Issue #27: Death, Scandal and Redemption Pastor Jason’s Story
Over the next few weeks, I am going to write about pastoral hurt and burnout, but not in the abstract. I will share real stories from fellow pastors. These testimonies are raw, some heartbreaking, others shocking.
Recently, I put out a post on my social media accounts asking pastors if they’d be willing to share their stories. The response so far has been amazing. In just a few days’ time, at least a dozen pastors have reached out wanting to tell their testimonies of church hurt. I expect more to come.
I told these men I would keep their names and locations private. The last thing I want to do is inflict further pain on them, their families, or their ministries. But I do want to tell their stories for a couple reasons.
First, I want you to know, brother pastor, that you are not alone. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for churches to inflict pain upon their leaders. My prayer is that these stories will be encouraging, edifying, and filled with hope. Secondly, I hope to raise awareness among church members. My desire is that they will see how easy and common it is for Christians to mistreat the leadership of their church, and by God’s grace they would have gracious, submissive, and kind spirits towards their pastors.
The following newsletters will be a little longer than previous posts. I intend to summarize the stories submitted to me and give some helpful takeaways.
Here is Jason’s story.
Most parents’ worst fear is losing a child. For Jason and his wife, Sarah, that fear would soon become reality. Their 4-year-old daughter, Lilly, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Despite receiving the best treatments, it was only a matter of time before her life on earth would end.
Around Christmas 2015, Jason took a job as an associate pastor. His new role was a gift from God because the church was there to help him and his family in their darkest hours. Two months after accepting the position, Lilly died in Jason’s arms.
In the ensuing days, darkness and grief flooded their lives. Thankfully, Jason’s lead pastor was used mightily by the Lord to be a source of strength and encouragement during this time. For the next six months, he helped the young couple navigate what would be the hardest moments in their lives.
But, as Jason put it, “unknown to me, the enemy was hard at work.”
One afternoon, Jason received a phone call from the Chairman of the board. “Pastor, we have an emergency meeting tonight at the church and need you there.” “Absolutely, I’ll be there.” Jason told the Chairman. Jason was given no details about the meeting. Naturally, he was concerned. So, he called his pastor to see what was going on, but he didn’t answer the phone. Jason’s mind began to race. Fear invaded his thoughts.
When he arrived at the church, Jason joined the leadership board in the conference room for meeting. But, to his surprise, he did not see his pastor. He did notice, however, the church’s local denominational director sitting at the table. Jason’s heart sank into his stomach. He now knows why the pastor isn’t present. This meeting is about the pastor.
I will let Jason tell what happened next in his own words.
“It was revealed that [our pastor] was living in sexual immorality and had resigned effective immediately. I was assigned the responsibility to meet with him to get his keys and church card the following day. I remember sitting in that room, emotions flooding me. Just six months removed from my little girl dying, the man who was helping me deal with my grief was living a lie. The enemy began to attack me with doubts and discouragement.”
Six months after saying goodbye to his daughter, Jason learns that his friend, mentor, and pastor was a fraud. This was an unexpected blow.
Here’s Jason again.
“I tried to lead the best I could in the midst of everything. But six months after my pastor’s resignation, I was exhausted, worn out, sinking into a place of despair and grief that was overwhelming.”
Jason could hardly summon the courage to lead. He did have, however, his loving church community to support him during this time, but even that was about to change.
“I remember being met at the altar by some of our church leaders on a Sunday morning” Jason told me. “As I wept, they encouraged me. But the words, ‘We are here for you’, and ‘Take time to heal’ would soon haunt me.”
As the one-year anniversary of Lilly’s death approached, Jason made arrangements to get away with his family to remember his daughter’s life. Christmas fell on a Sunday that year. The plan was to leave after the worship service to be with family. The church now had an interim pastor, and Jason ensured all his responsibilities were covered. Everything seemed in place. As Jason returned the following Saturday, however, he was met with a reprimand from church leaders. Despite the fact that Jason took care of all his duties, was prepared to work while away, and came back the following weekend to serve on Sunday, he was told that he should have received prior approval to leave. Some even believed his paycheck should be docked for not receiving an approved vacation.
Church leaders felt justified. Jason felt betrayed. The enemy of his soul used this opportunity to harness Jason’s pain, discouragement and frustration and turn them into anger, bitterness, and resentment towards the congregation. As a result, he didn’t want to serve at his church any longer.
Shortly after, Jason reached out to another pastor to share his burden. The pastor recommended Jason leave his current job and work for him. This would give him time to heal and process all these events. Jason accepted his offer and resigned his position.
His 4-year-old daughter died. His pastor was living a lie. The church betrayed him and now he left his job. Even when following Christ, life can seem dark. But for Jason, hope and healing would soon arrive.
Listen to his words.
“As I was serving on staff at my new church, I was asked to help a sister church one Sunday. I agreed, thinking I was helping them, but God had greater plans. The chains of brokenness I kept wrapped around me were about to get shattered by God. The pastor that morning was sharing his message and had us all write down what we have been praying for. Mine was simple, “I want my daughter back.” At the end of his message, he had us pull out those cards… “Does your prayer start with, I want?” he asked. As I looked at my card and wept, seeing the words I had written, God began to break my hardened heart…the invitation that day, although the room was filled with hundreds of people, had to be for me. As I wept and repented for my bitterness, anger, and pride, the Lord restored the calling He placed on my life. Through the pain and deep hurt, God was healing me as only He can.”
By God’s grace, Jason is now serving as lead pastor and has been in his role for the last seven years. He now understands that all the pain and suffering inflicted upon him and his family was used by God to prepare him for his current assignment.
Jason’s story not only reveals the reality of pain of suffering of life and pastoral ministry, it’s also a testimony of God’s grace and faithfulness. He always has a plan. He is always at work for His glory and our good.
Good Christians will suffer in this life. Jason’s little girl died. His pastor deceived him, and his church met him with betrayal. God doesn’t promise a pain free life. But He does promise that our pain has purpose and will be used for good (Romans 8:28).
What Satan means for evil, God means for good. The Devil was hard at work in Jason’s life, but what Satan designed for evil, God used for good. “The devil is God’s devil” as Martin Luther put it. He’s on a short leash and can only do what the Lord permits.
God uses suffering to prepare His servants. How does Peter put it? Our faith is tested by fire and refined like gold. The fiery furnace of affliction is unwanted in the moment, but the Lord uses the flames to burn the dross and melt the impurities of our soul. The Lord’s servants are prepared for usefulness through suffering.
Christ deserves our service. Jason did not allow His church hurt to deter him from serving Christ and His church. The church is not perfect. People will disappoint us, even betray, and deceive. But we don’t serve because the circumstances are perfect. We serve because we have been called by God, and the Lord Jesus Christ deserves our service.
- We have the hope of eternal life. Even though this story has a happy ending, Jason’s daughter is still gone. I have a 7-year-old daughter myself. I can’t imagine his pain. But we set our eyes on Jesus. It’s only a matter of time before we see Him and our loved ones once again. Jason did not say goodbye forever. Only, see you soon.
“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”
(God Moves in a Mysterious Way, William Cowper, 1774)