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

This blog has been moved to www.fallenpastor.com.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

God's Answer For The Adulterer

For the past year and a half I have been beating my head against the wall over a theological point.

I love my wife, Cynthia. I have an astonishing love for her. I would lay down my life for her. I wouldn't change a thing about my love for her. What we have is real, amazing and I have always wanted a marriage like this.

At the same time, to get her, I broke God's law - the seventh commandment - to have her.

My previous marriage to Angelica ended in divorce after she and I found no reconciliation, I alienated and did horrible damage to my former congregation, I did disastrous harm to relationships within my own family, I hurt friendships with other pastors and those I have known for years, and tarnished my name within the community.

And above all else, my sin - the sin of adultery - was one among many of my sins - that sent Christ to His death on the cross at Calvary.  God's only Son died for that sin.

I will be horribly and terribly honest with you. And I'll even phrase it in the way that my current pastor said it. I sinned willingly and boldly in the face of God and stuck my middle finger in His face and said, "I don't care what you think, I don't care what your Word says, I'm doing this anyway."

And I'll even go a step further. I love Cynthia. I'm happier now than I've ever been.

Don't get me wrong. I still suffer from the pain I caused my God and the people I hurt. But I have the love a husband should have for His wife.

Under the watchcare of my current pastor, I feel I have repented and asked for forgiveness. I have gone to those who I have hurt and asked for forgiveness and received some of it.

Many of you who read this blog over the past year have called me out on some things. I've been accused of justifying my sin. At times, I have. And early on, I was attempting to.  

I'm sad to say it, but in a post on Bathsheba, that's exactly what I was doing. 

Now, as God has humbled me, as time has moved on since my fall, I have been overwhelmed by His grace and have found some solace.

However, as a theologian, I have always been troubled by one question. A question that has kept me up at night. A question that bothers me and Cynthia. A question that has rattled around in my mind and will not go away and finally came to the surface as I prayed on the way home from work the other night.

I prayed, "Lord, thank you for Cynthia and her wonderful love. Thank you for the gift of her. I wouldn't trade her for anything."

But then I prayed, "Lord, what do I do about the sin I committed to get her? I've already confessed it? It is a slap in your holy face. Your Son died for the sin that I committed. I don't feel like I deserve to be happy since my blatant, outright, stubborn, filthy sin led me to this point."

It is a difficult problem. It is seemingly impossible. I finally had to tackle it to find peace.

How can I dare be happy with her while knowing I committed a vile sin to be in her arms? A sin that sent Christ to the cross to bear the wrath of God? A sin I committed while pastoring a church?

I shared this with Cynthia. She said, "What about people who have children out of wedlock? They sin and get to go on. It's a sin yet they are happy to have the child."

She made a good point. But in a lot of adulterous affairs, many end up reconciling. Angelica and I did not.

In my own mind and in my seminary trained brain, I have, for lack of a better term, been trying to reconcile or justify my happiness with Cynthia versus my transgressions of God's law. It has not worked. It has failed miserably.

Then, I was struck with a thought.

It's not really about how I see it. It's not about how others view it. It's about how God sees it. I have to go to the Word.

But even then I still have to be careful, lest I bastardize God's Word to justify my sin. Too often, pastors (myself included), use God's Word as a tool for justification instead of allowing it to speak for what it says.

So where do I begin? With my sin. Yes, without a doubt, I broke God's law. There is no getting around it. I took into my arms a woman who was not my wife. I have no excuses. Regardless of the problems within my marriage, this was unacceptable to God.  Brad, my pastor, told me how he explains this to other pastors with whom he speaks about me.

He said, "Arthur committed a vile sin. He sinned knowingly and often. He and Angelica could not reconcile with one another. He did not decide to live a life of celibacy. Instead, he kept piling on sin upon sin in the face of God. He was wrong to do so. They married and found a church home. Arthur repented, began to humble himself and continues to do so."

Friends, I'm no saint, that's for sure.  I am a sinner to the core. I am a wretch who willingly broke God's law, and as Brad says, I attempted to push God off His throne and make my own law on my own terms.

How do I begin to reconcile what my life looks like right now? How can I even begin to enjoy my happiness with Cynthia knowing that I am a vile law-breaker?

There is a simple answer. God has given me more grace than I deserve.

Let me quickly state what Paul told us. That does not give us the right to sin more so that grace may abound more. I get ill when people come to me (and it happens) and ask me if they should leave their spouse and commit adultery. My answer? NO! They say, "Well you did it." My answer? "That doesn't make it right."

In spite of my sin, God gave me and Cynthia grace. Abounding, free and unfettered grace. Grace I didn't deserve. When I sinned, I deserved the Ananias and Sapphira treatment. I deserved to be struck dead on the spot the second I began to think about adultery. But God didn't do that. He was long-suffering and patient with me.

