This is not hypothetical. It’s happened to my family, and now it’s happened again to families in Michigan under the same pastor who did it to us. We tried to warn them, but they didn’t listen. They called the police and said we were harassing them. It can be hard to hear the truth sometimes.
Let’s put something to rest right now. This is not the time or place to insert the idea that we are all sinners and that we should be giving the pastor in question, grace. This is not about the healing of the pastor. This is about the acknowledgment of his failures, caring for his victims, and protecting others from him.
The conversation, effort, and resources put towards the pastor’s restoration are not the most immediate concern.
When there’s a mass shooting, we don’t worry about the shooter getting tackled by the police. We worry about the people that he shot.
The pastor I am basing my thoughts on has done the same thing to at least three different church families. He has shown no remorse and repeatedly lied to cover up his failures. He is a repeat offender. He is not fit to hold the title of pastor and should not return to ministry. There are too many victims in his past to warrant support for his restoration. If he decides to pursue restoration, then he can, but it’s not the job of the victims to restore him. It’s his job.
Bad people can do good work for the kingdom, but once you find out how bad they are, fire them.
What should a church do when they find out their pastor is a fraud, narcissist and/or abuser?
1. Involve the police – If there is any possibility that his actions are criminial, involve the police immediately.
2. Mourn, be angry, and stay in the community – Finding out that someone you trusted has betrayed you is a jarring situation. It should not be experienced alone. It is sad, confusing and angering. Those are healthy emotions that should not be suppressed. They must be worked through, not avoided. The church should create a space for the congregation to share their sadness and frustration. If there is no space to do this, victims will suffer alone, and healing will take much longer. Also, if the church doesn’t create a space for healing, then congregants will leave. The church will only remind them of their pain, not their recovery. In our last church in Franklin, Tennessee, where this pastor victimized our church, they did an abysmal job acknowledging what had happened and creating a space for healing, so it lost 50% of its members. That does not need to happen.
3. Be grateful – It is better to know there is a wolf among you than to live in ignorance. Exposing the wolf is a good thing. It is healthy. It is necessary. No one wants to know that there is cancer in their body, but not knowing allows it to grow. Knowing your pastor is an abusive narcissist seems horrible, but what’s worse is NOT knowing your pastor is an abusive narcissist and allowing him to continue to hurt you and your church family.
4. Draw closer – For many churches, the pastor serves as a father figure. When a family loses their father it rocks them to their foundation, but the answer is not to disperse. The answer is to draw closer to one another. Create more time for community. Create space to do life together. Create space for processing what has happened. Create space for normalcy. Remind yourselves that the church can and will exist without the perpetrator. The church does not NEED that man. It needs to love one another and to root out evil and sin. That’s what it has done by exposing him.
5. Expose the sins – Whatever he has done must be exposed, in detail, while protecting the privacy of victims. The congregation deserves to know what he has done to the church family. Document it so that other churches won’t make the mistake of overlooking his past deeds.
6. Take responsibility and apologize – The church’s leadership must take responsibility for the lack of oversight that allowed this to take occur. In every case of this pastor’s abuse and lies, a lack of accountability and oversight contributed. In the latest church situation, the leaders were warned directly and shown video evidence. Still, they chose to believe their pastor and to attack the truth-tellers, turning the victims into the offenders. This is a classic strategy that abusers use to silence their victims and continue their abuse of power.
7. Remove his teachings – Delete his teachings. Scrub him from the website. Remove any trace of him from your digital footprint. Do this to protect the emotional health of members. It is traumatic for members to continue to be reminded of the lies he perpetrated against them. If he plagiarized (like this pastor did hundreds of times) delete every sermon he ever gave. They are all tainted. Remove him from every page of the website and all social media. Force him to delete any reference to your church from his social media.
If you don’t warn others about what you know to be true of an abuser then you are partially responsible for his next victims.
8. Warn others – This is where many churches chicken out. They are afraid of telling the truth about what happened to them, and in doing so, they allow the fake pastor to hurt future churches. The tricky part of this is that if you scrub all of his teachings and mentions of him from the website, then the evidence is no longer present, but you can still protect others. Publish a statement of his removal after verifying all of the facts. Keep it simple and let it serve as a warning to others who want to hire him in the future. If he wants to get another job as a pastor, then he needs to explain why he’s not going to hurt others again, but your church has an responsibility to protect future victims. Sweeping what happened under the rug means you’re willing to allow future victims to be hurt because you’re afraid of how it will make your church look. Do the right thing and warn others.
