Clay Worrell will be leading a workshop at the 2017 CCCM Pastors & Leaders Conference happening June 26-29!
I received news that yet another pastor friend of mine failed morally and was removed from ministry. I am grieved. I am grieved by the sin; I am grieved for my friend. I am grieved for the church, and I am grieved by the fact that I was not shocked by the news. My lack of shock was not because I suspected anything like this from my friend; in fact, he was one of the last people I would have suspected. My lack of shock was simply because this kind of news has become way to familiar. I’m not sure if moral failure has become more common in recent years, or if I am just aware of it more because my network has become rather wide, but either way, this is unacceptable.
This has caused me to ask the question, why? Why are pastors being unfaithful to their wives? Why are pastors becoming verbally abusive to their staffs and families? Why are pastors embezzling money from the church? Why are so many of my peers and spiritual fathers turning from Jesus to the very sin they preach against?
I’m not sure I have the answer to these questions, but here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Humanity is desperately and totally depraved, and pastors are no exception.
Maybe it sounds silly, but it was a big revelation to me when I realized pastors are regular people too. I remember when I was preparing to head to Ireland for my first church plant. I was doing an internship under Rod Thompson at CCBC in Murrieta, back when he was over the missions department. Rod taught me so many things in that short season that will always stick with me. But one of the most valuable things that he did for me was he brought me into his life, his real life, and he let me see his strengths and his weaknesses. He was honest with me about his struggles and his temptations. He let me see that he is a man, desperately in need of the grace of Jesus, just like me. Now, I have been a pastor for about a decade, and I know, more than ever, from my own life and struggles, that pastors are just regular people that have been given a heavy calling by God.
We are no more immune to grievous sin than anyone else; in fact, in some ways, we are in more danger than the typical church member. Paul Tripp addresses this topic powerfully in his book, Dangerous Calling. If you are in ministry in any capacity, I highly recommend reading that book. If a pastor ever forgets that he is a sheep before he is a shepherd, he is drifting into treacherous waters. If you are a Pastor reading this, brother please, don’t forget that we need Jesus’ grace every moment of the day, no matter how long we have been believers or in ministry. God help us to not let down our guard; we are totally depraved sinners whose only righteousness is Christ’s alone.
2. The church culture we are subject to often does not allow sufficient accountability and soul care for pastors.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that pastoral ministry is a lonely calling. The sentiment that was passed down to me by some was that a pastor has to keep a bit of distance between himself and the members of his church; that you cannot be friends with your flock. I think the reasoning behind this thinking is that this is necessary in order to maintain the respect of the people that we are called to minister to. If we allow our sin or struggles to be seen, the church will not be able to receive teaching or counseling from us. However, the problem with this thinking is that it allows us to be placed on a pedestal, one that is indeed lonely, and more so, one that is incredibly unstable. This is setting the pastor up as an unrealistic standard of piety and perfection that no man can truly live up to.
Pastors are only allowed to struggle with the “safe sins” like mild road rage or breaking the speed limit. I am not saying that we need to air our dirty laundry from the pulpit every Sunday, but when we preach the Gospel to our churches, we need to make sure that they know that we are just as in need of it as they are. Moreover, we are just as in need of community as the rest of the members of our churches. We are just as in need of encouragement, accountability, counseling and friendship. The only way any of this is possible is if we are not just the shepherds of our flocks but also active members in the life of our churches. This takes vulnerability, but I truly believe that there is safety in community. I would rather be hurt by fellow sheep than devoured by the prowling lion.
3. Pastors need better friends.
I mentioned friendship, and I think that this is worth more than a passing comment. The lonely calling narrative is not unfounded; it is difficult for a pastor to make and maintain deep friendships. Even when we are living in community with our churches, I admit there is an added complexity to our relationships with the people we minister to. I do not think that this means we cannot be friends with people in our church, on the contrary, it is important that we are building meaningful friendships with the people that we are discipling and equipping for the work of the ministry. Jesus was the perfect example of holding the tension of teacher and friend with his disciples. But I also think that there is an essential need in the life of a pastor for a small circle of friends, perhaps fellow pastors that are closer than brothers, with whom we can be completely and totally transparent and honest. The type of friends who ask the hardest and most awkward questions frequently. Friends who know us well enough to discern when something is not right because they can pick up on the subtle queues that would be undetectable by almost anyone else. I can honestly say I have some friends like this, and I do not know where I would be today without them.
In conclusion, this article's written with pastors in mind, but if you are not a pastor, and you are reading this, can I encourage you to pray hard for your pastor? Show him grace and love, and remember he is a sinner saved by grace just like you. You can help him and honor him by looking through him to Jesus. And to my fellow pastors, I hope this will be a gentle warning and reminder for us to stay on guard. I don’t have this all figured out, not by a long shot, but I know that, ultimately, our hope is in Jesus. Let’s keep our eyes on Him, the author and finisher of our faith. We have need of endurance.