The Pastor and Purity – Part 1
Well, hello from just outside Washington DC, my name is Garrett Kell. I’m one of the pastors at Del Ray Baptist Church and it’s an honour to be taking part in this pastors’ conference. I wish I could be there in person but obviously, all of us, uh! plans are a bit different than what we had. We had, maybe, hoped for but we will trust that in God’s kind providence that our time together in this way will be sufficient and will be used for his glory. What I’m going to be talking about in our time together are purity and the pastor. And when I talk about purity in the pastor what I mean particularly is sexual purity. So, there are all sorts of different areas of purity that we could talk about but we want to talk particularly about sexual purity which we read from 1 Tim. 4:16. It says to keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching, in the NIV, it says watch your life and your doctrine closely, persist in this for by doing so. You will save both yourself and your hearers.
God’s Word tells us that pastors are called to be holy men, not perfect men there’s only one perfect One, His name is Jesus and he came and he lived a perfect life and he died on the cross for all the ways that we didn’t live that perfect life and then he rose from the dead. And we know that by turning from our sin and trusting in Him and Him alone can we are forgiven. But that Gospel doesn’t just leave us where we are in regards to coming to know God but then it the gospel is also transforming us and there is an expectation for pastors that we should be set apart as holy it’s good for our souls and for the souls of all those who we watch over in one day will give an account.
For now, the way we’re going to work through this talk is first. I’m going to give you two stories. They’re related at the beginning and then we’re going to dive into nine lessons about the pastor and purity. So, the first story has to do with my time at seminary, I went to Dallas Theological Seminary and while I was there I studied under a professor named Howard Hendricks. Now Howard Hendricks was known for a lot of things particularly for helping people learn how to study the Bible. But he was also known for the way that he loved pastors and taught them leadership. Howard Hendricks did a study once of some 246 pastors full-time ministers who had experienced a moral failure and all of these 246 men had fallen within a two-year window. So, he met with each of them personally and interviewed them because he wanted to see if there was some kind of commonality as to what led to this similar sort of downfall, and as far as he could tell all of these men were born again followers of Jesus. They shared common salvation but also common devastation. They had all within 24 months of each other been involved in an adulterous relationship that had obviously disqualified them from ministry. He found four common characteristics among these men:-
1. That none of the men was involved in any kind of real personal accountability they hadn’t opened their lives to other people to speak into their life.
2. Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer Bible reading and worship. They all studied to get sermons done and teachings have done but they hadn’t, yeah! They had neglected their personal devotion to the Lord.
3. 80% of the men became sexually involved with other women after spending significant amounts of time with them. Very often through counseling in a way that was unguarded and really didn’t have. It goes back to the first one, didn’t have accountability in the midst of that and,
4. Without exception, each of the 246 men had been convinced in their own mind that that sort of fall would never happen to me. They all thought that somehow they wouldn’t be the ones that would fall.
That’s what I thought as well but now by God’s grace, I never committed adultery. Though I had a fall of my own in my early years of being a pastor when I was born again at 21 years old and pretty quickly after that about three years later I was planting a church. I helped to plant a church in a small town in West Texas which is in the middle of the United States. Kind of basically out in the desert with cactus and all that kind of stuff and the church plant began with some 13 people who were praying asking God to start a church in that town that would help people really see who Jesus was. I taught the Bible here and we prayed and God blessed us despite my immaturity. God moved in our midst and we began in the storefront there were 13 of us and we quickly went from 13 to 30 to 90 to fire code violation, 120 people, within nine months. The church just grew, we then moved into a theatre and then we bought a roller-skating rink they called us the holy rollers, uh and we met at that church and it grew.
While the church was growing there was something else growing within my heart and that was discontentment. You see I loved preaching and I loved the people who were there but that was not the kind of ministry that I had wanted or envisioned for myself. I wanted to be a pastor in a city of 10 million people where there were no churches and nobody knew God but I was in a town of some 10,000 people where there were 40 churches and everybody thought they knew God. It was the exact opposite of everything that I ever really wanted. Along with that, I was long-distance dating a girl from college I wanted to be married to. She was not ready to be married and I knew we weren’t right for each other but I just could not break off the relationship. I remember being in a place where I would rather die than let her go and I actually thought that’s what was going to have to happen and she and I got engaged twice and broke it off. It was a mess I shouldn’t have been a pastor but I was in the midst of all of this.
