You remember the moment all too well. Maybe it was a phone call, or a meeting face-to-face, but it left you shocked…shaken…and unnerved. You heard what you hoped you would never have to hear. Your senior pastor had an affair.
The decisions and choices the leadership team of a church makes in the first 60 to 90 days after the pastor’s affair determine how well the church recovers. But those who make up the leadership team, typically, have not been prepared or trained for this possibility. They honestly don’t know what to do next.
From the earliest days, it is important for the leadership team to cultivate a “shift” in mindset. They will need to “think” differently about how they lead, for a leadership vacuum has occurred. The person everyone saw as the “face” of the church is gone. It’s no longer business as usual.
What is that “shift” in mindset? There are actually four to cultivate….
1.This is not a problem to fix, but a season to shepherd.
Actually, this first mindset is important no matter the reason for pastoral transition! But especially when there has been an affair, what has happened in the church is not a problem that just needs the right correcting solution (click here). The church has been wounded, and wounds can’t be fixed. Rather they need time and loving attention in order to heal. And as we all know, shepherding wounded sheep is messy. You’ve got to be willing to get your hands dirty. Remember, this is your divine calling (Acts 20:28).
2. You, and the church, are now in a unique season.
Though two people made choices, God did allow this to happen. The biblical authors struggled with what is called hard providence (Ps.80:5; 60:3). The affair has caused the church to tilt on its axis (like the earth) and a new season has come. This season will feel quite different than what used to be. Some describe it as a going into the “wilderness” or “neutral zone”. This is a time to learn how the Lord wants to use this new season intentionally for your church’s good (Eccl.3:1-8), and for His glory (John 11:4,40).
3. Accept that you are a wounded healer.
Henri Nouwen wrote about “wounded healers”. He believed those who minister to others are called to recognize the sufferings in their own hearts and make that the starting point of their service. Dan Allender calls “Leading with a Limp” our most powerful weakness. The fact is, as church leaders grieve over the affair of their pastor, they are at the same time called to come alongside others who are also grieving. Jesus totally understands this. He did it in Matthew 14:13 when he tried to get away to grieve the loss of John the Baptist and yet the crowds came to him for healing.
4. There is hidden damage.
There will be hidden damage in the church because of the affair, and the depth and extent of it will become apparent over time. Much like a car involved in even a minor wreck, there can be damage that’s not easy to see. In the first days and weeks, the tendency is to think that the “affair” is the only issue bothering the church. And make no mistake, it is a big deal. But the strong emotions most are feeling can mask that there are other issues which need to be identified and addressed. Most church leaders are too close to see them. Many churches decide to bring someone in with fresh eyes (click here) to help.
Leadership teams in the mess of a pastoral affair need to talk openly about these 4 mindsets and how they can link arms to cultivate them together. The first 60 to 90 days are critical, and you’ll never get them back.
It will be of tremendous help to know how an affair by the senior pastor damages a church in at least 28 ways. Sign-up for my newsletter on the sidebar and get your free copy of my latest eBook “The Damage Done by a Pastoral Affair”.