Did I suffer consequence? Yes. Did others suffer pain because of my sin? Unfortunately, yes. And I will think of that every day for the rest of my life.

But still, the question is not answered. How do I reconcile the two? My happiness with Cynthia and my breaking of God's law and Christ's suffering to be with her? The sovereigntist in me has been longing to reconcile these two!

Again, I was struck because of God's Word.

I am a forgiven child of God. There is no reason for me to attempt to reconcile the two. God has already reconciled these two things for me. And all praise to Him for that.


He basically looked at me when He forgave me and said, "Arthur, I have forgiven and forgotten." And each day when I remember it, agonize over it, and replay it in my mind and feel guilt, He reminds me, "You're the only one bringing it up, I've forgotten it. It's been covered by my Son."

What a wonderful thing grace is. Undeserved. But so freely received by me.

Others may cast stones or try to label me, but Christ never will. God will not hold my adultery against me ever again. Even if I try to bring it up or drag myself down because of it, He never will. Know why? Because I am His child.


Friends, this grace is ours to have. It is ours to receive and worship Christ for. It is not there for us to engorge ourselves with sin so that we may have it. But it is there so that we may be cleansed from unrighteousness and live a holy life pleasing to God.

No one in this world, including myself, has a right to condemn me. I have been justified - not because of anything I have done - but because of what Christ did.

How do I theologically reconcile my current happiness with my sin against God? I don't have to. I throw my theological musings out the dang door. My ivory tower theology has no room here. Only the love of Christ operates here.

There is no need to reconcile it theologically. Christ has reconciled the situation with His sacrifice - once and for all. That is my hope. That is my rock. That is my everything. 

I do not boast in my strength to get to this point. I do not boast in my cleverness, my education, my perseverance or my swagger. I boast in the grace of Christ which has completely covered my transgression and has said to me, "Your sin has been removed, now move on and live a life pleasing to me from this point forward."

What now? I know exactly what the adulterous woman felt like in John 8:10-11. A woman who had been caught red handed in the act of adultery. A woman, who by Old Testament standards, deserved to be stoned. A woman who was shamed and didn't have a friend in the world - except Jesus.  

He said to her something that I now understand when the people all dropped their stones and walked away.

Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

She said, "No one, Lord."

Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more." (ESV)

Christ's love and grace are overwhelming. Without them, I would still be trying to reconcile God's wrath and breaking His law with my current happiness. Instead, I now understand His love toward me.

He didn't give His son so I could commit adultery. He did give His son so that I could be set free from sin.

And now that He has forgotten and forgiven, now that He has humbled me, I can be free to be happy with Cynthia.

More importantly, I am happy to have a God who doesn't give up on me and loves me for who I am.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Illness, Pastoral Comfort, And The Need For Rest

I’m not really sure where to start with what’s been going on for the past three weeks.

To sum up, without giving up too much information, Cynthia had a serious medical event. When I say serious, I mean serious. She’s resting well and we’re going to see a specialist on Friday. Thanks to those of you who have been praying for her.

It came out of the blue and has caused a lot of concern and stress.

It’s also caused a lot of reflection for both of us. To write about it will help me, but on the other hand, to reflect on it makes me wonder if too much theological, spiritual, or other type of reflection is really helpful.

I started blogging because it helped me release some of my deep issues. It did that and I was able to find solace in Christ. But with this latest problem we face, I just wonder if pontification on the issues of life on a blog isn’t just technological navel gazing.

Cynical? Maybe. But all my wondering and consideration won’t make Cynthia better.

Three weeks ago when she fell ill, I was scared. Scared she might not recover. Frightened that I might be alone in this world without her.

What would I have told myself if I had been my pastor? “All things work together for good . . .” Stop right there. Sure they do. But at that moment, looking into my beautiful wife’s eyes, I suddenly had no future. I was left asking, “What if I’m about to lose her?”

After we got a firm diagnosis of what had happened to her, Cynthia asked me, “Is this punishment for what we did?”

No, of course not. But we also discussed the fact that there are some who still judge us who will believe it is.

God has forgiven and wiped our slate clean. Our God has moved from judge to loving Father. If He wanted to judge me for everything I had ever done, I’d never make it out of bed in the morning. If He were to judge me for being an adulterous pastor, I’d have been struck dead a year ago in a gruesome, horrible accident, with an awful incurable disease, or some other unspeakable nightmare.

I don’t deserve His grace. But He has given it. And any who think I deserve judgment from Him are right. I do. We all do. But thanks be to Christ, any of us may receive grace.

So how do I deal with this event? How do I deal with this illness that has struck Cynthia?

Some would tell me that it is a terrible thing, but it will go to glorify God. To use it in the same way Paul used the thorn in his flesh – “My grace is sufficient for you.”

