Previous month:
May 2019
Next month:
July 2019

Posts from June 2019

So That's Why They Asked That Question - Pastoring a Church Healing From Sexual Abuse




Twenty-five years ago I began serving as the youth pastor at our church. I had gone through the search process with the church. I was finishing up my final semester at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and was very excited about the possibility of being called to serve on a church staff, especially in a state I had never even visited prior. I had phone conversations with search committee members and the pastor. I was flown to the city to see the community, the church, and discuss possibilities of joining the staff. When the time came for the committee to present me to the church body, my wife joined me. We met with church members, students, and spent time in homes with key members and those involved in the youth ministry. 

I met with the church membership in an afternoon session where questions would be asked. I had tried to prepare myself for this portion of the interview, but with an open mic, there are often questions that seem to come from left field. I shared my personal testimony. I shared my philosophy of ministry. I then began to answer questions. 

One of the other staff members had previously warned me that I may get some questions related to sexual issues. 

Um...okay. I had not had a class at seminary where this type of questioning was covered. The staff member informed me that one or two church members had asked him some interesting questions like this when he was hired and that I should be prepared. 

"Okay," I thought. This must be normal.

The question was asked about our marriage. It was a question regarding intimacy in our marriage. I answered quickly, likely as my face reddened, and said something about "I love my wife and we have a new, we know what intimacy is." 

Next question.

Fast forward a bit. The church voted. I was called to be the next youth pastor. I would go home to Texas, finish seminary, and following graduation move to Florida. 

I was loving the challenge of leading a youth ministry with more members than most churches I had ever attended. I was learning and seeking to lead well. I was setting up meetings with parents and reaching out to them. I told them "I am not a parent of a teenager. You are. You love your children more than I can and I want to help you as best I can. I will be your advocate and resource." 

It seemed biblical and right. This was part of the philosophy of youth ministry that I held. 

After a few months, one of the youth parents told me that he did not trust anyone with the title "pastor" or who held a seminary degree. I was surprised and felt this was going to be an awkward conversation. Then he said that after getting to know me and as he served as a leader in our ministry, he believed I was God's man for this role and that he was glad I was here. Whew!

It was a few months later and another, similar conversations occurred. I could not figure out what had led these people to distrust pastors and especially youth pastors. My predecessor was a good man. He was a godly leader, a faithful husband, father, and a seminary graduate. He was and continues to be a friend. Following a season serving at another church, he has come back to ours and remains a faithful member. I soon realized that he was not the one they distrusted. He was not the problem at all. This distrust went back years prior.

At one point after a short time into my service here, we were entering into a new building program payoff and fund-raising effort for newer facilities. We were tasked with visiting all the church members on the roll. (I don't recommend these visits, by the way.) I met some members of the church who hadn't attended in years, but being a Baptist church, their names were still listed on the roll. I don't remember the person's name, but I do remember the visit. He was cordial, but clear. He had an experience at our church - well, his child did - and he was not ready to come back (much less commit to a building program.) 

What Was Going On?

I eventually discovered the story. 

Back in the 1980s, while I was still in high school in Texas, the church here in Florida was growing and thriving. The youth group was huge and reaching many students at the local school. The leader was a charismatic (personality, not theologically) person who was able to reach and connect with students. There were ski trips and events and other things that drew in the students. They did not, however, do many events, camps or activities with other Baptist churches.

The church had a house in the parking lot that became the youth building. This was the norm for many churches doing youth ministry in the 1980s. 

Photo on

Then, the story broke. This sad, dark chapter in our church's history was made known. The secrets were discovered. Families were torn apart. Students were revealed to be victims. The one with the pastoral title was the victimizer. 

I won't go into details, but suffice to say that in an era prior to online searches, internet news stories, and instant information access, our church was facing a reality that had to be dealt with immediately and clearly. 

I was not here. No one on pastoral staff when I was called here in 1993 was here either. Most current church members were not here at that time. Those who were do not talk openly about it. 

Why Bring This Up?

