It is during this time that he is embarrassed and moving towards feelings of how to cope with his sin. It seems to be that during this time that people either abandon him or reach out to him. It is also during this time that he begins to either question his faith or reaffirm it.
He will be considering ideas like,
“All my pastor friends were there for me when things were going well, but none of them will speak to me now."
"I pastored that church for years and forgave them when they failed, but now they hate me and can’t even speak to me."
His statements will most likely become increasingly cynical and angry.
The fallen pastor will probably reach out to close friends in the ministry, but few of them know how to react or what to say. The fallen pastor will often find strong allegiances with unbelievers or the unchurched who will show much more compassion than those within the church. They won’t judge the fallen pastor and show more mercy and understanding than most Christians.
That was my experience. I found more love from friends who were Christians who had become disenfranchised with church long ago and from non-Christians. They made statements like, “Arthur, you messed up, but I don’t judge you. I make mistakes too. You’re human. I’m here for you.”
I’m not trying to blame the church that the pastor has sinned against. But there has to be a way to work these things out better than this. Most of the fallen pastors I have spoken to have said the same thing – “Don’t expect your church to ever forgive you. It’s been years, and my church still won’t speak to me.”
When a pastor falls, it hurts. It is disappointing. The marks of transgression can remain for ages. But does it have to be that way? I don’t know. I do know that the only hope of reconciliation is through Christ. I am hopeful that there are people out there who are Googling “how to reconcile with a fallen pastor.”
From what I have seen, the vast majority of churches would rather forget about the fallen pastor and kick him to the curb. Or, they would rather “forgive him in their heart” and move on, hopefully to never make eye contact with him.
The fallen pastor, for the most part, moves away and makes himself scarce. He lives in shame and tries to find another trade. Some do the opposite. They justify their sin and never find humility.
What does Scripture say? Galatians 6:1-5 (ESV) Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
It is my strong opinion that the fallen pastor needs to be contacted in love in the first two weeks by a strong, loving church member or by a pastor friend on the church’s behalf with Galatians 6:1-5 in mind.
If it hadn’t been for Brad, my current pastor contacting me in those first few weeks, I don’t know where I would be now. Because of even his small amount of friendship and guidance, I kept it together. He provided a small amount of light in a world that had suddenly gone dark because of my sin.
Was I ready to be reconciled with my former church in the spirit of Galatians 6 at that time? No. That process was not even close. But some contact was absolutely necessary for me to keep my Christian sanity.
I don’t believe that Angel Falls Baptist will ever desire to reconcile with me. Sure, I’ve had some sort of reconciliation with the head deacon. I had lunch with the new pastor. But the hurt that is there will stay there. That’s okay. It’s not mine to judge them. Some churches just aren’t able to move on.
I want to reconcile with them someday. I want to be able to walk in there and embrace them again. To humble myself before them. To tell them how sorry I am for letting them down, face to face. But they’re not there yet, I suppose, from what I hear. They may never be.
But friends, if your church has been through this and wants to be a healthy, Christ-like church, you must remove the spirit of unforgiveness from your midst. It may be that your previous pastor will not hear you. He may not listen. It may be that there is bad blood between you and he. That’s okay.
Christ has called us, however, to be different. He has called us to reconcile and forgive and move past our differences.
I shouldn’t have to mention Christ’s commands to forgive one another. Maybe things haven’t been the same since your pastor fell. And yeah, it’s his fault he fell. But it may be the church’s fault if there is bitterness, rancor, and anger there if you haven’t publicly forgiven him and talked to him.
Back to the beginning – how do you approach your pastor if he just fell? What are you supposed to say to this man who just disappointed you greatly?
I’ll give you an insight then tell you what helped me the most.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I remember listening to a sermon by famous Southern Baptist pastor Charles Stanley once. He said he was coming out of the bathroom and a church member was staring at him. He said, “Yes?” The church member said, “I just never thought of you having to use the bathroom before.” He was such an amazing, lofty ideal to this church member that this person never thought of him as human. And yet, here he was coming out of the bathroom.
Before you talk to your pastor, remember he’s a human. He sins. He fails. He thinks the same things you do. He has sinned as you sin. He is a weak, miserable failure. If you got to know him, you’d realize that.
However, the vast majority of pastors have no real friends to speak of. We’re not allowed to get close to people in our church because that usually spells trouble (another blog topic for another time).
If you go talk to him, humble yourself, realizing that it could be you in his situation. You could fall one day. Don’t pity him, but be his friend.
What should you do if you want to head into the trenches and really love the fallen pastor? Survey the scene, like they taught you in CPR class. He may not be humble when you see him. He may be defensive, he could be suicidal. He could be angry or he may be a drunken wreck. Just be ready to listen. And be ready to love.
Just because you’re going to visit him doesn’t mean you’re “accepting” his sin as okay. All you’re going to do is to do what Christ did for the sinners he saw. Most people wouldn't dare go because to be seen talking to a fallen pastor will make them "guilty by association."
You’re basically saying, “I love you for who you are. I don’t understand any of this, but I love you in spite of what you did. I’m your friend and will help you no matter what.” But guess what? Don’t say it unless you mean it. It's a Christlike thing to say.
The fallen pastor has a long road ahead of him, just like the hurt church. God will deal with his heart if he is willing to change. But at the outset, if you are able, if you are a willing disciple of Christ, and if you can endure tough love, I suggest you visit your very human, fallen pastor. It may be the one thing that God uses to tip the balance between his destruction or his salvation.
And by all means, remember Galatians 6:9, And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Note: I assumed through this whole post that the fallen minister was a man. I've encountered several fallen female youth pastors, etc. through my travels. It applies to anyone who has fallen. Pastor's wives, deacon's wives, whatever. Just love them and let them know you care.