13 Truths for the Congregation of a Fallen Pastor

Yesterday we surveyed the wreckage that a fallen pastor leaves behind him and made some suggestions about how to begin repairing the damage. Part of this involves speaking God’s Word of life to the particular needs of the bleeding congregation. It’s not a time for beating around the bush, for denial, for forgetting, for “putting it behind us,” or for “moving on.” Instead God’s all sufficient and all-suitable Word should be applied skillfully to the specific wounds inflicted by this sin. A series of sermons should touch on the following subjects:

1. Sin when it is full grown brings forth death (James 1:15)

This is an appropriate time to emphasize the danger of sin and the havoc it wreaks in the lives of those who cave to temptation. This is true not just of immorality but of all sin.

2. All things work together for good (Rom. 8:28)

Without minimizing the evil or harm of sin, it is important to remind God’s people that God can work even the worst sin together for the good of those who love God. It may be impossible to envisage any good being produced, but faith must believe God’s promise.

3. Stop putting all your trust in men (Isaiah 2:22)

One of the reasons why so many well-known pastors fall into sin is because their congregations have idolized the man and given glory to him that belongs to God alone. A pastor’s fall is sometimes one of the ways God uses to turn people away from man-centeredness to God-centeredness.

4. This is normal abnormality (Matthew 27:3-5)

The Bible has a number of examples of men who served the Lord for a time and ended up in terrible sin. Judas is the classic example, but there’s also Gehazi, Ananias, Demas, Diotrephes, and Alexander the Coppersmith. If we know our Bibles, fallen pastors should sadden us but not surprise us.

5. God can speak through a donkey (Numbers 22:28-30)

Many of those who were converted or blessed under a fallen pastor’s ministry may question if their experiences were genuine if the minister was not genuine. However, if the man’s sermons were consistent with God’s Word, then it is still God’s Word. If God can speak his Word through a donkey, he can speak through a sinful man.

6. The judge of all the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25)

Was/is he saved? Was/is he a real Christian? Such questions will vex the hearts of the congregation. The Bible does call us to judge a person’s ministry by its fruits (Matt. 7:15-20). However, a person’s spiritual state and eternal destiny are ultimately questions for God alone and must be left in his hands. He will do right.

7. Let not many of you become teachers (James 3:1)

Teachers will receive stricter judgment than the taught. This should therefore caution those seeking leadership positions in the church and call those in leadership to “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16).

8. Let him who think he stand take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12)

This is a time for humble self-examination, of testing ourselves to see if we are really “in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), and therefore we must be diligent to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter. 1:10).

9. What is that to you, follow me (John 21:22)

It’s important to face these issues and address them honestly and sensitively, but ultimately and eventually we have to turn our eyes to our own responsibility. Whether one or many ministers have fallen, we must not be distracted from following Christ ourselves.

10. Care for the widows and orphans (James 1:27)

In some cases a fallen pastor will leave his wife and children for another woman. In other cases he stays, but his relationship with his wife and children is wrecked. In both cases, the wife and children are to some degree “widows and orphans.” They’ve been betrayed and abandoned, at least emotionally. As James says, the way Christians respond to them will determine how true their religion is. It’s incredible that this needs to be said, but sadly it does: NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER BLAME THE WIFE.

11. Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12-14)

It can be incredibly hard for a congregation to forgive a fallen pastor. He’s caused so much harm (see yesterday’s post) and how can they trust if his repentance is genuine? However, if he submits to church discipline, shows fruits of repentance, and is eventually restored to church membership (1 Tim. 3:2 bars him from the ministry), the grace of forgiveness must be extended to him. Our own forgiveness depends on it. If he does not repent, we still have to release the matter to God and give vengeance over to him (Rom. 12:19).

12. Honor your leaders (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)

This is another big ask. When a spiritual leader falls, people are often tempted to write off all pastors. After experiencing betrayal, King David admitted, “I said in my haste, ‘All men are liars.’” That’s an understandable initial reaction. However, as David said, it’s hasty. Once the emotions calm down, it has to be fought against. God has appointed spiritual leadership in his church that we are to respect and follow. This will take time to re-build, but it’s vital for long-term spiritual health.

