By: A regular, faithful pastor
It is one thing to read a thoughtfully prepared ethics case study and then confidently without risk discuss with others how one should lead in response — it is an entirely different thing to realize you are actually in the fray of what others may one day read and discuss about your leading.
Through sobs of deepest sorrow, Monica was barely able to choke out her plea: “Pastor, please come immediately! There’s a family emergency.” As I drove towards their home, I tried my best to get ready for whatever it was I was about to walk into. But, the truth is, there was nothing that could have prepared me for what fell on my ears: “Well,” Scott said, pausing long enough to find strength to continue, “I did it. I set the house on fire.”
Yet, it wasn’t Scott’s admission of arson that crushed me. No, what landed the most devastating blow was his confession of an extra-marital affair which fueled a premeditated plan to kill his wife. Adding to this blow was the twofold realization that during the previous six months, this outstanding deacon in my church 1) had been so successful in spinning such an undetected web of deception, and 2) had been so caught up in this web that he could not, (indeed, he would not) come clean by confessing to his wife or his church. Thus, with mounting fear feeding off fallen wisdom, his humanity and spirituality devolved into thinking that the only way out was to kill his wife in a way that looked like an accident so that he might find the relief from the many legit and illegitimate pressures of life. God, however, ruined his plans by using his neighbors to rescue the wife he had abandoned to die in the home he had so foolishly set ablaze.
Over the next eighteen months, and through many court appearances during the attempted murder trial, I did my part to help redeem my repenting deacon and friend — including (along with his wife) even testifying on his behalf. Eventually, he was found guilty of all charges and is currently serving a thirty-one year sentence in a state prison. Monica has remained faithful to Scott and to this day is still committed to her marriage. Sadly, their two young children will be raised in a home devoid of a loving father’s presence and care.
No amount of formal theological training prepares a pastor to walk through a season like this. My aim here is to offer a few lessons I learned (or was reminded of) that may encourage, strengthen, or possibly equip any other pastor in the trials he is facing in ministry.
Truths Hammered Home:
1) I live in a fallen world where I can do everything right and things still go wrong. I am convinced that our church did everything we could have done to vet this man and prepare him for spiritual leadership. We loved him publicly and privately. We trained him a full year before electing him to serve as a deacon. We read books together, took retreats together, and prayed together. He and his family were in our home, and we were in his. I preached Christ-centered expository sermons. We did everything “right” and yet Scott still chose to spurn the many graces of God and follow his fallen passions. Therefore, I want to encourage any brother-pastor who may feel as though he messed up, or that he could have done more, or that it is somehow his fault a certain sin occurred in the local church — please, do not beat yourself up. We live in a fallen world, and the church is made up of fallen people who still make mistakes, even tragic ones.
2) I serve a sovereign God. Of all the men God could have appointed to pastor this church during this awful event — he chose me. This means I am the one shepherding through this for a reason. As inadequate as I may feel, still, God is using my gifts, strengths, and even weaknesses to accomplish His plan. God has set the table and all my theological convictions and networks of relationships come to that table with me. I must trust Him. He knows what He is doing — even in using an imperfect instrument like me.
3) I am a sheep. Even before I am a shepherd of God’s sheep, I am a sheep of the Good Shepherd. All the demands upon me brought on by this horrible event caused me to forget this truth. I was reminded of it through a simple question posed to me by a fellow elder’s wife: “Are you reading your Bible?” I replied, “Of course! I’m a pastor. All I do is read the Bible.” But the ugly truth was I was reading the Bible for other people and not for my own soul. And because of this, I was personally shriveling up. I was so busy trying to care for this family as well as for the many other families in the church that were hurting, that I failed to take time for my own soul. What brought this further to light was when I recognized that I was even starting to see one of my own children as yet one other in a long line of needy persons that was just going to take from my spiritual and emotional tank that was already on empty. This really caught my attention, and over the next six months, the Lord tore me down to show me that I am still a sheep and He is sufficient. Take care of your own soul.
4) I need other shepherds. In the same way that God has designed no Lone Ranger Christians who need no church affiliation, He has also designed no Lone Ranger pastors who need no other pastors. By God’s grace, He had already put the needed support in place prior to this ordeal so that I could lean heavily on them during it. I cannot imagine leading properly through this without the strong prayer support of several brothers that I could confide in. Also, while I had to be very strong before the church family, through these men God provided an avenue for me to vent my confusion, hurts and sense of betrayal. So, my encouragement would be for the brother-pastors to work hard now to establish your band of brothers before the big battle comes.