Grace, Guilt, Ministry, Pain and suffering

When A Pastor Falls

I like to listen to sermons.

When I drive. When I run. When I get ready for work. I often have a podcast playing, just to keep my mind focused.

I have several favorites on my playlist. I regularly listen to Mark Batterson at National Community Church, Andy Stanley at North Point Community Church, Craig Groeschel at Life.Church, and Perry Noble at New Spring Church.

Monday morning, I awakened to the news that Perry Noble has been removed from his position as pastor at New Spring, the church he founded years ago.

Noble is known for his weekly greeting of, “Howdy, y’all!” He tells of his difficult childhood, including losing his mother to cancer as young boy, his dad’s battle with alcohol, a period of homelessness in his teens. He also talks about his own struggles with pornography and debt, battles that by all appearances he has won. And he tells of his ongoing battle with depression and anxiety.

According to a statement by one of the executive pastors, Noble has been battling an alcohol addiction. He has been confronted by the executive team on multiple occasions, and the team made the decision to remove him from his position as pastor.

My heart breaks for Pastor Perry and the church. My heart aches for the executive team of the church who was forced to take such a difficult stand. And my heart absolutely breaks for his wife and his daughter.

I’ve been in that position. I’ve been the pastor’s wife whose husband was confronted for his choices. I’ve been the pastor’s wife who walked through her husband’s fall from grace. I’ve lived and watched the pain, seen the wake of destruction…in our family and in our church. I understand in ways very few can comprehend.

Sadly, it seems to be almost epidemic. If I could pull together every email received from pastors’ spouses, you would be astonished. Astonished at the lies. Astonished at the deception. Astonished at the secret lives. Astonished at the pain.

And when a pastor falls to any sin—alcohol, drugs, infidelity, pornography—there are additional struggles that a lay person might not experience.

Loss of job/finances. Long before my husband’s infidelity was uncovered, I suspected something was wrong. However, I knew if my suspicions were correct, we were out on the street—literally. I had been a stay-at-home mom for a number of years, focusing solely on my family and the ministry. I had no income, and my skills were outdated. We would lose our only source of income, and we were not in a financial position to stay afloat.

Glass house effect. It’s often been said that pastors and their families live in a glass house. Every move is scrutinized. Every decision is judged. And, when a pastor falls, everyone knows. Depending upon the size of the church, the media spotlight shines. The church and family become the subjects of much gossip. It’s as if because of the position, your secret pain is everyone’s business.

Loss of identity. For those of us who knew we were destined for the ministry from an early age, we don’t know how to operate outside our title. We struggle with the disqualification from the ministry. We struggle with a loss of our reputation. We struggle with a sense of identity. God created our hearts for ministry, and we simply don’t know who we are outside that calling.

Loss of future. When we lose our ministry and find ourselves disqualified, we also lose our future. We must completely start over, often returning to school to find a new career. Starting over in mid-life. Wondering how we will ever get our lives back together and have a promising future.

Despite the pain and fear, if we cling to God, He restores. He restores us financially. He restores our identity. He gives us a vision for a new future. He binds up our wounds and heals our broken hearts. He gives us a brand new life. He is faithful…forever and always!

And, along the way, He changes us. Transforms us. Gives us a new understanding of what it is to experience the love of the Savior. We gain a deeper vision of His unconditional love and immense depth of His forgiveness. He gives us a new heart, a new life. He is the Resurrection and the Life!

It is a long, painful journey, but it is one filled with more blessings than you can ever imagine.

Perhaps you are not the minister’s family. Perhaps you are a devastated member of the congregation. Perhaps you are a Christian wondering how to love and support the fallen pastor and/or his family. Perhaps you are looking in, wondering how you can step up and be the hands and feet of Christ.

Ministry of Presence. Be there. Words are not even necessary. Let them know you care, you are available. Stop by with a meal or a snack. Offer a hug, a listening ear, or a shoulder to cry on. Even a simple card that says you care, you are praying.

Pray, pray, and pray some more. Don’t just say you will pray. Do it! Send a prayer text. Call and pray with them over the phone. Send a card with a written prayer. Stop by and take them by the hand and pray. We cannot comprehend the power of prayer.