13. Christ is all (Col. 3:11)

Ultimately only the grace of Christ in the Gospel can provide the deepest healing. Christ should therefore be preached again, and again, and again. Justification by faith alone, through Christ alone must be a constant theme. The cross of Christ is light in the deepest darkness and proves that there is hope even after the darkest day and the deepest evil.

What else would you add to these messages? What theme or verses would you preach?


Repairing the Damage after a Pastor Falls

Whenever a pastor falls into public and scandalous sin, it leaves a trail of desolating damage in many lives.

First and foremost is the pastor’s own wife and children. What devastation, to see one they loved and trusted over many years, one who ministered God’s Word to them, not just in public but in private, end up doing exactly the opposite of all that he stood for.

Then, there’s the damage done to the Christians in the pastor’s congregation, especially those who were converted and blessed under his ministry. They have so many debilitating questions: Was my conversion through his ministry real or just imagined? Were the blessings under his preaching genuine or was I deceived? Many will be angry—rightfully so—at the pastor’s sinful selfishness.

What wreckage this leaves in the lives of children in the congregation. The man they looked up to and regarded as a holy man is proven to be a fraud. How many doubts this sows, not just about the man but about his message. What painful conversations are provoked between Christian parents and their children. The wounds are multiplied if the pastor has also been a regular speaker at local school assemblies, with hundreds of unchurched children knowing him as the only pastor in their lives.

There are mass casualties among non-Christians in the church and the community. It hardens some in unbelief as they use the hypocrisy of the pastor to justify their continued resistance. It deters seekers as they think, “Well if he can’t make it work, what hope do I have?” It weakens doubters who already have serious questions about Christianity. It strengthens skeptics who openly mock the church, pastors, and Christians for their double standards.

The ministry in general is contaminated as people wonder “Are they all like that.” Pastors in the community feel ashamed, wondering if people are wondering about them. The marriages of Christian pastors are undermined as their wives worry if their own husband is also at it. Suspicion grows and trust weakens. The congregation’s replacement pastor is going to have to wait a long time to regain the confidence of the congregation.

Depending on how well-known the pastor was, the damage may not just be local but national. When mega-church pastors fall, the mega-scandal weakens the church and its witness all over the nation.

Repairing the Damage

So, what can be done to repair the damage? Here are some essential steps to take.

1. Tell the whole truth. The remaining church leaders must level with the congregation and with the public. The least hint of a cover-up or of spin will be found out and will only end up making the situation even worse. No matter how damaging the truth about a pastor’s fall, it is even more damaging to tell lies about it, or admit to the truth only as it is discovered from other sources. Instead of letting the facts dribble out bit by bit, better to get it all out at once and then move on. Otherwise, as fallen politicians can tell us, death by a thousand leaks only prolongs and worsens the agony.

2. Minister to the damage. Difficult though it is to bring up all the painful trauma of these events, it’s far better to deal with it than ignore it, minimize it, and “move on.” Sermons should be preached with a clear focus on addressing the damage, “Question and Answer” sessions should be organized, resources should be supplied, homes should be visited and conversations initiated about the specific problems that have resulted from the situation. Yes, it’s going to be a stressful time for the remaining church leadership, but better to be honest and open about the wounds in order to heal them. Otherwise, they will continue to fester and become a source of infection in the church for years to come. Tomorrow I’ll make some suggestions about what people need to hear in these situations.

3. Prioritize the wife and children. Each of the groups above need pastoring but none more so than the wife and the children of the fallen man. Bizarrely, the wife is sometimes a target of blame when a pastor falls.  This can even come from the fallen pastor, as was the case a few years ago when a megachurch pastor who had committed adultery went to a national newspaper and said, “Well she did it first.” But even where there is no blaming of the wife, she needs massive support and comfort from the Christian community. Let her be in no doubt about their love and commitment to her. Special care should also be taken to shepherd the children through this dark valley.

4. Pastor the ex-Pastor. This is not the priority—the casualties he’s caused are—but the ex-pastor also needs care. Sadly, many pastors who commit adultery and are removed from the ministry tend to become resentful towards the church, harden their hearts, and refuse all attempts to shepherd them to repentance. However, if the pastor is humble, truly repents, and wants spiritual (and marital) restoration, then much time will have to be spent in guiding him through this process, and encouraging him to find alternative work to provide for his family.

