Saturday, May 29, 2010
As a former pastor, one of my last sermon topics was on forgiveness. I was dealing with letting go of the bad relationship I had with my father and also trying to help Angelica deal with her friend back home who had committed a sin. I searched Scripture to find out what was the right thing to do and the steps to take toward forgiveness.
Now, I'm living a life that needs forgiveness from others, one that has been granted forgiveness by God, and one that still holds onto the need to forgive a few people in my life.
One of my favorite phrases to use when writing this blog is, "I'll be honest." Usually, when I say that, I'm about to share something that comes from deep within me. Blogging anonymously gives me the ability to write about something I'm thinking but wouldn't tell some of my closest friends. It enables me to tell you things I would have never told people when I was a pastor. So here I go.
I'll be honest, I'm having a hard time with forgiveness right now. Especially in how others deal with it.
Now, let me be very, very clear. Ultra clear. Crystal clear. Cancun/Gulf of Mexico clear before the oil spill hit. I sinned. I hurt a lot of people. Do I stand here feeling like those people owe me something? Not really. But let me say it this way - there are a ton of relationships that I and my sin destroyed overnight and I hold out hope that they can be restored.
Do I believe they can be restored? Absolutely. The Bible tells me nothing less. Angelica has already reached out to me in forgiveness. I've had a couple of former church members reach out to me and tell me they don't hold anything against me.
Here's where I am today after talking to a bunch of fallen pastors. Please bear with me. Churches get hurt badly - very badly, by fallen pastors. I've seen it first hand and I've seen it through stories others have told me. It's awful. Their spiritual leader betrays them and they typically (or at least in my case) are disillusioned and lash out often in hurt. That hurt turns into bitterness, anger, and sometimes outright meanness.
I see that. I get it. That's how they feel. I've been hurt before. I've been angry before. I've lashed out before for a long period of time.
But you know what? I was wrong to do it.
Let me put it another way. When a church endures the fall of a pastor, they're typically hurt for a long time. Most of the fallen pastors I've talked to get pushed out the door and hide in shame for some period of time (don't hear me trying to get your pity, I'm not. You should know me by now if you read this blog at all, I'm just stating how things are). After that time of shame, a lot of them write a letter to the church of repentance (if they already haven't in their resignation).
What I find and what I've experienced is that their former church members don't want to have anything to do with them. Some have been out for 10-20 years and have heard nothing from former church members, despite attempting to reach out. One online article I read said that the pastor had been gone for 30 years and members were still holding on to their anger.
Guess what? Hurt takes time. Every fallen pastor and non-fallen pastor has told me the same thing. They tell me, "Most of them will never come around. They probably will never speak to you again. But give them time, maybe one or two of them will."
I understand all of that. I had my own father hurt me and it took me two full years to get back to where I'd talk to him. Was it right? No. I was unforgiving and sinful in my actions toward him. But even if I had been moving toward forgiveness, it would have taken me time to reconcile. So yes, I'm human, I get it.
I'm going to ask three questions right now and ponder them a little that I hope to answer in the next few blog posts. But they trouble me.
How long should people go before waiting to forgive? In that waiting, what does Scripture say about how long we should wait? And just because the typical pattern is 20-30 years (or never) to wait for forgiveness, does that make it right?
How is hurt tied to forgiveness? We don't forget like God does. Forgiving doesn't mean we're saying that what the person did was okay. But is it possible that our hurt keeps us from forgiveness? In that same vein, is forgiveness a legal transaction while hurt is an emotional response to what happened?
My final question for thought is one that makes me think. When two people have an issue between them that needs to be dealt with and forgiven, is it enough for one of them to say, "I've forgiven them in my heart. But I don't need to speak to them ever again." What good does it do to forgive someone if that isn't shared? Is it Scriptural?
I've got a lot going on in my anonymous brain and I hope to hammer some of it out with your help. God bless.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Today's blog is from a very dear friend, David, who writes a blog of his own, Surviving 2 Thriving. I'll let him talk about himself in his guest blog post. He's become a very dear friend to me. Despite the fact that we've not yet met face to face, I know he'd do anything for me and I would do anything for him. I thank God for putting him in my path and love him dearly.
The lot of the fallen pastor is different.
A moral failure by a pastor has little in common with similar offences by others, including those in the world’s highest office. For example, when President Bill Clinton was discovered, he suffered some big time problems and embarrassment to be sure. But, he was re-elected to another term and is now paid well as an in-demand public speaker.
Or, I can only imagine the fall of Tiger Woods has been phenomenally hard. The public scrutiny of his affairs has been nothing short of extraordinary. How many of us could bear it? Although his marriage is in ruins and he will probably never regain his pre-discovery stature, he apologized and stepped back on the first tee at the Masters to the applause and well wishes of the media and his fans.
After my fall, not only was my marriage in ruins, and not only did I forever lose my pre-discovery stature, I went to work in a retail store for three years. With one colossal poor decision, I threw away my ministry and all the years I spent in higher education preparing for it. (Outside of work in the ministry, an M. Div. isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.)
