Pastoral Adultery Doesn’t Happen Overnight
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 performance. 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 is 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.
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.