Pastoral Adultery Doesn’t Happen Overnight

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Pastoral Adultery Doesn't Happen Overnight

pastorad“Our pas­tor com­mit­ted adul­tery! How did this happen?”

If I’ve heard this once since I fell from min­istry, I’ve heard it a thou­sand times. When a pas­tor falls, it is a shock­ing thing to the church and com­mu­nity. People’s emo­tions range from shock then to anger in a mat­ter of days. “How could he?”

Let’s deal with the real­ity first. Here are a few sta­tis­tics that I quoted in my book, “Fallen Pas­tor: Find­ing Restora­tion in a Bro­ken World”:

  • 80% of pas­tors and 84% of their spouses are dis­cour­aged and deal­ing with depression
  • More than 40% of pas­tors and 47% of their spouses report they are suf­fer­ing from burnout, fran­tic sched­ules and unre­al­is­tic expectations
  • Approx­i­mately 1,500 pas­tors leave their assign­ments each month due to moral fail­ure, spir­i­tual burnout, or con­tention within their local congregations
  • 89% of pas­tors stated they con­sid­ered leav­ing the min­istry at one time

Now, back to the pas­tor who cheated …

After the gos­sip wagon kicks into full gear and every­one knows who the pas­tor cheated with, the peo­ple begin to make assump­tions. “Oh, I always thought I saw him pay­ing her more atten­tion. He always did hug her a lit­tle too long.” Those assump­tions may be right or wrong, but it’s part of the church’s way of deal­ing with the betrayal.

Unfor­tu­nately, most church mem­bers don’t ever see what goes on behind the scenes with their pas­tor. A pas­tor is placed in charge of a church to care for his flock, to preach the Word, visit the sick and new mem­bers. How­ever, those are not the only duties he has to deal with.

His duties also include deal­ing with con­flict between mem­bers, con­flict at church busi­ness meet­ings, lis­ten­ing to com­plaints (sug­ges­tions) from peo­ple who know how to do things bet­ter, deacon’s meet­ings, staff meet­ings, funer­als, wed­dings, and other tasks that few hear about on Sunday.

It’s almost like going to a stage play. When you go to church, you sit in a pew and watch a playper­for­mance. You expect the choir to sing, a spe­cial music, and the pas­tor to preach. He looks nice in his suit or khakis (depend­ing on his dress style) and every­thing looks great to the con­gre­ga­tion and visitors.

At a stage play, though, there are a ton of things going on behind the scenes. There are stage hands rear­rang­ing for the next act, peo­ple giv­ing cues to the actors, peo­ple work­ing lights, the direc­tor bark­ing direc­tions, cos­tume changes, and a myr­iad of other tasks.

It’s the same at church. Parish­ioners see a pol­ished prod­uct on stage, but there is a lot that goes into a Sun­day ser­vice – espe­cially in the life of a pas­tor. A week filled with prayer, vis­i­ta­tion, Bible study, phone calls, deal­ing with con­flict, etc.

Back to the orig­i­nal ques­tion: “Our pas­tor com­mit­ted adul­tery! How did this happen?”

It didn’t hap­pen overnight. The process that led to his fall had been build­ing for years. Let me give you an exam­ple. About every time I talk to a fallen pas­tor, I ask him the fol­low­ing ques­tions. “Were you hav­ing severe con­flict in your church for a while?” “Were you hav­ing severe mar­riage issues?” “Had you had a tragedy in your life in the past two years?” “Did you feel that you were put up on an unre­al­is­tic pedestal?” “Did you feel isolated?”

Every time, the per­son answers yes to almost every ques­tion. These things have been going on for years. Like a pas­tor friend of mine said recently who pas­tors a very large church, “Min­istry Fallen_Pastor_Cover_1200wis tough. It’s tough on me and it’s tough on my family.”

How does it hap­pen? Because the pas­tor allows him­self to become iso­lated. Because he isn’t get­ting help from his church. Because the min­istry has a ter­ri­ble effect on many mar­riages. Again, it’s all part of a pat­tern that leads up to almost every fall. In my book, I have sto­ries of many men who fall and the sto­ries are remark­ably similar.

The pas­tor doesn’t wake up one day and say, “This stinks, I think I want out. I’m going to have an affair.”

But it’s close. What I’ve dis­cov­ered is that after years of depres­sion, anx­i­ety and grow­ing tired of all the con­flict, the pas­tor just wants to be out of the min­istry. Some pas­tors turn to alco­hol, gam­bling, lazi­ness, embez­zling, or pornog­ra­phy. These men are most often for­given and allowed back into the min­istry at some point. These men don’t really want out of the min­istry, I think.

Like most min­is­ters, they pour their hearts out to peo­ple every day and are look­ing (wrongly) to some­thing to ful­fill them. They self­ishly look to some­thing to make them happy, to make them happy. I think that set of men are look­ing for help, but think if they get caught they can get the help they need.

The min­is­ter who com­mits adul­tery is a man who just wants out. He’s done. He’s tired of it all. Every­thing has come crash­ing down and he has had enough. Enough of his dis­turbed mar­riage, enough of the neg­a­tive con­flicts, enough of being iso­lated, enough of it all. He’s not look­ing for some­one, but he inad­ver­tently finds some­one who meets the needs he hasn’t been getting.

This process takes years.

