Each year it seems that another famous pastor steps down due to moral failure. As I’ve read about these falls, I’ve often wondered if there are threads common to these falls. H. B. London interviewed Archibald Hart, author and Dean Emeritus at Fuller seminary, several years ago on this subject. He suggested four steps that lead to moral failure in a pastor’s life.
In their interview they discuss how depression from pastoral burnout can lead to loss of vision, loss of ideals, an “I don’t care attitude,” and potentially result in moral compromise.
Dr. Hart then describes this progression of steps that leads to moral failure using what he calls the four A’s.
- Arrogance: I can do no wrong, I can handle life myself, I don’t need anyone.
- Adventurous addiction: I get taken with excitement and become energized with what I am doing.
- Aloneness: I become more at risk as I cut myself off from others.
- Adultery: I turn to sex as the only thing that gives me a kick that can make up for what I feel I have lost.
Listening to these four A’s caused me to pause to make sure I don’t go down that path. Often pastors and other spiritual leaders slowly move down this path without realizing it.
What would you add to this list of warnings signs of moral failure?
My youngest daughter, Tiffany, has survived a brain tumor and multiple brain surgeries. As a result, she has a heart for hurting people. A few times a month she takes her dog LuLu to hospice care to visit patients. A few years ago for several summers she served as a counselor at a camp for kids who survived cancer. Each year that camp would invite the kids, counselors and family to a dinner/dance the day after U.S. Thanksgiving. That year I took Tiffany. After dinner, Tiffany, the other counselors, and the kids took to the dance floor. That’s when, as I fought back tears, I jotted down these insights that I learned from these kids who survived cancer.
- We all yearn for a place where others accept us “as is.” All these kids had this in common, they battled cancer. Many that night carried the obvious evidences of that battle–bald heads and puffy faces due to chemo, wheelchair confinement, or visible scars from surgery. But these things didn’t matter to them. It was as if they were oblivious to each others’ physical limitations. They accepted each other “as is.” (Jer. 31.3, I have loved you with an everlasting love.)
- We all need moments when something transports us away from thoughts about our problems. One rule the camp rigidly enforces is, “We will not talk about our illness.” That same spirit carried over into the comments by the director that night as she spoke of joy, hope, and future. That same spirit pulsated from the dance floor as these kids jumped, danced, and twirled to the beat of the music and the direction of the rotund DJ. (Phil. 4.8, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.)
- God’s image that He implanted into every human heart shows itself when we sacrificially give ourselves away to others. Each camper is assigned an adult that spends 24/7 with that child during camp. At this dinner the adults sit next to their ‘companion,’ as they are called, and they joyfully dance with them on the dance floor. One counselor Tiffany introduced to me had served 15 years straight. Her effervescent personality oozed love for these kids. (Gal. 6.2, Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.)
- God wants us to celebrate each other’s milestones with great joy. Each year at the dinner they play Pomp and Circumstances as the camp’s high school seniors march to the podium. This year only one made it. Two others couldn’t attend due to their illness. The high school senior whom the group celebrated that night had attended camp 13 years straight. Although surgery scars marred her face, she walked across the room and held her head high for she had not only survived, but thrived. After she received her ‘diploma’ the DJ began the dance music and this senior, dressed in her graduation robe, became the center of attention. The kids rushed into a circle as they danced and celebrated her milestone. My thoughts drifted back to when Tiffany graduated from high school. We weren’t sure that she would make it that night because the effects of her brain surgery often left her unable to stand on her own. The teachers had assigned a big football player to stand at her side and help her if needed. But, with a sense of great accomplishment, she walked across the platform on her own and received her diploma. I rejoiced. Then I cried. (Rom. 12.15, Rejoice with those who rejoice.)
I never expected to learn about acceptance, thinking about the good, sacrificial service, and celebration from kids who had cancer. Yet that night I committed, for Tiffany’s sake, to stay as long as she wanted so she could relish those magical moments with people who accepted her unconditionally.
Modifying the line from My Fair Lady, “I could have danced all night,” I could have stayed all night as Tiffany danced all night.