Some might tell us that without enough faith, it will never go away. To pray until it is healed.

Others might tell us, despite my belief, that it is God’s judgment upon our sin. That it is what we deserve. That we haven’t fully repented and that there is more to come.

Others will say it’s just fate. Bad things happen. Sickness is inevitable, that’s how life is and there are worse things in the world. You know, “it could be worse.”

In the back of my mind, I hear myself when I was a pastor. I hear all of the meaningless things I would have been telling people if it had been them or their spouse if they had been sick, “I’ll be praying for you.” “God is in control.” “We’re here for you.” “God is a God of miracles.” “We’ll put you on the prayer list.”

Those things are all true – so they are not entirely meaningless. But if they are not spoken in love or with conviction, they are meaningless. But they are meaningless sometimes because they are not the best thing to say.

When people are at their worst, as we are now, it is hard to find something to say. That’s why I now know that I only find comfort in the words of one man. The one I should have been quoting when I was attempting to comfort when pastoring.

The words I now find solace in.

“Come to me all you who are weary or heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Internet Friend: Cindy Holman

One of the joys of blogging is discovering new friends online.

Cindy Holman has been blogging for a little over two  years. I'd encourage you to check her out. She writes from the heart, has great taste in music and knows much about relationships, forgiveness, and life in general.

There are a lot of bloggers out there who are just "writing to be writing", but Cindy is pouring out her heart. Give her a moment of your time and you won't be disappointed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's been a crazy week.

We got some pretty devastating news today. Please pray for Cynthia and me. Especially Cynthia.

Thank you. I'll get back to posting soon. God bless.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fallenpastors.com: Help For Fallen Pastors, Part One

I've made a new friend and found a new hero. His name is Danny Williams.

Danny is a fallen pastor like me, but unlike me, he has taken his pain and fallenness to a completely different level. He has turned it into a ministry for fallen pastors.

At fallenpastors.com, there are many resources available. Behind it all is a humble, yet energetic pastor who loves His Savior and wants fallen pastors to be restored to their Savior.

Danny went through his own fall while serving in the Assembly of God church. His story is unique and follows the same path that other fallen pastor's stories take. Danny made many mistakes after his fall, but soon found that the only way to find peace was through repentance and restoration to Christ.


"My pain is now my power," he told me.  "My mess is now my message." Lord, I want to hear this man preach.

We had an hour long talk on the phone and it was very uplifting.  Danny gets many emails every month and counsels many men who are considering adultery and many pastors who have already fallen. He told me that a lot of fallen pastors aren't ready to hear what he has to say.

He's very direct with them. They need to hear what he has to say, however. Right off the bat, fallen pastors apparently aren't ready to repent. They have a need to justify, he told me. But he warns them of what is to come, but he also gives them hope. He tells them of his story and offers them counseling, love, and many resources. He encourages fallen pastors to get their sin out in the open.


"After I got restored, I wasn’t going to live under the shame of it anymore. Once [the sin is] in the light the enemy can’t use it against you anymore," he told me. I heard his wife give a hearty "Amen" in the background when he said this.

Danny's ministry is located in Austin, Texas. He doesn't consider himself to be the full circle resource for the fallen pastor, but just a link in a chain. Quoting 1 Corinthians 3, he said, "We’re only a step in the process but we’re a hope in the process. One plows, one plants, and one gives the increase."

After Danny's ministry talks to a fallen pastor, gives resources, teleconferences or helps in whatever way is necessary, they find a resource for that pastor in his area. "We give them resources and direction to find someone to help. To get someone to watch you just be in the room. To find acceptance to give you hope to be restored."

On his website, you will find information regarding reconciliation between a pastor and his spouse, ideas about false intimacy, true repentance, and some excellent resources.  I'm still not sure that Bro. Danny really isn't a closet Southern Baptist. 

Danny has built an excellent ministry and I am very glad he is out there. There are very few men like him who are actually helping fallen pastors. He has been doing this ministry for a little over two years and has helped about 25 ministers.

I thank God for my new friend and hope you will pray for him and his wife and ministry and the men he helps as well as the church he serves. If you know of any fallen pastors or hear of men who fall, please recommend Bro. Danny's ministry to them.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Thanks

By the way, thanks to all of you who read this blog.

I know you could be doing other things with your time, but you are reading the stuff that flows from my mind.

A sincere thank you and God bless.

Arthur

What I Don't Miss About Pastoring: Insecurity

You wouldn't think pastors are insecure. You'd be wrong.

They all seem so confident standing up there preaching. Proclaiming the Word of God.

Heck, even around other pastors, they're a little arrogant.

I remember once I went to a pastor's conference. We had a breakout session on handling conflict in the ministry. The reason we were all in there was because we were insecure and had "trouble people" in our congregations.

