June of last year, 10 minutes before worship, one of Adam’s lead pastors came and said, “I need some time after worship.” After some hemming and hawing, she revealed that two of Resurrection’s pastors may be involved in an extramarital affair with one another.
Sick to his stomach, Adam began to envision plans crumbling. One of the pastors involved helped him lead worship that very night.
Moral failures are rampant. Talk show hosts, governors, golfers…this happens to everyone, including pastors. In fact, 30% of pastors admit to sexual impropriety during the same timeframe as ministry.
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions, but there are some standards. We don’t fire folks for lust. We provide accountability partners, we provide counselors. But when the line is crossed, and the trust is betrayed, consequences must be incurred. Much of that, in our denomination, is handled by the Conference with the Bishop’s involvement.
But that leaves lead pastors like Adam to figure out their response. He immediately thought about the congregation.
How do we talk about this with the congregation?
Say nothing? Bad idea.
Be evasive? “Personal reasons for departure” may or may not work out.
Scarlet letter approach? Distancing the church from the pastors and branding their sin may seem prudent if salvaging the image is important, but it can’t be the default response. In fact, it is the least authentic response on the table.
Why can’t we be Christian about it? Why can’t we deal with consequences but remind folks that we are the Church, which stands for the very notion of redemption. The Church exists for broken folks, broken families, and the broken congregation.
Integrity, when you are a pastoral leader, is not negotiable. We’re not talking about sweeping things under the rug and just continuing the relationships with the parties as if nothing happened. But just as integrity is non-negotiable, so too is grace. Grace doesn’t mean nullifying consequences. Instead, it means that the process of redemption begins at the point consequences are incurred.
“We decided to hold the two competing ideas of consequence and grace in tension.”
So, to the congregation, Adam said, “Don’t throw stones. Let the process accomplish its ends, and, in that process, you all get to be the church.”
The sermon that Sunday was a simple one. In it, Adam covered Temptation, Sin and Consequences, Redemption, and Grace. Deep topics, but the reality was that they are all interrelated.
A DEFINING MOMENT FOR THE CHURCH
Break point. Decision time. Stones in hand, or a hand on the shoulder?
I was happy to hear Adam relate that the church came through. Unfortunately, the church lost some members who couldn’t believe that they were subjected to the “details,” that it was talked about in front of everyone. How embarrassed they were…. But there were those who came to Church of the Resurrection because this unfortunate situation became a beacon of redemption and grace. “We want to be a part of a church that behaves this way.”
POLICIES MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
Adam recommended that all churches develop policies that keep staff members from being alone together as much as possible. For example, at COR, male and female staffers cannot attend a conference unless there are three or more attending.
Staff Covenants are vital, whatever their content. COR had to wrestle with what was “too much,” and they found that some over the top restrictions were not necessarily a bad thing.
The basic drives of the human flesh sometimes need some trite comments to address their base nature.
Remember that there are three fundamental drives. We’re driven to reproduce. We’re driven to find companionship. We’re driven to sin by the brokenness of the flesh.
Emptiness, stress, and vulnerability lead to the brokenness of impropriety in relationships. We reach out to find companions in that emptiness.
And our long-term relationships, which can become pedestrian (“Honey, will you take out the trash?”) next to the excitement of creativity in the workplace and the collegiality of ministry.
We must find ways to put on the brakes in the earliest steps that lead to infidelity. Don’t tell a coworker how you feel, even if you feel it. Words have power, and it is too easy for the “maybe” to become a “yes.”
Don’t let the Devil ride, cause he’s gonna wanna drive…
Adam has a “Sex Talk” with staff once a year, and at new staff orientation. The talk was originally developed for a youth session, so some of the concepts may seem a little trite. But we’re talking about very basic things, here.
The FIVE R’S OF RESISTING TEMPTATION
- Remember who you are. You are somones husband or wife. You are someone’s dad or mom. You are a child of God, person of worth.
- Recognize the consequences of your actions. Will I be more free or enslaved by this. Who will be hurt by my actions. Fantasize about the worst possible outcome instead of the “best.”
- Rededicate yourself to God. Stop, drop, and pray.
- Reveal your struggle to a trusted friend. Confess your sins to one another and pray that you might be healed.
- Remove yourself from the situation. Pluck out your eye. No, not really. But the point remains. Get out of there. Stop attending the situation.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-7
1-3 One final word, friends. We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life.
Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity.
4-5Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God.
6-7Don’t run roughshod over the concerns of your brothers and sisters. Their concerns are God’s concerns, and he will take care of them. We’ve warned you about this before. God hasn’t invited us into a disorderly, unkempt life but into something holy and beautiful—as beautiful on the inside as the outside.
Create accountable structures, and be very clear about boundaries. Most importantly, revisit this topic early and often.
Author: Joey Reed
Joey is married to his best friend. Together, they have two children and live in Jackson, Tennessee. Joey serves Grace United Methodist Church, the Jackson District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.