Since my own fall from ministry eight years ago, I have been ministering to fallen pastors, their churches, their wives, the women they have been involved with, their families, and others. I’m always happy to see people restored back to Christ, yet I am still discouraged by the stories of infidelity in the ministry, pastoral suicide, burnout, and divorce in the ministry.
I affirm as always that infidelity is a choice people make. When we sin, it is our responsibility and regardless of the circumstances that lead to it, it was our decision and we bear the consequences. It is also a place no one arrives at in a vacuum. Pastors and ministers are under terrible pressure and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Something needs to change. Reformation needs to occur in many places so these stories will stop. There is an epidemic and all of us can do something to make things change.
Here are some of the issues and some suggestions to get started:
- There is something inherently wrong in the heart of a pastor when he looks at his situation and his marriage and believes that infidelity is a viable option.
- There is something inherently wrong when churches believe that their first instinct should be to remove a sinning pastor instead of attempting to restore him and his family to Christ (not the pulpit) if he shows signs of repentance.
- There is something wrong in the ministry culture when 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses report feeling discouraged and are dealing with depression* (these statistics are found in my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World“)
- There is a problem with pastors worldwide when ministers report falling into the temptation of pornography on a regular basis.
- There is a problem when pastors lose their first love of Christ and begin to chase after the “ministry” (numbers, success, programs) to fill in the void
- There is a something wrong when 77% of pastors report they feel they do not have a good marriage
- There is a problem when 80% of pastors report that pastoral ministry affected their families negatively
- There is a serious problem when among conservative pastors polled, 30% say they have either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner
- There is a problem when 70% of ministers report not having someone they consider a close friend
- There is a considerable issue when 71% of pastors stated that they were burned out and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis
- There is a serious problem when there seems to be a rise in the reporting of pastoral suicide
- We have a problem in our churches when 40% of pastors report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
- We have a problem when church leaders do not have a plan in place for dealing with ministers caught in any sin
- There is a problem when churches have a plan but it is not based on Scriptural principles
- Our church leaders have a problem when they hear of pastoral adultery and decide the best thing to do is nothing
- Likewise, our church leaders have a problem when they hear of pastoral adultery and decide the best thing to do is keep it a secret and put the pastor out of the pulpit for a three month sabbatical without addressing his spiritual or marriage needs.
- Our church leaders have a problem when they do not realize that they may be out of their depth when their pastor commits adultery and they do not reach out to experts for help.
- Pastors must be vigilant in prayer and in their personal lives. Sexual temptation is everywhere and often subtle.
- Ministers must admit that they are failures. We can do nothing on our own and we need the power of Christ in all things to survive.
- The pastor must be accountable to others, finding strength in a mentor or friends who will support them.
- The pastor must be honest in all ways with a spouse. Be open with all social media passwords, text conversations, and relationships.
- If the pastor ever feels that there is even the feeling that there is a life secret, expose it immediately to diffuse it.
- Pastors who commit adultery and live in constant denial of that sin are in trouble. Yet they also are in need of people who will reach out to them.
- Pastors who commit adultery and are willing to repent do not need to be returned to the pulpit, but they do desperately need to be treated as a member of the body of Christ and restored to Him (Galatians 6:1).
- Pastors who fall should be handled on a case by case basis by people willing to walk with them and love them – not for what they have done but for who they are.
- Church leaders need to be ready and trained for a church crisis.
- Church leaders should know the potential areas of weakness in the lives of their pastor.
- Church leaders should be involved in the mentoring and spiritual well-being of their pastor.
- When a pastor does fall, while it is difficult, it is on the leaders to remain faithful to the words of Scripture in handling sin and the sinner in the most Christ-like manner, while also ministering to the congregation.
- Make sure that when a pastor falls, there are many people involved: The pastor’s wife, the woman he was involved with (possibly a church member or staff member), his family, the congregation. Wisdom and discernment are very important.
- When a pastor falls, understand that the community is watching to see how the church is going to treat a fallen sinner.
- Church members should always be spiritually supportive of their church leaders through prayer.
- When conflict arises, brothers and sisters in Christ should always approach one another in love and understanding, seeking victory in Christ.
- When a pastor falls, be ready to wait for the truth and not gossip. Be ready to pray for those involved and forgive.
To this list, I would add two things. First, if you have already fallen or have been hurt, that’s why this ministry exists. To help you. You’re not alone. Life isn’t over.
Secondly, if you are a pastor or church leader who wants to see this stop, this ministry exists for you as well. I’ve linked to several previous blog articles for help and will also answer direct questions. We are available to speak to any size group.
What I do know is that this epidemic has to stop. We can each do what it takes to stop it. There is no one person to point the finger at to blame. We all have a role to play in stopping the scourge of ministry failure.
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 us privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. We are 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. As always, we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dependent upon your donations. Please click here if you would like to support us.