Help! My Pastor Has Fallen – Pt 1

pulpit_desertFirst off, I want to thank the brothers at Parking Space 23 for the opportunity to contribute. I respect the authors, as they frequently challenge me with forthright biblical posts. I only pray what I offer here is consistent with the quality of material characterized in this blog.

Today’s topic is no laughing matter. I intend to help members of Bible-preaching local churches discern how to respond in a redemptive manner when one of their pastors disqualifies himself. Situations like this are altogether too common and often times wreak havoc upon God’s people. When a pastor’s sin has arisen to the level of disqualifying him from pastoral ministry, the injuries caused by his sin can be devastating.

So, what are Christians to do, when one of their pastors has fallen into this kind of sin? What follows is certainly not an exhaustive manual for such situations. Rather, it is a set of general principles that I would encourage Christians to seek to apply very carefully, in situation-specific sorts of ways, should they find themselves in a church where a pastor has fallen.

Before I list these principles however, let me share with you a couple of personal experiences that season my perspective a bit regarding this subject.

The first experience took place over a decade ago, when I served as a church-planter in training for the church where I now serve as the preaching pastor. About a month before coming to this church, the founding pastor had been exposed in an adulterous relationship with a female counselee. He was subsequently excommunicated from the church as a result of ongoing disobedience and divisiveness in the church.

My first three weeks at the church, fresh out of Bible college, were 100 hour work weeks, full of meetings and prayer time with the other leaders to discern how to handle the situation. Being the only one available to preach at the time, I began doing so, and watched the church quickly dwindle from over 400 people to somewhere under 80. I stopped counting.

The toll one man’s sin took on our church is incalculable and the decline titanicin attendance barely scratches the surface. Yet in God’s mercy, I and many others learned a great deal from it. Watching godly men deal directly with a man whom many trusted and defended at all costs, and having the opportunity to partner with those men to determine how to best shepherd our injured flock in the midst of great sorrow and unrest have forever changed me.

The second experience, believe it or not, hits significantly closer to home. Six years ago, serving as an associate pastor in the same church, my marriage was in deep trouble and it had become clear I had disqualified myself from pastoral ministry through poor management of my home. I had led my family over a number of years into serious debt, not loved my wife well through many of the challenges we had faced over those years, and proven I was not fit to be a pastor of Christ’s church (1 Tim 3:5).

(If you’d like to read about our story, you can do so at our blog, where we’ve written much about our story, and other things. You’ll find that here.)

So, I had to confess my poor leadership of my home to our church and publicly step down from both eldership and my staff position at the church. Following the painful experience, our marriage hit rock-bottom. My dear precious wife fell into sin with another man, and she and I were separated from one another for a total of 14 months.

And so, I myself had become the fallen pastor.

My desire at that time (along with my repentant bride) was, in all honesty, to leave the church, as it was extremely painful and uncomfortable to remain in a church that had full knowledge of the deepest and darkest struggles in our lives. Yet, in God’s mercy, we stayed put – and received the faithful ministry of many gracious saints who led us into lives of transparency and repentance with God and one another. Those saints taught me in the most tangible of ways how to love the church when a pastor has fallen.

All that to say, I’ve been forced to look at this issue from various angles and have felt the weight of these kinds of situations personally. That doesn’t make my perspective any more biblical than anyone else’s; rather it is simply to say that if you’re in a similar situation, I sincerely feel for you.

So, let’s get to it. Your pastor has fallen. What do you do? I’ll offer three points to consider today and a small handful of others tomorrow.

Be disappointed.  Let your disappointment in man point you to the all-sufficient Christ.

The simple fact of the matter is man is deeply flawed, fallible, and susceptible to serious sin. Finding yourself disappointed in the sinfulness of another is the inevitable and ongoing experience of anyone who lives in a fallen world. Man will disappoint you. Men will sin against you — unfortunately, this includes your pastors.

It is good to remember this, and when God in His Providence grants his people reminders of this; it is a good thing. If you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation, remember, in a sense, you are in a very good place. Allow me to explain.

Throughout the Scriptures, God commands his people not to trust or hope in man, but to hope in Him alone. Psalm 146:3, “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation” (italics mine).

