The Hidden Life of a Pastor Bursts Into Sight

Summer. Baseball. Two Friends. A great time. Until . . .

One summer day a district superintendent and a pastor met at a commuter train station to attend a major-league baseball game. They were not only colleagues in ministry, they were also good friends. Their families would get together socially from time-to-time. The district superintendent thought he knew his colleague and friend very well.

Each had taken a train into the city from opposite directions. They attended the game, walked back to the train station, boarded their respective trains to travel home, and parted ways. A great night. A great game. Nothing special.

The next morning the district superintendent was eating breakfast with his family. As was their practice they were listening to the morning news. One of the lead-ins teased: “Church pastor arrested for soliciting an undercover policeman for performance of a same sex act.”

That peaked everyone’s attention—especially the children who started asking questions like, “What is a sex act?” while the commercials were playing.

When the story was presented, it was about the pastor the district superintendent had attended the baseball game with the night before, and what happened after they parted ways.

Rather than going home the accused pastor had ridden the train a stop or two, gotten off, and solicited sex from another man on the street. It was not immediately known whether money was involved or it was intended to be consensual. It was apparently a place he had been before which was also known by law enforcement as a location where such connections were made.

The next several weeks brought radical change in this pastor’s personal, family, and ministry life. His wife had been unaware of his activity. A marriage crisis became a public issue. His church—while compassionate—could not tolerate his sinful lifestyle and terminated him. The severance, however, was generous and compassionate considering the wife and their four children.

The pastor’s stress ultimately overcame him. He experienced an emotional breakdown and was hospitalized. Over the next weeks and months individual and group psychological therapy services were provided to the family.

While the denomination also saw it as sin and an unacceptable lifestyle, they were generous in helping the pastor and his family through this traumatic time of transition. Soliciting sex for money was a crime. Yet, the denomination provided the family with some assistance and support for the year it took to settle the criminal case.

The pastor later acknowledged he was silently crying out for help. Discovery of his lifestyle was something he wanted. In the depths of his soul he did not want this lifestyle. Yet, it was one he either chose or became unable to resist.

He had allowed a set of circumstances brought on by distress to move him into a dysfunctional lifestyle. His stresses included seeking to overachieve to produce numerical growth in his congregation. It also weighed heavily on his mind that he could lose half or more of his lay leadership and budget support by deployment or transfer of the military personnel who made up a large percentage of his congregation.

There were also economic pressures. To become pastor of his current church he moved to a part of the country where the cost of living was significantly higher than his former place of ministry. He felt continual stress from his wife and children over moving more than a thousand miles away from family and friends, and having too little income to regularly travel back for visits.

It was also revealed that there was sexual abuse in his extended family during his childhood and adolescence. His wife knew about this, and they had periodically been in counseling together to help him work through the impact this had on his life.

In fact, their move of 1000 miles had partially been to get away from certain extended family members. The pastor and wife had not wanted their children to visit in the homes of these extended family members.

The district superintendent was aware of the past sexual abuse part of the pastor’s story, but not the lifestyle that led to his arrest.

The hospitalization and therapy following his emotional breakdown and hospitalization went well. A journey towards spiritual and emotional health was a restorative experience for the pastor, his wife, and their children. Yet, they could not minister in this location again. The pastor had lost credibility, and was serving a congregation and denomination unable to accept his restoration.

He had to find another place of service. Even with the graciousness of his denomination, they indicated it would be difficult to place him in a new ministry position. The pastor understood this, but partially out of his own pain and restoration, he still wanted to engage in ministry to help others with their pain and need for restoration.

The result was he accepted a call to be pastor of a congregation in Canada, 500 miles further north away from family and friends. The good news is he had a fruitful ministry and a healthy family life in his new location. There was life after becoming an ex-pastor, although there were obvious sacrifices.

One never knows, however, if it was stress, genetics, or bad wellness habits, but this pastor died of a heart attack in his 50s. No one can quite be sure if the burdens he carried contributed to his death. The hidden things of life can negatively impact even the best of us.

What can we learn from this situation? This story happened several decades ago. What would be different about this story today? If you were the district superintendent, how would you handle this type of situation? Would you even know?

If you were the wife, how would you handle this? If you were the pastor, how would you deal with the guilt and shame?

How would your church respond? Your denomination? Where does forgiveness come in? From what little we know, was the restoration successful long-term?

POSTED ON March 27, 2017

George serves as President and Strategic Leadership Coach for The Columbia Partnership Inc. [TCP], based in Columbia, SC which seeks to transform the capacity of the North American Church to pursue and sustain vital Christ-centered ministry. TCP is a 501[c]3 Christian ministry that has worked with more than 50 denominations throughout North America. George’s ministry has three foci: transforming congregations, transforming denominations, and coaching leaders. He has worked in these areas for almost 40 years. He has been in almost 1000 churches and worked with several thousand pastors over the past four decades. George is an author and an ordained minister who has been a pastor, planted three churches, and worked in various denominational staff roles focused on transforming congregations and coaching leaders. Over the years has served as an adjunct professor at four seminaries, and lectured at others. He leads a learning community of almost 300 people called FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. This learning community seeks to provide skills, pathways, and case studies of congregations seeking to reach their full Kingdom potential in the context where God has placed them.