When people would ask us what we liked about Tennessee, we would tell them about the weather, our newly built house, our friends in the cul de sac, and our church.
My wife and I have been members at four churches during our marriage. This church was a great balance of older members we could learn from, dynamic teaching, elders we trusted, and children’s ministry that helped our kids.
Then It Fell Apart
It was the second night of the men’s retreat. After a day of eating, playing, and learning together we gathered to sing and learn together.
Two of our church’s elders made their way into the room. They were not attending the retreat with us.
I knew in that moment that our pastor would never teach at our church again.
For the next 10 minutes, they read from a prepared statement about the facts of our pastor’s deceit. He had been lying to us from the first day he was the pastor.
Here’s the confusing part. He spoke truth but it was stolen.
For five years he stole sermons from other men who had studied, constructed, and refined their messages. He didn’t steal bits from them, he ripped off every single word. When he stole he did it in every way.
He stole the title of the sermon series.
He stole the artwork for the sermon series.
He stole interpretations and observations.
He stole jokes.
He stole stories about their childhood.
He stole stories about their children.
He stole every single word of their sermons.
He stole from his employer because he wasn’t writing his own material.
He did this for five years. From what our elders could confirm he stole over 95% of the words he ever spoke to us.
What Good Could Come From That?
Before you spiral into negativity here’s what happened because of his stolen sermons.
Marriages were healed.
Children and adults were baptized.
Relationships were healed.
People came to a full knowledge of God’s love for them.
Families were healed.
God’s message of love, and hope, was heard by thousands.
He lied to every person he ever preached to. Every time he spoke from a stolen sermon (which was a vast majority of them) he was lying.
He’s gone now. They moved soon after. Our church was generous with them mostly because we wanted his wife and kids to be spared from his irresponsibility. They’ve cut themselves off from everyone in the church.
There are things we will never know
Why didn’t he ever try to preach his own sermons?
Where there any true stories?
What did his wife know and was she trapped by the truth?
Do we know anything true about him?
Stages We’ve Experienced
There are known stages of grief but I don’t know if there are stages of “pastor stole almost every word he ever preached”.
I’m writing this for my own healing and I hope the healing of others who have experienced the deceit of others.
Here are the stages I’ve experienced, in order.
What just happened? What was true? Why did he do that? What was true in what he said? Was the Gospel message twisted in this lie? How can something that is a blatant lie do good things? What will happen to us? Are we suckers? Why didn’t we find this out sooner? How did he pull this off for so long? What else did he lie about? Who is he? Did his family know? Where they trapped by his lies just like he was? Is he sick or cruel?
This hurts. I have to explain this to my kids. What was his wife supposed to do, rat out her husband? How will he ever provide for his kids? Will people turn away from God because of this man’s sin? What will happen to the staff? How deep are their feelings of betrayal? Why did this healthy thing in our life turn out to be a lie?
Maybe he’ll confess and we can support his renewal. I hope someone can reach his wife and kids and let them know we love their whole family. I want him to confess. We would accept his apology. Was he hurt in some way that he lacked the confidence in his own words? How will he ever come back from this?
He’s not going to repent, not now anyway. He’s not sorry, not right now anyway. He was lying and he was good at it. Nothing he said was true, other than the Truth in Scripture he shared. That was Truth and he can’t take that away.
This is going to hurt our church in a deep way. Some people have left. More are going to leave. We need to address this head on.
As the leader of our home, I need to talk to our kids about this without slandering him. Even if his wife knew, she was trapped by it. I don’t know anything about him, nothing I can verify. We need to address the pain, sadness, anger, and confusion we are all feeling.
He confused my children. He stole from us. He is a hypocrite. He abused his role as a leader of God’s children. I don’t wish him any ill-will because I don’t want his wife or children to suffer any more than they already have, but I’m still angry. I’m tired of pastors lying about affairs, power, money, and sermons.
Our church needs to talk about this publicly. We’re not. What are we hiding from? How are we supposed to heal corporately without talking about this corporately? What are we afraid of? Hurting people? We’re already hurt. Disillusionment? We’re already disillusioned. Looking like we got suckered? We already know we got suckered. Why aren’t we talking about this? We have never talked about this corporately (that means on a Sunday morning) as a church family other than the day the elders told us about his deceit.
It felt like, and still feels like we were surprised by a father leaving our family, and then we never talked about it again. Note: I’m still angry about this. I understand we can’t control him but we can control our reaction. Not talking about it hasn’t made it better. It has made it worse.
Every human is imperfect. I am a sinner like him. He abused his power but I can’t control him or anyone else.
No one should ever put their faith in a pastor. Faith is reserved for Jesus. He won’t fail us. Humans fail us. I fail people. It’s time to heal and move on.
Pastors are a bad idea. It’s too much to expect from one person. They’re set up to fail and some fail because they’re just bad people to the core. That much power is an equation for failure and abuse. The worship of pastors will continue to lead to more moments like this. I’ve lost trust in men.
Maybe I should have never trusted him as much as I did but now I don’t want to trust any spiritual leader. Why trust when you believe you’re likely to be deceived? Why set yourself up for disappointment?
I still feel this way.
God did not fail our church, me, my wife, or my children. A smooth talking, skinny Midwestern guy did. My faith is not in man. Humans will always fail us. I hope not to the degree that he did, but all humans fail us. My faith is in an unchanging God Who loved me enough to send His Son to Earth to die for humanity’s sins, including the sins of my former pastor.
I still have faith, but I have a lot less faith in the church, and in the current structure that is the church.
My hope is in Him, not him.
Why I Wrote This Post
It’s selfish, really. I wrote it because I needed a place to talk about this. My wife read it and said I should post it, which surprised me. She’s the private one, but after what we’ve been through she felt like it needed to be discussed. I hope this helps other people. If you were already not a fan of the church, or Christians, or faith, then this will add fuel to your fire. If you’ve been hurt by leaders I hope this gives you some comfort, knowing you’re not alone. You’re not alone. I wrote this because I wanted to know I wasn’t alone either.