Tuesday, June 9, 2009

When a Pastor has a Moral Failure

A pastor I know had a moral failure and has resigned his church. (I mentioned this on Sunday’s post). I would like to speak to this topic today……

I hate it when this happens. I have been in church-related ministry since 1984 (about 25 years – half my life), and I have witnessed dozens and dozens of moral failures committed by pastors, staff, ministry leaders, and church members. It happens across the board in churches…. but is particularly grievous when it occurs with senior staff members or senior pastors.

This pastor admitted having a six-week affair with his assistant. Following the direction of the church Overseers (fellow pastors) he resigned from the church he planted five years ago; effective immediately. The damage his actions will cause to his family, the family of the other woman, and the 1000-attendance congregation will continue for many years.

While I don’t wish to speak too specifically to this situation…. I do, however, want to comment on pastors shipwrecking their lives, their families, and their ministries. The details vary, but the end result for ministry transgression is always the same – ruin. For the rest of us, the question is not ‘what happened?’ but rather how can we avoid the same fate. Here are a few thoughts:

1. If you think you are not vulnerable, you’re headed for failure. It you think you are too honest, too faithful, too ‘in love with Jesus’ to ever be involved in an affair or some other type of moral transgression, you are setting yourself up for a fall. The fact, is, you are capable of backsliding, getting ‘emotionally involved’ with someone other than your spouse, having an affair, stealing, watching pornography, or telling lies to your family. Just be honest about your weaknesses.

2. If you think you can work all the time, burning the candle at both ends, you’re headed for a failure. There are no spiritual giants in ministry. When I read of pastors (or church staff) who get up at 4:00 AM every day, who work seven days a week, and counsel people on their ‘day off,’ I know they are headed for a meltdown. God took a day off when He created the heaven and earth, and Jesus even took a ‘beach trip’ to Tyre and Sidon (Mark 7:24) during His ministry. You are not God…. and you are not Jesus. You need down time.

3. If you don’t think you need safeguards built into your life, you’re headed for failure. Nobody wakes up one morning and says, “I think I’ll go have an affair today.” No, we gradually move in that direction over time. We move in that direction because we have no ‘hedges’ or ‘boundaries’ that we have imposed upon ourselves. Life without boundaries is stupid. It is a guaranteed strategy for failure. Boundaries don’t guarantee that you will never have a moral failure, but they DO provide enough ‘margin’ to change your mind before you act.

4. If you think your ministry is (primarily) about you, you are headed for a failure. Failure begins with ego. When you begin to think that you are successful because you are smart, talented, cool, intellectually advanced, pious, special, more humble or more dedicated than anyone else – rather than recognizing that your successes are because God has called and gifted you – then you are train wreck waiting to happen.

5. If you think you can be in the ministry without accountability, you are headed for failure. We need people ‘in the church’ where we serve, that we are face-to-face with on a regular basis, who know us, our spouses, and our assistants, who can ask the tough questions.

MINISTRY is a MARATHON. It you do not pay attention to the danger signs alone the way, you will crash & burn before you cross the finish line. You may have a spectacular crash by a moral failure that is very public, or it may be the slow destruction of your marriage, or it may be the defiling of your own soul; but Satan is quite capable of using the ministry to ruin you.

Three things every pastor (and church staff member) needs to do:

1. Slow down. Hey, you’re not going to change the world - and there’s plenty of time left to try. So in the meantime, spend more time with your husband/wife, spend quality time with your kids, exercise, and simply relax. God was at work long before you showed up on the scene, and He will be at work long after you are gone. You cannot live on adrenaline…. drive… and personal ambition all time.

No one wakes up one day and decides to shipwreck their life and ministry. It’s done one stupid decision at a time. As someone who has seen this happen again and again, I am pleading with you to take action today. It can happen to you too.

2. Memorize scriptures and quote them often. If Jesus used the scriptures to defeat Satan during His temptation, then it’s a good example for us to follow. Three times Jesus said, “It is written…”

3. Get accountable to someone. Your spouse is the first person, and the best person, to be accountable to. Be open, honest, and transparent with each other. Acknowledge your weaknesses. Be there for each other. Beyond your spouse, find a good friend, (perhaps a ministry peer), who you can have an accountability relationship with. They will help keep you on the straight and narrow.

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