The SBC, Fallen Leaders, And Repentance

How should churches minister to the large numbers of pastors leaving the ministry due to moral failure?

At some point, we will have to publicly admit that we are hemorrhaging pastors to burnout, moral failure, and pornography. We will have to admit that there is a problem with deacons, nursery workers, and church workers over the years who have abused children. We will have to admit that there is an unchecked problem with morality within the walls of our churches where people should feel safe…We have to overhaul our leadership, our churches, and our hearts. We have to reprogram the way we do things and the way we think about other people and ourselves.

 

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog during the Southern Baptist Convention about the need for Southern Baptists to get serious about the crisis of its fallen leaders. Not surprisingly, nothing has been done about the large numbers of pastors leaving the ministry due to moral failure. I made several suggestions in that post to prevent moral failure.

Sadly, it seems the chickens have come home to roost for the largest Protestant denomination in America. It’s no surprise. We have been mishandling moral failure in pastoral leadership in the pulpit for decades and have been doing little to prevent it from happening.

This ministry has been dedicated to helping fallen ministers and those affected by their fall for close to a decade. I have helped around 600 people personally in that time period. The stories of the pastors and those around them are all the same. Their sin came as a surprise to those in the church, but for the most part, could have been prevented. And after a fall, the church was ill equipped to handle the fallout.

In a recent article, Albert Mohler called the recent events and controversy in the SBC the wrath of God poured out. Others have used similar language. I couldn’t disagree more. For decades, we have simply grossly mishandled moral failure and turned a blind eye to sin within the church on the local, association, and denominational level. When a pastor falls, churches typically haven’t been trained to respond with grace, but by shooting the wounded. This isn’t the wrath of God, it’s the consequence of a graceless and unprepared response.

So how did we get here? Let me offer three reasons that I’ve noticed in my years as a fallen pastor who has a front row seat to the moral failure in the church. This ministry exists because I have a heart for it, but also because frankly, the church and most denominations do little to reach out to the fallen in their midst.

Our initial response to sin in leadership is to remove the fallen leader as far away from our sight as possible.

This response is not just awful, it’s unbiblical. Go read Galatians 6:1. When anyone sins, the church’s response is to restore the one who repents. I’m not talking about putting a fallen pastor back into the pulpit. Anyone who has read either of my books or this blog knows I don’t argue for that. I’m talking about restoring a sinner back to a right relationship with Christ, his family, and the church. When a member of the church sins, the pastor and leaders most often chase after them and do what they can to restore them. However, when a church leader falls, the most immediate instinct is to fire them, kick them to the curb, and remove them from the fellowship as fast as possible. Sadly, this reaction is so ingrained into our Southern Baptist DNA that it is hard to think of any other response when we are hurt by a leader’s actions. That is why we need to retrain our response.

We have marginalized the women in our churches and the stories of their suffering.

Half of the contacts I get in this ministry are from women who have been in a relationship with a church leader or pastor. The vast majority of them have been in a consensual relationship with a leader. However, most of the time, the woman is the one who first feels guilt over the sin in the relationship and wants to come clean long before the minister. More often than not, when she approaches the pastor or the church leadership with the sin, she is ignored, ostracized, or not believed. The pastor will often lie to cover his tracks and will do what he can to protect his job and ministry. Instead of listening to the stories of the women who have truth that needs to be heard, we have instead protected liars in positions of power. Worse, there are women I have spoken with who have been flirted with, chased by, and spoken to inappropriately by a pastor without consent or their desire (hence, the need for a blog post about “is my pastor flirting with me?”). Many times, church leadership turns a blind eye to the actions of the pastor and is complicit in his sin. On top of these, add the hundreds of women whose voices who have been silenced and who have been physically and sexually abused. All of them in the name of religion, by leaders, those claiming to be good Southern Baptists, or within the walls of our churches.

We have not publicly recognized the moral crisis within our midst and have done nothing to address it.

I only know of one denomination that has a counseling center for fallen pastors or pastors who are in crisis mode. It’s not the Southern Baptists. There are churches in our denomination who have set up ministries dedicated to helping out the burned out or fallen, but waiting lists are long and the demand greatly outweighs the supply. That’s one of the reasons this ministry began. There was nothing out there for fallen pastors when I started blogging. There are still scant resources. Thankfully, there is a grassroots movement to address the moral crisis and failure in our country. It might be better that the SBC doesn’t institutionalize pastor restoration so that it becomes a process overwhelmed with bureaucracy.

At some point, we will have to publicly admit that we are hemorrhaging pastors to burnout, moral failure, and pornography. We will have to admit that there is a problem with deacons, nursery workers, and church workers over the years who have abused children. We will have to admit that there is an unchecked problem with morality within the walls of our churches where people should feel safe. A resolution isn’t enough. Apologizing for it at the annual convention isn’t enough. We have to overhaul our leadership, our churches, and our hearts. We have to reprogram the way we do things and the way we think about other people and ourselves. We cannot continue this pattern because it is not working and it has produced failure.

I made several suggestions in my post two years ago that I think are helpful, but I think at this point they would just be part of a larger overhaul. We have so many problems to fix, but I’m confident that they are fixable. Until then, this ministry is dedicated to people from all denominations, all walks of life, from all over the world, just like it has been since day one. If you need help, please reach out, read through this blog, or check out either of my books. Know that you’re not alone.

Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor Crisis Manual: Help for All Those Affected by a Minister’s Fall” and “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis. This article is used with permission.