Last week I began a blog series about how to maintain a friendship with a pastor friend who falls because of moral failure. In Part 1 I shared the basic story of the call I received from my friend Gary Lamb confessing his moral failure…and the rules for which this series of blog posts are beng posted. Today I will begin to topical listing of the things I have learned from this experience…and from my continued friendship with Gary.
1. Stay True To Your Calling – As a pastor I feel a spiritual and vocational call to reach people far from God with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then lead them in a growing relationship with the Father. No one is farther from God than a pastor removed from ministry due to moral failure. They have turned their back on their spouse, their children, their church, their flock, their calling…and mostly their relationship with God. It would be pretty hypocritical of me to spend time trying to reach people far from God in Lakeland…and then turn my back on a pastor friend far from God in Canton, GA.
2. Stay True To Your Friendship – It’s easy being friends when things are going well…or when you can ride a friend’s coat tails to better, more successful things. It is a true friend that sticks with you in the lean and bad times. We discover who our true friends are when we experience tremendous loss or make traumatic mistakes. When Gary called to tell me about his affair I had two choices…walk away…or stay true to my friendship with him. Some days it would have been better for me if I had chosen to walk away…but there is no integrity in that. It was out of that calling to friendship that I never spoke publicly about the situation.
3. Find A Place To Vent – I would never suggest I experienced pain anywhere near what Gary, his family or his church felt due to his sin. However, I would say that I went through the four stages of grief…shock, denial, anger and acceptance. There were days when I wanted to hug Gary…and days when I wanted to slap the crap out him him! The problem is…I knew that in order to be a friend to Gary I couldn’t bash him over the head every time we spoke (though there were a few pretty “intense” phone calls). I was grateful for my own set of good friends to vent to about the situation. For me Gary’s fall was like a death in the family…a struggle with trust…and semi-loss of innocence concerning church planting. Some very close senior pastor friends helped me through the process. They listened to my ramblings…cried with me…and was there when I just needed to vent. The main thing they did was never go public with anything we discussed or used it against Gary…the act of a true friend.
4. Don’t Defend – The dumbest thing I could have done would have been to defend Gary’s actions. Sure there were problems in his marriage…problems caused by both parties…but that was no excuse for Gary’s affair. To Twitter about forgiveness, start blogging about restoration or preaching sermon-after-sermon about the grace God show’s to leaders in the church…would have made me look like an idiot. Don’t get me wrong…forgiveness is automatic…restoration is possible…and God’s grace covers all…but you can’t defend sin. Gary let down his family…let down his church…let down the Kingdom…but most of all…let down God. The last thing he needed…or the world needed to hear from Chris Elrod was…”poor victimized Gary…don’t beat him up Church.” A good butt-whoopin’ was exactly what he needed. 🙂
5. Stay Out Of The Restoration Process – I have no Scriptural backing for this…but I do not feel like friends need to be in on the restoration process. A restoration board needs to be people that love God and the Church…more than the fallen pastor. Restoration isn’t about holding hands around a camp fire singing hymns…it should tough, brutal, honest and without much mercy. Gary had that in his accountability board…though he chose to not follow their direction. I knew most of the guys on his board…and I knew the best thing I could do for Gary…and the Church…was to leave those guys alone and let them do their jobs. I whole-heartedly support the restoration process they gave him…and for they way they handled it when Gary chose not to go through that process. I’ll talk more about restoration in a later post.
Part 3 will be up tomorrow.