However, the room was filled with Southern Baptist pastors at a pastor's conference. Which, if you've never experienced this, don't want to. Imagine a lot of strong personalities competing to share their advice with the moderator - however, they're in the room because they're insecure with handling conflict.

The moderator began the discussion with, "What is the most difficult occupation in the world?"

I winced.  You don't ask a group of pastors that question. Especially a group of pastors gathered to hear a breakout session on handling conflict.

The vocal vote was unanimous - "Pastoring!"

They hadn't realized that the moderator probably disagreed with them, even though he was a veteran pastor. He never said what he thought, but he was gauging his crowd. He wanted to listen to what they would say. And he did. He asked, "Why?"

"Because we do so much! We pray, we visit, and no one understands us! No one understands what we do except other pastors! And people will split the church over the smallest and most insignificant things! And we're underpaid and under appreciated!"

That went on for about five minutes. It's not that I disagree with any of those things, but it was getting ridiculous. Like a Jerry Springer Show.

I raised my hand. He actually called on me.

"I agree it's difficult," I said. "But the initial question was 'toughest job in the world.' While I agree our jobs are hard for us and that we have a higher calling, I don't know if it's the toughest. I think studies show that job would be air traffic controller.

People were frowning. But I continued.

"If the moderator was speaking to a group of doctors and asked the same question, what would they say? They wouldn't say 'pastors.' They'd say 'doctors.' If he was speaking to auto mechanics, steel workers, stay at home moms, construction workers, accountants, CEOs of Fortune 100 companies, they would all think their job was toughest."

A bellicose pastor looked at me and said, "Young man, how long have you been pastoring?"

I said, "Five years."

He said, "Then you just don't know."

I got shut down.

But I did know. I had already been through my fair share of petty arguments, anonymous letters from angry members, dumb statements about my sermons, and people just not "getting it" that I was in the same boat all those other pastors were in.

I was insecure.

Strange thing, most pastors don't know how insecure they are. They'd like to think that they're strong, but they don't know how weak they are.

We feel almost invincible behind the pulpit, but when we step down, we're weak. We're hurt when church members criticize us. We wonder what people are saying about us.

You'll say, "You shouldn't worry about what people say." I wish it were that easy. And I'm sure some pastors don't have that problem. But most do. And it's very difficult.

I'm not even talking about being a "people pleaser" (hate that term). I'm not talking about running a ministry so that people won't complain. If you're doing things right and by the Word, people will complain.

No, I'm just talking about having a tender heart as a pastor. One where there's always two or three people who don't like anything you do. They're going to hate everything you do and criticize you even if you were one of the Twelve.

People always said, "You can't let them get to you." For long periods of time, it wouldn't. But after a while, it finally would.

Your pastor is most likely strong most of the time, but even he has moments of insecurity. Build him up. Support him. Don't let him falter. Don't be someone who finds something to complain about all the time.

When you hear people complaining, ask, "Is it really something worth complaining about?" and "Do we need to bother the pastor about it?" and "Can we stop complaining and just fix the darn thing?"

Above all, pray for your pastor's heart. If you or someone in your church has a history of abrasiveness with him, fix it. Don't let it linger. Be of one mind.

Make it so when he goes to a pastor's conference and someone asks, "What's the hardest job in the world?" he replies, "It's not mine."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What I Don't Miss About Pastoring: Pastoral Pettiness

I've shared three things I really miss about pastoring. That means I can be petty now and share things I don't miss.

Speaking of being petty, I don't miss pastoral pettiness.

Most church members are oblivious to pastoral pettiness. It's something pastors only toss around amongst themselves. It's prideful, disgusting, but we do it anyway. And it can lead to a fall.

Don't get me wrong, I engaged in plenty of it myself. Lots of it. And I hated it when I did it and others did it. It takes oh so many forms.

One of the biggest forms is the inflation of numbers. When one pastor asks another pastor how many members they have at their church, get ready - because lighting may strike. The conversation goes something like this:

"Brother Bob, how many do you have in worship at Pleasant View?" (every community has a Pleasant View, by the way)

"Well, Brother Tim, we run about 200. How many do you have at Oak Grove?" (every community also has an Oak Grove)

"Well, Brother Bob, we run about 150."

Yeah. If you heard that conversation, you could guess that Brother Bob was running about 160 and Brother Tim was running about 100.  It's a good rule of thumb that you can subtract anywhere from 20-40% of whatever number the pastor is pitching you. 

I'm not saying the pastor is attempting dishonesty. I believe he wants his church that big. And his church may have run that number last Easter or high attendance Sunday. He may actually look out and see that many people in his church. But his pride (my pride at one time) makes us inflate those numbers.

To be fair, not all pastors do it. But when we do . . . it's petty.

