After reading about multiple moral pastoral failures over the last month, my first emotional reaction was that of heartbreak. When the mighty fall, those we deem mighty in spirituality, how hard and reverberating is their fall? After the feeling of heartbreak settled, my first thought was, "Why is anyone surprised?" I once heard a wonderful therapist, Diane Langberg, say that, as a pastor or counselor, one cannot expect to go untouched by the constant sin and death that surround us in our professions. In essence, Langberg strongly indicated that we will be stained and wounded because we walk along side and with the stained and wounded.
Perry Noble. Wounded. Rob Turner. Wounded. Darrin Patrick. Wounded.
Paul Gibson. Wounded.
Wait..What?! Have I experienced a moral failure that disqualifies me for the pastorate? No, but I must admit that hearing about these pastors shook me deeply. If it could happen to these bastions of evangelical faith, it could definitely happen to me. Therefore, in the words of St. Peter, I must be sober and vigilant because the evil one walks around preying on whom he might devour. Based on the history of the pastorate, especially very recent history, he loves to devour pastors. When we fight someone who wants to devour us, we will be wounded and stained.
There is an additional problem for pastors. We not only battle the evil one in our own lives, we enter into the dark battlefields, the secret places, the traumatic scenes of many of our parishioners. We might survive our own battle with the evil one, but what about helping other people fight the good fight?
When I heard of Pastor Noble's failures, again, I was heartbroken. However, Pastor Noble is a man that God has used to grow a church to over 2,000 people. We celebrate that growth, but while we celebrate that growth, we forget that a church of 2,000 people is full of 2,000 broken, messy, sinful, wounded, and stained people. I cannot imagine the burdens and wounds that Pastor Noble sustained while pastoring a church of so many people. Again, a singular, personal fight against the evil one is tough. But to also partner with so many in their fights against the evil one? Talk about exhaustion and fatigue. Mountains and valleys. Think Elijah on Mt. Carmel and then Elijah after Mt. Carmel. Pastoring is extremely hard work. Pastors can quickly burnout and experience exhaustion.
So, what are pastors, who are burnout and exhausted, tempted to do? Shutdown. Medicate. Escape. They will drink. They will look at pornography. They will develop a gambling addiction. They will be tempted to engage in an extra-marital relationship. They will power up and bully in order to avoid having to be vulnerable and sensitive. They will watch hours of endless and meaningless television. They will do whatever is necessary to dress the emotional wounds and cover the emotional stains that develop from both their own battle with the evil one and with all the other battles they share with their parishioners.
I believe it is time that churches stop expressing reactive surprise when their leaders fall and, instead, proactively prepare their leaders to avoid the temptation that occurs due to exhaustion and burning out. Below are three suggestions I have for congregations who wish to avoid the heartache of pastor failure.
These are only three suggestions, but I believe they are foundational to helping a pastor survive and even thrive in their fight and their congregation’s fight with the evil one. Please pray for your pastor on a daily basis and together, you guys can help your city, town, or local setting look more like the Kingdom of Heaven.
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Hardinsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.