4 Warning Signs of a Marriage Headed in the Wrong Direction
I’m working on one of my 25 talks I will give when I train 100 Cuban pastors in October. I ran across this insight from John Gottman who wrote 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. He has noted 4 warning signs to look for in a marriage headed in the wrong direction.
- How spouses talk to each other. He can watch and decide in a few minutes a marriage’s direction based on how spouses talk to and treat each other in a conversation.
- Spurned attempts to right a wrong, resolve a conflict, or fix relational breach.
- Emotional flooding. This is when a spouse’s negativtity is so strong (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, etc.) that it leaves the other shell-shocked.
- Pervasive negative thoughts about the other partner. These thoughts can get entrenched in negativity so deeply that spouses can’t even recall the good times.
On the positive side, what has helped your marriage thrive?
Last week I began a five-week series on sex and sexuality called, The Bare Facts on Sex: God’s Best for Me. You can view archived videos of the messages at our church’s website here. This week I’m completing my message on What Porn Does to your Brain that I will teach in two weeks. I will also post a blog this Thursday on that same subject. You can sign up for my weekly blogs here. As I’ve researched the issues caused by porn, I am shocked not just at its moral consequences, but at its social costs, damage to marriages, and what it does to our brains. In my research I learned that these 12 personal issues may increase the temptation to watch porn.
These issues may tempt you to view porn (adapted from Wired for Intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain by William Struthers, Kindle E-book loc. 575):
- The allure of the forbidden: curiosity about a woman’s naked body.
- Fantasy: dissatisfaction with the current world and a desire to participate in another.
- The pleasure of surrender: giving in to sexual release through images on a screen.
- Desire to see women in ecstasy.
- The female body becoming an altar at which a man worships.
- Controlling personality: a desire to manipulate the environment to gain a sense of security.
- Unhealthy introversion: a loner type who isolates himself from social interaction with others.
- High anxiety: easily stressed from family, work, or expectations others place on him.
- Narcissism: a need to be admired by others around him; needs lots of admiration. See my blog on the narcissistic leader here.
- Low self-esteem: sense of inadequacy around other men or women; needs lots of affirmation.
- Distractability: difficulty keeping focused or controlling impulses; constantly wanting to move to something more interesting.
If some of these issues are often true of you, find a wise accountability partner to help you conquer porn and/or avoid its lure. If you do have a problem with it, you can’t solve it by going solo. I also recommend this excellent site for further help.
As Christians, we must remember this promise for God’s Word.
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. (2 Pet 1.3, NLT)
My wife, Sherryl, and I have been married for almost 34 years (this Saturday marks the date). We’ve been through ups and downs in our lives and in our ministry. Yet, we still have a zest for ministry as we see each other as ministry partners. When I wrote my second book, 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them, we collaborated on a final chapter called a pastor’s wife killers. Here’s what Sherryl believes can suck the life out of a pastor’s wife with a few suggestions how to combat them.
- Deep loneliness.
- This issue hit home after we both graduated from seminary and I took my first church. The people were nice but Sherryl just couldn’t seem to click with them. Although Sherryl is very outgoing, some people seemed to distance themselves from her and building friends became difficult. It seemed that people didn’t think she needed friends. These experiences helped Sherryl realize that many pastors’ wives do face a loneliness void, especially when they come to a new church setting. Over time Sherryl did find safe friends, but the process seemed agonizingly slow.
- Inescapable vulnerability with others. (I quote Sherryl’s thoughts here.)
- Pastors’ wives face a unique kind of vulnerability. By default, the church where her husband serves often becomes the center of her life in several areas. It’s her main opportunity for service, the place to find some of her closest relationships, the source of her family’s primary means of financial support, and her home away from home. Unfortunately, it also becomes the source of the greatest criticism. Unlike many women who find volunteer opportunities, friendships, and income through other various venues, a pastor’s wife often finds all three wrapped up in the same place: the church.
