What happens to a church when its membersí
hopes and dreams have been shattered by the inappropriate behavior of its
spiritual leader? What happens to a church when the pastor has caused shame
and embarrassment because of rumors of sexual misconduct, financial
mismanagement, or has been caught "with his pants down?" Here is the
thunderbolt question: What happens to a spiritual leaderís spouse when that
spouse finds out through rumors or actual evidence, that her/his partner has
been sexually involved with someone else or has stolen money from the
church? These are painful questions. Even while writing them, it has caused
considerable emotional uneasiness; but I have to ask them because I am aware
that too many
are being wounded by the ones for whom they have the greatest trust and
respect--their pastors. During the past ten years, I have had to deal with
numerous cases of sexual and financial infidelity of spiritual leaders and
even CEOs. It is painful. It is real.
One story that really saddened me was what
a young woman told me ten years ago. Her ex-boyfriend asked her to be
his third wife. He was a pastor of an outstanding church, already
married with children, and believed that nothing was wrong with having
more than one wife at a time. Of course he was planning to keep it a
secret from his other wives and church members. Every week he preached
with sincerity from the pulpit, impressing Biblical truths on the hearts
of his congregants, while his own life was being dictated to by Biblical
misinterpretations. What a mess! This young lady was emotionally
distraught for months.
THEY ARE NOT RUMORS
Perhaps the saddest story of all was the one I
heard from a forty-year-old man who shared with tears his painful past. His
father was an outstanding minister of the gospel. He was deeply respected,
loved, and honored by all who knew him. Even now, although deceased, people
still remember him for his admirable ways and deep spiritual leadership. But
that was only in the eyes of the public. In the privacy of his home, the
most painful, despicable, and shameful things happened. This "wonderful"
spiritual leader, physically, emotionally, and sexually abused all of his
five children (girls and boys) and his wife. He raped his daughters and sons
many times over a period of ten years. He threatened them not to tell
anyone. He had an overpowering presence which he used effectively to get his
way. Even his wife of thirty years had to call him "pastor" in the home.
When this "wonderful" pastor died, this familyís secret was buried with him
leaving giant emotional scars and destroyed lives behind.
What happens when the congregation finds
out? Hearing about your pastorís sexual misconduct produces responses
similar to that of the death of a loved one. Some members go into a
state of shock. They become numbed by the reality of the facts placed
before them. Others deny, even with the undeniable evidence before them,
that their pastor could have done such a thing. These are the misguided
loyal members whose own spiritual temperatures are kept warm by the
sensational and charismatic leadership of their pastors. There are still
others who become disenchanted with the church and leave, never to
The painful reality is that when a pastor
messes up, the church is greatly affected. Often factions develop,
polarizing members on different sides of the story. Sometimes there are
long, bitter arguments, and even physical confrontations. Then finally, the
membership dwindles leaving only the "faithful few." Individuals may
experience sleepless nights, depression, anxiety, loss of appetite, anger,
and deep sadness. Yes, when a pastor violates his/her membersí trust,
personal lives are changed.
When a pastor is guilty of sexual
misconduct, it is imperative that redemptive and healing avenues be put
in place. If the pastor admits to his guilt, then it is a little easier
to face the challenges ahead. To whom should the pastor admit his guilt?
To the congregation whose trust he has violated. He need not explain all
the private details, but it is important to state all that is necessary
to answer the questions and to lift further suspicion. Doing this will
also benefit the guilty pastor. For years he fooled everyone. It was a
secret. Now it is open to all, thus creating an important level of
accountability which is the first step toward healing.
WHAT TO DO?
It is also important that church leadership
(not the pastor) meet with the congregation to allow them to ask questions,
express their anger, pain, and frustration and most of all to pray together.
This is a time to pray. Often having a psychologist or a trained mediator in
the meeting is beneficial. The prayers must be genuine ones that ask God for
wisdom and guidance in the matter.
Go To Part 2
Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and
family therapist and nationally certified psychologist, USA. Contact him at
242-327-1980, or P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas. Or you may email at
firstname.lastname@example.org Or visit the website