How Overwhelmed Pastors Can Join the Fight
Pastor and evangelist Glenn Meldrum explains why confronting sexual sin overwhelms pastors and details how they can effectively address the issue.
Glenn, you've spent your life in the ministry—first as a pastor of many years and now as an evangelist for over twenty years. Let’s talk about pastors who feel overwhelmed by the issue of sexual sin in their churches. In your experience, what makes this topic so overwhelming to pastors?
Well, I would really say that there's probably a lot of things that are contributing to it. Part of it is just pastors feeling overwhelmed, period. And so you have pastors that are just overwhelmed, and then you add to this the problem of sexual sins that are in the church. I've been in the church for a long time. I've been in ministry for going on forty years. And the decline in the church is directly following the decline in our culture. As our culture is growing more immoral, more wicked, it's getting into the church. And then you are having people that are more damaged coming into the church, and they are bringing the baggage of all the crazy sins that they have practiced. So pastoring itself is just getting harder. I'm not using that as an excuse; it's just getting harder.
Now, you have the problem that the sexual sins are becoming so prevalent that pastors just really don't know what to do with it. And then you have the aspect of pastors that are now starting to not look at sin the same way as they used to. So you now have this humongous problem in the church of fornication—and fornication is premarital sex in any way, shape, or form. So it can be pornography; it can be the one-night stand; it can be a man and woman living together outside of matrimony. But because of the compromise that has come into the church, now pastors just kind of overlook it. And I even know pastors that have people in fornication on their worship teams and in places of leadership in the church. They don't see God as holy anymore, and because they don't see God as holy anymore, they don't see sin as exceedingly sinful, and it's just getting very overwhelming to them. So now, the next step is going to be with homosexuality. More and more churches are trying to somehow justify it. And it's getting worse step after step, like a snowball rolling down a hill.
What are some potential barriers that might come up and discourage a pastor from dealing with the sexual sin issue directly?
Well again, a large part of it is that pastors are just worn out. And I hate to say that. But I go across this country and meet all kinds of pastors, and one of the things that can wear pastors out more than anything is counseling issues. What wears them out is, not the counseling issues themselves, but counseling people that don't want help. That is exhausting—absolutely exhausting. And then you have the problem of pastors that have contentious people in their church that don't want to really "walk the walk." And so you start adding these things up, and a pastor gets really tired. And when they are really getting exhausted, they just don't want to take on another thing. And they become so exhausted that I would even say they aren't willing to go deeper into study. They're not trying to learn what biblical counseling is, compared to secular psychology. They're just trying to keep their head above water, and if you're feeling like that, then you don't want to take on anything else that would weigh you down and put you under. And so, I feel for pastors! Pastoring is hard. But we still need to be pressing in as pastors to learn how to do what we've been called to do better.
You mentioned that one difficulty pastors face is counseling people who don't want to change. What is your advice to them in this situation?
The issue is this—and I say this a lot to pastors: we have to feed the hungry. Those who aren't hungry? There's nothing you can do about them. People in the church that don't want to change? There's nothing you can do; you can only deal with those who have a hunger. When you look at Jesus, you find he did ministry in a way that it's so often not done. He dealt one way with the multitude—the mass of people that weren't saved. They were the ones that were following him only out of excitement. But to those who left the multitude and became his disciples, he started ministering to them as those that were followers and that had a knowledge of God. But then, out of the disciples, He had the twelve, and he poured more into the twelve than what he did into the disciples. And then, out of the twelve, you have the three, and that's where Jesus poured most of his time. And I say that because, as a pastor, we have to be willing to counsel those that want help and to walk away from those that don't. Instead, we commit them into God's hands and say, "God, when they're ready, bring him back, and help me to minister to them then.” That's a very hard thing.
What tools does a pastor already have to help him deal with the issue of sexual sin that he shouldn't overlook?
There is more healing in repentance than people understand. There's tremendous healing in it! Because the root of our pain is the sin that we've committed or that has been committed against us. God's not asking us to go back and dredge up the past and do all the things that secular psychologists so often want to do. We are to deal with the reality of our sin, and so yes, we repent of the sin of the past. But in Christ we are a new creature, and we have a new beginning. So we are supposed to begin putting off the works of the flesh and putting on the new life in Christ. That is one of the really big things pastors have to do: they have to speak of repentance, of putting off the old nature and putting on the new nature. And in that process, the truth will come out about whether people really want the answer or not. If people just want to assign blame, there's nothing you can do for them.
I remember times that I've had a couple sit before me with marital problems, and when they just want to play the blame game and point fingers at each other, it's a waste of my time. I can't do anything for them. But I've also seen couples come and sit before me that were willing to take the path of repentance, and when they took that path, there was healing. And so the answer is right there; it's more readily available than we understand. I think that maybe we've complicated it so much by looking at sin as all these various issues rather than just understanding that it's sin. There's one remedy to sin: repentance and the blood of Christ.
What can pastors expect to see happen long-term if they decide to address this issue in their church?
Well, I think that one dimension of the church should always be that it's an emergency ward. It should be a place that is there all the time for those in crisis to come and find healing and the power that's there. But if we do it right, what will happen is that as people come into the emergency ward, they will be dealt with and find healing, and then they'll find stability. When there are people in a church that are walking faithfully with the Lord, these individuals are going to be bearers of the presence of God and are going to bring more of the presence of God into the church. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit. That's what Paul told us; he told us, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God." And so, that's the reality.
If you start dealing with sin and seeing people walking in this loving obedience and this holiness that's a joy to the heart of God, then you'll start seeing God come more among his people and you'll start seeing marriages slowly get healthy. Because it's not just about the healing of those who are in these sins, but it's about keeping people from the sins—teaching people to walk in purity and not to do damage to themselves by being in sexual sin before marriage. And then, power is there for the church to become an even better emergency ward. There's power to bring in more people that are hurting and to see greater deliverance. So the testimony of the church becomes greater, because you're seeing greater results of people being changed. The gospel is about transformation, and sometimes that process can be slow. But it's better to do it right than to try to build a façade—a church with thousands of people that's built on a crumbling foundation rather than upon Christ and His Word. He wants us to do it his way, because his way works!
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