- This can become an example of the proverbial “eggs all in one basket.” The history of the word pastor illustrates this idea. The Old English term for person, “parson,” became commonly used to describe a pastor, because the man and the vocation were so integrated that they’d become synonymous. The same holds true for a pastor’s wife. (Kindle Locations 1644-1649, 5 Ministry Killers, Bethany House, 2010).
- Living in a fishbowl world. (again, her insights)
- When I say that a fishbowl experience can become a ministry killer for a pastor’s wife, I mean this: We not only must face the normal and painful stuff life throws at us, but we must do it as the church looks on.
- Fortunately, what created anxiety in the fishbowl also challenged me to deepen my walk with Christ. Knowing that others watched my response to crises spurred me to move forward in my faith rather than to wallow in self-pity. Had I not been in the fishbowl, I’m not sure I would have relied as much on His grace.
- As I reflect on Jesus’ life, I realize He revealed the Father’s heart to us even when He lived in a fishbowl. The people expected Him to be one kind of Messiah, but He didn’t meet their expectations. Instead, He met His Father’s. He lived to please God, not others.
- This understanding freed me. Although I can only reflect His image dimly, even in the fishbowl I want to mirror His character as clearly as possible. When I try to keep my eyes on the Lord to seek His approval, I’m more at peace and free to be me when I deal with others’ expectations. As a pastor’s wife I must remind myself that one day I will stand before Him to give an account of my life. Then the only thing that will matter is that my life reflected Him well. (Kindle Locations 1680-1688).
- Managing unrealistic and unfair expectations.
- The spoken and unspoken expectations churches place on pastors’ wives landed on my list because every church has them. Most churches don’t officially say they expect certain things from pastors’ wives. However, they’re as pervasive as dust bunnies and differ from what they expect from other women in the church. (Kindle Locations 1690-1692).
- Some pastor’s wives simply give up when they can’t meet other’s expectations. They withdraw and become sullen. Others yield to despair, helplessness, and hopelessness. Others outright rebel and turn to behavior that at a conscious or subconscious level hope will force their husbands to leave the church or even leave the ministry. Most pastor’s wives don’t makes such devastating choices, but the expectations killer still exists. Ideally we wives should respond with grace and dignity to them. Through prayer, safe friends, and leaning into the Lord, we can prevail.
- Having little or no voice in response to church decisions/church critics. (final thoughts from Sherryl)
- This issue concerns two groups: church boards and your critics. Boards where we’ve served have seldom asked for my thoughts on decisions. I recognize that because I don’t serve on those boards they aren’t bound to ask me what I think. And most decisions have had little direct bearing on our family or me. However, when a decision does impact our family, as a pastor’s wife I’m not able to voice concerns for fear that such disapproval could affect your job or how others may perceive you.
- As for critics, we’ve often felt the brunt of unfounded criticism through an e-mail, a call, or a conversation. It hurts, especially when it comes from someone we’ve thought safe.
- It’s easy for a pastor’s wife to take offense. Since these criticisms aren’t directed toward me, Matthew 18 instructs me not to bring them up; rather, you’re the one who is to approach the critic. But because I’m your wife, when you get criticized, I feel criticized as well. To add insult to injury, I’m expected to be gracious when I come in contact with these people. This makes me feel bound and gagged.
- I remember years ago when a couple came to talk to you. The wife had been hurt because she believed you ignored her by not speaking to her one Sunday morning. Even though you explained that your oversight was inadvertent and that you’d be more sensitive next time, they left the church a few months later. I struggle with those situations because I feel I have no voice. I feel powerless. I want to express my disappointment with such people and help them get perspective, but if they’ve already decided to leave, it profits little. (Kindle Locations 1712-1722).
In our current church we both have a great relationship with those on our board. It really is a freeing experience for us.
Having been in ministry together for over three decades, we recognize that serving alongside a pastor as a spouse is difficult. And I believe these killers apply as well to spouses of female pastors. While we can’t ignore these killers, with God’s grace a pastor and his spouse can rise above them and choose the godly path.
What spouse killers have you seen in churches? How have you dealt with them?