Please know that except for other fallen pastors like Arthur, no one could possibly understand what I’ve been through. No one. So I don’t even try to explain it to people. This post and the blog I’ve recently started (surviving2thriving.net) are the closest I’ve come to trying to get a handle on it and put some of it into words for others to read—and it took several years for me to get to this point.
Unlike Arthur, I don’t offer the details of those last days (which makes for fascinating reading, I admit). Instead, my blog is about the aftermath, my struggle to regain a sense of hope and purpose. My desire is that it will be a ministry to others who are trying to survive painful experiences.
Most pastors are not prone to spur-of-the-moment adulterous behavior, so there is usually a very complex combination of personal and professional issues that trigger the events leading to a fall. Perhaps that’s true in most affairs, but it is certainly true for pastors.
The months following the crash of my ministry were times of anger for me. I was angry at myself, angry at God, angry at the church, and pretty much angry at everything. True, the event that led to the fall was of my own doing to be sure, but my behavior didn’t happen in a vacuum.
I felt that somehow God had let me down. Let me explain. I had poured much of my adult life into sacrificially serving him, and I felt that I was being “rewarded” with pain. He could have, after all, delivered me by giving me just a little more strength. Just a little. Just get me over the hill one more time. I can do all things through Christ… But instead, he watched me fall.
When I drove away on that fateful day, not only were the town and church in my rear view mirror, so was my wife, virtually all of my friends, fifteen years of ministry, seven years of higher education, and virtually everything that made me who I was.
At that point, there was no hope and no future. Life became all about survival.
In my anger (and guilt), I went on an extended period of rebellion. I got divorced and distanced myself from anything having to do with the life I had known. The idea of any kind of ministry, present or future, was dismissed outright.
But through it all, I never stopped believing. I even believed that somehow God wasn’t through with me, but for a long time I didn’t much care. That’s one of the incredible things we need to grasp in our pain. God is there. He is always there. He doesn’t get angry or pout. That’s what we do. And when we have worn ourselves out kicking everything around us, he is still there waiting for us.
In time things began to turn.
The hard survival instincts of my senses started to soften and my desire to have hope and purpose was rekindled. There were many factors to this, but mostly I met a woman. I met her in church.
My connection with her was instantaneous, which I later attributed directly to God. At first, it wasn’t a romantic thing. But instead, I actually felt compassion. I hurt for her.
Would I have been so moved in any other context? If I had met her at the grocery store or in some pool hall would I have been touched? I’ll never know. But of this I am sure, it was part of God’s plan, his new hope for me, and I was certainly in the right place to be open to it.
She and I almost immediately sensed that our relationship was a gift from God. We were both pretty beaten up by life, and like two shipwrecked survivors clinging to a life raft, we were holding on to what God had sent us.
As we encouraged one another, this verse of Scripture came to mind for both of us: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
On any given day, that verse might not have moved either one of us in any extraordinary way. But for a divorced woman with a serious form of cancer and a divorced down-and-out preacher it seemed to be God telling us why we were together. We got married.
I’ve never known my wife without cancer. Not one single day. She had it the day I met her. She was going into her first cancer surgery the day I proposed to her. She had surgery the week we returned from our honeymoon. She had brain surgery the Monday before our first Christmas. And she has had multiple surgeries and treatments ever since.
Even though our lives to a great extent have been about surviving cancer, she encourages me and supports me. She believes God isn’t through with me. We hope that together we will one day have a ministry of some kind.
Yet, we all know it can never be the same. I won’t get re-elected or tee it up again like nothing ever happened.
Something did happen—something that transcends even the mistakes of presidents and sports superstars… because it touches eternity. And that is something a fallen pastor carries around inside the rest of his life.
And so here is the lot of the fallen pastor: though life goes on and we can find faith, hope, love and happiness after The Fall… we never stop paying the price. Not in this life.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
If you haven't read the story, please read it. It'll take some time, but I hope you find it worth it.
As of today, Angelica is dating again. She called me two months ago and said she forgave me for my sin. Two weeks later, she called me and said she was seeing someone. Good for her. It didn't take her long, I suppose, but it didn't take me long either, did it? I pray for her that her life is lived out to its fullest. For her and my daughter's sake.
I'm paying her more child support and alimony that the state ever required - and I don't say that to brag. I say that so that you dead beat dads out there will hear this: Paying child support should be an HONOR. It's not a duty or a responsibility. It's an honor. They are your children. Get on the stick. Take care of them and love them. Paying money is just one way to do it. I don't care if you feel like it or not. I don't care if your wife remarries or not. Take care of your kids. Money is temporary. Give them your love and attention too.
If you ever get a raise or a new job that pays you more, self-report yourself to the state and pay more child support. Yeah, it's more money out of your pocket, but it's for your kids. It doesn't matter what your ex-wife does with it. That's her problem. It's for your kids. They're a treasure and deserve your best. Always. When you do the right thing - or make an attempt to do the right thing - you can stand up as a man and be proud of it.
Angelica and I are getting along better today than we ever did as a married couple. I hear divorced couples say that on occasion. We have a great agreement about seeing the kids. She drops them off here when she has to work or when she needs child care for them. I'm glad we have that type of arrangement. She's moved on. I've moved on. Thank God for His grace.