Another petty thing we do is fall back on our education as some sort of badge of pride. I was horribly guilty of this. I was so proud of my seminary education.

On the one hand, you should be proud of your education. But it's not everything. If anything, it should humble you. A lot of pastors use it to end arguments or shut people up. For instance (and this is just and example, not a theological point, so don't make any comments):

Church member A says, "Bro. Anderson, in your sermon last Sunday, I know you were going on about the Olivet Discourse. I liked what you preached. I'm just curious, though, and I really don't know, but Jesus said 'this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.' But you acted like those things still have yet to happen. I'm not disagreeing, I'm just confused."

Bro. Anderson, "Well, I understand your confusion. Did you listen to the sermon? Go listen again. Jesus was talking about the generation who saw those things."

Church member A, "Well, I got that, but when 'this generation' is used elsewhere, he means the generation he's talking to . . ."

Bro. Anderson, "Well, I don't know who you've been talking to or what you've been reading, but I have a seminary degree . . ."

And so on. Yeah, I've done that. Ashamed of it. Because it's petty.

There's another level of pettiness that exists. And this one is two-fold. Pastors who start at small churches then get a little bit of the big head around other pastors who still serve at small churches. They act like they're a "little better" than other pastors because they've gone "big time." Yeah, it happens.

Guess what though? It goes both ways. Those of us who were bi-vocational, working the rural scene got a little angry (dare we say, jealous? heavens no!) about those guys and scorned them behind their backs when we should have been praying for them. Yeah, that happens too. We're sitting there wondering, "Why didn't God promote me?" (Maybe it was our attitudes . . .)

I'm trying to say a few of things but I'm not sure it's coming out too clear. First, pastors are people. We have petty issues, petty jealousy of each other, petty problems, and think petty thoughts. We sin petty sins. And it's sinful. Ridiculous. We ought to be above it, but sometimes, we're just not.

Secondly, we're weak. Just like the rest of the world. And without guarding ourselves and coming together as men of God, we're liable to fall.

Thirdly, there aren't many people pastors can confide in. We can't talk to church members because they don't understand. We usually don't talk to counselors. We find it hard sometimes to talk to spouses. And as you can tell, we rarely talk to one another.

So usually, the job of pastor is very lonely. Please pray for your pastor. Say something nice to him.

It might make his day, and it might make a difference.

Social Network Blog

Two things...I'm blogging via text from my lovely iPhone. It's like an extra appendage. Thanks blogger.com for this great service.

Secondly, I thank God for the people He has sent my way in the past four days via social networking. It reminds me that even though I am fallen, I am useful.

Thanks to those of you who are gracious enough to read my junk and enjoy it. And thank you Lord for allowing me a second chance. Thank you Cynthia for your support and unending love.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What I Miss About Pastoring: The Kids

One of the neatest things about being a pastor is the kids. Kids are great. They just love and accept you like you are.

Every year during Vacation Bible School, I'd get dressed up like a character that pertained to the theme that year. They loved that. They'd follow me around and laugh. They thought I was pretty cool. They were right, of course.

It was always something to watch them all grow up in my decade there. To see them know me as "Bruddah" Arthur and then, if I was fortunate enough, watch them to grow and learn the gospel.

I was so careful when evangelizing children. None of this, "who wants to go to heaven?" mess. No, they understood sin and what Christ did.

To watch a child as God touches their heart and see them grasp grace is one of the most beautiful thing one can witness - especially when you see it in your own children. Thanks be to God I got to baptize my two daughters. Moments I will forever cherish. 

Kids have some of the best questions and some of the best answers. They let you know they're thinking. They ask about the problem of pain, "Bro. Arthur, why did God make tornadoes?" And to that, my friend, you must shape your answer so that a 6 year old may understand.

I had a church member ask me once about whether I thought Noah's Ark would ever be found. I just wanted to say, "No, it's rotted away." An astute 9 year old was standing there and said, "wouldn't Noah and his family have used all that wood to build and burn with?" I smiled and said, "Excellent answer."

While some of the adults come at you with complaints right before church starts, the kids just run up and offer you hugs. They just want to look up at you and say, "I love you Bro. Arthur." They don't want anything in return except your love.

Especially the kids who come from less fortunate backgrounds. Their parents drop them off or their grandparents bring them. They're just happy to get a little snack at church on Sunday or Wednesday and have people show them some interest and give them a smile.

I remember late at night on one New Year's Eve when I still lived in the parsonage, someone was pounding at the door. It was dark and cold outside. I approached the door carefully and saw that it was a woman and a little girl standing there shivering.


I invited them in. Angelica came into the room and just stood there looking at me inquisitively. I vaguely recognized the woman, a few tattoos covered her arms, nose ring and heavy make-up - but her most obvious feature was that she and her little four year old were soaking wet. The little girl looked up at me with big brown eyes and was crying.