Extend grace. Don’t participate in gossip. For the spouse who is often blind-sided, she is ashamed and humiliated. She is hiding in embarrassment, wondering who is blaming her. She feels as if her entire life was a lie, a sham, and she is trying to reconcile the man she married with the man beside her. Simply be gracious. And remember that it is only by the grace of God that you are not in the same position.

Offer acceptance. As Christians, it seems we are really, really good at throwing stones, at taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We would much rather line up to condemn than we would line up to love and accept a minister caught in adultery or any other sin. And yet, we must remember that just because a pastor sins differently, just because his sins are paraded in front of the public, does not mean his sins are any worse than ours. As a matter of fact, the sins of pride and arrogance are often well hidden, and yet no less hated by God (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Remind the spouse and family they are not at fault for the decisions of their loved one. Most ministry spouses are fiercely faithful and long to love and support. And they often bear the burden for their spouse’s choices. I somehow felt complicit in my husband’s affair, even though I had repeatedly warned him about some of the choices he was making. I wondered if everyone in the church held me just as accountable as he was. It took me years to overcome the guilt and shame and to recognize that I was in no way responsible for my husband’s choices. Reassure the family you understand a pastor’s sins are not a reflection of who they are.

My heart aches for Perry, his wife and daughter, and New Spring Church. I pray that we, as a body of believers, surround them and love and support them through this time.

Lord Jesus, I lift Pastor P and his family to you today. We all know that we are only a sin away from the same battle he is fighting. I pray for his healing, that he would get the help he needs while in the rehab facility. I pray for his precious family, that you would strengthen and comfort them in this difficult time. I pray that during this storm you would do an amazing work in all of them so you can do an amazing work through them. Use this experience to point the world back to you, to show the world that you truly are our Resurrection and Life.

13 thoughts on “When A Pastor Falls”

  1. Amen, again, hear your educated voice of experience. I’d be interested in your opinion on then restoring one back into leadership. I had family members at Jimmy Swaggart’s church-you may not be old enough to remember that. I have another family member that feels he should be able to walk back into ministry after DUIs, divorce, not giving child support. Just wondering your take on this.

  2. Dena,
    I can hear and feel your heart cry for this family. So close to home from your own experience. It breaks my heart as well, so true none of us are any different as far as sin. So much harder being known on that level, I can’t imagine.
    I wasn’t known on that level, but a part of a mega Church and in Ministry. My ex was abusive and I cried out for help to the Pastor’s wife. Sharing things privately in hope for prayer and wisdom. It all came crashing down on me, I was dealing with it biblically.
    4 years later I’m still picking up the pieces of heartbreak and allowing the Lord to help heal my heart and guide me into the new. I don’t know what that is yet. I’ve just recently started working in a secular job. I need to start school this fall, due to certain circumstances. I don’t know the road to take, been trusting the Lord. Middle age and starting over with a new career, a new me. All I want is to be in His perfect will.
    God bless you,

    1. Sweet friend, praying God gives you divine wisdom and guidance to move forward. He holds you in the palm of His hand and is carefully caring for your every need. Praying you experience Him as never before!

  3. I agree with everything you’ve written. I’m a divorced Christian as well. And it really hurts. My husband did not commit adultery but his destructive behavior/sin & unrepentant heart over his sin, made our marriage irreparable. If I may, I’d like to add that though I am but a lay person, I’ve experienced every struggle you’ve outlined- loss of finances, loss of identity because I never dreamed I’d be divorced, glass house effect by virtue of the fact that we were both known in our large church- especially my ex. So, while I didn’t experience the glaring lights of the media, I felt the glaring “lights” of those in our large, evangelical, fundamentalist church. And loss of future. I’m just now starting to deal with the shame, humiliation, & embarrassment that have left me in hiding for a long time. In no way do I mean to diminish your pain, your story. You are a gifted writer & I’m blessed to have found your site & your godly wisdom that continues to point us to Jesus. I just wanted to share that sometimes, when you are a believer, even though you’re not working in ministry, these struggles persist by virtue of the fact that you’re a divorced believer; whether serving in ministry or not. That feels like an oxymoron. Encouraged by your heart. Blessed by your writing. Finding Him in my story as you remind me to continue to seek the face of the One who can heal us only when we’re broken. Warm regards

    1. Just had this discussion with a group of ladies tonight. Yes, the condemnation cast on us through the church is unbelievable. I am so glad it has made me a more gracious person. I pray I always show grace rather than judgment.

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