He had been my closest friend for 7 years, but that was the first time I ever saw him cry, even though he should have had EVERY REASON in life to be happy!
His middle school ministry was thriving.
His wife was 9 months pregnant, his son was due any day.
He has a 6-year-old daughter that brings him endless joy!
But when my best friend and fellow youth pastor walked in at 10pm, wearing dark shades to try to hide his red, puffy eyes, I knew this was going to be a heavy conversation….and I knew it was going to end with one less youth pastor on our team.
As he sat on the couch across from me, there was no time for this conversation to start with pleasantries and chit chat. He dove right into the purpose of this meeting.
He confessed to cheating on his wife.
What a bomb to drop, on our ministry! On our church! On his family!
Over the next few months, my team and I were left to clean up some serious damage that had been done to our ministry, so many people (parents, leaders, and students) had an abundance of shock, sadness and anger.
It’s now been a few months since this all went down, and I’ve learned a lot through the process. And if I had to do it over again (please God NO!), I would make sure to stress these three key issues as I lead and shepherd my leaders and students.
- ADDRESS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
So often, when a pastor or key leader must exit because of sexual immorality, churches try to sweep it under the rug. They will make a quick announcement stating “pastor had a moral failure” at the end of service, read a short letter, and then dismiss their congregation, hoping never to speak about this issue again.
(Side note: Please, please, PLEASE don’t use the term “Moral Failure”. That term feels like it was carefully crafted at some high-rise P.R. Firm’s conference table where spin-doctors were searching for a “kinder, gentler way to say ‘adultery’ that tests better with tithers.” Also, notice that ‘Moral Failure’ is only a code word in the church for ‘adultery’. We never announce “Jim had a moral failure..he was sooooo greedy when he took the last of the donut holes on Sunday morning!”)
I’m convinced that one of the worst things our ministry could have done would have been to try and ignore this incident! People were hurt. They were sad. They were angry. And they needed to be certain that we were a safe place for them to process those emotions. They needed to know their feelings were normal reactions; and it’s totally normal for them to feel betrayed and disappointed.
One of the best things our ministry did in response to this was to do a “One Off” talk the week after we read “his letter” called “The Elephant in The Room” where I discussed how to respond when people let you down, and how to make sure you don’t make the same mistake. It was the hardest message I’ve ever had to write or deliver, but the response was amazing, and students and leaders we’re thrilled that we addressed the elephant in the room, and they said it felt like addressing this issue gave them permission to process it as well.
2) IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING
After 9/11, Homeland Security came up with a slogan to help stop potential terrorist acts:
“IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING” This slogan is still plastered all over New York City as a reminder to not be afraid to speak up if you see something suspicious, because your speaking up could be the difference in avoiding a catastrophe.
“If You See Something Say Something” is a FANTASTIC policy for your youth ministry team when it comes to interpersonal relationships! You need to clearly communicate to your team that everyone has full authority to say something if they see something suspicious brewing.
- If anyone sees two people that just seem to be getting too close in an unhealthy way…say something.
- If anyone notices two leaders of the opposite gender talking alone, sitting away from the crowd…say something.
- If you see an awkwardly romantic hug between two people (something I actually saw early on in this case described above, before I suspected anything). say something.
IMPORTANT NOTE: We aren’t giving permission to gossip! We don’t want people whispering to their buddies about it, or subtweeting about it. Instead, we want our team to try living out James 5:19-20
James 5:19-20 NLT
My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.
After the bomb dropped in my ministry, many people on our team told me they had regrets, because they saw hints of a romantic relationship blooming between these two people, but they chose not to say anything because they didn’t want to offend anyone. Or be wrong. Or look stupid. Or, they thought, “there is no way that HE/SHE is capable of this!” What they failed to realize is that WE ARE ALL capable of this. Which brings me to….
3) LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES
This one is more of a personal care issue, but we need to remember that we, EACH ONE OF US is capable of completely blowing it! We’re all just a few bad decisions away from destroying our family and our ministry. If we choose to entertain sin, and not ruthlessly cut it out of our life, we give sin the opportunity to fester, mutate, and grow into your master, causing us to do things we never thought possible! (Read Romans 6).
Sin causes sane people to do insane things!
You may say “not me!” or “not my pastor!” And that’s fine. I totally get that point of view. BUT…I would have said the same thing about my friend before he dropped the bomb! If you lined up every pastor I knew, and asked me which one was likely to have an affair, my friend would have been the LAST person I would have picked to have done this!! This isn’t something that a Christ-follower does! Heck…this isn’t something that a sane person does! But, sin got ahold of him, and sin makes sane people go insane.
Sin causes sane people to do insane things!
If even if you’re a sane person (Which might not be true…you’re in youth ministry), know that sin will quickly cause “sane you” to do something you NEVER thought you would do!
After the shock and sadness had worn off, one of the ugly truths I had to confront was this: I HAVE THE POTENTIAL OF DOING THE SAME THING! If I had allowed my heart to entertain sin, neglected my soul care, ignored proper boundaries, this could have easily happened me.
It could be me.
It could be you.
We’re all capable of this!
In part two of this blog post, I’ll share what steps need to be taken to learn from an experience like this, and to protect ourselves so your personal failure never becomes the “elephant in the room”.
Post by Kyle Preston, the Youth Pastor at Centerpoint Church Murrieta