She apologized profusely for coming so late but that her boyfriend had chased them out of his trailer. They had gotten lost in the dark, waded through a pond and found their way to the church parsonage. She begged me for a ride about five miles down the road.

I got them both blankets and put them in the van. I offered to call the police, but she quickly turned that offer down. The girl kept crying, "I'm so cold Mama! Why is this happening?" I realized I knew them. They had visited church several times. The girl had even been to a Vacation Bible School.

I talked to the girl and reminded her of this. I even reminded her of the goofy character I had dressed up as. She smiled a little as the van warmed up.

During that short van ride, all I could think of was, "it's by the grace of God that my kids are in a house warm and cozy. And this poor girls is wet and frozen." I had to fight the tears back.

I dropped them off at a friend's house and told her that if she needed help to come back. She never came back.

But the little girl came back. The next VBS, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off worrying about something stupid when a little hand grabbed mine. I looked down to see a cute little five year old smiling up at me.

It took a moment to register, but it was her. I smiled and she hugged me around my legs and about broke my femur. But it felt good. I just stood there and cried like a big goofball. For the rest of the week, every time she saw me, she'd grab my hand and want me to eat with her, play with her, or sit with her. She hardly ever said anything to me, but I could tell she felt safe with me there.

Those are the moments I miss.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What I Miss About Pastoring: Pastoral Care

I never, ever thought I'd say this. Not in a million years. But after my fall, I found myself missing pastoral care.

If I could travel back in time to two years ago and visit myself and say, "Hey, Arthur, you're going to miss visiting shut-ins, sick people, making phone calls, chasing down absent members, and all that good stuff," the Arthur of two years ago would have laughed until his spleen busted. 

I don't know if it's just limited to Southern Baptist ministers, but most of us aren't very fond of pastoral care. Maybe I should rephrase that. We prefer preaching over pastoral care.

You've probably heard it said that a minister is either really good at preaching or visiting. Even the guys I know that excel at visiting would rather be preaching.

Prepare yourself for a reality check. I heard a pastor refer to Wednesday night prayer meeting as "organ recital." I said, "what do you mean?"

He said, just listen to the prayer requests. "Pray for Uncle Bob's liver. Pray for Tom's kidney. Pray for Joe Bob's lung problem. Pray for Sue Ellen's eyes." He said, "Organ recital. No prayers for the lost. Just their organs."

That's the kind of stuff that makes pastors cynical. But he was right.

At first, it's not so bad when you're a young pastor. You want to get out there and visit, visit, visit. But then you realize that everyone in the church wants you to see their relatives, shut-ins, long lost members and your sermon preparation time is dwindling.

Then comes the dreaded moment - one of your church members was in the hospital and you didn't go see them. However, no one told you. But it's still your fault. You feel awful. You apologize profusely. If you're lucky, they live. If you're not, you carry a burden for a long time. If they do live, you might be constantly ribbed about it by them.

This, despite the fact, that you pray for your people all the time. You tell them to call you when people get sick. Friends, the job of a pastor in the realm of pastoral care is difficult. Pastors are not omnipresent or omniscient. I know that's a shock.

Something else, I don't know why it's been called "pastoral care." The care of the members of the church should not be limited to the pastor. Yes, he should visit the shut-ins, the ill and infirm. However, it is the job of the entire congregation to minister to the entire body of believers. However, this job in the American church has fallen squarely upon the pastor in most congregations. It shouldn't be that way. Anyway, on to the blog . . .

Today, I visited my lovely wife at work. I had the day off and had lunch with her. While I was there, I ran into Marlee and Rich, a couple I had been terribly judgmental of while at Angel Falls but had reconciled with before I left.

I hadn't had any serious contact with them since my fall, but saw them in the parking lot and I caught them somewhat off guard. I spoke to them and wanted to reach out to them. Rich's dad had been ill when I had left Angel Falls and I still loved this couple and hoped they would respond to me.

At worst, they could ignore me and walk away. That would be fine. I had hurt them. At best, they could speak to me. I would receive that as God's grace. I am at a place now where any kind of reception or kindness from the people at Angel Falls is God's grace. I long for reconciliation.

Rich came right over to me and smiled and shook my hand like we were old friends. He told me that his father was in poor health and about to die. I listened as he recounted the past week of his father's illness and told him I would be praying for him. The fact that he mentioned his father let me know that on some level he still trusted me. He connected with me.

It immediately hit me how much I missed pastoral care.

When I was a pastor, I would whine about the house visits, the calls, and the "organ recitals." But now, I found myself longing for those moments. I realized that those moments were the moments Christ gives us as pastors. Those are the moments we are given to love people where they are, in their hurt, in their most vulnerable times.

