Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in adultery, church leadership, church members, churches, ministry, pastoring, pastors | Posted on 07-11-2013
When pastors choose to commit adultery, they don’t just wake up one morning with carnal ideas in their mind and go looking for the first woman they can find. The road to moral failure is one filled with warnings and big flashing warning signs and many chances to repent. In my book, Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World, I list several of the events that can lead up to a pastor’s moral failure.
When he gets to that make or break point, it’s the pastor who chooses to cross the line. Unfortunately, by the time he has gotten to that line, it’s probably too late.
One of the most interesting things I learned in writing and as I’ve counseled pastors for the past few years is that before they ever had moral failure, they had a first mistress long before…
The Church Is The First Mistress
When a pastor takes on his first church, or even his second, he is dedicated to the ministry. He wants to please his church and God more than anything. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that pleasing Christ and the people in the building are two different things. God knows I can speak from experience after eight years. And I know after seeing fallen pastors and talking to pastors who are still in ministry, I can testify to this.
In my book, Fallen Pastor, I quote these statistics:
- More than 40% of pastors and 47% of their spouses report they are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules and unrealistic expectations.
- 71% stated they were burned out and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis
- 30% said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner
- 30-40% of ministers ultimately drop out of ministry
- 75% go through a period of stress so great, they consider quitting
- 90% work more than 46 hours a week
- 80% believed pastoral ministry affected their families negatively
- 33% believed ministry was a hazard to their ministry
Pastors are consumed with their jobs. They are consumed more with their jobs than they are with their families, I am afraid. In my book, I quote Bill Leonard, an expert in counseling pastors: “A lot of ministers have what we call the ‘mistress,’ which is the church. They’re eating supper the phone rings and the mistress has called. They’re getting ready to take a vacation, something in the church happens and the vacation is cancelled. The mistress has taken precedence over the family.” (Fallen Pastor, 26)
Further, I write about this a few paragraphs later: ” The mistress, the church, is not the same as the true body of Christ. The mistress of ministry is harsh and demanding, it is the overwhelming passion of success that becomes addictive. Within it are the payoffs of appreciation and acceptance.” (Fallen Pastor, 26-27)
In all of this, the church is completely unaware of the passion the pastor has for the church. He is driven to please her, to make programs for her, to make her great. Even to the point to neglect his own family and marriage for her. Unfortunately, men do this to their own fall. They neglect their own families to the point to where they become weak to temptation and fall into a trap and sin. That sin is their own responsibility.
But it is something the church seems to be unaware of. I guess in seminary, I wasn’t listening correctly. I was to build the church; to grow it, make it great. Make programs so that it grew immensely. But I seemed to forget it was made of people. People who needed help. People who were broken and needed to hear basic truth. When I came out of seminary, I thought every church, regardless of size, should be able to grow to be a super-mega-sized church. That was my folly. I poured my heart into programs, ideas, catalogs, and thoughts of other people. Yes, I did preach the Word, but it didn’t seem to be enough.
So what is the response of the frustrated pastor? Pour in all of your time, every moment of it – into your church. When that happens, you begin to think that the church does not belong to Christ, it is a reflection upon you and what you are doing. So you obsess even more about it. Every task becomes important within the church, from the way the pews smell, the way the bulletins are folded, to whether the offering is at the back or front end of the service. Everything becomes an all consuming desire for the pastor and the church becomes his mistress. Nothing comes before her.
Now on to the wounded church…
The Hurt Church
When the pastor falls into a sin, they had no idea they they were being treated as his first mistress. They saw a young up and comer preaching the Word of God to them. They saw a pastor who was trying to make change and bringing young couples to the church. After the fall, I have noted several complaints from the fallen pastor: “They didn’t appreciate me; they placed me too high on a pedestal; they overworked me; they put me under so much pressure so that I couldn’t spend time with my family; I wasn’t paid enough; I didn’t get the satisfaction from my work that I needed; I didn’t get enough help; the conflict was too great for me.”
Those are all important complaints. They are valid complaints. Too many times the pastor doesn’t voice those complaints to the church until it is too late. But even when he does, he may feel like the church leadership dismisses those complaints as if they aren’t “that big of a deal.” Pastors often feel discouraged by the leadership’s response.
Let me tell you the honest truth. If a pastor ever, ever complains to the church leadership behind closed doors about a problem, take it seriously. Help him. Most pastors internalize their problems and think they can fix everything on their own. But on the rare occasion that he comes to you in severe stress, even crying,or pouring his heart out, try to fix it. Get to the heart of the matter. Because you have a pastor who is about to fail. Or you have a man who is more than worried about how much offering is taken in or how few people are in the seats on Sunday.
When a pastor has a serious concern that he brings before his deacons, he has a personal problem. And it probably goes way back to family life, a church conflict, or his own soul. Listen to him.
Listen to him before he falls.
What the Wounded Church Can Do
What can you do if you pastor has committed adultery?
Well, let me ask you this – what would you want someone to do if you had fallen into a deep pit with seemingly no way out? Would you want them to walk by the pit and say, “Well, stupid, you shouldn’t have fallen into that pit into the first place?”
Nope. You’d want a rope thrown to you. Adulterous pastors won’t want to respond to help right away either. They will be resistant. But like Dr. Hershael York said in my book, if a man shows any sign of repentance, they’re worth going after. And this is very important – if you don’t think your church is after the task, find a group of people who are.
For years, your pastor man stood at the invitation begging for people to be saved. Now it’s your turn to help him. In the spirit of Galatians 6:1, we are urged to restore men to Christ. Not necessarily to the pulpit, but just to a right relationship to Christ. If you can’t do it, find someone who will. Don’t just toss him on the trash heap of Gehenna. Reach out to those who might give him some help.
How the Church Can Be Healed
This isn’t easy and it will take time. I’m here to talk to any church that loses a pastor. Contact me. Don’t think you’re going to heal in a matter of two months when an interim comes along. It takes longer than that. There are people in your church who will be disillusioned and hurt. Don’t sweep it under the rug, because the stuff you sweep under the rug will jump out and haunt you years later.
Get your church help to heal. If you don’t the next pastor who comes in will be handling the baggage of the last pastor. He won’t last long either. Trust me.
Bottom line: This isn’t easy. Don’t go it alone. Get help from your denomination, from counselors, from experts, from other churches. Don’t try to fix it yourself because you are hurt, angry and devastated. You need help just as much as your fallen pastor.
Ray Carroll is author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.” If you are a fallen pastor, a pastor in trouble, a church whose pastor has fallen, or need someone to talk to your group about preventing ministry failure, please feel free to contact Ray here. All messages will be kept confidential.