As a pastor of a Southern Baptist Convention affiliated church, we are talking openly and clearly about the reality of sexual abuse in our churches. Our votes at our annual meeting last week in Birmingham will go down as an important first-step to bring transparency, clarity, justice for victimizers, and healing for victims of sexual abuse in the church.

In our little story of shame, it was revealed that at least two other Baptist churches discovered similar acts being done by this same staff person upon students in their fellowship when he served there. However, rather than calling the police, these churches did what so many others have done over the years. They released him from his duties and let him go to find work elsewhere. In other words, they passed the buck and washed their hands of the story, letting others deal with it. In their passive dealings with the issue, for whatever reasons given (protecting the name of the church, protecting the victims, the family of the victimizer, fear of lawsuits, etc.) they became complicit in the sins perpetrated upon other young people.

That's why I bring this up.

Last Sunday I preached on the role of the father. I mentioned that some fathers try really hard, but are not leading well in the home and therefore leave their children spiritually void or worse.

I then took a sidebar, so to speak, and briefly addressed those who have been abused by their fathers and others (even pastors.) I mentioned forgiveness to be biblical and needed. I also referenced Romans 8:1 which states that there is "no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus." I affirm that verse, as I do with all Scripture, but made clear that the verse does not state that there are no consequences for sin. 

That, I fear, has been the ignored reality for many churches and Christians when addressing physical and sexual abuse. 

At that moment, from the pulpit I stated to our congregation,

"For the victim, we want to help. We want you to feel safe. We desire to walk with you through the very painful and needed areas of healing. We're still trying to discover how best to do that."

Then I said,

"To the victimizer, we want you to know that Christ loves you too and that you need to repent and receive the forgiveness for your sins. We also want you to know that you need to go to jail. We want to make sure that happens." 

It was quiet at that point.

Now I Know

I know now why that question was asked in my interview twenty-five years ago. I was not here in the 1980s. I have brothers and sisters in Christ who were. God has brought great healing to our church. The police were called, but apparently not by our church leadership (and for that we were wrong), but by a parent of a child and another person in the community that had learned. It seems that the church leaders were focused much more on potential liability and harm to the brand (of the church) than for the healing of victims. This was a perception by some. Sadly, it may be the case in that many churches have shown this to be the initial (if not only ) focus. Thankfully, the truth was made known. Truth is always right.

The accused was convicted and went to prison. Sadly, I am pretty confident that our church did not provide the healing place needed for all the victims. 

I also believe, based on what I have heard from some, that it was not because we did not want to. It was because we did not know how to do so. I am not sure we know how now. What I do know is that those who were hurt still carry scars. Some have remained in the church (if not ours) and are faithfully serving the Lord. Some may have pushed these stories back so far in their history as to not have to deal with them. I apologize if this has reopened wounds you thought were healed.

For others ... well, I don't know. I fear there is a group of fifty-year-old wounded people out there who have abandoned the church because a wolf entered the sheep pen and did great harm. For those, I am deeply sorry and I pray you will receive the help and healing needed that only God can provide.

The Caring Church

Like many pastor friends of mine, I am not content with just offering lip service to an initiative that can be perceived as simply a reaction to news articles. I believe the issue of healing and hope for those victimized by sexual abuse is a gospel issue. That's one reason we have signed up for the Caring Well Challenge and encourage other churches to do so as well. That is not enough, I know. However, it is a start.

Rather than have a dark chapter that no one speaks of, perhaps we can learn from the past so as not to ever repeat it.

"The Reports of Our Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated" - Southern Baptist Convention

The oft-quoted phrase "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated" is attributed to Mark Twain. While actually a bit of a misquote from what Twain actually stated, the gist is correct. 

When it comes the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), it is no secret that statistically we (I am a Southern Baptist pastor) do not have the numbers of members, new converts, and attendees that we once did. Much has been written about this. One of the best was recently penned  by Dr. Albert Mohler (read it here.

Normally, the SBC becomes front-page fodder for the news media during our two-day annual meeting. 

