"What can a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the redemption of other souls?—or a polluted soul, towards their purification?"

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Common Traits Of The Fallen Pastor, Part 3: Being Judgmental

(Make sure you read the disclaimer on the first blog post of this series before starting this one.)

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.


  1. Its disappointing to deal with pride. And we all are proud on some levels. I had times when I was really proud, until God dealt with me. Since then I know I can't make it on my own.

    My biggest challenge is how to talk with someone whom you can clearly see that his/her pride destroys not only his/her life, but those around them too?

    I found this really hard, because proud people in general don't see themselves proud and don't acknowledge their own pride.

    Any suggestions?

  2. I wish I had a magic answer for this. When I was proud, the only people I would listen to were trusted friends who approached me in humility and with the Word of God.

    The only other people who got through to me were those who came at me with strong correction. I got mad at them right away, but some of it stuck. Most of the time I ignored them.

    What usually has to happen is the work of God in their lives.

    Proud people typically don't listen, unfortunately, until they are humbled. Keep praying for an opportunity to reach them until it's too late.

    Thank you for your ministry to them.

    God bless,

  3. Just wanted to say I love this one...

  4. Thank you for reading, ShadowVoice.

  5. Ever wonder what Jesus wrote in the dirt?

  6. Yeah, Russ, I have.

    I had seminary professors just go nuts over this passage. "Was he writing the names of the women the pharisees were with? Was he writing their sins in the sand? Blah blah blah blah...."

    Until my favorite NT professor said, "You know, it's not really about what he was writing. If it was important, John would have recorded it for us. Instead, Jesus was the master of the moment. He was getting their focus away from the woman, away from their anger and calming them down."

    Good points.

    Anyway, like my professor said, if it was important, John would have told us.