The Legacy of a Fallen Pastor

Two weeks ago the former pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville passed away.  For 25 years Bill Hancock served as pastor of this church until his tenure came to a sudden end.  It ended in 1995 due to his marital infidelity.  After he left, ugly details circulated as he headed to rebuild his life in Texas.  He found a way to minister to hurting people by working for a funeral home.  The reporting of his death by the newspaper in Louisville has generated quite a bit of buzz.  Some of the comments were gracious and thankful for his positive influences in people’s lives.  Others gave evidence of having been hurt by the duplicitous life of this Christian leader.  Still others were extremely harsh towards a man who demonstrated the height of hypocrisy.

As I read through the articles and comments about this man, I thought about my own legacy — what it will be.  My story is similar to Hancock’s in many ways.  First, his fall came while serving as the pastor of a baptist church in Louisville, Kentucky.  So did mine.

Second, his fall came over a decade ago in 1995.  Mine happened two years later in 1997.  I had moved to Louisville in January of 1996 to do PhD work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and was pastor of the new Trinity Baptist Church (since merged with Clifton Baptist Church).  I remember visiting Highview Baptist Church in my early days in Louisville.  This was after Hancock’s tenure.

Third, some of the same people were involved in the cleanup of both falls.  Highview was strongly connected to Southern Seminary since it was the home church for President Al Mohler.  I was a student and a teaching fellow at Southern.  I don’t know about Hancock, but I had many face to face encounters with some of the folks at Southern.

In response to the printed account and responses to Hancock’s death, I am left with a number of things that I know and some things that I question.  Here are some of my thoughts:

1.  I am extremely grateful for those who have demonstrated grace and forgiveness to me.  It is obvious that Hancock had many who treated him the same way.  Some of these people will never know (this side of heaven) what that grace has meant to me.  Last week I received a phone call from one of these guys.  He was merely checking to see how I am doing and to chat.  I hung up the phone with a surge of gratitude to God for such a friend.

2.  I understand those who have a hard time expressing that kind of grace.  I cannot demand nor expect them to wipe the slate clean.  In fact, I have never understood those who so egregiously violate trust and expect others to forgive when an apology is offered.  If it is expected and can be demanded, then it is not grace.  Hancock nor I deserve to be forgiven and to have grace extended to us.  The problem is not with the response of people.  The problem was in our betrayal of our pastoral fidelity.

3.  I know that the consequences for this kind of sin will always exist, even if we leave this world.  Our actions have tarnished our name and the name of our God.  God can handle the defense of his name because of his holiness.  I have no defense.

4.  I know that the consequences are not limited to the individual sinner.  My family, in particular, was deeply wounded by my actions.  Several people expressed sorrow for Hancock’s family for having to read about this one segment in the life of their kin.  Unfortunately, that’s part of the deal.  My children will always have a father who failed to demonstrate godly love towards their mother.  They will continue to have to split holidays and special occasions.

5.  I am a bit envious that Hancock found a way to minister to hurting people.  I try to do the same in my writings and personal interactions with people.  My path has taken me into the business world.  I hope that I have had a godly influence on those with whom I have encountered.  Too often I have failed at that, too.

6.  I also have realized afresh that the sin of adultery did not negate the genuine heart-felt love and ministry to those before the fall.  One writer indicated that his own marriage has been solid and wonderful as a result of the teaching and advice received from Hancock prior to his/her wedding day.  I have heard from many of those among whom I had lived and ministered that have benefited spiritually from my pastoral leadership.

7.  I hope that those who are currently in pastoral ministry or preparing for the ministry will learn from those of us who have fallen.  It wasn’t worth it.  Period.

8.  I long to stand before my Lord and fall before the one who gave his life for my sin.  Hancock has now experienced that.

A few weeks ago, I opened up an email late at night while laying in my bed.  It was from somebody very dear to me.  It was a message of grace and love.  It expressed admiration for growing through this horrendous time of life and demonstrating a better love to those around me.  The message left me unable to speak with tears flowing down my cheeks.  Any struggles, as painful as they have been, pale in comparison to this amazing demonstration of grace.