We are meeting in Birmingham this week. The news media has produced stories and reports as they do annually. However, this year the focus has been on the state of the SBC and current challenges surrounding sex abuse by clergy and church leaders as revealed in an expose by Robert Downen of The Houston Chronicle. (I wrote of this in an article posted on February 12 here.) While some have lamented the publishing of the Downen article, the truth is that these reports needed to be revealed and stories of sinful actions by those who served in God's local churches needed to be exposed. Though painful, truth is right and Scripture affirms the reality that sin will be discovered when the light is shone.

Bad Southern Baptists

In addition to the issues revealed in The Houston Chronicle, other stories and issues began to appear in other venues.

As preparations for this year's gathering came closer, stories spinning in social media and other media outlets, blogs, postings, and other public venues made it seem, depending on what you read, that the SBC was harboring sex offenders, didn't care for abuse victims, hated women, hated each other, devalued the Lord's Day, was little more than a political puppet for the GOP, financially suspect, racist, social justice warriors, or the opposite of most every one of those.

If you look close enough, you may find a Southern Baptist that matches each of the descriptors above. I'm not defending that reality, but stating the obvious. 

However, there is a big difference between the online version of the SBC as seen in social media posts and blogs, and the actual face-to-face SBCers who worship together, meet together, and even debate one another in person as we are seeing this week. No, the SBC is not perfect. We have many chapters in our history. Some of those we wish did not exist. Nevertheless, they do, and to ignore the bad chapters leaves us to repeat them, or relive them in some ways. We pray never to find ourselves in a chapter that dishonors our Lord and will be regretted by our godly children and grandchildren.

No Rose-Colored Glasses

I do not have a set of rose-colored glasses. I am not an idealist. I sometimes do not see things others do, but just because I cannot or do not see those things does not mean those are not real. This is not a "your truth/my truth" thing. I reject that. This is just a clarification of perspective.

This means that I know there are some bad spots in our SBC that need to be corrected. There are systems in place that likely worked well decades ago, but need to be reworked. I'm not speaking of doctrine. I am thankful for the work done by God in the SBC through the Conservative Resurgence (NOTE: I appreciate the people who were instrumental in the resurgence, but must give the credit not to man, but God. He orchestrated the shift and empowered it. To him alone goes the glory.) I believe our Baptist Faith & Message (2000) is a solid confession of faith and belief. 

Nevertheless, we are an imperfect people seeking to serve our perfect God.

In our imperfection, we seek guidance, healing, and direction for next steps.

I believe the steps taken by SBC President J.D. Greear, our Executive Committee, our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the new teams and committees formed to address the sexual abuse issues among our member churches are the right steps. I do not envy the teams that had to work out the language used and the machinations needed to uphold church autonomy while refusing to hide behind that statement to keep from moving forward. The work done and presented this week to the messengers in attendance is godly, right, and needed.

However, it likely is not enough. We all know that. A statement does not heal a wound. A finely wordsmithed document does not fix the past. We know this. I believe we all (or at least most) know this. Yet, this is the right step for now. More steps will be taken in days to come. Prayerfully, healing will come for the hurting ones as well.

Is the SBC done for?

I don't believe so.

The decline is real.

The broken pieces are laid bare, and yet there is hope. Hope not in the repairing of a brand. Hope in the rescue of people from the grips of sin. Hope in Christ alone.

Today at the close of our afternoon session, our International Mission Board presented men and women who have committed their lives to serve the Lord on mission for the sake of the gospel. Single women and men are preparing to go serve those in other nations who have no one to tell them of Christ. Young couples are moving to areas that cannot even be mentioned for safety reasons. They're taking their small children, leaving grandparents and safe homes in subdivisions to go to the uttermost parts of the world. They are willingly going to attend language classes so they may best communicate the truth of the gospel. They want to be obedient and they are taking that step. One couple, recently retired from the mission field and back in the US have said "YES" once more to go overseas. So much for that calm retirement. 

Photo by Todd Robertson

I was in tears as the testimonies were shared and the commissioning service continued. 

There is much going on throughout the SBC and if you only read tweets and posts, you may miss the real story.

