When a Pastor Falls
When a pastor falls, the ripples go beyond a single church or family. Entire communities are affected. And now that we are all connected through social media, these failings quickly become front page news.
In recent weeks and months, this has been evident as a few prominent pastors have been accused of or have confessed to a moral failure. Sadly, this isn’t all that surprising as it seems like every year we see these same headlines. A well-known, well-respected pastor resigns in shame because of a personal sin. Even on the small, local level we see the same thing happening. While I recognize that most pastors are faithful and walk in integrity, too many small towns bear scars from scandals involving pastors. If you grew up in church like I did, you’ve probably been let down by a pastor you looked up to.
Several articles over the years have been written addressing this issue. They spell out the tragic consequences of a fallen pastor. They highlight the need for repentance and the hope of forgiveness for those men. But I want to look at this issue from another angle. I believe we as church members have a responsibility here too. I believe we play a role in the failings of our leaders.
Now here’s what I’m not trying to do. I’m not trying to excuse the sins of pastors. Pastors are called to clear qualifications in Scripture. When they do not meet those qualifications, they bring shame upon themselves, their family, their church, and most importantly, the gospel of Jesus Christ. That can’t and shouldn’t be excused.
But a lot has been said about that. So what I want to do in this post is give you three things we as church members can do to help prevent moral failings by our pastors.
1. We can remove unbiblical expectations.
As a Southern Baptist, most churches in my denomination are led by a senior pastor. This man is expected to be the preacher, shepherd, CEO, vision caster, committee chairman, moderator, missionary, and disciple-maker, all while being a faithful husband and father. He’s expected to preach multiple times a week, visit all the sick and elderly, perform weddings and funerals, deal with conflicts, lead business meetings, oversee day-to-day operations, reach the lost, train up new leaders, and anything else the members think he should be doing.
This is not just challenging. It’s impossible. And it’s dangerous. This is the reason pastors burn out. This is the reason pastor’s wives and families sometimes feel neglected and alone. And this is the reason God did not design the church to work this way.
Pastoring a church was not meant to be a one-man job. The New Testament teaches that churches should be led by a plurality of elders (which is another word for pastor). Acts 14:23 tells us this about Paul’s missionary journeys. “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Acts 20:17 says that Paul summoned the elders of the church in Ephesus. James says if anyone is sick, they should call for the elders of the church. Each of these occurrences plus others in the New Testament use the plural form of the word “elder/pastor”.
Pastoring a church is meant to be a shared responsibility among qualified men. One of those men may be viewed as the senior or lead pastor, but he is equal in position and authority to the other pastors. As a result, he shares the workload and burden of leading the church. His weaknesses are guarded and balanced out. And most importantly, he is held accountable for his life and ministry.
I believe a leadership structure with multiple pastors/elders leads to a healthier church, healthier leaders, and less chance of moral failure. If this is a new concept to you like it was for me a few years ago, I would encourage you to research it for yourself.
2. We can treat our pastors like normal Christians.
In most churches, the pastor is in a separate category from everyone else. He is a super-Christian. He must be perfect but not snooty, authentic but not embarrassing. Sure, he can sin, but it better be just a small white lie or something normal like gluttony. Any other struggle is off limits. If he confesses his sin, he might face judgment or even punishment. If he has a bad day or a moment of defeat, he better suck it up and put on a happy face so as not to be perceived as rude or uncaring.
And Lord forbid his kids ever disobey him. What kind of pastor produces children that aren’t perfect like him?
With this mindset, the pastor is left alone with no one caring for his soul. He has no accountability, no one he can turn to in moments of doubt and struggle. This mindset also encourages the pastor to create two selves: his public self and his private self. In public, he is the perfect pastor everyone expects him to be. But privately, at home, he is a different person, a broken person. As these two selves drift further and further apart, it becomes easier and easier to sin and do nothing about it. Private devotional time with God becomes extinct.
This isolation leads to moral failure.
Yes, pastors are to be held to a higher standard than other believers. They are called to live above reproach. But they are not perfect. Let me repeat, pastors are not perfect. They have struggles, doubts, and bad days. And most importantly, they have a need to be sanctified. That process of becoming more like Christ cannot and will not happen if everyone views the pastor in a separate category. The pastor is a member of the church and needs the ministry of the church. Pastors need the gospel too.
3. We can pray for and encourage our pastors.
When we view our pastor as a super-Christian, CEO, senior pastor extraordinaire, we don’t feel the need to really pray for him. He should be praying for us sinners, not the other way around.
But I believe Satan finds great pleasure in destroying the lives of pastors. He knows the great damage a fallen pastor can do to a church. So I believe he saves his best attacks for leaders.
If pastors are flawed, imperfect sinners, then isolating them with no accountability, placing the weight of the entire church on their shoulders, and overloading them with unrealistic expectations is just begging for a disaster. Many churches have created the perfect climate for a fallen pastor.
Avoiding this tragedy takes both parties working together. Pastors must build heathy church structures, seek out accountability, and continually fall before the throne of grace. But churches must play their part too.
Pray for your pastor. Find ways to encourage them. Doing so is not only for their benefit, but yours as well.
Hebrews 13:17, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”