Broken Lives, Shattered Dreams
A Message from an Anonymous Former Pastor
I share my story with you for three reasons: I believe God wants it to be told; I believe it will bring glory to Him; and I hope that, as you read this prayerfully, you will examine your own life.
If just one person keeps from making the same mistakes I did, putting this story into print will have been worth it. It is a sad fact that though I knew better, I just didn't do better. I will not dwell on the actual sin or any details that surround it. I have to fight daily to forget the details.
I was raised in the church from the time I was a toddler. During the four years that I attended a great Christian college, I was very active in the local church, serving as a Sunday school teacher, choir member, and bus captain. Following graduation and marriage, I took a position in a church pastored by a true man of God. A number of years later, the Lord led us to begin a new work. The Lord blessed, and within a dozen years the average attendance was over four hundred. We hired associate pastors and built and remodeled buildings. I worked as a volunteer police chaplain, completed seventy semester hours of work on a master of divinity degree, and preached in other churches. In many ways I had achieved significant successes in the ministry. Yet years earlier, I had begun to make mistakes that will now haunt me for the rest of my life.
• I was too interested in what other preachers thought of me and my ministry. Only God can really determine if you are a "success." Someone has defined success as "the continued achievement of being the person God designed you to be." While the praise of men may build our egos, it must not become the driving force in our lives.
• I did not bridle my thought life. At first it was just one of the battles of a young man. Yet, I did not stop and immediately confess and repent every impure thought. The more you feed an impure thought life, the stronger and more domineering it becomes. I often preached to others that the sin that becomes mentally acceptable becomes physically possible. And so it was.
• I minimized spiritual warfare as a fad that true Bible-believing Christians should shun. I now know how much Satan wants to bring reproach on the name of Christ and just how far he is willing to go to destroy lives, families, and ministries. My Bible reading was done in part so that I would be able to brag about how long it had been since I had missed a day reading it. My prayer life was inconsistent and shallow. Though I knew Satan was alive and working demonically, I did not take the necessary steps to protect my family, my ministry, and myself.
• I became too willing to pacify some folk in order to preserve peace and to protect my image within the church as a great pastor.
• I was image-conscious. I did some things that were not wrong in and of themselves, but my motive was to further my workaholic image and not the cause of Christ.
• I built a church at the expense of my family. I put in too many hours and spent too much time away from home. My wife carried too much of the burden. By the time I realized what I had done, my wife did not even want to go out to eat with me. She had filled her life with other good things (such as raising our children), and I had been relegated to a lesser place. I didn't blame her. After all, I was married to the ministry and more concerned at times with helping others than helping my own wife. One day I told her that I felt we had drifted so far apart that if another woman tried to seduce me, I wouldn't be able to resist her. Little did either of us know how sadly prophetic those words would become.
I never thought it would be me. Who among us does? I was so sure that I would not succumb to moral temptation, and I had very little sympathy for fallen preachers. I shunned them as many have shunned me. I made no attempts to restore anyone and did not pray for a fallen brother with any consistence.
One day a lady in our church, whom I had led to the Lord, said something to me in a counseling session that should have set off all kinds of alarms, sirens, and warning signs. Instead, I had developed a "Super Pastor" mentality that led me to believe I could handle anything and everything. After all, I had resisted at least three other such temptations in my life and had come through each one pure. "This one wouldn't be any different," I said to myself. My weakened marriage and spiritual state wouldn't be enough to bring me down. I could handle it. But within several months, I committed a sin against my God, my wife, my family, my church, and the cause of Christ. Super Pastor had failed.
The sins of the past that were not dealt with had become satanic strongholds that now would have to be discovered and destroyed. In a twenty-minute period, the ministry God had given me was foolishly thrown away. The adulterous relationship, which lasted several months, ended as quietly as it had been conducted. Only we two knew. However, God was not about to let me go unpunished.
It is difficult to put into words how hard it is to live life as a deceiver. At times, I was convinced I was losing my mind. Anxiety problems, the conviction of the Holy Ghost, sleepless nights, the fear of being found out, and the mental battle that is the daily scourge of a hypocrite had all taken their toll on me. At night I was driven to uncontrollable weeping, just thinking about what I had done to my wife and our children.
Through a simple, unexpected circumstance, God got my attention. I couldn't go on living this way. The game was up. I called my pastor to confess my sin. My world had come crashing down on me, and others soon would feel the same way.
My pastor and my brother accompanied me to the meeting of the church staff along with the current and former deacons. There I submitted my resignation. Ten days later I faced the church I loved in a building I helped to design. I came to confess and say good-bye.
After a brief service led by my pastor, I did what I had come to do, and then I stood for more than an hour as folk came by to say what was on their heart.
My wife could not bear to be there, so I stood alone. Little did I know how symbolic that would be of the recovery process for me. I have gone through most of it without help or encouragement.
I watched my children cry as I told them what I had done and that we would have to leave the only home they had known. I tried to talk with the older children, but they had no desire to converse with me. I had no idea how much my sin would impact them and how it would drastically erode our relationship. For a long time our youngest daughter would leave a room when I walked in. All I can do is hope that consistency on my part and the work of God in her heart will someday change that relationship. You have no idea how much I hate this.
Everything changes when you are defrocked by immorality. Friends who used to call nearly every week no longer call. People to whom you write no longer write back. The ones in whom you invested your life and ministry to help them spiritually no longer see you as a brother or as one who now needs to recover and grow spiritually as they did. In the minds of some, you instantly go from being needed, important and credible to being cast off on a scrap heap where God places His broken vessels. Your entire ministry, life, and testimony suddenly become suspect. The truth is bad enough, but by the time it is embellished by church members or other preachers, it is even worse.
I left town and found work near the church to which I submitted myself for discipline, accountability, and restoration. Three months later our house was sold, and my family was able to join me.
My wife and I lost everything we had dreamed of. The ministry we thought we would spend the rest of our lives fulfilling is gone with no hope of return. We had intended to teach our children by our example to respect the life of full-time Christian service. That opportunity has vanished, never to be reclaimed. My wife also lost the stability of having a faithful, trustworthy mate. Even now, everything I do or say is suspect. My place as the head of my home was forfeited. Some of that ground may be reclaimed over time, while some of it may never be reclaimed. Truthfully, it is not up to me. I am totally at the mercy of whatever grace my wife may have for me. Even now she does not encourage or participate in my service for the Lord. Though things have improved, they are far from where God wants them to be.
I do not want to end this article on a negative note. I want you to know that we are progressing, but it is a hard war to wage. Though this is a painful experience for me, I believe that if you could image yourself in my present situation, you would realize how important it is for you to win the battle against temptation when it stares you in the face.
It was hard to go back into secular employment. I battled depression and seemingly insurmountable financial pressures. Thoughts of running away or ending it all have frequently crossed my mind. Yet God has given me grace to stick it out. A large measure of that grace was my wife's choosing to stick it out with me. In spite of all that has happened, I believe that I am a blessed man. A wonderful church with a consecrated pastor and staff, as well as family, some true friends, and many good men in the ministry have helped us hold this family together.
You've read my story. Now consider soberly the things that led to my downfall and the ruin of my ministry. Examine your life. Determine in your heart that this will not become your story. Pray that it won't.