I recognize, as some have tweeted, that the IMB has had their (well...our) own share of abuse issues. No excuses. Prayerfully, steps have been taken to ensure nothing happens like that again. If it ever does, then I pray that proper consequences come and proper care for the victim as well. I pray this is true not just for the IMB, but for all our agencies and especially our local churches. 

The SBC is a strange version of denomination. In a sense, it's not even really a denomination, but we use that word for lack of a better one for the masses. Just try to explain our autonomy and organizational structure to someone who did not grow up SBC or grew up in a mainline Protestant or Catholic church and you will see what I mean by strange.

Yet, in our strangeness, there is good, despite ourselves. The good of the SBC is not founded in the SBC, but in God alone. I believe that we do have great days ahead. I do believe that God is not finished with the SBC. I know he is not finished with his church. May we remain faithful to Him, and live out the greatest commandment to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love others righteously and in holy manners so that they may know him as well.

The reports of the death of the SBC have been greatly exaggerated. But...this is not really about the SBC.

It is the Gospel...above all.

Maneuvering Through the Politics of the Age Without Embarrassing Christ

"It's never been as bad as it is now."

That statement has been said to me numerous times in various ways over the past five or six years. The topic is American political leadership and the divide among Republicans and Democrats, and all those trying to live outside political party identification.

As a point of reference, we're not the first generation to make such claims. 

In fact, I'm reading a number of  books on the Civil War and just in case we think it is as bad as ever, there were many in the 1860s who said the same...and their war ended up more literal than we can imagine with brothers fighting brothers and a rift that has yet to heal completely. In some ways, it has been said, we are fighting another version of civil war today in our nation. Perhaps so.

Regardless how bad it is, how bad it has been, or how bad it will become (how's that for the negative trifecta?) for those with a biblical worldview, our current state of affairs is no surprise. Oh, the specific issues and items that cause disunity and divides may be surprising, the nature of man is as it always has been.

To put it simply - people sin. The world is broken. Sin seems to reign, and righteousness is often difficult to find. Apart from Christ it is not available and as Christians we understand that all is ultimately good and right comes from God. In the meantime, we are called and placed in a broken world, with all our personal brokenness, as God's ambassadors with the commission to be salt and light and to expand His kingdom in such a way that many more disciples are made.

American Political Christianity

For decades different political parties, for the lifetimes of anyone reading this that has been primarily limited to the Democratic and Republican parties, have sought to align with the most prominent and powerful (i.e. largest voting bloc) religious denominations and groups in the nation. As we move through an era being described and defined more and more as anti-religious or post-religious, we are beginning to see a shift in the strategic moves.


Nationally, the primary parties virtue signal based on the best potential end for their respective candidates. At the local level, the candidate may be the same party as a national candidate, but since all politics are local, the individual platforms may differ from the national one. This is likely how you can see pro-life Democrats vote for and sign recent heartbeat bills and recently traditional pro-life laws where the national party platform takes a markedly different take. I would say the same would be true with Republican candidates at the local level with issues that may be in opposition to party platforms.

This is not news. Any purveyor of political positioning, virtue signaling, and policy usage understands the reality of local politics and "playing to one's base."

As a pastor I find myself in interesting, and sometimes precarious positions when it comes to local, state, and national politics. To be candid, I believe that every citizen should (and for Christian citizens, prayerfully) consider for whom to vote, and do one's duty to vote and participate in the process. This freedom and access we have do so is not common globally and should not be taken for granted.

However, as other pastors who have recently contacted me, seeking opinions on how to deal with specific expectations within the church, it is perhaps more difficult now, than in recent years to maneuver well and biblically in the culture of American Christianity.

Do You Not Care?

On Sunday, a recommendation was promoted by some religious voices in our nation. Many are biblically sound pastors and teachers that I admire personally. Others are ministry leaders and those with influence among Christians and church attenders in the nation. Many of these brothers and sisters are those I respect as well. Yet, others who have promoted the moment are little more than prosperity gospel hucksters and charlatans who prey on the weaknesses of parishioners seeking a blessing for a buck. I hope that was clear enough so you understand what I believe about them.

It was a strange team of affirmers to be certain. The recommendation was for pastors on Sunday to lead their congregations in prayer from the pulpit for President Trump.