I pray that I will continue to grow, be gracious and loving.  I pray that when I die, my legacy will be more than the stupidity of my actions in 1997.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Frank God called you to preach his word and it sounds like you’ve given up on that. I believe and this is my belief , that you never give up. Did Job? Did David? no many have sinned and fell short to glorified God but you don’t quit. You start all over. Get away from church doctrine and rules and go preach the word. All throughout the bible man sinned and yet continued serving the Lord. You were called to spread God’s word not let people and there feelings stop you. Now is the time to let the past be in the past and go to a church that dosen’t set rules on what you can and can not do. You could even start your own church. What is a church? Not rules, or a building, or all that goes with it, its when people join together to hear the word. People get caught up in all the rules of a doctrine and forget what it’s really all about. People have forgiven and yes some don’t forget but usually those who don’t forget have skeletons in there closet. Please don’t let the feelings of people or a church rule stop you from spreading the word. God forgave you and put all that behind you. Now is the time to make a stand and show your family and children that you will not give up. God called you to preach so go preach. I joined a non denominational church and love to just go and praise the Lord like I want to prise him. I can raise my hands and that’s in the bible . I can clap , I can speak in tongues when I want and receive gifts from God like I’ve never received before. I don’t have to listen to the rules and abide by stipulations because the church doctrine said to. You are a free man to go out and preach the word because God called you to do that. He dosen’t want you to live your life feeling guilt and shame but to hold your head up high and admit I made a horrible mistake but your not going to give up because someone told you you couldn’t preach anymore because of that sin. Search your heart and do what God wants you to do, you touched many peoples lives at your church and did great things for God. I say get in there again and serve the Lord. Do what God called you to do and don’t let anyone stop you. I love you and want you to get over that guilt and use the gift God gave you. Don’t let “Baptist doctrines” stop you from doing that. I got so tired of the Baptist churches telling me how I could and could not serve the Lord. My dad and yours never got to be a deacon of the church and that is sad because they are good men of God and why can’t everyone forgive that sin if God can. Why? Because they let there church rules tell them they couldn’t serve in that direction, that is so wrong. God didn’t put any stipulations on us he just wants us to serve Him, praise Him, worship Him and preach to others, spread the gospel all over the world . God will take care of you but you’ve got to put the past behind and start all over with Him. I believe he put this in my heart to share with you so pray about it and He will give you answers.

    • Serita, I appreciate your words and sentiments. Let me explain some of where I am coming from here. I think that the path I am on is the path God has for me. You seem to have a real negative sense of “doctrine”. But the same “Word” that I was called to preach speaks about having “sound doctrine.” The non-denominational approach that you advocate has simply replaced one doctrinal set for another. The word also speaks of the qualifications of a pastor. I have disqualified myself from this. This is according to the word. The word does have rules and doctrine.

      You spoke of David. He did continue (I haven’t given up either). But he did have serious consequences for his adultery that haunted him the rest of his life. Read about his children and it is evident that those consequences continued long after he found grace for his sin. He was restricted by God from doing certain things as well. You said that God doesn’t put any stipulations on us. I’m not sure where you get that, because a clear reading of the Bible indicates that there are.

      Nowhere are we told to hold our head high. That is a sign of pride. We are told to humble ourselves. To acknowledge our sin.

      I’m not sure it’s appropriate to criticize those who find it difficult to forgive as having their own skeletons. They may, but some who have a hard time simply have been wounded deeply. They should forgive, but I can’t demand their forgiveness.

      I’m just concerned that you write over and over about preaching and hearing the word, but how can this be if doctrine is not involved. Doctrine simply means “teaching.” So doctrine is the teaching of the Bible.

      Yes, God is a God worthy of our praise. Praise him, but don’t do that while ignoring what he has said.

      In Titus 1:9, we are told part of what a pastor must be, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Honestly, that doesn’t sound like what you are hearing in your church. But it’s the word.

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  • Rhonda

    Frank I do admire you for standing up and preaching God’s word however and wherever you can….Hang in there my friend.
    I enjoy reading what you write it really gives me pause and makes me truly think , I do thank you for this.

    God Bless

    • Thank you for the encouraging words, Rhonda.

  • Hey Frank,

    Thank you for your sharing your life so openly and frankly. It is obvious that grace abounds still more. Fight the good fight, my friend.

    • Thanks, Steve. It has been a number of years since we ministered together.

  • Jim Powell

    It happened to me in 2000, after 15 years of ministry.

    Bill Hancock was a very dear friend, and I am saddened to hear of his death. He was a great preacher, but like myself, let the flesh take over one day.

    I was weak, and I’ve paid the price for over 10 years now. The hardest part for me is remembering all the people I hurt, especially my children.

    I so miss the joy of preaching.

    God forgive me.

    • Jim, I know the feelings. I’m sorry to hear about the direction your life took, and yes we did hurt a number of people. I will pray for you to be strengthened and renewed. I, too, miss preaching. Countless times I have prayed through Psalm 51.