Speaking at The Nines

A few months ago I was asked to submit a 5-minute video for The Nines - an online conference where dozens of ministry-related leaders share insight on a variety of relevant topics. My assigned subject matter relates to dealing with a "fallen" pastor.  Needless to say, I have some experience on this issue from the wrong side of the equation.  I agreed to submit a video on this very personal topic for a couple of primary reasons.

1. Experience is a teacher. 

I do not want anyone to go through what I have been through in the last few years. The pain created by my sinful choices can't be described. It can only be experienced. And I honestly do not want anyone to endure the unnecessary consequences I have faced. I pray my experience can help someone else avoid the potential outcome such choices create.

2. Knowing how to deal with someone who has fallen is difficult. 

One thing I learned through my experience is that many ministry leaders simply do not know how to deal with situations that go beyond the "normal" paradigm of sin-repentance-restoration.  When someone takes steps outside that process and with which we disagree, we tend to give up on them, walk away, or simply ignore them.

What do you do when the repentance process takes longer?  How do you react when someone continues in their sin for a season? How about when the end result is not a salvaged marriage but an ugly divorce? Or when things are not as cut-and-dry as we like to make them appear?  Most ministry leaders seem to be more patient with struggling church attendees in these unclear areas than they are fellow pastors. In no way do I pretend to have all the answers when these situations get complicated, but I can speak from my experience and what God did and did not use to reach into my hardened heart.

3. Fallen people have a voice. 

Recently a pastor told me that my story reaches an audience in his congregation to which he has difficulty relating. He preaches from the perspective of a man who has been happily married for over 30 years. He admits that he has trouble relating to divorcees, blended families, and people who have fallen into moral sins such as adultery. "But" he indicated, "they will listen to you and you understand from where they are coming and with what issues they are struggling." Point taken.

Hear me loudly: I am NOT promoting the idea that only those who have experienced certain sins can speak effectively in those areas. You do not have to experience the pain of adultery to know how wrong it is. Jesus is the primary example of this truth.  But I do understand what that pastor is saying.

I am an avid fan of a couple of sports teams.  One of my pet peeves is listening to someone diagnose one of "my" teams who is not a true fan of that team and only follows them loosely.  I want to hear from those who are experts on that particular team.  Does that mean a sports analyst should only speak about the teams they follow closely? Of course not. But do I pay closer attention to those analysts who follow my teams at a deeper level? Of course.  Who better to hear from about the battles of addiction than a transformed or struggling addict? Who better to hear about the destructive nature of bitterness than from someone who fights bitterness at a deep level?  You get the picture.  Fallen people, particularly those who have been redeemed and restored by God's grace, have a voice that connects to a certain audience. Don't silence them because of a past failure.

4. Jesus is the hero of my story. 

I am being redeemed and restored by Jesus.  That is the gospel working itself out in my life.

Sadly if you talk to a lot of the people who were hurt by my sinful choices, you will rarely hear the rest of the story.  Seldom will you hear how God has brought healing and restoration. I understand why.  I recently surveyed about 10 websites of churches who endured the fall of a pastor who has since been restored at some level. Most of them were founded by the fallen pastor. Not surprisingly, not a single one of those websites mentioned the name of the pastor who started the church. No sermons. No videos. No stories. Not one word.  I understand why. It is just easier to hide a painful history.

Yet when I read the Bible, I discover a God who does not hide the rest of the story. God refuses to omit history in order to clean up the redemptive story.  As a matter of fact, our sin plays a significant role in the story!  The story of redemption is a response to our depravity.  The gospel is the story of a God who entered our sinful stories in order to redeem people whose lives are defined by their sin.

Recently God has been reminding me that I should not be ashamed of my story. Don't get me wrong - my story is U-G-L-Y - you ain't got no alibi ugly.  I have no desire to stand on the street corner and proclaim how ugly my sin is. But guess what? That's why Jesus is the hero of my story. It is not about me.  The ugliness of my sin was nailed to a cross. My story did not stop when I stepped down from being a pastor. That wasn't the conclusion.  My story continues today because Jesus is in the business of transforming ugliness into beauty.  And that is a story worth celebrating!

I am honored to speak at The Nines. My story pales in comparison to the many faithful men and women who have honored God with their lives and ministry and do not wear the label fallen. I feel out of place. But guess what? That's what grace is all about! The same grace that enables many ministry leaders to remain faithful in their calling is the same grace that is radically transforming this ugly sinner into another story of His redemption.  And I am happy to share that story whenever and to whomever God allows!

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