Or consider the simple truth of Psalm 118:8. “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.” Fallen pastors validate this verse. When the best of men fall into sin, remember only God is the worthy object our hope. Seeing the fallibility of men up close, God presses this vital truth home. Having a fallen pastor helps recalibrate our hopes.

Therefore, if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate position, I encourage you to feel the pain of disappointment. Be disappointed in man. Allow yourself to feel the pain of having been sinned against by your pastor; just be careful not to do it in some overly dark, hopeless, and despairing kind of way. As you feel the pain of your pastor’s sin, give thanks to God in Jesus Christ that you have an ultimate and eternal Pastor (the “Chief Shepherd” in 1 Pet 5:4) who will never let you down. Let your disappointment in man point you to the all-sufficient Christ.

Take heed.  Let your pastor’s sin direct your attention to the quality of your walk with Christ.

ostric_lookIn 1 Corinthians 10, Paul reminds the church of Israel. They too heard the word and saw the works of God, yet they did not come to true saving faith because of idolatry. He does not want the church to fall into similar sin. Paul says. “Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (10:12). When you believe yourself to be immune to the sins of others, your soul is in danger. Ministering to someone who has fallen into sin is a place of unique temptation. [1]

The sins of others are not reasons to grow in self-confidence. When we see and hear of other’s sins, our response should be humble self-examination leading us to take tangible steps to ensure we do not fall into the same kinds of sins.
When a pastor has fallen it is easy to gawk and stare while becoming very comfortable with your own sinfulness. But, when we walk away from an encounter with anyone’s sin feeling better about ourselves, we can be sure sin lies close at hand. So, when your pastor falls into sin, let it remind you of your own sinful capabilities and let it serve as a charge to take a good, long look in the mirror, so that you do not fall into sin yourself.

Pray hard.  Pray fervently for God to turn around the tragedy to accomplish great good.

When the spiritual leader’s sin is exposed, even if it is brought to light by way of voluntary confession on the part of the spiritual leader, members will be tempted to dontpanic_buttondespair and cynicism. It can be especially hard in these times to see how anything good could come out of such a tragedy. However, we must fight against these temptations with fervent prayer to our all-powerful and ever merciful God, asking him to prove our despair and cynicism to be wrong headed and short sighted as He puts his power and mercy on full display in the midst of our troubles.

It is easy to despair. It is easy to be cynical. But despair and cynicism are nothing more than symptoms of unbelief in the power and mercy of God.

We must always remember our God is not merely powerful; He is all-powerful! Completely powerful. Utterly powerful! Omnipotent. We worship a God who created all things out of nothing, with nothing more than words. “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6). That is not a verse for a systematic theology text book, but for a worshipper needing to remember at all times and in all circumstances, including the most tragic of circumstances, God can do whatever He pleases. If He can make something good out of absolutely nothing; He can surely make something good out of something bad.

And yet, our God is also not merely omnipotent, He is full of mercy! He loves to employ His infinite power to accomplish unfathomable good for His people, particularly when they are suffering (and yes, having a fallen pastor qualifies as suffering). As King David celebrated, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psa 23:6). And lest this point not be made clear, when David talks about “all the days” of his life; he is including the days when he must walk “through the valley of the shadow of death” (v. 4). God’s goodness and mercy follow his people in both good days and bad.

Steven Lawson helps us to apply this wonderful reality when he writes, “Do we believe God’s Word for what it truly says? His goodness and mercy – not fictitious characters, but the constant presence of God’s care – do follow us wherever we go. All the days of our lives, God’s amazing love stalks us, shadowing our steps in our every endeavor. God is abundantly good to us, and He delights in constantly pouring His superabundant mercy upon us” (Lawson, Made in Our Image, p. 138).

What do these things mean in regard to the topic at hand? They mean that no matter how tragic the situation in your church has become, God is utterly able and willing to do your church good in the midst of it.

before crossAnd so, when trouble comes to our churches, instead of despairing and feeling justified in our cynical outlook on the church, we must pray; asking our God to turn our troubles into servants of His glory and our good, using for great good what man intended for great evil, as He has done so many times before (Cf. Gen 50:20).

Tomorrow I will try address other important issues, such as the importance of supporting the other leaders of your church, showing grace to the fallen and their victims, building up the church with your speech, and discerning when it may be time to look for a different local church.

[1] Galatians 6:1 provides similar instruction, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”