Will she ever get over the hurt I caused her? Probably not 100%. But at least we're in a place where we can talk. Where we can have some sort of relationship that is good for the kids. And I thank God for that.
Angel Falls isn't much different. I wish it was. I posted a quote recently that the church acts like a scorned wife when the pastor leaves because of moral failure. After talking to other fallen pastors, I've realized this is the gospel truth. I hurt a lot of people, all at once. I wish there was something I could do to salve that quickly, but there's not.
I wrote a letter a couple of months ago to each individual member. I got one response back which was positive. I understand if I ever get another response back, it will take time.
The one serious problem I have is with Phillip Townsend, the head deacon. He did respond in a way that was unscriptural. Who am I to throw stones? No one. I lied to them, cheated on my wife and made them look stupid. He told me on several occasions I was like a son to him. As soon as I told him what I had done, he told me to never come back and threatened to kick the s*** out of me. I had hoped that he would have at least reached out to me as a man.
To be honest with you, I'm in the process of writing him a letter and plan to mail it this week. I had a terrible relationship with my own father, and in a lot of ways, he was like a father to me. Pray for things to go well. I'm doing the best I can. I tore down a lot of relationships with my sin and I'm trying. It's not easy when we sin. It's even harder to try to get people to understand that we're trying to do the right thing after we sin.
My kids are doing wonderful. They still ask questions on occasion about the whole thing and I answer them honestly. I think one of the best things we can do is let our kids know that their parents aren't perfect. My girls are "daddy's girls." They love on me a lot. We spend quality time together at home, outdoors, and at church.
I tell them bedtime stories, play games with them, cook them meals, and love on them every second I can. I talk to them every day on the phone I don't get to see them. They are precious to me. Even though my sin created an interrupted relationship, they don't act like it. They treat me like daddy every day they see me. And I thank God for that.
Cynthia's daughter and I get along great too. She's a lot younger than my girls. She's adjusted well. She loves my girls and loves playing with them. She's got a lot of spirit. Cynthia has told me how she has clung to me like she's never really clung to another adult before. I love that.
What about me and Cynthia? We're in love. I've never known another soul like her. We have our days where we rub each other the wrong way, but by the end of the day, we understand each other, but those days are far and few between. I love her. I would die for her. I'm not ashamed of the love I give to her and she's not ashamed of the love she gives to me.
I've never had anyone understand my anxiety like she does. I've never had anyone understand me like she does at all. It's like I've known her for years.
Do you understand what we've been through? You can only relate to what I've written, but we had to live it. We sinned together, I was thrown out of my house and my church, we had insults thrown at us, I was hunted down, scorned publicly, hated by members of the community, have gone through severe bouts of depression, questioned God, searched for churches that would have us, been emotionally drained, and had severe relationship crises with countless people.
I don't say those things to garner pity. I don't want pity. Some of those things I deserved.
I say those things in awe of Cynthia. Despite my sin and the consequences of it, she stood by me. She saw me at my worst. And we didn't stay together because we had nowhere else to go. We stayed together because we loved each other. Because in each other we found something we had never had before.
Was that love borne out of the result of the violation of God's law? Absolutely. I will never, ever condone adultery. And if I had to do it all over again, I would have done it differently. God does not condone divorce or adultery. And I grieved Him. I broke up my marriage. I was selfish and hurt a lot of people.
But I can tell you that right now, I am the happiest I have ever been. I love my wife, Cynthia. She loves me.
Part of writing this blog has been trying to reconcile those two things. The providence of God and the free will of man.
But I can't reconcile it.
I do know this - God can make a beautiful thing out of my horrible mess. I don't know how He did it. I also know on judgment day, He's going to tell me how I messed up. And I can tell you that if you're thinking about committing adultery, don't do it. It's wrong. It's not the answer for your marriage woes. But I also know that on judgment day, He'll look at me, look at His Son and say, "you are forgiven."
But I don't deserve it. Any of it. And I'll weep.
Here is where I am today in a nutshell and what I have learned:
I'm a fallen pastor. I'm not proud of my sin. I take responsibility for what I did. I am where I am today because I'm a weak, fallen sinner.
However, I'm happy with my life today. I'm trying everyday to do what is right in the sight of God. Isn't that all we can do?
I've made some poor choices and some decent ones. In the midst of life, sometimes we're given the choice between two things - one bad choice and one worse choice. I'm not saying it's like that all the time, but it is sometimes. We live in a fallen world. And we are fallen people.
The good news is that we have a redeemer who has not turned his back on us. He loves us more than our sin can ever reach. He loves us more than we can ever imagine. We can't push ourselves down into a pit of depression that he can't find us. We can't outsin his grace. We can't outrun him, because he will pursue us.
Before my fall, none of my seminary training ever taught me about how wonderful and majestic our God truly is. Now, through practical living, I know.
I was telling someone tonight that I hope my worst mistakes are behind me. I pray that my self-righteous pride is a thing of the past. I pray that I've learned enough to help others and to now look somewhere besides myself for the answers.