5. Prayer and patience. Recovery is going to take a long time for all concerned. The damage can be generational, taking 15-20 years before its effects eventually fade. It’s not just the faith of Christians that’s shaken; their mental health will be also. I remember talking to a Christian psychiatrist in Scotland a couple of years after a horrendous church division. He said he continued to be inundated with Christians from both sides of the divide. Huge supplies of prayer (public and private) and patience are going to be required before all the devastation of this tsunami is cleaned up.


Email Question: Resources on the Song of Songs?

From a recent email: “I’d like to do a bit of studying on the Song of Songs with the hope of preaching our Divine Bridegroom to the church I’m part off. Are there books/material that you could point me to that are specifically Christological in their approach/exegesis/exposition?”


First of all, I’d recommend the following books:

Song of Songs by Richard Brooks.

Song of Songs: A Biblical-Theological, Allegorical, Christological Interpretation by Jim Hamilton. Here’s my commendation of this book:

This beautifully written book of sound Christ-centered biblical exposition and skillful personal application, will not only strengthen and heal many marriages, but will also draw many Christians into a deeper appreciation and enjoyment of their marriage to Christ. Unlike most books on the Song of Songs, this one will make you sing!

The Song of Solomon: An Invitation to Intimacy by Douglas Sean O’Donnell. More of a sermonic commentary. Not quite so Christological as the previous two books.

Royal Company: A Devotional on the Song of Solomon by Malcolm Maclean.

There are also a couple of older books that I consult (Burrows and Durham), but I dial them back a bit because at points they over-spiritualize, they go a too far in their allegorizing.

Here’s my lecture on Song of Solomon from my Old Testament Introduction course. Plus, I’d recommend the final chapter on my book Jesus on Every Page.

Lastly, here are some articles I’ve bookmarked over the years:


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As society and technology careen toward an uncertain future, what does the future hold for Christian ministry? Her’s one Seminary president’s take on it.

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Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation by Ed Stetzer $2.99

The Shape of Preaching: Theory and Practice in Sermon Design $0.99.

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Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer
Click through to rent or buy this beautifully produced new documentary on Luther.


Digital Detox: Parents Need Parenting, An Addiction Worse than Drugs, Tech Guru Turns to Paper

“Parent’s Mobile Use Harms Family Life” say High School Students
Well, here’s a turning of the tables. A recent survey found:

  • More than a third of 2,000 11 to 18-year-olds said they had asked their parents to stop checking their devices.
  • 14% said their parents were online at meal times, although 95% of 3,000 parents, polled separately, denied it
  • 82% of students felt meal times should be device-free
  • 22% said the use of mobiles stopped their families enjoying each other’s company
  • 36% had asked their parents to put down their phones
  • Of pupils who had asked their parents to put down their phones, 46% said their parents took no notice while 44% felt upset and ignored.
  • Only a minority of parents (10%) believed their mobile use was a concern for their children – although almost half (43%) felt they spent too much of their own time online
  • 37% said they were online between three and five hours a day at weekends
  • 5% said it could be up to 15 hours a day over a weekend
  • Almost three-quarters of pupils (72%) said they were online between three and 10 hours a day – but for 11% this could rise to 15 hours at weekends and holidays and 3% said it could reach 20 hours.
  • Vhildren’s greatest worry about their own online use was lack of sleep, with 47% highlighting it as a major concern.

Mike Buchanan, headmaster of Ashford School in Kent and chairman of the HMC, which represents leading private schools, said it was time for parents, teachers and pupils “to rewrite the rulebook” on mobile devices, which “have become an integral part of life at school, work and play”.

“Our poll shows that children are aware of many of the risks associated with overuse of technology but they need the adults in their lives to set clear boundaries and role model sensible behaviour.

Infographic: How is your phone changing you?
In addition to viewing the infographic, you can also download a PDF version (one pagemultiple pages) for easy sharing and printing. Also see Tony Reinke’s new book: 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.

