This past weekend I was grieved to hear of another pastor removed from his church for “unfortunate decisions.” Whenever this happens it is devastating not only to that particular church, but to the Body of Christ as a whole. When a pastor falls it’s just not him that’s affected, but many around him. Every pastor needs prayer for there is not a one who is immune to disaster.
What can we do to stop this from happening? Well, I don’t think this can stop or will stop until Jesus returns in His glory. Pastors are sinners like everybody else. Many pastors struggle with pride, greed, sexual issues, and other matters of idolatry in their hearts. As long as there are pastors with sinful natures there will be pastors who continue to make “unfortunate decisions.” I believe if we were to look back at these “unfortunate decisions” we would find many common denominators. If you are a pastor, and are on the verge of disaster, I have some encouragement for you.
1. Understand your real identity
I believe that many of our struggles as human beings are based in a confusion of identity. This has been a personal struggle for most of my ministry. I even wrote a book about it in 2012. I had allowed my success in ministry (or lack thereof) to determine my identity. When the church was growing I felt like a rock star! When the church was plateauing or declining I felt like a failure. My identity was found in what I did for God and not in what God had done for me in Jesus Christ. I based my worth and value in my accomplishments alone. I was obsessed with the numbers. “How many people were in church today?” “What was the offering?” “How many guests did we have?” These aren’t bad questions. However, I allowed these questions to turn into idols which I worshipped. I made the excuse that the only reason I was overly passionate about these things was for God’s sake. I was fooling myself. It was really for my ego. I didn’t realize that God didn’t need me or my efforts. God wasn’t using me for my glory but for His glory.
There is a lot of stress put on pastors today. Some of this stress is self-induced and some of it is from their church. Pastors are not CEO’s of a corporation. Pastors are under-shepherds of God’s family. Pastors, stop basing your worth, identity or sanity on what you do for God. That is only a formula that can only end in disaster. Whether your church is large or small is not an indicator of your worth in the kingdom. Your identity is first as a chosen, adopted, blood-bought rebel who Jesus loved and died for. Know who you are. Your ministry position may be gone tomorrow, but your status as someone purchased through the gospel will never change. May your identity in the gospel be louder to you than the praise or criticism of others.
2. Be honest with your wife
Pastors, you must be open and honest with your wife about your life. The truth is that she can see through your deception anyway. She knows when something is weighing down your heart or stealing your affections. She has been given to you by God as a precious gift. When you struggle you need to speak to her. She needs to be your closest friend and confidant. I would not be where I am today without my wife, Lori. God uses her to remind me of who I am. An honest and open relationship with your wife about your struggles will bring you closer together. Honesty about your struggles begins with your communion with God. However, your wife must be next. Lori is my biggest prayer warrior and I could not do this life without her. I know that when we sit down and talk that she will listen. This kind of relationship doesn’t just happen overnight. This level of trust and security takes time to develop and mature. Intimacy is more than just having sex with your wife. Intimacy is being real on a heart level with your wife.
3. Keep yourself vulnerable and accountable
Stop faking it. You don’t have it all together and never will. Pastors need to be transparent people who let their churches know that they are in need of much grace. Early in my ministry I was afraid to let people know the “real” Dan. I thought that if anyone knew the real me they would reject me. I put up a false front which led to a massive confusion of identity. Pastors not only need to confide in their wives, but they also need others to keep them accountable. I am grateful to have a few close friends in my church and outside my church in whom I can trust. Do you have those kind of people? Do you have someone or a group of people that you can say anything to and know they won’t reject you? The longer you hide your struggles…the longer it will take for you to recover from your struggles. You also need to be able to listen to wise counsel. Proverbs says, “He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof Will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding. The fear of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility.” (Proverbs 15:31-33)
4. Stop thinking it can’t happen to you
The temptation in seeing another pastor fail is to say, “It will never happen to me.” Please do not think you are above any sinful action. Sin is a deceiver and will grab hold of you and not let go. Please don’t let your guard down and think you are “better” than someone else. The real truth is that you are not. It is only by the grace of God that we can make it another day in ministry. Even the Apostle Paul said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Instead Paul admonishes all to, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
5. Get in the Word of God & repent
I can guarantee you the absolute universality of this last point. I have noticed that the greatest periods of “spiritual drought” always come from a lack of being in God’s Word. Without being in God’s Word it is easy for me to confused about my identity. Without being in God’s Word it is easy for me to be depressed and focus on myself. Without being in God’s Word it is easy to relish in the temporary satisfaction that sin brings to me. Pastors, we must not just read the Word out of duty to study for a sermon, but swim in it’s depth and riches. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)
I encourage every pastor and ministry leader to read Paul Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling. It is real, raw and life transforming. I wished I had read it when I began seventeen years ago.