God has been good to me. Better than I deserve.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Before anyone freaks out, the deacons and several of the hierarchy at the church where Cynthia and I are attending know of our situation. They know my story and we're under good watchcare.
Anyway, I've filled in before in Sunday School and it was a good experience for me. I loved teaching and sharing with the class. I was a new man and a new teacher. I had new experiences to share.
The regular teacher handed me the book last week and said he'd be out of town. I said, "No problem." I sat back in the folding chair next to Cynthia and casually opened the Lifeway book to next week's lesson. Of course, it was on adultery.
My pastor was standing right there when I saw it. He said, "Nothing says you have to teach on that next week. Feel free to change the lesson to whatever you want."
Cynthia looked at me and nodded.
But in that moment, I thought, "You know what? It's scripture. It's not time to shrink from the absolute truth. I'll teach it. Adultery is wrong. And this class needs to hear it."
Pray for me.
But I'll also tell you that I'll interject my ideas on what needs to be done with the adulterer. That's not in the Lifeway curriculum. They only seem to deal with the sin, not the sinner.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Those who have never experienced it cannot identify.
Those who have seen loved ones go through it have had a taste of it. I watched my mother endure a lifetime of horrible depression. It wasn't until my college years that I learned that I was suffering from it.
It's interesting to hear people who don't understand depression give you their cures for it. I was corresponding today with a friend who suffers from it. Those who don't know about depression say things that don't really help much because they don't understand it.
"If you had more faith, you'd get better."
"Just snap out of it. Think of what you have."
"It's all in your head."
"You don't have any reason to be depressed."
Friends, we could argue about clinical depression until the cows came home. Some people suffer from depression and others don't. There are chemical triggers that bring some down into the pits of despair and you can't describe. It's like being lost in a world that you wouldn't want to be in. Nothing makes you happy. Nothing could bring you out of it.
It's a realm that can't be described. Nothing can make you happy. You can't pray yourself out of it. You can't pull yourself out of it. If you could, you would. It's a deep, dank, dark, horrible place that you don't want to be in. You want to pull yourself out of the hole. You know there's a world out there to participate in and live in. You want to be happy and free, but you can't do anything about it.
It's a horrible existence.
That's where I've been the last two weeks. I've been here before. Right after my adultery got discovered. And at other times in life. I don't know what has brought this recent bout of depression on but it's very real and very hard.
Cynthia has been very good to me. She's helping me through it. I'm medicated for anxiety but the depression is tough to deal with.
I've blogged before about my theological difficulties with providence. I was/am a Calvinist. I honestly don't know where I am now. You know that if you've read this blog.
I caught hell from commenters over my David and Bathsheba posts. And on some level, I should have. I wasn't trying to make a deep point on those, but I was trying to make sense about God's providence. I didn't communicate it well, that's for darn sure.
Let me explain it another way, and please, if you've been hard on me in the past, feel free to keep being hard on me. But at least listen to what I'm trying to say. Everyone has a theological background. None of us can escape our worldview. We all think a certain way because that's the way we were raised. It's the way we were taught. It's the way we think because someone told us it was the truth. Do we ever really stop to ask ourselves if we really know the truth? Whether what we think is true or not?
One pastor friend I have, who is a Calvinist (maybe a hyper-Calvinist, I don't know) would tell me that every single motion we make is pre-ordained by God. Once, during lunch, I poked him with my fork and asked him, "was me poking you on the arm with my fork preordained by God?" He said, "Absolutely."
I said, "Then was my adultery preordained?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "But my adultery was my own fault and my own responsibility. I was fully culpable for it, right?"
He said, "Yes, it's the mystery of God."
Then I have another friend who is a Calvinist. Of sorts. He says that God's sovereign election only pertains to His choices in matters of salvation. Anything else is a matter of our free choice. Great.
That's what prompted me to write those blogs about David and Bathsheba. That's what was at the heart of them. If David hadn't have sinned, we wouldn't have had Solomon. Bathsheba is mentioned as being in the lineage of Christ. Does that make David's sin permissible? Absolutely NOT! Was Solomon God's Plan B? No. I don't believe that either. God is a sovereign God who has had a plan since the beginning.
I hear what you're thinking. God's plans are unknowable. It's useless for us to pry into the secret things of God. Please don't hear me trying to blame God for my sin either. I'm not. I'm the vile sinner who violated God's law. I am.
But how does it all fit together? I have no idea. But it keeps me up at night. Too much seminary education.
But something else has happened to me with my depression in the past two weeks to let me know God is at work. I've wanted to absolutely drop off the face of the earth in the last three days. I've thought that the world would be better off without me. I have wept, I have cried, I have wanted to be erased. I can't explain where the depression has come from or what triggered it, but it is very real.
But so is my God.
Today and yesterday, He responded. Despite my lack of theology and understanding, He responded through people.
First, He responded through my beautiful wife, Cynthia. She was there for me. She understood my grief, depression and sorrow. She just listened. She wrapped her arms around me and held me. She comforted me and prayed for me. She reminded me that this grief and depression are temporary.
