The chapter on sexual deviation includes the case of an exhibitionist Sunday School teacher who took disgusting nude photos of himself which he e-mailed to a young teenager in the church, and a transvestite demanding to use the woman's restroom in church.  In the latter case, the individual insisted upon being included as part of leadership (inclusiveness), and (being a professional musician) he wanted to become a part of the music and worship team.

The restroom request was refused. He had actually used the women's restroom. When this was discovered, women in the church admitted feeling uncomfortable and demanded that something be done about it.

In an attempt to accommodate the transvestite, it was suggested that a restroom could be set up for his exclusive use. This idea was roundly rejected – to which he protested as "discrimination" and threatened that he might file a lawsuit against the church.

A similar problem occurred (in another section of the country with a different denomination) with a married man with two children, who turned out to be a transsexual who was preparing for a sex-change operation. He also demanded to use the women's restroom.

He belonged to the local Gay/Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Alliance, a group that encouraged him to continue his church involvement and to press for change in the church. There also was the possibility of a lawsuit against the church by them on his behalf.

Practical Advice, Not Sensational

At this point, the book resembles a cross between Dr. Phil and The Jerry Springer Show. However, this is not a "sensationalist" book. It is a textbook for counseling and conflict resolution, providing guidelines in handling this kind of messy stuff in the church today.

The book also addresses the problems of gambling, pornography, and divorce. What is shocking is how these problems are becoming more common among ministers. This particular chapter spotlights a "pastor" who is called "Derek."

This man is a composite of every bad pastor imagined – and it surely verifies that a major problem with pastors today is that they entered the ministry as a career choice rather than in response to a calling. This chapter should challenge all pastors to re-examine and re-think their own lives and conduct, and how they are handling the ministry that has been entrusted to them.

While it is a major issue today, not all the book is about sexual issues. There is much more – spouse and child abuse, alcohol abuse, miscarriage and stillborn babies, grief (chaplains especially deal with this almost daily), depression, suicide (one of the most difficult events to deal with), abortion, AIDS (do you let the church know?), and even murder.

Regularity of Problems

These are the problems that are coming up with increased regularity in churches today in a world of chaos and confusion. And pastors and chaplains must be equipped to handle them spiritually, professionally, and most importantly of all ... effectively.  This book teaches how to deal with these problems – as the author states (and teaches) – "head-on."

The only frustration this reviewer has with the book is that each chapter ends with a cliff-hanger. We are not told the outcome of each case.  However, that was the intention of the author, who explains in the foreword that not all resolutions come out the same, even in identical situations.

It is left up to the readers to pursue the cases further, with the aid of the discussion questions at the end of each chapter, and to come up with their own solution as to how it might conclude. There is also an appendix titled "How To Use Case Studies."


"Facing Messy Stuff" lends itself to group studies. It would be well for local pastors' organizations to do this among themselves using Swetland's book as a text.

In addition, this is a reference book that should always be near the pastor's fingertips. A noted chaplain who works in the San Francisco Bay area, Rev. Carson Curcini, after looking over the notes for this review, stated: "This is a very important book for pastors ... especially for this day and age that we live in."

To that this minister can give a hearty "Amen!"  "Facing Messy Stuff in the Church" should be in every pastor's and chaplain's library.

© 2005 AgapePress.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.