When a Pastor Self-Destructs

We’ve all seen it. The pastor who quietly resigns to go sell insurance for the rest of his life. Or the pastor who goes back to college to get his MBA. Or maybe it’s the pastor who decides he really did want to raise horses on that little farm 40 miles outside town and never preach again.

selfdestructThe men I counsel are those who are walking through issues so deep they decide to cast aside family, calling and church to run away to the fantasy of another relationship.

We’ve all heard the sayings as well, “If you can do anything else besides pastor, do it,” or “It’s the hardest job in the world; it’s not for anyone but the called.

It’s not always that simple, though. Pastors who have never faced the brink of despair may never understand it and parishioners who haven’t faced the struggles of ministry can’t understand what happens when a pastor self-destructs.

To be fair, that’s not always what happens when a pastor leaves the pulpit for another job or when he commits adultery. Sometimes he want to work another job. Sometimes it’s sin that has grabbed his heart and he has succumbed to his own selfishness.

There are times when pastors self-destruct. I’ve seen it happen. It’s not an excuse for sin or abandonment, but if it can be prevented, we could save a lot of ministers.

To understand pastoral self-destruction, one must know that pastors have a lot of internal struggles when it comes to identity and confidence. A 2006 Barna survey found that 98% of pastors saw themselves as “effective Bible teachers” but of the same group, 61% said they had few close friends. In the same survey, 1/6th of pastors felt under-appreciated.

Many pastors are very confident in their training and knowledge of the Bible. But when it comes to dealing with people and how others see them, their confidence fades.

I know what you’re saying, “Pastors shouldn’t worry about what people think about them.” This statement is partially true. We should always preach truth and not worry about the accolades of men.

But all of us are concerned about what others say. And pastors are concerned about it to some degree because their position is dependent upon some degree of likability, right? The pastor should be likable and personable, sure. But from talking to pastors (and from being one) I know some guys struggle with an unrealistic expectation of having to be too much for people.

So far, we’ve discussed two things that can destroy a pastor that I discussed in my book – isolation and unrealistic expectations. When a pastor lets these things snowball and get out of control, he starts looking for a way out.

Pastors need guidance, mentoring, friends, support, and help to make it in ministry. We like to talk about the battle we are engaged in as Christians – well, the pastor is on the front lines. We should be helping those who are leading and surrounding them with as much support as possible.

Unfortunately, many pastors are struggling with feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, self-loathing, and depression. And by the time anyone else knows, it’s too late.

Pastors shouldn’t commit adultery. Pastors shouldn’t be led to feel like they have to leave the ministry to go sell used cars. If we’re going to change it, we have to do more.

Pastors, get help. Surround yourself with support. Be honest with those around you about your struggles, weaknesses and needs. Church leaders, love your pastor with your prayer, support and give him what he needs to fight the good fight.

Don’t let your pastor self-destruct before your eyes.


Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.

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