We perceive that we are being put out of our way because we have more important things to do. We have sermons to prepare. We have errands to run. We have lives to live.

For shut-ins, they have walls to stare at. For the ill, they have stomachs churning and an uncertain future. For the depressed and anxious, they have a mind aswirl of impatience and horrible thoughts.

As pastors, we think of our time. Our inconvenience. I wish I had seen it then. God forgive me. I could have gone home, kissed my children, made room in my schedule somewhere. God would have provided me those moments to prepare for my sermon. For what is more important in this life than people? He will provide.

The moments that stand out to me when I think of my pastorate are not of great sermons I preached. They are of lives God allowed me to touch. They are of the moments I spent beside people who were dying. They are of the times when I was praying alongside the ill or those who needed Christ.

Was it a sermon? No, but it was the Word. It was Christ Himself, active within me, living inside me, working through me. Yes, the sermons were alive and active, penetrating. Not because of me, but because of Him.

What I really wish I had done more is gone out, like my current pastor Brad. He just goes out in the expectation that people will be saved. Armed with the gospel of Christ and loves people like they are.

I miss preaching funerals. I miss being there for people who hurt after a loved one dies, hearing the stories of their departed loved one and then sharing those stories in a way that honors the one who passed.

I miss going to visit Mr. and Mrs. McGillicutty who used to go to Angel Falls 20 years ago but now live in an old trailer with no one to talk to. I visited them twice a month. No one else would. They have no children or family. They loved to see me coming. I had the church build them a ramp so they could get into their trailer easier. I loved them even though they never heard me preach. They were precious to the Lord so they were precious to me.

I miss seeing Mrs. Law. She came for about two years of my pastorate until she couldn't drive anymore. Frankly, she shouldn't have been driving those two years. She could talk your ear off. She would call me whenever she wanted. When you visited her, you better have at least two hours to spend, or an escape route, because she would go on for a long time. She had three children who ignored her and were just waiting for her to die to get her inheritance. I have 20 stories about her to tell. She's still alive and I love her. She's 90. Hope she outlives her kids.

I miss seeing people. I know now what it means to love as Christ loved. I missed an opportunity. Maybe one day I'll have that chance again.
 
If you're a pastor and you're reading this - don't visit cheaply. Listen to your people. Visit the elderly like they're your parents or grandparents. Visit them like it's the last time you'll see them.

Church members, listen. Call your pastor when you're in the hospital. Don't overwhelm him with stupid stuff. If you have a toenail surgery, don't bother him. If he heads off to Disney World with his family, leave him alone. The man needs space.

The church is the body of Christ. Minister to one another. Love one another. You all belong to each other. Act like it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What I Miss About Pastoring: Preaching

Thought I'd write a few posts about what I miss most (and least) about pastoring. I'm not sure who it'll help or if it will give insight to congregations about what their pastor goes through.

A quick disclaimer - don't take me to say that I regret my current life. If you're a regular reader, you know I'm repentant of my sin. But I can tell you that God does love me and has blessed me with good things. Love my wife, love my little section of the world.

I do miss preaching. In fact, when I talk to active pastors, that's one of their first questions - "I bet you miss preaching, huh?" I just want to say, "Would you miss oxygen if someone held you under water for two minutes?"

There is just something about spending that time in the Word the week before (not the night before), opening it up in preparation for an expository message, digging for hermeneutical treasure, looking for the author's intended meaning, then relating that to your church.

Of course, you'll occasionally mess it up. But the joy that comes from preaching that Word is impossible to relate to someone who hasn't been called to to it. And you know you'll never get them to love that passage as you've loved that passage during the week. You'll never get them to see every beautiful jot and tittle of it, but your heart explodes with passion about God's Word during your time behind that pulpit.

And the joy you feel when you see the face of a church member (hopefully members) in the crowd when then have that look of discovery moment (or the "oh, now I get it" look) while you're preaching. Because during the week, you understood something beautiful about the passage and now you were able to relate it to them.

And even more beautiful is when God moves upon a person by His Word and convicts them, leading them in His way. Not because of you, but because of Him.

Those moments are irreplaceable.

I've preached since my fall and hope to supply again in the future. To tell the story of the grace He has shown me and His forgiveness. It brings me joy. I would love to supply every Sunday if God sees fit to let me use the gifts He gave me.

To church members, I would say remember that your pastor has been spending hours preparing his sermon. He has prayed over it, studied it, gotten frustrated over it, and sometimes cried over it. You may walk out of the service saying, "Well, I didn't get anything out of that," but what exactly did you put into it? Pray for your pastor during the week as he prepares. Pray for your own heart to be touched by God's Word.

