We usually think of wounded Christians as folks who sit in the pew. Or maybe formerly active Christians who are too hurt even to approach church again. But what about members of the clergy who’ve failed?
In his book, Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World, former Southern Baptist pastor Ray Carroll details how committing adultery cost him his ministry and marriage and wounded many people in the process.
Unfortunately, Ray Carroll is not alone. Research reveals that each month over 1,500 pastors leave their churches due to some kind of moral failure. The effects are devastating to everyone involved.
When Carroll began to blog about it anonymously, hoping to make some sense of what had happened to him and perhaps find those who had similar experiences, within weeks he discovered many fallen ministers who shared a common bond. He says, “The most healing thing that has occurred . . . was the number of pastors who . . . reached out to me and asked me for help. Some told me that they felt no one else understood their plight except someone who had fallen.”
Eventually Carroll was approached to write a book to help explain the circumstances that contribute to a pastor’s fall and how such tragedies can be prevented. The result is an honest examination of the problems and perils facing many pastors today. Carroll shares the stories of eleven fallen clergy members, each of whom admits his own responsibility for the sin.
In examining why these pastors failed, Carroll discovered that high expectations, isolation, poor spousal relationships, and judgmentalism were key factors. Many of those he interviewed admitted that previously they had been overly judgmental toward people in general and harshly critical of their flock. Had they been in the crowd when Pharisees dragged the adulterous woman before Christ, they would have joined the accusers. Most had grown up with strict interpretations of Scripture and/or legalistic backgrounds, so they didn’t recognize judgmentalism as a problem in their lives.
But when their own sin was discovered, they were suddenly in the place of the accused sinner, with only the compassionate Christ remaining as their friend. That experience radically changed their treatment of people. Their judgmental mindsets transformed into redeeming compassion.
Carroll explains the role of church leadership in the restoration process:
To restore the fallen pastor and the fallen culture, it is important to understand why the pastor falls and the circumstances around his fall. It is easy to look down upon the sinful pastor at his worst moment as he is cast out of his place of ministry. But Christ’s compassion calls all of us to stand beside the fallen, not listening to the crowd in its judgment, but reaching out to the one who is in need of help the most. In doing so, the sin is not excused. It is transcended through grace and forgiveness. The fallen pastor is given someone to walk with in hope of restoration (p. 131).
Unfortunately, that’s not how many fallen pastors have been treated. “What has been most notable throughout this research,” Carroll writes, “is how unprepared church leadership is for the moral fall of a pastor. In the cases researched, church leadership responded angrily and swiftly in all but one of the cases and demanded a resignation and offered no counseling to the pastor or couple. Many were immediately forced to leave town or clean out their offices.”
Instead of trying to justify fallen pastors’ behavior, Carroll shares an understanding that may guide church leadership to the biblical response of restoration.
The book contains four sections. In section 1, Carroll tells his own story. In section 2, he shares interviews with the eleven fallen pastors. Section 3 seeks to understand what leads to a moral failure. Section 4 offers perspective on a biblical response: understanding the common patterns, restoring the fallen, preventing the fall, and changing the church culture that exacerbated the downward slide. Appendices offer answers for emergency situations, resources for further help, and questions for discussion.
When Denny, one of the interviewed pastors, underwent counseling, he connected with deep feelings of guilt and shame over the sin he’d committed. His counselor also helped him understand a greater good that God had for his life. “My sin had cost me,” Denny said. “I’m sorry I had to go through that, and I’m really sorry I hurt people.” He adds that his experience caused him to acquire a deeper appreciation for God’s forgiveness and has enabled him to walk with people who are trying to find forgiveness.
Today, as a successful motivational speaker, Denny listens to the stories of many broken people, including fallen pastors and those who have been affected by their failures. Denny’s experience changed the core of his message and ministry to others. Like many other fallen pastors, his authentic desire is to help and heal those who have been on a similar path. Amazed at how God can take a tragedy and use it for good, his message to fallen pastors is, “Wherever you are, God still loves you.”
That’s a message every wounded Christian needs to hear.
© 2012 by Diana Savage. All rights reserved.