Praying for Leaders, Regardless of Party

The Bible is clear regarding praying for those in authority over us. Paul's letter to Timothy reveals this as true and lays out the very reason we, as Christians, should pray for those in authority.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:1-6 (ESV)

To argue that as Christians we do not need to pray for our leaders would be to ignore this passage. 

However, it should be noted that Christians are not just called to pray for the leaders they like. Nor are they only to pray that leaders do what they desire politically. I am reminded of a request I was given man years ago at a National Day of Prayer gathering. There were a number of people asked to pray for those in leadership. This is a good thing. The particular prayers came from a template provided by the National Day of Prayer organizers. Our gathering was small. All praying were church members and leaders in our church. We all view prayer as vital. Yet, when it came time to divvy up the prayer focus regarding different office holders,  I asked one person to pray for the President of the United States. 

This person responded, "I can't do it. I do not like that man. I will not pray for him." 

Well, that pretty much eroded the veracity of the prayer gathering since this person was one of the organizers. 

As a pastor I just sat in silence with my mouth agape. I could not believe this. Yet, it revealed how sometimes our politics drives our theology rather than the other way around.

This past Sunday, I did not take the time to have a special prayer for our President or political leaders. I am not opposed to doing so, but did not feel any unction to do so at this time.

On this Sunday, our congregation was commissioning high school graduates into the "real world" and spent time praying over them. That was our focus as God led me to preach from His Word a message about generational lostness.

I know pastors who did take the time to have a focused prayer for the President. I know others who did not. Fortunately, in each case, these brothers' gospel-centeredness, love for God, thankfulness for our national freedoms, and love for their church did not come into question.

For me.

But for some, it did. 

Grace, Mercy, and Pointed Responses

Church members (good, Christ-honoring, redeemed, faithful, truly-saved church members) questioned pastors yesterday afternoon and today. Questions as to "Why didn't you lead a prayer?" to "Why did you lead that prayer?" have been likely filling inboxes, answering machines, and hallway conversations.

Regardless what the pastor answers, for some it will never be good enough and will leave church members questioning the pastor's politics, not to mention his love of God. Seriously - some will go there. 

In response to such questions, I encourage pastors to remember their primary and most important calling. It is to honor the Lord with their lives, shepherd their flock, preach the Word unapologetically, pray, and make disciples. What this means is that in no way should a pastor to shy away from cultural issues (sin issues) that stand in opposition to God's Word. When it comes to some political hot-buttons (which ultimately are not political, but cultural) pastors should...

  • speak out against abortion and euthanasia (Genesis 1:27, Acts 3:15, Psalm 139:13-18, Jeremiah 1:5)
  • work to raise awareness for adoption (Exodus 1:15-22, Romans 8:15, Ephesians 1:5)
  • advocate for orphans (James 1:27)
  • love the foreigner (Matthew 25:35)
  • support and provide opportunities to help women with unplanned pregnancies, encouraging them to keep their babies until birth (Psalm 46:5, Ephesians 2:10)
  • provide for the widows and aged, ensuring the church does not forget or minimize them (James 1:27)
  • speak for and affirm justice for all (Proverbs 31:9)
  • be a voice for the voiceless (Proverbs 31:9)
  • pray for the leaders of the land, regardless who they are (1 Timothy 2:1-6)
  • pray that those in authority will become children of God and be bold enough to not let their policies be driven by a cultural worldview, but from a heart transformed by God (1 Timothy 2:1-6)
  • speak out against the moral revolution that seeks to redefine morality not from traditional values, but from biblical truths (Romans 3:21-31, Ephesians 5:33)
  • love all, but not affirm sin (Matthew 22:39, 1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Peter 4:8)
  • stand for biblical marriage while speaking against adultery (Matthew 19:5, 1 Corinthians 6:16)

There are more, but ultimately, a pastor should be grounded in the Word, unafraid to preach the gospel, wise enough to do so rightly, and prayerfully and biblically lead those God has entrusted to him as one holding the office of pastor.

