"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.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Reconciling With A Fallen Pastor, Part 2: Stages Of The Fall

In my last post, I talked about prevention. However, most people who find my site are those who want advice after their pastor has fallen morally.

Please take the time to read the first post in this series because it will give you some insight into my thinking. I'm not an expert in the academic realm. I do have a Master of Divinity, however, it does make me an expert on pastors who fail their congregations. I do, however, have a world of experience on the side of pastors who fall. I have spoken to many pastors who have fallen morally and I am one myself.

Let me begin with this - if you're a church member who is reading this who is asking, "how can I reconcile with a fallen pastor?" I'm glad you're here. At least you're trying. Or if you're asking, "How can I minister to a fallen pastor?" or "after a pastor falls, how do you forgive him?" I'm happy you're asking the right questions. You're far ahead of the curve.

The vast majority of church members are happy to turn the other way, push the fallen pastor to the wayside and let him fall as far as possible. Part of me sees the rationale behind this. I get it. If it were the local architect, plumber, bug guy, or Wal-Mart employee who committed adultery, no one would care.

For that matter, if any of those people were in the church, some uproar would come, but it would settle down quickly.

But much is expected of the pastor. He stands up week after week, strong protector of the Word of God, preaching against the evils of the world, and expected to stand strong against everything that is wrong with society. But then he falls.

Parents have to explain to their children (whom were baptized by that man), members have their hearts broken, relationships are harmed, the pastor's wife has to be sheltered, and it's all because the pastor apparently has a sexual issue, right? Of course, few stop to think that there is more to the story. But that is beside the point. He is now an outcast.

What are we to do with this man?

On a rare occasion, there is a deacon, or a church member who asks, "Shouldn't we love this man? Is he not a sinner like us?" But this is a rare instance. Most of the time, the pastor is cast out.

Those are questions to be dealt with later.

For now, I will insist that early intervention by members of the congregation who are brave, loyal to Christ, and able is absolutely necessary. It has to happen within the first two weeks. Period. Whether it be a member of the church or a close pastor friend, it has to be done. It is absolutely vital.

I'll get more into why it is vital in the next post. For now, I'm going to propose to you my five stages of pastoral moral failure. It's not perfect and someone else may want to improve on it. But after talking to a lot of pastoral rejects like myself, I recognized that many pastors go through stages of "grief" after they fail.

If they do not get intervention from pastor friends or church members, it seems very likely to me that they are doomed to fail and slack off into complete moral failure. Even losing their faith. I will discuss in the next post why early intervention is so important.

All of these stages are after the fall.

Stage 1:(Days 1-2) Cautious Defense - Right after the fall, just like any sin, it is easy to want to defend yourself. You want to have a reason to give for what you did. You know that no one will listen to you, so you're not ready to give reasons for your sin. However, you slink away to whatever corner of the world that will have you. You're not really ready to repent, but will give the right words for repentance if someone asks. But no one ever does. Because no one wants to talk to you. Everyone is angry.

Stage 2: (Day 3-Week 2) Embarrassment - People begin to find out what you did and the details. They begin to find out the "why" and "what" after talking to your spouse and the people involved. They don't want to talk to you because they don't want your side of the story. They are hurt, they are disappointed and they want to push you as far away from them and their family as possible.

As one pastor said to me, "Everyone needs someone to love and someone to hate." The pastor is who they need to hate. The spouse who has been harmed is who they love. The spouse left behind, regardless of whether they led to the deterioration of the marriage becomes the hero. They can never do any wrong from this point forward. The pastor becomes the goat forever. The fallen pastor, if or when he goes into public, often hangs his head low, avoiding eye contact. This is an awful time.

Stage 3: (Week 3-?) Offensive Defense Against the Perceived Enemy - Anger builds within the pastor. He feels that no one wants to hear his story. The church that he pastored for years will not listen to him, despite the fact that he labored and loved them. He knows he betrayed them, but he needs them to hear his side of the story. He knows his story would fall on deaf ears. However, some in the church will lash out in emails, Facebook messages, text messages, or letters. The pastor becomes like a poisoned frog. He will not seek out church members, but when they contact him, he will respond in anger. Sometimes with passive aggressiveness.

I have several cats. When they eat a toad, the toad coats himself with a semi-poisonous venom. This is a picture of the pastor who feels isolated by the church. He becomes aggressive when attacked directly by those in the church. If they call, email, or Facebook, he will often respond in a negative way and go on the offensive. He has loved them for years, has harmed his church and his wife, but now just wants to be loved as he loved those who sinned when he was pastor. But no love is to come.

Stage 4: The Edge (not to be confused with U2's guitarist) - This is a horrible place. I have talked to pastors on both sides. It is a place where some turn to drugs, alcohol, and other vices to fill their lives because they fill a void. Others fight through, looking for God in a long struggle. It is an awful time either way. Either way, pastors feel alone, afraid, and like no one is there to help them. They feel as if they have forsaken their God, their calling, and they feel alone. The community of faith they have built up has forsaken them because they sinned. They now feel like they deserve the treatment they are getting from their former church.

Often, they equate their former church to God. Those who do, turn to alcohol or vice. Those who turn to God struggle daily to find good things in life. Either way, it is hard. Many on the outside think that either way, these men deserve the treatment they get. But they don't. All of these men deserve the grace and forgiveness of God.

Stage 5: Hardening vs. A Second Chance - Those who choose vice often stay there. That is awful. However, some eventually, like the prodigal son, find grace again. Typically, those who choose to harden their hearts find self-hatred and those who seek a second chance find grace and choose to see themselves as God sees them.

In my next blog, I will tell you - the church member - why your love, your forgiveness, your grace, your mercy - early in this process is vital. I did not receive it from my church. I did receive it from a pastor friend. Without it, without the love of Cynthia, without the grace of Christ, I would be lost today.

1 comment:

  1. "The spouse who has been harmed is who they love. The spouse left behind, regardless of whether they led to the deterioration of the marriage becomes the hero. They can never do any wrong from this point forward." Definitely not confined to pastoral situations!