Who Is Your One Phone Call?

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Tony hung up the phone and laid his head on his desk. He felt defeated.

The church was hemorrhaging members. The lead elder had just laid out a six month plan that ended with Tony being issued an Article 17. Tony had taken a risk and started preaching from an outline instead of notes to be more personable from the pulpit. The older folks communicated through the elders that they felt his sermons lacked depth (even though a year ago it was communicated to Tony through the elders that they felt he wasn’t very personable). 

When Tony was called to the church they had hopes that his young family would bring new life into the congregation. They had hopes that his preaching would draw in new families. They had hopes that Tony could save the day. 

A year before Tony had found himself with his head on his desk, Tony had clicked on a funny cat video from a YouTube link a congregant had sent him. He laughed at the video. Then he clicked on another video about dogs, then one about leashes, then one about something related to leashes. The video sparked strong feelings in him. Feelings he hadn’t felt in a long time. The video was Tony’s gateway into using pornography.  

You see, Tony had been worn down to the point of feeling numb. He had so many people pulling him in so many directions that the only way he could survive was to internally shut himself down inside. To be numb to the expectations because he couldn’t meet them all. 

After watching that first video, Tony felt shame, guilt, and curiosity. He knew in his heart that his behavior was wrong and that he should repent and not do it again. So that’s what he did. On the drive home he prayed, repented, and accepted forgiveness. The thought crossed Tony’s mind that he should probably talk to someone about this, but that thought quickly escaped his conscious. Tony knew if he told anyone it would jeopardize his career and undermine his calling. 

Now he was about to lose his job and he was repenting each day on the drive home. 

Tony lay in bed night after night. His secret was causing him a lot anxiety and the prospect of losing his job and damaging his marriage was devastating.  Where could he go? Who could he talk to that would understand? How was he going to make it? 

I’m sure as you're reading this, lots of emotions are being kicked up. You may be mad at the church for putting too many expectations on Tony. You may be frustrated with Tony for making poor decisions. You may be anxious because we’re talking church expectations and pornography. 

Below you’ll find two action items that can help in Tony’s circumstances. 

  1. If you are a Tony (a pastor): Know who your one phone call is. Write that person's name down. Who is the person that you can be real with? Who can you talk to about the crushing weight of expectations? Who can you confess your sins to? Who can hold you accountable? Practice making that call. Make the call when you’re just wondering about something. Make the call when you’re a little upset. Make the call now so that when something of larger consequence happens, it’s habit to pick up the phone. 
  2. If you’re a congregant: Ask your council to encourage your pastor to be part of a pastor peer group. Research suggests that pastor peer groups are one vital way to encourage pastoral thriving. And may I humbly suggest that you trust that your pastor really is trying their best. Pray for him or her regularly. And ask them how you can support them better. 

Now let's rewind the story. And play it again.

Tony has been serving at his church for a year. At the suggestion of the council, Tony joined a peer group. On the first Thursday of every month he eats breakfast with other pastors in the area. Over breakfast they bemoan congregants who seem to have a problem with everything they do. They talk about the challenges of being out of the house at night so much, missing their children's bedtimes, and holiday scheduling fiascos. They share hopes of their churches really making a difference in their neighborhood. They celebrate with each other in their highs and mourn together in their lows. And they end each breakfast asking how they can hold each other in prayer. 

The day Tony had his first encounter with pornography, he sat in his office shocked and confused. He closed his computer and sat in the silence for a full minute. Then he picked up the phone and called one of the pastors from his peer group. They talked for awhile and came up with a plan to help safeguard Tony. The other pastor had struggled with pornography before and knew of special filters for his computer that he could install. The other pastor also knew the best way to stay away from it was regular accountability. So they agreed for the next year they would hold each other accountable.

Tony had a few other missteps but he did the same thing he did the first day. He called his pastor friend. Through his conversations with his friend he came to realize that before each one of his missteps he was receiving criticism around his preaching. The next time he received criticism he called his friend first and broke the cycle that time and with increased frequency from then on. 

Tony’s story changed drastically because he had been practicing his one phone call. He had been practicing being in relationship with people he could be real with. It also changed because his congregation encouraged him and supported him. 

Look back over the action items above. What can you do differently?

John 17: 22b-23 "...that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

If you are struggling and need to make a confidential phone call today, we are here at Pastor Church Resources to help. Our number is 877-279-9994. Dave DenHaan (ext. 2712) or Cecil Van Niejenhuis (ext 2746).

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Community Builder

Thanks much for this, Friends. Now that I'm semi-retired from full-time pastoring, the pressures have decreased hugely. Still the stories you tell and the advice you offer are fitting and welcome. I know younger colleagues who I hope take this to heart and make that one call often. Blessings on your work. jcd

Community Builder

Thanks for the candid nature of this article and for showing the denominational agencies and staff as people who are there to serve.

Participant

Thank you for the article.  Much wisdom here which can be a challenge to follow through on given some contexts.  Pornography is one of those elephants in the room for the entire congregation, including the leadership.  

What I would like to note, (perhaps for a future article?) is that our CRC Art 17 process says very little about churches and pastors dealing with the issues leading up to these painful separations.  All those important supplements to Art 17 are about after the fact.  In the example scenario given it is the 2nd paragraph that is particularly problematic to me, the idea, so prevalent, that if a congregation is struggling, then get a new pastor to fix it.  It is my anecdotal observations of the CRC and other denominations that a healthy vibrant congregation engaged in ministry does not implode with a struggling pastor in their midst while a dysfunctional, self focused congregation concerned mostly with maintaining their same ways continues to decline regardless of what pastor they have.

So yes, have in place good support structures for the pastor but even more important is for congregations to face up to and deal with their own dysfunction.  Too many elephants in the collective room!  I am glad for the efforts of Pastor Church Resources to move ahead of the curve so to speak on these matters.   

Keep up the good work the the Lord will bring to completion as it is His work within us.

Community Builder

Thank you, Colin, for this comment. I guess I'm not terribly surprised by the last sentence in the 1st paragraph, but it did make me shudder. Do you have experience w/ this "elephant" affecting congregational life? It sounds like you do and that further comments on this might indeed be enlightening--how to talk about that elephant in the congregation's and leaders' room, for example. I must say that since I retired from full-time pastoring I haven't run across addiction to porn except early into my part-time work w/ then-CRWM. Your comments give me a nudge to make me think that I probably should be a little more pro-active in ferreting this out b/c missionaries are surely not immune to this addiction. Perhaps you have a couple of suggestions that could be helpful too. If you don't wish to do that in this public forum, I'd surely welcome an email, phone call or lunch to talk further. Blessings, jcd