April 13, 2016 By Stephen Grant
Written by Alexander W. G. Seidel
Ministry is a lonely pursuit. Or, at least that’s what some church leaders make it. The pressure to perform is far too common in church circles. The image of the noble pastor and his wife and family has placed crushing pressure on many leaders. At best, it leads to burn out. At worst, this careens into a moral tailspin. When the pristine image of a pastor goes, the pastor likewise has nowhere to go. How could it be possible to confess burnout or moral failing, when a pastor fears the fallout of his shattered image?
I have heard it said that upwards of 25% of pastors do not know where to turn when they are in crisis. Given the scriptural accounts of gifting and church structures in Acts, it is sad that this number is so high. It seems that through the example of the deeply communal early church bounded by the loving accountability proffered by Paul, in particular, our faith communities would operate accordingly. Sadly, they do not.
Two common issues lead up to many pastoral downfalls
First off, poor pastoral boundaries lead to burnout. A pastor that takes on all of the spiritual needs of the congregation reflects a poor scriptural exegesis of the role of shepherd. And it also is symptomatic of deeper issues of lack of replicating discipleship in the church community. When the pastor carries the entire load because he or she is unable to say no, there is usually a resulting lack of other church members that have been equipped in their particular giftings in the church.
Secondly, while this burnout can lead to all manner of physical and mental ailments, it can also lead to misconduct. For many, the undue pressures of ministry cultivate a vulnerability to tempting and destructive perks like affairs, hidden sexual behaviors, addictions, et al. And, if a leader has not done the hard work of understanding the self or is addicted to approval, the slope to misconduct can become even more slippery.
In both of the above instances pastors, like every human since Adam and Eve, will find every creative way to find the fig leaf and maintain the pastoral image they were never meant to have. Fearing retribution, loss of family, loss of their job (and inability to find other work if they do), and loss of reputation, many church leaders in these types of crises really feel they have nowhere to go. Those who were likely destined to be Christ’s ambassadors for hope, find themselves with little or none.
Years ago, I knew a pastor that fell hard due to an affair. He hid it well through a well-orchestrated campaign of charismatic and very high-functioning personal PR. Even as he hid, the church grew and began to thrive. In the midst of energetic and apparently healthy success, a family member exposed the sin of the pastor. My pastor friend lost his job (the church very clumsily and ungracefully botched the crisis) and his family (his collection of significant addictions crushed his marriage). In recounting his experience with me many months later, he noted his abject loneliness during the time before his “outing”. He knew he needed to come clean, yet he worked to maintain the image that had been falsely ordained by the institutional church. He knew coming clean would result in much carnage, both for good reason and not.
It is clear that there are harsh consequences to our sin. What is not so clear is why 25% of pastors feel the need to hide because they have nowhere to go. My guess is that church institutions don’t do well authentically handling deep brokenness. They follow the path to least resistance through punishment rather than the road less traveled of restoration. It’s about fixing the situation, and perhaps crassly speaking, ensuring that members (and tithes) don’t leave the church. Whatever the case, pastors hide because sin mars their image and because churches are ill-equipped to appropriately intervene with grace.
Are you hiding? Do you feel like you have nowhere to go in the midst of a personal moral struggle in your ministry? Do you fear losing it all if you were to confess your brokenness to your elders or other denominational leaders? If you feel all messed up without anywhere to go, we are here to support you. Please contact us today to help us strategize with you on your road to restoration.
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