Secondly, I got a phone call from another fallen pastor I haven't heard from in a month and a half. What are the odds? He called me today to check on me. I poured out my heart to him. He has depression as well. We had only talked once before, but he said he felt the need to call me and talk to me. That's the providence and grace of God, friends.
Thirdly, another fallen pastor friend of mine emailed me and told me he was suffering from a bout of depression as well. We have shared a common experience from almost the day I have published this blog. While we have both sinned, we also recognize that God's grace is great and there is a world of redemption before us. We love each other as brothers and give each other great encouragement.
Finally, I received an email from a fallen pastor I had emailed over two months ago. I thought he had forgotten about me. He reached out to me finally. He had several things going on and reassured me he had not forgotten about emailing me. He was compassionate about my plight and was encouraging. He reminded me that God was with me and would be with me.
All of these things happened to me within a 48 hour period. A time period when I didn't know if I would make it or not. When I needed God the most. God didn't speak to me directly, but He didn't need to. He spoke through His people - fallen, broken people who the world has mostly given up on.
And you know what? Those are the people God uses. And I needed to be reminded of that. I thank God for His practical providence.
Friday, May 21, 2010
I had someone ask me on this blog recently about what my spiritual life was like leading up to my fall. It was terrible, thank you very much. Shallow, disgraceful, and going nowhere. How's that for honesty? I'm not proud of it at all.
I wasn't looking to fall. I wasn't looking to hook up with the first woman who showed interest in me. That wasn't the case.
Was I weak spiritually? Yeah. But don't think I was led into temptation by someone either. I knew exactly what I was doing.
But when I talk to other fallen pastors, their lives were similar. Their spiritual lives were weak and they were dealing with some very difficult circumstances as well.
Now, hear me. Once again. Difficult circumstances don't give anyone a license to sin. They are a part of our story, however. And we need to recognize when we are vulnerable to sin.
I've blogged about the circumstances leading to my fall before, but not all at once. Let me see if I can give a bird's eye view of how they led to the intense breaking point in my life. I've never been to a moment like that in my life and hope to never be there again. But there are many people suffering because of circumstances. They need to be reached out to and they need help. It might be your friend, your neighbor, your pastor - but it would help them if we recognized that they need support. They need support before disaster strikes, not after.
You know how it is. When bad things happen, they don't ever just happen nice and tidy. They don't happen in ones. They happen in horrible bunches.
The church was arguing about some inane, ridiculous thing. I take that back. It was ridiculous to me. It wasn't ridiculous to the five people who kept stringing it out for five stinking months. It was about the deacon who wouldn't give to the cooperative program. The music minister had resigned over the whole ordeal. A few other members had left. The deacons were ignoring the issue. I was still getting phone calls. I had a church member challenge me to a fight over it in the parking lot between Sunday School and church. It was on my mind every second of the day. It was a major church crisis. The deacon finally left the church under duress. It was a terrible, terrible situation. One I will always second guess myself on.
A month later, my mother died in a car accident. My father had died just a year before. It was a horrible moment. We buried her at Angel Falls Baptist. I was the executor of her estate. I had to be strong during the whole time whether I wanted to or not. Some of you know how that is. I was only allowed offered one week off to grieve and was right back to work. Her death, even today effects me.
Two months after, Angelica and I found out about the friend of her family that had molested several children. It was terrible for her. I had been in the middle of my grieving process and now I stopped to help her in her shock.
The world had stopped for us. For me.
And in the midst of this, Angelica and I had been having serious marriage issues for years. We had seen a marriage counselor at least twice. A Christian marriage counselor. One who suggested we get separated.
Don't ever think that people just go out and decide to sin. Do I blame my circumstances? No. It was all me. But yes, I was under horrible pressure and pain. It was an awful time. I couldn't think straight. Maybe I should have done like John Piper and taken a sabbatical. But I didn't. I thought I was strong enough to move on.
Life was throwing curveball after curveball at me and I was whiffing all of them. But week after week I stood in that pulpit and acted like I was the strongest man alive.
But I wasn't.
Only now do I freely admit that I am weak. That I am fallen and sinful. But I thank God that even though I fell, He can redeem the weakest and most sinful. Not for my glory, but for His.
If you know someone at church who asks for prayer, or a friend who asks for prayer, or someone going through a tough time, don't just offer to pray for them. Reach out to them. Give them some of your time. Give them the gift of your love. Let them know in a real and meaningful way that you care.
Those moments that you give may save them. And in the process, you'll learn a lot about yourself and become a better person.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
The fallen pastors I've talked to as well as myself had a similar, serious issue. Before our falls, we were very judgmental of sinners. I've touched on this topic before, but I want to get to the heart of the matter here.
Before my fall, I was very black and white in my judgments. If there was an issue at hand, there was a black and white answer for it. There were no gray areas at all. If there was a sin or sinner in the church, there was a quick answer for it.
Let me give you an example that I'm not at all proud of.
Marlee was a long time member of Angel Falls Baptist Church. She had been previously married and divorced and I had been there when it had happened. Her first husband and she had divorced when he had become addicted to drugs and they had some serious issues. She had been unmarried for about two years at the time.