To pastors, I pray you will fight temptation, stay strong in the Word, and do not neglect your own private devotional time as I did. Don't let the distractions of meetings, committees, and complaints push you away from the most important thing you do.

To everyone else, find a pastor who preaches the Word. Without fail. A man who would die for his convictions. Who knows what he stands for. Who understands the righteousness of Christ and lives it out. But remember he is a human.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reconciling With A Fallen Pastor, Part 7: So How Do We Reconcile?

Yeah, part seven. I've been stringing it out a little, but I hope it's been helpful.

I want churches to want to reconcile with their former fallen pastors. For the glory of our King. So that we might be reconciled to one another. So that no one is left behind, forgotten, or isolated in their sin.

So how do you approach a pastor who hurt you long ago? It's not easy. There's no easy way to do it and the path I'm suggesting is not fool proof.

1. Have your church leadership pray. There is no substitute for prayer, especially among the church leadership. And typically, where the church leadership go, the membership will follow. Typically.

2. Know that you're going for the right reasons. I've mentioned it before but don't go to fight old battles, settle old scores or make you feel better about yourself. This is about coming together with another child of God, fallen as we are, recognizing that we all sin, and loving each other as God loves us.

3. Go with a Philippians 2:3 spirit - Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (ESV) Love the fallen one you seek out. Only by knowing that we are less than those we are attempting to love do we ever begin to understand what Christ did for us.

Christ left the heavenly realm, lowered Himself and gave Himself for us. How can we ever esteem ourselves better than any other person on this earth when the most perfect being in the universe made Himself worse than us?

4. Find him and go. Should you call? Probably not. Listen, most people in the church don't ever give a passing thought to what this man has done. But he thinks about it every day. Guarantee it. Church members forget until it gets brought up in conversation once a year. But he will never forget it. Every day he will be reminded of his transgression. It was his calling, his life. And he needs closure. Forgiveness. Just go. Show up. 

5. This may sound awful, but lower your expectations. That doesn't mean expect the worst. It means put it in God's hands. Don't expect a Disney ending. Or Fireproof. Or any of those ridiculous low-budget Christian movies with unrealistic endings.

Instead, expect a man to be at the door who has been changed and challenged by a long life of unforgiveness. Don't expect an immediate miracle. Just be ready to love. And be humble.

6. I would suggest you be ready to be the first with something so say. And that something be along the lines of, "We love you, we want you to know we're sorry that things have gone this long and this far like they have. What will it take to reconcile?" Be ready to listen. When I say listen, I mean listen.

There's a great line in the movie "Fight Club." The main character is speaking to another character about how people don't ever listen to you. He says, "When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you instead of just . . ." and she finishes his line by saying, "instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?"

When you visit your former pastor, listen. Don't just wait for your turn to speak. Listen to his travails. His heartaches. If he even opens up to you. It may take more than one visit. You may have to invite him out to lunch. But listen. That's how you reach out. That's what Christ did. He listened.

Hopefully this will open the lines of communication so you may listen to one another and heal.

7. Make your church ready to openly and publicly forgive. Your current pastor may not know the whole story. Tell him from whatever angle he needs to know. I took a class at the SBC headquarters once - it's called the Transitional Pastor course.  I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to be an effective interim.

Anyway, one of the roles of the transitional pastor is to help the church get over past hurts, even the hurt of a recent pastor. The class I took recommended making a timeline of the events of the church and putting blue post-it notes for bad events and yellow post-it notes for positive events.

Church members could all put as many post-its on the timeline for as many events as they could remember in the life of the church. However, only the positive events were shared out loud. At the end of the sharing time, all of the events were taken off and the transitional pastor said, "What is the future Christ has for us?"

The current church, with its current pastor, has to prepare for contacting its past pastor. Old wounds will reopen. However, that also means that resolution to those wounds will come. Old pains may come to an end. Even if the old pastor spits in your face, you tried as Scripture asked you to try. And a new beginning will come.

8. Don't give up after one try. You may get a teary eyed former pastor your first visit who embraces you. Good for you. You may get resistance. Don't give up. Let me ask you this - if it were you who were in trouble, would you want people giving up on you? Even if you go again, keep praying. It is God who will work on his soul and heart. And don't gossip. It's between you and him.

9. If all works out, rejoice. All of the glory belongs to God. It should have happened long ago. We are called to reconcile quickly and bring the weaker brother in when he falls. However, if you are able to reconcile, don't sit on it. Tell others quickly. Tell other churches whose pastors have fallen. Don't let them stay unreconciled with their former pastors. Let us quickly reconcile with one another.

I write this blog and these things to you so that you and your former pastor may have the hope of reconciliation. I write these things hoping that Angel Falls will one day have a relationship with me. The same relationship we had before? No. But one at least of Christian love, brotherhood, and of struggle side by side, and not against one another, in this world.