Sadly, it appears church after church is having to respond to immoral actions of pastors falling from grace. It deeply grieves me and causes me to really hurt for those churches. Young Christians and seekers become disillusioned and it can become a major crisis of faith for many within the church. Doubt and gossip can spread like wildfire, especially with social media and blogs. It is a time to balance between healing the church from the pain of betrayal and moving forward as a congregation from the actions of one. It is a delicate balance and one many churches need to act in a sensitive way to in order to preserve the church for future generations. It is a critical time and churches cannot act flippantly or impulsively. Listed below are my top ten tips of advice to a church walking through a scandal.
1. Give the congregation time to grieve a big loss.
Focus on congregational health and healing. Acknowledge the reality of the pain and betrayal of the situation. Don’t act like it did not happen. The congregation trusted the pastor and saw him as their leader and spokesman from God. Pray, seek a repentant spirit from the Lord, and call a congregational-wide prayer and fasting, asking for God’s hand to continue to be upon the church. Even if the minister alone was the one who committed immoral sins, the congregation may need to repent for putting their faith in the minister and his charisma rather than God and His Spirit.
2. Have a very public audit of all financial records and hold a very public church meeting explaining the outcome, warts and all.
The purpose is to eliminate any doubts or questions of integrity on the church’s behalf. Take the oxygen out of gossip and rumors.
3. Focus on rebuilding trust with church members.
Even if the immoral actions were the former pastor’s alone, church members feel betrayed by the church as a whole. Focus on rebuilding their faith in the church and, in some cases, in their faith. It is a sensitive time—not a time to quickly move on to the next “exciting” event.
4. If a church is transparent with integrity, it is very difficult to have false accusations stick.
No need to fear outside blogs if the church is open, run with integrity, and transparent. Church members will be your best defenders. People will be desperate to know what the sins were of the pastor. If they were criminal, then immediately turn it over to the police and leave it in their hands. If the actions were betrayal of the pastor’s spouse, explain to the congregation no funds were stolen, no members were involved and this is now an issue between the pastor and his wife. Commit to regularly pray for the pastor and his family, encourage them to reconcile, explore pastoral recovery ministries like City of Refuge Ministry at Woodstock First Baptist Church, and protect them from gossip.
5. If the church lacks Biblical lines of accountability, immediately reorganize and develop an accountability system of elders and deacons.
Make sure the Biblical accountability is publically explained again and again, explaining to the congregation the clear lines of organizational structure. If the immoral actions of the pastor happened while he had no accountability, there is now a huge burden on the remaining church leadership to make this right.
6. Bring in an outside senior pastor without a history with the church or their ministers.
A great model in my opinion is how the Church of Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama recovered from the very public infidelity scandals of their founding pastor. Dr. David Platt is now pastor and the church is flourishing based on his solid preaching of God’s Word and the manner of integrity with which the church is run. The church could have imploded but did not, due to Dr. Platt’s leadership.
7. Having ministers with maturity gained from setting themselves apart and gaining seminary training clearly should be an expectation for all future ministers.
Biblical maturity is needed now more than ever in the church leadership. It is not time for immature Christians to lead the church through this conflict. It is a sensitive time, especially for those weak and new in their faith. It could possibly make or break their walk with Christ.
8. Over-communicate activities and empower your small group leaders because you are making their area known.
Reassure and encourage the congregation that the church is moving forward and that everyone is needed to make this happen. Over-communication takes the oxygen away from gossip and doubt.
9. I firmly believe scandal-plagued churches could have a great future if they make some major changes.
Always keep in mind that the church is the bride of Christ and that He is the head of the church. He desires for the church to thrive and grow—but only if they are following Him and His Word.
10. Current staff should over-communicate and go above and beyond in expressing their approachability, humility, and availability as leaders.
Again, the current staff are having to rebuild trust that the former pastor destroyed. It is not fair but that is life. Realize that too many see ministers as one big group—if one acts immorally, it stains the whole group. Rebuild the trust which has been lost and reassure people in their faith.