While all of that was going on it opened the door for me to become deeply entangled in sin. My insecurity, my fear of man, my desire for making a name for myself became a real opportunity for me to find refuge in pornography. For the first three years of pastoring, I had a secret struggle with pornography. I hated it. There would be cycles of it where I would binge in the sin and then I would feel bad and I would confess it to God and then I would be certain it would be the last time that would ever happen and then I’d tell a couple of friends. Hey! Now I’m struggling with some purity stuff and then the next time I’d go through the same cycle and I confess to another friend and then to another into another and this went on for some three years. Each time I thought it was going to be the last time. You see this is part of the deceitfulness of sin. It assures you that you can always get out even while it begins to suffocate your soul.
I was a hypocrite and I was a pastor and I was a hypocrite. I would look at pornography, I would confess it to God and then I would get up and I would preach and have a couple of good days and again I just felt trapped, and to be honest with you I thought that it was just always going to be that way. It was disillusioning because in the midst of me sinning, the ministry was thriving I mean in the midst of all of that numbers were growing, lives were being changed people were getting saved in the midst of me sinning and I began to assume that God was overlooking my sin and you see I was deceived. My pride had deceived me and I thought in some sense that I was special or exempted. I had what I now call the Solomon complex where I thought everything was being blessed but I was rotting on the inside well.
Eventually, a girl and I broke it off and I began dating Carrie who’s now my wife. I had made progress and she was aware of my whole struggle. About the same time, a friend named Reed/Reid was about to plant a church in New Jersey up near New York City and we decided if we’re going to work together. We should just share our testimonies. So, we were about to fly up there and do a promotional video for the film one for the church and I wrote what I now refer to as the letter and in that letter, I detailed all of my sexual sins from the time I became a Christian up until that very moment and I emailed it to him. I got on a plane I landed and I had a voicemail from him that said, ‘Hey, bro got your letter we should meet up for coffee’. Carrie and I sat down with Reid at a coffee shop and he looked at me with tears in his eyes and he said, “Bro, I love you but I do not feel comfortable moving forward in our plans to plant a church together because I not only do I think that you and I probably shouldn’t work together right now, brother if I’m honest with you I don’t think you’re qualified to be a pastor.”
It was one of the hardest meetings that I ever had until that point and I don’t think I’d ever had anybody get into my life like that and speak truth to me in the way that he did. I look back on it now and I see that he saved my life. I think he saved what would become my marriage and ministry. I think God used him to rescue me. I went back to his council gave the letter to my elders and fellow pastors and it began 2007 what I now call the year of the anvil you know what an anvil is. It’s a hard surface that you lay something on and it’s pounded into shape and that’s what God did for me and what became the hardest year of my life. This led to a lot of very difficult conversations with elders and other people to where I was on a stage like this one night and I confessed my sin to our church and to a bunch of visitors who were there. We just heard this was going down and as I sat on stage that night all of my greatest fears were coming to pass. See, because my whole life to that point had been about trying to keep up this image of having it together because I really did want people to think well of Jesus and I didn’t want to let them down and I wanted people to think well of me I didn’t want to let them down but at that moment I remember before I used to think the only way I’m going to get out of this sin. As if I die and that’s what happened on that stage that night. I died and I was honest and I stepped into the light and it was a very hard year after that.
I put the men who had in the families who had trusted me in a very difficult position all they wanted to see how God’s work in their town and my sin hurt a lot of people. But God worked through that – through lots of meetings and counseling and a lot of sticking stuff out and it was one of the hardest years of my life but I promise you I would not trade it for anything because of the fruit that God brought out of it. Over that year God changed me and began to change our church. I stayed for three more years as the pastor and the Lord restored me to ministry. He opened my life to accountability and we saw people in the church begin to open up about their own sin struggles and they began to walk in holiness and in God’s kind providence. He showed us mercy and though that was the hardest year of my life I would not trade it for anything because of the way it helped me to know God better and no matter what it costs if you get more of him it’s worth it.