What’s my point? That inter­ven­tion right before a man com­mits adul­tery is almost use­less. It’scliff like try­ing to grab for a man right after he’s jumped off the cliff.

Would you like to help your pas­tor? Get involved in his life. Make sure he’s being men­tored. Make sure he and his wife have time set alone just for them. Send them on retreats for spir­i­tual renewal. Make sure church lead­er­ship responds cor­rectly to con­flict and doesn’t place the load on the pastor.

Approach him hon­estly about these things. He may not open up to you, but there are peo­ple in the church he will open up to. Don’t let him become one of the 1,500 pas­tors a month who leave the min­istry due to church con­flict, moral fail­ure, or burnout.

Scrip­ture tells us to all be on guard. Let us all rally around our shep­herd before it’s too late.

_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​_​

Ray Car­roll is the 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.

pastorad“Our pastor committed adultery! How did this happen?”

If I’ve heard this once since I fell from ministry, I’ve heard it a thousand times. When a pastor falls, it is a shocking thing to the church and community. People’s emotions range from shock then to anger in a matter of days. “How could he?”

Let’s deal with the reality first. Here are a few statistics that I quoted in my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World“:

  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses are discouraged and dealing with depression
  • More than 40% of pastors and 47% of their spouses report they are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules and unrealistic expectations
  • Approximately 1,500 pastors leave their assignments each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention within their local congregations
  • 89% of pastors stated they considered leaving the ministry at one time

Now, back to the pastor who cheated . . .

After the gossip wagon kicks into full gear and everyone knows who the pastor cheated with, the people begin to make assumptions. “Oh, I always thought I saw him paying her more attention. He always did hug her a little too long.” Those assumptions may be right or wrong, but it’s part of the church’s way of dealing with the betrayal.

Unfortunately, most church members don’t ever see what goes on behind the scenes with their pastor. A pastor is placed in charge of a church to care for his flock, to preach the Word, visit the sick and new members. However, those are not the only duties he has to deal with.

His duties also include dealing with conflict between members, conflict at church business meetings, listening to complaints (suggestions) from people who know how to do things better, deacon’s meetings, staff meetings, funerals, weddings, and other tasks that few hear about on Sunday.

It’s almost like going to a stage play. When you go to church, you sit in a pew and watch a playperformance. You expect the choir to sing, a special music, and the pastor to preach. He looks nice in his suit or khakis (depending on his dress style) and everything looks great to the congregation and visitors.

At a stage play, though, there are a ton of things going on behind the scenes. There are stage hands rearranging for the next act, people giving cues to the actors, people working lights, the director barking directions, costume changes, and a myriad of other tasks.

It’s the same at church. Parishioners see a polished product on stage, but there is a lot that goes into a Sunday service – especially in the life of a pastor. A week filled with prayer, visitation, Bible study, phone calls, dealing with conflict, etc.

Back to the original question: “Our pastor committed adultery! How did this happen?”

It didn’t happen overnight. The process that led to his fall had been building for years. Let me give you an example. About every time I talk to a fallen pastor, I ask him the following questions. “Were you having severe conflict in your church for a while?” “Were you having severe marriage issues?” “Had you had a tragedy in your life in the past two years?” “Did you feel that you were put up on an unrealistic pedestal?” “Did you feel isolated?”

Every time, the person answers yes to almost every question. These things have been going on for years. Like a pastor friend of mine said recently who pastors a very large church, “Ministry Fallen_Pastor_Cover_1200wis tough. It’s tough on me and it’s tough on my family.”

How does it happen? Because the pastor allows himself to become isolated. Because he isn’t getting help from his church. Because the ministry has a terrible effect on many marriages. Again, it’s all part of a pattern that leads up to almost every fall. In my book, I have stories of many men who fall and the stories are remarkably similar.

The pastor doesn’t wake up one day and say, “This stinks, I think I want out. I’m going to have an affair.”

But it’s close. What I’ve discovered is that after years of depression, anxiety and growing tired of all the conflict, the pastor just wants to be out of the ministry. Some pastors turn to alcohol, gambling, laziness, embezzling, or pornography. These men are most often forgiven and allowed back into the ministry at some point. These men don’t really want out of the ministry, I think.

Like most ministers, they pour their hearts out to people every day and are looking (wrongly) to something to fulfill them. They selfishly look to something to make them happy, to make them happy. I think that set of men are looking for help, but think if they get caught they can get the help they need.

The minister who commits adultery is a man who just wants out. He’s done. He’s tired of it all. Everything has come crashing down and he has had enough. Enough of his disturbed marriage, enough of the negative conflicts, enough of being isolated, enough of it all. He’s not looking for someone, but he inadvertently finds someone who meets the needs he hasn’t been getting.

This process takes years.

What’s my point? That intervention right before a man commits adultery is almost useless. It’scliff like trying to grab for a man right after he’s jumped off the cliff.

Would you like to help your pastor? Get involved in his life. Make sure he’s being mentored. Make sure he and his wife have time set alone just for them. Send them on retreats for spiritual renewal. Make sure church leadership responds correctly to conflict and doesn’t place the load on the pastor.

Approach him honestly about these things. He may not open up to you, but there are people in the church he will open up to. Don’t let him become one of the 1,500 pastors a month who leave the ministry due to church conflict, moral failure, or burnout.

Scripture tells us to all be on guard. Let us all rally around our shepherd before it’s too late.

_____________________

Ray Carroll is the 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.

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