The Addiction that’s Worse than Alcohol or Drug Abuse
If you think it’s just fuddy-duddy Christians concerned about digital addiction, here’s another BBC article:

In the last few years, the number of patients seeking help from Nathan Driskell, a therapist in Houston, Texas in the US, for so-called social media addiction rose 20% and now make up almost half of his patients, he says. Interestingly, clients asking for help with computer-game addiction have somewhat declined, he says.

In some ways, the psychological impact caused by Facebook, Snapchat and other digital platforms can be more difficult to treat than other recognised addictions, Driskell says. “It’s worse than alcohol or drug abuse because it’s much more engaging and there’s no stigma behind it,” he says. Driskell charges $150 per hour and works with patients on a weekly basis for at least six months.

Why I decided to publish a Paper Planner
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The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel
Who knew?! The study concludes:

The full story when it comes to online social media use is surely complex. Exposure to the carefully curated images from others’ lives leads to negative self-comparison, and the sheer quantity of social media interaction may detract from more meaningful real-life experiences.  What seems quite clear, however, is that online social interactions are no substitute for the real thing.

The Tech Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place by Andy Crouch. You can see a video for the book below and here’s an interview with Crouch. One of the key passages in the interview is where he discusses the most important question that opens the book:

Am I arranging my life in such a way that develops wisdom? In terms of the core spiritual disciplines, I think of solitude, silence, and fasting as well as communion, conversation, and feasting. None of those six things has anything, really, to do with technology, except that technology messes them all up and really interferes with them.

More Digital Detox Resources here.


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What Can the Church Learn about Sexual Harassment, Accusations, & Transparency from the Bill O’Reilly Debacle?
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1. The way we respond to an accusation teaches people how we value others.

2. large organizations will naturally exhibit tendencies of self-preservation, and we need to fight against that when that preservation victimizes others.

3. Powerful men without accountability tend to move towards bad behavior, and we need to hold ourselves and others accountable.

African American Preaching at RPTS | Gentle Reformation
Barry York asks why so many African Americans preachers are such effective communicators. It’s a question I’ve often asked myself, most recently at The Gospel Coalition conference where, for me,  Thabiti Anybwile’s sermon was the stand-out address of the conference. Barry highlights four factors that are spot-on and which all of us should think seriously about if we want to be effective communicators.

1. They rely little on notes, having worked the message deep into their hearts and having practiced until truly ready to deliver.

2. They preach with vivid language and pictures to capture the imagination and heart as well as the mind.

3. Instead of the linear style of preaching common to Reformed churches, African American preaching is usually rich in themes that are woven into their discourse and which are meditated upon for an extended time.

4. They make good use of rhetorical devices.

In short, they recognize preaching is an oral medium and so craft sermons with that in mind. They not only make sure their doctrine is sound, but pay attention to the sound of their doctrine.

The Quiet Plague of Painkillers
This is so tragically heart-breaking.

Since 1999, the number of deaths from opioids in the United States has quadrupled. Opioid overdose has claimed the lives of over half a million people since 2000. Although heroin accounts for many such deaths, more familiar medications pave a path to heroin. Coincident with rising death rates, sales of prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Some patients with dependence upon these drugs progress to heroin, which they can acquire at a cheaper price. Others succumb to the prescription drugs themselves. Prescription drug overdose claimed 15,000 lives in 2015 alone.

One Very Good Reason to Study Church History
Here’s a perfect example of the kind of “Illustrated Theology” that I was recently appealing for:

Home Is the Front Lines of Christian Living
“My first field of service is my home. My wife and children are my nearest neighbors, and Jesus commands me to love my neighbor. Home is the first place I’m called to display the love of Christ. How I act there matters to God.”

The Parable of the Foolish Weightlifter
Although it comes a bit late for about-to-graduate Seminarians, here’s a parable about learning languages that beginning students will want to pin to their desks.

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Church History in Plain Language $2.99.

New Testament Introduction by Louis Berkhof $0.99.

A Christian’s Guide to Growing in Holiness by John Fesko $2.99.

New Book

The New City Catechism Devotional: God’s Truth for Our Hearts and Minds

Video

This is about that
Here’s a beautiful video about marriage that one church shows as part of it’s wedding services in order to remind everyone what marriage is ultimately about.