When a rocket explodes on the launch pad, it costs millions of dollars. Recently, the SpaceX Falcon 9, an unmanned rocket exploded on liftoff. Much time and research was spent in discovering the reason for failure. Scientists, physicists and engineers pore over all kinds of data to discover the issue.
When a pastor fails morally, it is a devastating event. When it happens, people want to know, “Why did he do it? What was he thinking?” It is an affront to God, it harms many relationships, it violates the marriage vow, and leaves many disillusioned people in its wake. I know, because almost five years ago, I committed adultery while pastoring.
Many people have taken time to dissect moral failure in ministry, but it keeps happening on a regular basis. I’d like to add my own voice and experience to the discussion after six years of counseling so many fallen pastors and answer the question, “What causes ministry failure?”
I want to list 4 factors that lead to ministry failure.
Before I do, I want to make a couple of important remarks. First, the question, “Why did he commit adultery?” is a complex question that requires a complex answer. There’s not going to be an answer that gives anyone complete satisfaction. When I wrote a book where I interviewed other fallen pastors, I was able to identify factors that led to moral failure. But even knowing these things doesn’t bring complete comfort.
It’s also important to know that these points aren’t an excuse or justification for adultery. The ultimate answer for “why do we fall short?” is “because we are sinful people who disobey God.” At some point, when a pastor begins to take his eyes off of God and makes a conscious choice to fall into temptation, the sin is his to own. Sin is behind each of these problems listed below. These are factors that lead up to that point. For more discussions of these points, please search my blog or check out my book.
Many pastors do not have a strong support system. A lot of pastors don’t even have a close friend. The Fuller Institute reported in a study that 70% of pastors said they did not have someone they considered a close friend. In the ministry, having close friends you can share things with and be accountable to is extremely important. Forming a network of fellow pastors, mentors, and counselors who can help you through tough times is paramount to ministry survival.
2. Poor Marriage Relationship
I know a lot of pastors who have a wonderful relationship with their spouse and family. I’m also involved in this ministry now to help pastors who are in trouble, fallen pastors, their wives, women who have had affairs with pastors, and church leaders and members. I’ve learned that there are many troubled ministry marriages out there. A Francis Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership study reported that 77% of pastors said they did not have a good marriage. The same report said that 30% of them reported they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishoner. A poor marriage is one of the strongest indicators that ministry failure is imminent.
3. Overly High Expectations
I wrote a blog about high expectations and how they can lead to ministry failure Pastors should have high expectations. They have normal expectations for carrying out their job duties. They should be expected to have high moral character. But there are times when churches can expect too much. The Schaeffer report I quoted said that 71% stated they were burned out and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis. Extreme expectations can come from within or without, but if failure is to be prevented, communication must take place between the pastor and the leadership.
A lot of pastors who fall have a big problem with either judgmentalism and/or pride. The problem of judmentalism is not that the pastor understands what sin is and recognizes it. It is when he angrily demands control over every situation in a heavy-handed manner and without grace. Prideful pastors are those who demand their way and will rarely listen to counsel. The pulpit and position of pastor build them up and make them feel important instead of humble.
This ministry exists to help anyone who has experienced ministry and moral failure, or anyone on the brink of it. No matter who you are and how you’ve been affected, we will listen. You may feel broken and alone, but you’re not.
*All statistics can be found in my book.
Other helpful articles:
“Why Pastors Fall Into Sin,” by Jack Frost
“7 Steps to Avoid Sexual Sin and Stay in Ministry,” by Dustin Neeley
“5 Reasons Ministers Are (More) Vulnerable to Sexual Temptation,” by Jeff Fisher
“Seven Warning Signs of Affairs for Pastors and Other Church Staff,” by Thom S. Rainer
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.
If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.
If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.