She started dating a guy up in Maryland named Rich who was an avid golfer. I hadn't met him yet, but they seemed pretty serious about one another. One weekend, the gossip got to me that she was pregnant, out of wedlock, and was worried about her future.
The next weekend, she and Rich came together to see me after church. They were both nervous talking to me, but I wanted to show them understanding. I didn't have the whole story, but I wanted to be a good pastor to them.
She started by telling me about how she was now three months pregnant. I took the opportunity to interrupt her.
"Marlee, believe it or not, I'm happy for you."
The shock registered on her face. "You are?"
I said, "Yes, even though this child was conceived out of wedlock, you need to understand that no child is a mistake in the eyes of God. All children are a gift of God. No conception is ever a mistake."
She smiled nervously. "But we sinned."
I said, "Sure you did, but God forgives that sin. What's your future together?"
"We're living together," Marlee said.
At that moment, in my life, there were few sins worse than two people living together. Cohabitation for me ranked right up there with murder and adultery (go figure). I could feel the anger rising up in every fiber of my being and I knew the black and white of Scripture had to be applied to their situation.
"Well, you can't do that," I said. "Either you get married or you don't live together." I was a little angry when I said it.
"Well, he lives in Maryland and has nowhere to go right now. He's looking to move here so we can eventually get married and do the right thing, but we don't have the money for it," she said, now pleading.
"Sure you do. He can live with someone else in the family. You're just making excuses," I said. "What kind of example is this setting for your son you already have?" I was incensed. There was right, there was wrong, and I was bound and determined to make sure they understood it.
You see, I was pastor of this church. Impurity had set in and it had to be punished. It had to be disciplined. It had to be made right. I mean, really! Sin in the church! Out in front of everyone! Something had to be done - and the thing that drove me - the thing that drove me in those days was this - something had to be done that very minute.
She wouldn't budge. I didn't understand it. The holiness of God was at stake. The purity of the bride of Christ was at stake. She said they wouldn't stop living together.
Unbelievable. I was bound and determined to take it before the deacons as soon as I could. Church discipline would be exercised upon her. I was angry because I couldn't exercise it upon him since he wasn't a member, but I'd have a talk with him too.
Do you see what's wrong? My attitude at the time was so horrible. I rue those days. But at the time, I was so dang self-righteous. I thought I was right.
You want to know what? I was black and white right. I was.
Guess what? The people in John 8 were black and white right. The Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They told him that she deserved to be stoned by the letter of the law. And you know what? By the black and white of the law, they were exactly right.
By the letter of the law, I was right. I could have taken that young couple and run them out of the church with discipline.
Those people in John 8 stood there with stones in their hand, ready to kill because of their overwhelming sense of justice. I was ready to punish because of my overwhelming sense of justice. I thought, "Sin is sin and it has no place in this fellowship!"
But there stands the Savior in John 8. He does not dismiss sin. He does not excuse sin. But He loves the sinner. He shows compassion. He loves on the sinner. He places himself between the sinner and every stone in the crowd. Then he turns to those of us who would judge and basically says, "You're no better than she is. You're just as big of a sinner as she is. And if you throw that stone at her, you're throwing it at yourself."
He would have taken every single one of those stones for that woman. And, in essence, He did at Calvary. He didn't judge her that day. He showed compassion. A quality I lacked as a pastor. But because of my self-righteousness, I just wanted to judge. And I hate that I didn't see it then.
You think I would have learned my lesson several years before when Cynthia and Barry walked into my office. They had been living together. Instead of getting to know them and finding out whether they were compatible, I insisted they get married. It led to a bad marriage. It led to a marriage put together hastily and for the wrong reasons. For one reason, because I only saw the black and white. And yes, I the wretch of a fallen pastor performed the ceremony. I even baptized Barry because he hadn't had believer's baptism.
Only after my fall from the pastorate do I see it. Only now do I see that people need time, grace, love, and patience to come to understand their sin. As well as strong Biblical counsel. There is certainly a place for that. When people fall and sin, they often need time and love the most instead of harshness and judgment.
I have heard that same lesson echoed from fellow fallen pastors.
What's the worst? I've had seminary training. Years of experience in Southern Baptist churches. I'm supposed to be a Christ follower. A man who is supposed to know the balance between judgment and compassion. But back then, I didn't.
On the other side of it, after being judged by others, I see the error of my ways. I see that no man has the right to judge another with harshness. Yes, we have the right to point out sin. We have the right to recognize sin. But no man has the right to sit in the place of judgment of another. Even when we do recognize sin, we must do so with the utmost care and love. We must do so with compassion and love, recognizing the sin in our own lives, realizing that none of us are any better than anyone else.
Pride does indeed come before a fall. I know that now.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Many fallen pastors have a history of either anxiety or depression. In fact, take off the "fallen" label for a moment. Pastors in general have a history of anxiety or depression.
I took a class on counseling while in seminary. I heard a "statistic" while in that class. You know, one of those quick and loose statistics that you can't confirm. 60% of seminary students and pastors have been treated with mediation for depression. Again, I have no proof. Feel free to back me up on it.
