What Happens When the Worship Leader Commits Adultery?
I am a pastor and just found out that our worship pastor is committing adultery. I have heard through the grapevine that you’ve dealt with this issue on several occasions. This man has a significant following and I am afraid that he will spin his sin in such a way that might split the church and cause much confusion and pain.
As far as I know very few people are aware of his behavior. I want to handle this problem Biblically and properly. I want to keep the residual damage to the church as minimal as possible. Thanks for your help.
Dear Any Pastor,
Unfortunately, you are not the first pastor to face this issue. We all hear stories about how adultery leads to such turmoil and destruction. In your case worship pastor sinned. However, any staff member can fall. I couch my answer in the “worship leader context” because this is the case in your particular situation. Nevertheless the principles apply to any staff position—male or female.
Let me share several principles that I hope are helpful.
Sexual sin by a church leader cannot be allowed to go “underground.” The key words for handling this situation are truth, truth and truth. The next three words are openness, openness and openness. The next three words are leadership, leadership and leadership.
Carefully ascertain, as best you can, the validity—or not—of the accusation. Paul gave clear-cut guidelines to Timothy: “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19).
Sometimes, you may need to seek out quietly the “right” people in verifying the accuracy of the allegation. At other times you may pesonally just figure out what is going on. Once, one of our staff began acting strangely, keeping unusual hours, not going home on time, etc. I added up two plus two and got four. After church the next evening one of my trusted elders and I took the man outside. I said, “You’re committing adultery, aren’t you.” Mine was more a declarative statement than a question. He stammered, “Yes,” before he even had time to think.
Early on in the process include a trusted and influential church leader into the loop. You certainly don’t want to give an opportunity for a “he said … you said … she said … I didn’t say that …” scenario to develop after you confront the worship leader. This is not a church problem you want to handle alone (Galatians 6:1-2).
Understand that this church crisis is not the time for debating how to handle the problem, whether or not to try to restore him, whether or not to allow him to continue leading worship while you search for a suitable solution, or whether or not he should keep his job. His trust level with you, the rest of the staff and the church congregation has dissipated like the morning mist. He has lost his authority to minister (This can be regained later—perhaps). If he keeps his job and commits another sexual sin, the church is now wide open for lawsuits. We have a “duty of care” to protect others in the congregation. Consider that it is not unwise in today’s litigious society to obtain legal counsel as you proceed through the process of handling the sinful situation which is now tossed in your lap.
Call an elder’s or deacon’s or board meeting the same week you that unearth and verify the sin. The official leaders must be informed and action taken to remove the offender from job responsibilities immediately.
Remember that, as pastor, you are in the “power position.” As a result, you want to act quickly and decisively—before the rest of the church suspects a problem—and before the worship leader can rally a following. Your official church leaders also have “power.” You want them to know the truth so they can squelch potential lies or rumors.
Pick the right time to confront. Once we had a series of multiple-night-church pageants. I knew what was going on behind the scenes with one of our staff persons. Unfortunately, he was such an integral part in the nightly performances that to remove him would necessitate canceling the remaining programs. So, I decided to let him finish out the next several nights. As soon as the last performance concluded, he and I had a talk.
Sadly, the offender’s job must be terminated immediately. Have him clean out his office. Remove him from all places of leadership. He (or she) may not stand before any church group to explain, repent or suggest anything at this time. That can come later. If that seems a little harsh, so be it. Having just been “caught”, his emotions, thinking and words can’t be trusted. A time for repentance may come. But, not until the crisis is settled down and time has passed and you know whether or not true repentance is occurring.
Three affected areas need special care: the sin; the church; and the sinner.
The Bible is quite clear about how church leaders are to handle the sin of another church leader. They are to expose the improper behavior to the church in order that the fellowship may understand that no one is so high up in church leadership that they can sin and get away with it. Paul advised Timothy: “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning” (1 Timothy 5:20). Sin in the church is serious business—especially when committed by a church leader and must be handled accordingly.
Let’s talk about what exposing sin and improper behavior might look like. This can be done discretely to ensure minimal damage to the church and to the staff pastor who sinned. The Sunday after the elders make the termination official the church needs to be told. Remember, nothing hidden; tell the truth. Telling the church what happened and why the leader can no longer keep his job is handling the issue decisively and will immediately stop all rumors.
I tell the congregation that the worship leader has committed a sin that forfeits his job. Then I say, “I am not going to tell you what sin he committed. We will leave that between him and the close group who are sorting out and properly handling the issues. Don’t be too harsh; some of you have committed exactly the same sin—or a variation of it. This is not the time for judgment. It is time for grieving and compassion. We are all hurting. But, none of us is hurting as much as he and his family. They need love and compassion; so when you see them, grieve with them and comfort them.”
Then, I continue, “If you feel that you have to know which sin he committed, then ask him. He can choose to tell you or not” (By the way, as far as I know, no one has ever taken me up on this offer.).
Then, I proceed: “His job is terminated because his behavior has violated trust to such a degree that he can no longer work here with integrity. We have developed a restoration plan that we pray can heal the marriage and one day result in a renewed opportunity for him to reenter into ministry. At the proper time he can publicly share his sorrow, regret and repentance with us all if he so desires.” In my experience, some avail themselves of this opportunity; and, some decline.
Finally, I say, “The worship leader and his family have decided to stay in our fellowship for a while as they begin to put their lives back together” (Every one of our ministers who has fallen in our church has chosen this option.). I continue, “I know it is awkward, but their friends and support are in our congregation. So love them and treat them with the care they need.”
Some groups need a little more care and restoration. In most cases we arrange for the fallen pastor to meet with the ministry groups that he worked with and led. This often results in a time of broken-hearted confession and repentance which is good for all involved. Not surprisingly, some have a hard time holding back their anger because of the loss and betrayal they’ve experienced. At this point, one or our counselors or I talk about the range of emotions we are all feeling and how to handle them properly. This is a good time to let the words and emotions of the group flow as they struggle to begin healing.
Now that we have talked about handling the sin and healing the church, let’s talk about the needs of the worship leader. We are dealing here with a broken-hearted man and his family.
As I mentioned before, we invite them to stay in our fellowship as they heal.
We arrange and pay for marriage counseling. Unfortunately, not every church has the resources to do this.
We invite several men to develop a support group to help restore him to integrity and to ministry. We ask several women to join in comforting and supporting his wife.
We try to care for them financially as they make the transition to a new life and line of work. In our case we usually continue salary for four to six months with the provision that when they obtain another job, or if they do anything to unsettle the church or congregation, their transition funds terminate. We also try to work out a way to help continue their medical insurance, if needed.
Anger at the worship leader and the pain he has caused makes it quite tempting to withhold proper care. Just remember that the church is not the only victim is this whole affair. If there is any time that a wife and children need support and financial security, this is it! If for no other reason, take care of his innocent family in their turmoil.
In my experience, and in discussions with other pastor friends, we agree that it is easy for husband and wife to ultimately join forces and blame the church for their demise—and what they consider to be ill treatment. They will often, unknowingly or not, transfer a tremendous amount of anger from themselves to the church. I’ve heard people say things like, “Well, what do you expect? The church always shoots its wounded!” When I hear this comment I often think, “Well, everything would have been fine had he not first fired a double-barreled shotgun in our midst.” But, I never say those words—out loud! I just pray for the hurting couple to find healing, relief and restoration—and perhaps one day to successfully reintegrate into ministry.
Well, Any Pastor, I hope these thoughts may be of help. May God bless you, your church family and your broken minister as you utilize truth, openness and leadership, during these painful times.