Life is short, have an affair.
That’s Ashley Madison’s advice.
Ashley Madison’s marketing byline is both disgusting and devastatingly simple: connect people who want to commit adultery.
Recently their site was hacked and their client’s details were made public. Millions of people were exposed much to their shame and chagrin.
Here’s the kicker.
How Would You Feel If Your Pastor Was On The Ashley Madison List Of Pastors?
I would be disgusted.
The sense of betrayal would be overwhelming and heart breaking. My disappointment would be real and extreme.
I’ll never forget the moment when I was a young pastor and heard that one of my heroes in the faith had fallen morally. One of my immediate thoughts was “if he fell then how on earth can I expect to survive the rigours of ministry?”
The ripple effect from a fallen leader travels far and wide.
What Should Churches Do When Pastors Are Caught In Destructive Sin?
Scandals damage people.
Therefore, scandals demand decisive, caring and prudent shepherding if a church is to successfully navigate the various reefs that lie beneath the scandalous behaviour of fallen pastors.
Here’s some key things I have learnt over the years.
It’s vital to have some guiding values as you cope with a scandal.
When handling a scandal of this nature your primary values should be transparency, dignity, shepherding, integrity, mercy and courage.
A good mix of these at times competing values will help you juggle the demands. Please note that perfection is a not on this list! You won’t always get it right and that’s ok.
Gather The Facts
An accusation of sexual sin against a pastor or Christian leader must be verified by proven facts. Hearsay and circumstantial evidence are not enough.
Paul was clear on this point when he stated that an accusation against an elder was not to be received without the verification of two or three witnesses, 1 Timothy 5:19.
If your pastor appears on the Ashley Madison list of pastors then it’s vital to verify that he signed up on that website and has not been subject to identify theft.
Likewise, if your pastor is accused of scandalous behaviour then solid evidence must be presented otherwise the accusation must be dismissed as slanderous gossip.
Take It Seriously
I think there’s sin and then there’s sin.
Sexual sin is different to other forms of sin and no this is not about the church being prudish or unable to handle talking about sex.
It relates to the fact that sex is a unique gift of God that reflects the blaze of intimacy seen in the Godhead and is inseparably connected to our identity.
I’m sure you realise that your parents did not look at your big toe when deciding your name. Your name is linked to your gender which is linked to your sexuality and thus your identity.
When you sin sexually. you sin against the entire body of who you are as a person, 1 Corinthians 5:18.
This is why sexual sin impacts us in ways that pride, theft and gluttony do not impact us.
Adultery requires layers of deception and hypocrisy that gluttony and pride do not require and it leaves an indelible imprint upon us and others.
The lengthy shadows of adultery demand that it be treated soberly.
Remember Nobody’s Perfect
The pastor and Christian leaders in your church are not perfect.
While their responsibilities require us to hold them to a higher standard we should not expect perfection.
Therefore, as your church moves through the scandal of adultery, grace and mercy must be mixed with truth and integrity, Psalm 85:10.
Ask For Resignation
I believe that pastors caught in adultery and in an Ashley Madison type scenario must resign.
I think that this is a burnt bridge that is beyond repair. The sacred trust between a pastor and their flock is broken and the pastor must step down.
If a pastor is willing to undergo a lengthy restoration process then there remains a possibility of returning to ministry.
Consider Every Stakeholder
If your pastor was on the Ashley Madison list then you have to consider all the stakeholders trying to cope with this issue.
First, there’s the pastors family. They will feel deep levels of shame, guilt and remorse even though they are not the guilty one. This will be compounded by confusion and uncertainty about their immediate future.
Next the board, staff and key leaders will be the people closest to the pastor and thus be in turmoil. They’ll be reeling with disappointment while somehow trying to shepherd the flock through the turbulent waters of scandal.
Church members will feel short changed. Their disappointment will be palpable. Sadly, some will even walk away from Christ.
Then there’s the community outside the church that must be considered.
Each of these stakeholders will require personalised leadership and care. It helps to offer counselling to those staff, key leaders and members who need to access it.
Hold Special Meetings
Be transparent with your congregation by holding special meetings where appropriate details are shared, prayer can be led and people shepherded with instruction from the Scriptures.
One Last Thing: Don’t Appoint A New Pastor Quickly
Ask a trusted pastor or two who is well known to the congregation to fill the preaching needs for a few weeks and don’t rush to appoint a new pastor.
While this scandal disappoints us it’s important to remember that there are thousands upon thousands of leaders who are not on the Ashley Madison list of pastors.
Their integrity is to be admired. And undoubtedly this scandal serves as a reminder to consistently pray for your pastor as they lead you and your church.