We Hope You Never Need Us
A few weeks ago our family finally had a quiet evening at home. We were getting ready to eat when my cell phone rang. It was a familiar name on my caller ID. A pastor of a great and growing church was calling me.
I answered the phone and after saying hello there was a brief moment of silence on the other end.
“Hello,” I said, again.
Sobs. “Justin, I need to talk.” More sobs.
“Okay, what’s going on man, what can I do for you?”
“I’ve really messed up man. I’ve had an affair and I just told my wife.”
My heart broke. My eyes filled with tears as he began to recount for me the events that lead up to his confession.
Over the next few days we had more conversations and exchanged text messages.
He and his wife are going to do everything they can to reconcile. He and his church are done. He was asked to resign.
I wish this was the only conversation I’ve had with a pastor or youth pastor or campus pastor or small groups pastor confessing an affair. I wish this was a seldom occurrence. It’s not.
According to a survey in 2007 about 40% of pastors admitted to a physical or emotional affair.
At least 2-3 times per month Trish or I will get a text message, email or phone call asking our advice from a pastor or pastor’s wife on how to navigate an affair.
What we’ve learned over the past few years as we’ve worked with a few hundred pastors and their spouses navigating infidelity, is that the church they served was cheated on too.
While there is a process for restoration with a husband and wife that has experienced infidelity, there aren’t many churches that are equipped or prepared to navigate this situation in a healthy way.
Because churches aren’t prepared or equipped they often react just like a wounded spouse in one of two ways:
1. Immediate termination or resignation.
Just like my friend’s church, many churches cut all ties. The ask for an immediate resignation. They prepare a statement that attempts to prevent collateral damage amongst church members and try to make the situation go away as quickly as possible. It is a divorce, a quick and quiet divorce. They may pay severance and counseling, but there is no attempt at restoration. He or she is done.
2. Grace at all costs. Grace and more grace.
This response is right in line with how some spouses respond to being cheated on: “It’s okay. He/she won’t do it again. They’re sorry.” They accept the pastor’s apology. They send he and his wife to counseling for at least six weeks. They give him a much needed vacation because he was overworking and that probably contributed to this issue. He doesn’t speak for a few weeks, but then everything is back to normal…and they don’t speak of it again.
Termination doesn’t equate to church restoration. Overlooking a sin won’t lead to church health and holiness.
There has to be a better way.
There is a better way…a more healthy way to navigate a situation that no church wants to deal with but many are forced to figure out. Trish and I have helped a few churches pick up the pieces after their pastor or youth pastor has sinned sexually.
Here is the biggest issue: The people that are forced into leadership in this situation are the same people that have been lied to, deceived and cheated on themselves. They are hurt and broken. Most of the time we don’t make wise long-term decisions when we are hurt and broken.
Over the past few months, God has laid a burden on our heart to help churches strategically and thoughtfully navigate infidelity amongst its leadership. We will help a church come up with a process of discovery, a plan of communication, a short term leadership strategy and long term process to heal.
We hope your church will never need us.
But as we’ve watched so many churches struggle to recover from this, we had to formally offer this service to any church that needs it.
God is a God of redemption and restoration. He can use even the darkest of times in the life of a church to galvanize and grow them into something they’d never been otherwise.
If we can help you or your church in any way, please contact us.