Responding with grace is vital. We may be at a tipping point in our culture. It may be a schism awaiting. Yet, we pray. We hope. We believe. God is bigger than any term of office, policies made, laws enacted, or culturally redefined "truths." 

Platt and the President

One of the trending news stories last night and today was that President Trump arrived at McLean Bible Church in Virginia at one of the morning services so that Pastor David Platt (former President of the International Mission Board) could pray with him. 

Opinions vary on whether this prayer moment should have taken place. What I know is that there is no way under heaven that American Christians will agree regarding this moment. 

What I also know is that the prayer offered by Pastor Platt was perhaps the best, non-political, gospel-centered sermon and prayer based solely on 1 Timothy 2 that I have ever heard or could hope to hear. 

I feel for Pastor Platt because he was placed in a challenging situation, but as one pastor stated (who is one not to let politics reign from his pulpit) "When the President shows up at your church, regardless of party or approval ratings, you pray for him/her." That is true.

Was it a photo op? Likely.

Was it a sincere request for prayer? Some say yes, others, no.

Here's a reality check for all - not everyone in a church service on a Sunday arrives with the most noble intent. Yet, while there, we pray that they hear God's Word, experience His love, and the gospel impacts them for change. Whether that person is well-known, or only known by a few, or none in the room is irrelevant.

Regarding Platt's prayer, as pastor of the church, he alone spoke from the pulpit (or stage in this case.) He has the calling and authority to rightly divide the Word of Truth for those under his teaching and pastoral care. He did not give the microphone to another. He spoke. He prayed. He preached. For that is what the pulpit on the Lord's Day is reserved for - the focus and glory on God alone.

As one who deeply cares about our nation, our policies, our freedoms, and the future for our children and grandchildren, I am so very thankful that while "some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God" (Psalm 20:7 ESV). 

Globally, our brothers and sisters throughout the world, whether in free republics, communist regimes, socialist nations, under dictatorial rule, or even in religious oligarchies are commanded to pray for those in authority over them as Paul instructed Timothy.

So, it is not an American Christian concept. It is a biblical truth for all people, all times, in all circumstances.

Pastors - Stay Focused

Some of my pastor brothers will be labeled this week. They will either be labeled too conservative, too liberal, too traditional, too contemporary, too old-fashioned, too progressive, too patriotic, not patriotic enough, or any number of trending terms.

Men - may you rest easy this week knowing that many ultimately will just have to admit that you were too biblical.* That's a good title to wear. 


*By "too biblical" I mean that you were led by the Holy Spirit, you preached the gospel clearly on the Lord's Day, you may or may not have led your congregation in a prayer for the President, but you did as God led and you speak on the issues of life from a biblical worldview, leading well, living holy, and making disciples.


For more on David Platt and the Prayer over President Trump, here is a clear and concise response from Pastor Platt of McLean Bible Church and a video link from the church's site.


Why "Family-Equipping Discipleship" Is Needed Now More Than Ever (And Is Better Than What We Grew Up With)

Our church has been making the long shift from a family-based or programmatic ministry model to a family-equipping model over the past few years. It is difficult to understand why for man, but here is another reason... 
From Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof's book Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. (We give this to every parent during parent dedication services.)
A dad was concerned as his daughter cooled toward the faith in her early teen years. She began to date a boy the dad described as "bad news," started to dress differently, and showed a general disdain for church. He confided to a pastor, "I just don't know what I am doing wrong! We have always been faithful at church, making it a priority. We've had her memorize the verses. We've sent her on the youth activities."
"What ministries is your family involved in?" replied the pastor. The father couldn't name any. "That might be your problem," said the pastor.
"The world is offering your daughter a more compelling story than you are. In the world she sees adventure and purpose. Here at church you have treated her as a receptacle of information."
The story goes on about how the father found a small orphanage in Central America that his family could adopt. It's a great story of living out the gospel, rather than simply gathering information about the gospel. It's also a good reminder that discipleship cannot be outsourced. It begins at home. 
This story is shared in J.D. Greear's book Gaining by Losing.
For more on the family-equipping model, read this previous post on the "One-Eared Mickey Mouse" here.