Last week, well known pastor, author and evangelical John MacArthur hosted a conference at his church called “Strange Fire.” The three day event was based upon the idea that the “Charismatic movement is leading people astray and dishonors the Holy Spirit.” At stake is whether certain gifts of the Holy Spirit are still in operation. Popular blogger Tim Challies live blogged the event and did a good job of covering it. For those interested, he had a good post covering the issues.
Like any theological topic, things got heated during the event. People are still discussing it. Why? Because there are people on both sides of the aisle who believe they are right. On one side are those who tend to come from charismatic or Assembly of God backgrounds and the other come from Baptist or other traditional backgrounds.
Now, before you comment, I know there are those who are in denominations who take the other side. Got it. That’s not why I’m writing today.
MacArthur has been writing on this issue for years. I remember reading his book, “Charismatic Chaos” when I was just 14 or 15. The debate has been going on for a long time. One writer said that MacArthur, in his arguments at the conference, was accusing half a billion Christians of blasphemy.
So, this disagreement between denominations and Christians is nothing new.
What concerns me is that there is a huge epidemic occurring that to the best of my knowledge, no major church, mega-church pastor, or denomination (or denominations) has set up a conference for. It is a scourge that is bringing our church leadership down at what appear to be record rates.
I speak of course, of pastors who are leaving the ministry due to moral failure.
Let me tell you this – my inbox has been filled with questions from charismatic pastors and churches asking, “What is happening to our pastors and leaders?” A few months ago, several charismatic pastors in the state of Florida fell. More recently came the tragedy of Ron Carpenter’s wife.
And if you want to look at Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans or Fundamentalists, feel free. They have had their own share of fallen pastors in the past few years.
It is a very serious issue that no one wants to talk about or address at the local, associational, state or denominational level. Think it’s not a problem? In my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” I have a ton of stats that show what lead to a pastor failing morally in the ministry. In the Kindle edition, there are some stats that users highlight that stand out the most to them. Here they are:
- According to the following statistics, one in three active pastors admits to having an affair, 70% of pastors deal with depression, seven out of ten report having no close friends.
- 77% of pastors reported they did not have a good marriage.
- 1,500 pastors a month are leaving due to burnout, conflict or moral failure.
There are a lot more than just that. Meanwhile, the best we seem to be able to do as evangelicals is respond to the situation. Do a Google search and you’ll find such articles like, “Should Fallen Pastors Be Restored?” by John MacArthur (his answer is “not to the ministry”); or an article that interviews evangelicals on whether pastors should be restored after a fall.
Friends, asking whether a pastor should return to the pulpit is a question. But it’s just one. And it’s not even the most important one. I’ve only lightly addressed it on this blog because there are about 100 questions to be asked before you get to that one. Addressing the failure is like creating awareness the disease after it has happened instead of trying to prevent it in the lives of thousands.
It’s easy to get pastors to attend a conference around things that are popular to talk about and that people will defend tooth and nail. But why is it so difficult to gather up leaders who will sponsor a conference/conferences over a topic that is removing ministers from our midst on a daily basis? To organize a conference so that we might learn (or remind ourselves) that ministry failure is absolutely preventable?
What makes matters worse is we are facing a generation of church leaders, members, deacons, elders, associations and denominations who are not equipped with how to handle a fallen pastor. Most don’t know what to do with a fallen pastor. He either gets kicked to the curb or his sin is ignored and he is immediately placed back into the pulpit. Both are wrong responses, but come because people just aren’t prepared. To MacArthur’s credit in his article mentioned above, he said, “The church should do everything possible to minister to those who have sinned and repented.”
I fully agree. On top of that, after four years, I have learned there are at least four distinct causes that lead a pastor to a fall. He is ultimately responsible for his own sin. But if he is not careful, there are factors that will weaken him to a point of no return.
So what holds us back from forming such a conference where we can invite pastors, church leaders, church members, elders, deacons, and anyone who wants to learn how to prevent ministry failure? I believe there are several reasons.
First, I believe many pastors won’t admit they are capable of such sin. Sure, they may say, “It could happen to anyone, even me. I’m a sinner like anyone else.” But do pastors really believe that? I hope they do. Because it happens all too frequently.
One statistic I share in my book is that at least a third of evangelical pastors (still serving) have had a relationship with a member of the opposite sex where they felt they crossed the line. Heck, this website quotes a study that says 54% of pastors admit to looking at pornography in the past year. If one is not aware of the signs and symptoms and does not take the steps to prevent it, they will be susceptible to a fall.
Secondly, such a conference might not be appealing is because we don’t want to think our pastor or a member of our church leadership could be capable of such a think. We see our church leader on that platform every Sunday preaching or performing the act of worship. We look up to them. We might even hear of another minister falling and think, “Well, my pastor would never do that.” That statement has been said by many unsuspecting church members whose pastor eventually fell.
We don’t want to think our leaders will fall. But it happened to many of our heroes in Scripture. But thanks be to God that He is gracious and loving. But we need to be aware of how we can help our leadership.
Third, pastors place a great amount of pressure upon themselves. They hold onto the need to keep up appearances. I know this because I was a pastor that did that. And I have talked to fallen pastors who did the same. And I have pastor friends now who tell me they do it.
When you create such pressure for yourself and you get invited to a conference on “How to Avoid Ministry Failure” you might feel like it would make you feel weak. Like you can’t handle the job on your own. Like you can’t just tough it out. But that’s not reasonable. Everyone, especially pastors, need support and encouragement.
In closing, I think it is interesting how different denominations handle fallen pastors. In my book and in my counseling, I have spoken with many fallen pastors from several denominations. Those who tended to come from a charismatic background were often given counseling or given a chance to return to the pulpit. Those who came from Baptist backgrounds or other evangelical churches were often fired and kicked out with no offer of counseling.
I think the model for restoration lies somewhere in between. Galatians 6:1 should be our guide. If one of us is caught in a sin, the church should seek to restore. Restore to what? Restore such a one to Christ. That process takes a long time. But as I’ve counseled fallen pastors, I’ve found it is worth it.
I pray and hope that one day, we will understand the need to have meetings, conferences, talks, messages at our churches that are designed to let people and pastors know that ministry failure is a huge deal. It is tearing churches apart. We cannot simply continue to ignore it. It must be dealt with through prevention. The church leadership must work together lovingly with the pastor and the pastor must recognize his own limitations.
I pray that soon we will stop ignoring this horrific sin and kill it before it enters into the minds of any more church leaders.
Are you a fallen pastor, burned out pastor, pastor on the brink or a church that has gone through a tough time? You might start out by reading, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.” (Available in paperback or on Amazon Kindle). There are a lot of things in there that will help pastors prevent ministry failure and a lot of things to help pastors after they fall. There are also helps for churches whose pastors have fallen.
Need more help than that? Feel free to contact the author of this blog and the book, Ray Carroll. He’d love to talk to you. Anything you say will be kept confidential.