9. Let the church talk about it publicly – Lean into what his happening. At every service, mention healing. Talk about how the focus of a church is not one man but one Lord. Remind the congregation that they are a family and that families take work. The focus is not the fake pastor. It’s the healing. Healing doesn’t happen unless you focus on the injury. Ignore it, and it will not heal straight, like a broken bone that’s not set correctly.
10. Hire a shepherd – Your interim pastor and/or your next pastor must have the heart and personality of a shepherd. They must be empathetic. They must understand that they are shepherding a crippled congregation. They must publicly acknowledge that the last person who was in their position caused tremendous pain to that church. Imagine how children feel when their first father is abusive and their mother gets remarried. Wouldn’t it make sense that they have distrust for their new father? Give careful consideration to the ability of your next pastor to help people heal.
11. Use this as an opportunity to become the church you should have always been – Never allow this to happen again by putting in checks and balances that were not in place. Become closer as a church family by focusing on each other instead of a single leader. Rebuild your leadership to ensure they are equipped to keep this from happening again. Focus on the importance of a church made up of people using their gifts, not sitting at the feet of a single person’s teaching once a week. Consider creating a preaching team instead of one pastor teaching most of the time. This will protect you from one person’s influence and create a balanced experience as a church.
Your church will survive if you stop focusing on one horrible human and instead focus on all the good humans you’re surrounded by.
12. Look to God for healing – Humans fail you. They are not reliable. Pastors are humans and frankly, seem to be prone to failure more than most people. Ask God to comfort you. Ask Him for understanding on what to do next. Ask Him for wisdom to avoid this happening again. Ask Him for strength to root out systems that allowed this to happen. Ask Him for justice. Ask Him to protect future churches from this pastor. Often, they lay low and then move on to another church/victim.
13. Remember what’s true – Horrible people can still preach. Plaigarizers can still give good sermons. Abusive people can still baptize new believers. Don’t forget that God uses sinners all the time and that His Truth is not invalidated because of the messenger. The Truth is still valid.
14. Move on – It must be said again that it is not the job of your church, the victims, to rehabilitate this pastor. You can have mercy on him, but you don’t need to invest money, time or energy into his healing. He can do that work. Especially if he is a repeat offender, which this pastor is, you are putting your energy in the wrong place if you’re focusing on his care. He’s responsible for feeding his family and paying his mortgage, not you. Trying to help him after he has abused your church confuses and hurts the other victims, especially those he hurt on a deeper level. Imagine being verbally abused by your boss. Then the congregation actively works to help your abuser. It may feel like you’re doing the Christian thing, but you’re traumatizing the victims again while rewarding the offender.
15. Look outward – It’s understandable to focus on your own pain because it’s real. One way to foster more significant healing is to help others. Finding others who need to be cared for reminds us that others need kindness too. I mention this because identifying yourself as a victim can become a trap. If you only identify yourself as a victim, you’re less likely to serve others who also need mercy and love.
Church leaders: You don’t HAVE to create a space for healing for the church family, but if you don’t, they’ll leave. It’s up to you.
16. Don’t obsess with justice – It is natural to want to get even, and if you get a chance to confront the pastor, then you have every right to do so, but avoid becoming obsessed with his next steps. I followed our former pastor’s journey because I wanted to warn other congregations, but this can become unhealthy. We did warn them and they called the police on us.
Wanting to warn others is noble and healthy, but obsessing about your perpetrator’s future will not bring healing. Move on from them and live your life without them. You’re better off thinking about them less, not more.
17. Leave the church – If the church is not acknowledging the mistakes it made, minimizing the pain of this experience, minimizing the sins committed by the pastor, or does not create a space for you and the rest of the church to process what happened, leave. Find a place where you can heal.
For more on my former fake pastor, who is thankfully out of a job again, you can watch these videos. We showed them to his former employer but they refused to believe us or hold him accountable, until now. They owe my family an apology, but more importantly they owe their church family an apology for not protecting them.