I had. I'm not afraid to admit it. I have a history of both anxiety and depression.
My mother had a history of manic depression and my father had a history of anxiety. What a pair they made. And what great chances I had. Feel free to throw in my obsessive compulsiveness in there as well.
Many pastors obsess about their job. They do. They spend all week obsessing about the church and the ministry they do. What they don't realize is that the church members don't care about the church as much as they do. Pastors spend all week obsessing about the church but don't seem to realize that church members only care about the church during the hour they spend there on Sunday.
I remember a time when the church was arguing about what color carpet to get for the sanctuary. Now, that may not seem like a big deal to you. But it was for me. They would show up every Wednesday and Sunday and argue and bicker about it, then forget about it the rest of the week. But I would obsess about every little thing they said for the rest of the week. It would eat at me. I would lose sleep over it. I would toss and turn at night wondering if it would break up the church.
It was, in fact, a huge deal at the church. It shouldn't have been, but it was. The church should have been more concerned with winning people to Christ. They should have been more concerned about the spiritual condition of its own members than whether the carpet was red or brown. But they weren't. I hurt over that. But my anxiety was very high at that time.
I'll be honest. There are pastors out there who feel the same way. They want to spend more time preparing sermons and visiting the lost in the community than worrying about what color the dang carpet is in the sanctuary. But the congregational needs often override the spiritual needs of the time. It's a horrible process. And it breaks down the soul of the pastor.
And at times, it can make the pastor question his own calling. It can make him question the reality of religion itself. It will make him send out resumes, it will make him hate his own congregation (if that's okay for me to say, which it's probably not). There are people in our community who are dying without Christ and we're really worried about what color our freaking carpet is? Really? We're really arguing about that? Is carpet color that important? It really consumes that much of our time?
There were at least seven different committee meetings about it! We had forty people concerned about the carpet color when I couldn't get those same forty people concerned enough to go out and share their faith in the community! My heart was torn in two.
I would even tell them that it wasn't important for us to discuss. That carpet color had nothing to do with eternal matters. But they wouldn't hear it. It was important to them at the time. My anxiety rose. My concern for the church rose. I felt they didn't understand the difference between the eternal and temporal.
Pastors spend 24/7 worried, anxious and nervous about the church. If Deacon Bob approaches them about a problem, they obsess about it. Seriously. They think about it all week long. Deacon Bob, however, goes home and forgets about it. But the pastor thinks about it all week. He obsesses about it and can't get it off his mind. He may beat himself up over it. He may prepare a sermon over the topic even.
Pastors are very hard on themselves. They beat themselves up over their shortcomings. They are harder on themselves than any church member could ever be. That's why it's so important for church members to show support. The vast majority of pastors are perfektionsts. (Yes, I spelled it wrong on purpose.)
Yes, it's a prison. Yes, it's wrong. Yes, it's a horrible place to be.
But the majority of pastors suffer from anxiety or depression. When we preach a bad sermon, it may send us into a week of depression. When we miss an important visit, it sends us into a fit on anxiety or a panic attack.
But you know what? We don't show it. We look great on the outside because that's what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to have it all together. We're supposed to look good in our suit. We're supposed to have all the right things to say and know how to look good for the public.
But we're weak. And we're probably taking Paxil. Or Zoloft. Just like you.
But we'll never admit it.
Because we can't be weak.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Since I started blogging, I've talked to and emailed a decent number of pastors who, like me, fell because of moral issues. I've read other online articles about how to avoid moral sin in the pastorate and warning signs, etc. However, most of these articles were written by men who hadn't fallen or didn't know a fallen pastor. That's not to say there wasn't any truth to those articles, but I hope I can offer a little more insight.
Just a preamble to this series - I'm listing things that seem to be common traits. Of course, that doesn't mean they exist in all fallen pastors. But they did seem to be a common thread in discussions. This isn't a scientific study, by any stretch of the imagination.
Also, none of these traits are an excuse for sin. If I've mentioned that once on this blog, I've said it a thousand times. There is no license for sin. Are there factors that lead us there? Yes. And it can be helpful to notice certain things that could lead to a fall.
I'd like to discuss the common trait of a poor relationship with the fallen pastor's father. Fathers have a huge influence on pastors.
I remember the first day of seminary orientation, they asked us a few questions about our background. One of the questions they asked was, "How many of you have fathers who were pastors?" Most of the hands in the room went up. The questioner said, "75% of pastors have a father who was also a pastor. I didn't raise my hand that day.
I had always had a rocky relationship with my dad. I think it's because we were too much alike. He had a great relationship with my sister. They stayed up late at night going over the Bible and studying together. He and I rarely had much to say to each other.
He took us to church, was a deacon once, and kept to himself a lot. He worked hard, traveled a lot, and gave us a nice place to live. But we never really bonded during my life.
I smarted off a lot to him. I wasn't a bad kid, just had a smart mouth. When I was 15, I suppose I had smarted off to him for the last time. He looked at my mother and said, "I'm done with him, you raise him. He's yours." He was serious. He shut me out after that.
