or predatory behavior. Sadly the victims’ stories are often not told, allowing the congregation to maintain false, inflated memories of the offending pastor.

      Congregations who over-spiritualize this by making comments such as “Satan is attacking our church,” etc. ignore the fact that, actually, the pastor and his or her unethical behavior is attacking the church. Leaders who victimize others must be held accountable.

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