In part one, I began to evaluate the unfortunate reality when a local pastor falls into sin. This series intends to help you navigate this issue. Part one offers a set of principles to meditate upon and put into practice. Yesterday I proposed three points: be disappointed, take heed, and pray hard. Here are the final four principles:
Support the leaders. Serve as an ally to those responsible for leading the church through this tragedy.
Shepherding a church through a pastor’s fall is a difficult task. The elders of the church (assuming there are other pastors/elders) have a dual responsibility to the fallen pastor and the flock. Ministering to the fallen pastor involves investigation, confrontation, and ongoing counsel. The flock may be in disarray, disillusionment, and maybe division. Elders must nurture the flock through this too.
Elders labor through their dual responsibilities. First, consider that Scripture instructs us to bring his situation before the congregation so that members of the church will stand in fear and take heed themselves. This is the essence of 1 Timothy 5:20, Paul literally says, “The sinning ones in the presence of all must be rebuked (or exposed).” The man’s sin must be declared to the church informing them of his disqualification. No good and godly man would crave such a responsibility.
The other pastors have to decide whether it would be best for the fallen pastor to remain a part of their particular local church, or whether he should seek to be cared for, counseled, and discipled in another local congregation. As you can imagine, this is often a very tough call.
Finally the other leaders have to care for the spiritually injured flock. Some members are directly harmed, being involved in his sin. Others are deeply hurt, having been lied to by the man. Still others become disillusioned with the local church, some even the Gospel itself. Though the injuries throughout the body may vary, the need for personal pastoral care and follow up is shared by every member of the church. Everyone needs some level of special pastoral attention.
Division threatens the church during these times. How do they move forward? Answers will vary. This was certainly the case with my church when I arrived here ten years ago. Division existed over questions regarding the best ways to move forward as a church. Many people did not agree with the direction set by the other leaders. Shepherding and unifying them proved very difficult and took some years.
If there are godly leaders in your local church with the responsibility of loving and leading the church through a pastoral fall, those men and their families need your support. They need your faithful prayers and encouragement. They need encouragement to press on and honor God through the trial. They need your patience, bear with them. They will make mistakes throughout the process, be loving, patient, supportive, and gracious. Please support them however you can.
Show grace. Sincerely seek the well being of the fallen pastor, accomplices, and victims to his sin.
As essential as this point is, I warn you grace might not mean what you initially think it means. Grace is a much abused and widely misunderstood word, especially when it is used in reference to loving a fallen pastor.
Practically speaking, to show grace to another sinner is to relentlessly pursue the sinner’s good, despite what his sins deserve. However, doing so requires wisdom, for the very reason that before you can pursue the good of another person, you have to know what that “good” is. This is especially true in the case of a fallen pastor.
Being gracious to a pastor who has fallen into disqualifying sin is not defending him at all costs and demanding that he be restored to ministry as soon as possible. It is further not an act of grace to deflect blame for the pastor’s sin onto those around him or the environment in which he had been working. The fight for minimal consequences for a fallen pastor may feel like the gracious response, but it is most unwise.
Consider James, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (Jam 3:1). These words should cause the knees of any faithful pastor to knock. But how much more for a pastor who has fallen into disqualifying sin! Is it really a gracious thing to demand a fallen pastor be quickly restored to a role in the church for which he will be judged by God with a level of strictness the average Christian will escape?
Fallen pastors need the people around them to be more concerned with their eternal and spiritual good, than they are with helping such men save face and continue on with their careers. Love him enough to be discerning about him; to confront him in his sin; to return his deception and unfaithfulness with gracious truthfulness and faithful friendship; and to challenge him when tempted to quickly return to ministry – for such a desire is usually an indication that repentance has not yet been fully birthed in his heart.
Additionally, I’d encourage more spiritual saints to befriend such pastors and commit to help restore them to a vibrant and growing walk with Christ. Living as a fallen pastor is a lonely life. True friends to these men are rare. Many people walk away. Not many stick by your side and pledge to you their friendship. This is why I so appreciate Paul’s words in Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Pursuing this relationship is not for everyone. If you are a mature Christian with a heart for the broken, then I encourage you befriend such a man — should you ever have the opportunity.
My thoughts on this point would be utterly incomplete if I did not mention the need to also show grace to another kind of person in a church with a fallen pastor. The victims.
The victims are the children abused by perverse men, and the families of those children; the wives and families of disqualified pastors; women who became outlets for frustrated and manipulative spiritual leaders; friends who were betrayed (sometimes over years) by dishonest and deceiving hypocrites; the courageous ones who blew the whistle on sinful activity; the faithful church leaders who thought they had true partners in ministry and find themselves serving alone. These are often overlooked by local churches who focus on figuring out what to do with their fallen pastor. Sadly, it is often these people demonized by other members in the church.
Friends, be gracious to such ones. They need wise, patient, forgiving, and faithful friends to stand by them. Even those who were somehow complicit in the pastor’s sin, they too (and they especially) need godly and gracious friends. The pastor’s sin is not their fault. They are not the reason your beloved pastor is now disqualified from ministry. Perhaps they have sins needing to be confessed and responsibility needing to be owned, but they also need to hear and be reminded of the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ, who loved us to such a degree that he died for us, while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8). They need your help to find hope and encouragement in that Good News. So, help them.
Speak beneficially. Speak biblical encouragement into the lives of your brothers and sisters.
Fallen pastors are an incubator for sins of the tongue. Gossip, slander, critical speech, abusive speech, malicious speech – you name it – these sins often thrive in these kinds of situations. Though it is true at all times and in all churches, there are few situations where God’s people need to be more active about putting the sins of the tongue to death. As God commands us in His Word: “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (Col 3:8).
You will never accomplish a single beneficial thing for yourself or your church through sinful speech. Gossip accomplishes nothing good. It may make you feel better but it will not make your church better. Malice, slander, harsh, and judgmental words do nothing good. Sinful speech hurts everyone who speaks and hears it.
Devote yourself to “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) and “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29).
Go elsewhere (if you must). If it is not spiritually beneficial to stick around, find a Christ-centered, Bible-preaching local church to join.
Often times, the immediate impulse many people feel when real trouble hits their church is to flee. I certainly understand the impulse.
If you have read through my first six points in these two posts, you probably suspect that my counsel to you would be to resist that impulse, and you would be right. Don’t simply leave your church for greener pastures. Don’t leave your church simply because trouble has come upon it. Demonstrate serious commitment to the body of Christ as Christ calls you too (see Eph 4:1-16, 25-32). Don’t bail at the first sign of trouble.
Truly, I would encourage you to endure and see how God may use the tragedy for His glory. Stick around to see how the church leaders will respond; to pray with your brothers and sisters; to support your leaders; and to see the greatness of the Gospel through the church’s trials. Or, at least consider sticking around long enough to discern whether good will come of the tragedy.
Yet, if, after resisting the immediate impulse to leave, you prayerfully discern through the proper interpretation and application of the Scriptures, and through godly, objective, biblical counsel that it would be spiritually advantageous for you and your family to leave the church, by all means, you should feel free to do so.
However, if you end up choosing to leave, use biblical criteria in choosing a new church. Don’t simply look for a church without obvious trouble. Look for a church with qualified pastors (a plurality of them if possible); one that preaches a robust, biblical Gospel; one that is built on the conviction that the Scriptures are inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient to lead Christians into lives of godliness; and one where Christ is regularly proclaimed as the central figure in all of history and life. Don’t just find a peaceful church; find a healthy church, and love that church faithfully.