My sister achieved academically better than I did and I always felt (whether it was right or not, I'll never know, but it's how I felt) that Dad always preferred my sister over me. I suppose if I had to deal with me and my smart mouth, I would have preferred my sister too.
After I went away to college, my relationship with my father got a little better. We would talk on the phone and I'd ask for life advice. When I made the decision to go to seminary, he got critical of me again. I'll never understand that. It may not have been about seminary. Maybe he was dealing with his own life issues. He had dealt with a lifetime of anxiety himself.
I remember once, he came to visit Angelica and me at seminary. I jogged out to meet him and Mom at their car and the first thing he said to me was, "You're getting a little fat, aren't you?" This was coming from a man who was 150 pounds overweight himself. I rue that I rarely got praise from him. I never heard him tell me he was proud of me.
I had a counselor tell me once that he was subconsciously competing with me. Or whatever. I can see part of that being true. Whatever the problem was, it only got worse.
Even when I got ordained, or when he came to hear me preach, he'd unload on me. Not many kind words, but a lot of underhanded criticism.
He had a fall of his own. He and my mother divorced and I was angry. He basically kicked her out of the house. I judged him. Harshly. Something, I've learned, is wrong. I shut him out of my life completely for a period of about two years.
At the end of that two years, I started becoming convicted about it. I started talking to him a little, started trying to forge some sort of relationship. But it was too late. He died in an accident. I stood there, over his hospital bed while he was on life support realizing that I had done something horrible, but I didn't quite know what it was right then.
Later, I realized what it was. I had failed to love him for who he was instead of looking past what he had done.
Other fallen pastors seem to have a similar problem with their fathers. I don't know how much it adds to our sin later in life, but it has a significant impact upon who we are as adults.
There's a lot to be learned here, I think. First, if you're a father, make it work with your children. Lay aside any petty disagreements and humble yourself before them. Show them your vulnerability and just love them. Let them know you're proud of them regardless of what they've done. Just love them for who they are. Heck yes, parenting is hard. But it's worth it.
Secondly, if you have a parent who has caused you pain and still alive, don't let time expire before you do whatever you can to fix it. There are many of you who have parents who have done horrible things to you. I'm sorry. It may never be the same again with them. We can, however, still have a relationship with them where we draw boundaries and still have a salvageable relationship with them. We've only got this life. Tell them how you feel. Write them a letter and share your pain constructively. It's hard, I know. But don't let the later pain of regret and the "what ifs" get hold of you.
Thirdly, learn to love people as Christ did. He looked past what people did and loved them for who they were. Never shut the door completely on someone. Sometimes, you might be the only person in this world that someone will listen to. If you shut that door on them, it's dangerous.
Relationships with parents can be a great joy or a great pain. Those relationships form the people we are today whether we freely admit it or not. We cannot escape our generational past. But we can learn from it.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
The editor, who was being asked by the publisher to write the article and ask for her apology, questioned the move.
An exchange from the article between him and the publisher:
“Who does she need to apologize to, Gerald?”
“Her fans. Us at CCM. And everybody she failed.”
The article is worth your time. But the topic behind it is also worth careful thought.
When one falls, to whom are they apologizing? David clearly stated after his sin with Bathsheba that he had sinned against God and God alone. However, it would seem that genuine sorrow and offering of a sincere sign of that sorrow to those directly offended would be appropriate.
I can't begin to tell you how many times I apologized to Cynthia for what I had done. I apologized to my daughters. I even wrote a letter to individual members of my church and told them I was sorry I let them down.
Was apologizing to the church for my adultery necessary? I did not commit adultery against them. I did lie to them, yes, and I apologized for that. But I had many tell me I needed to apologize to them for my adultery.
My sin was made public very quickly. By Cynthia, her family, and by the church. I don't know if there's a way around that. Pastors are public figures and when they lie and cheat, sin like that tends to get made public. However, there has to be a time when it stops being discussed by those who were not directly involved in the sin. When the sin itself and the discussion of it turns into gossip and unhealthy talk.
One could argue that my blog is the furtherance of this discussion. A fair point. But I don't view it that way. I've tried to handle my story in a way that is from my viewpoint and how I perceived them. I've kept everything anonymous so that those involved wouldn't be further effected.
There's a time to discuss sin and situations when it can help others understand seriousness of sin. And there's a time when it's simply unhealthy, destructive gossip that seeks to tear down others.
For Amy Grant, I think the editor had a good point. Did she owe her fans an apology for divorcing? Was her private life the business of her fans? Probably not.
My situation was different in many ways. My personal holiness affected my public ministry. I did owe the church an apology for my failing in that way. Many were hurt. An article by Christianity Today states, "When a pastor falls sexually, his church responds like a wife betrayed by her husband, experts say.'"
I am still in the process of asking myself the same questions I am presenting to you in this blog. Hopefully, someone will read this post and give me some interesting viewpoints on the matter.
Maybe I'm wrong. But that's what this blog has been about since day one. The exchange of ideas. Whether it's about Amy Grant or me, I'd be happy to hear it.