Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Pastors

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In light of a swirl of stories involving pastors who have been asked to step down from ministry, I am re-posting an updated version of the essay below, now (sadly) for the third time.

As I reflect on the story around this particular fallen pastor, I’m reminded of something that Francis Schaeffer once said: If we all carried recorders around our necks and every conversation we’ve ever had was put on the recorders, and if our recordings were released to the public, none of us would ever want to show our faces again. Therefore, rather than becoming outraged at how awful of a person this fallen pastor must be, I am instead sobered by the potential that resides in me to become just like him. I think it was Andy Stanley who once said that every pastor is just a few poorly spoken words, or just one reckless decision, or when innocent — one carefully crafted smear campaign — away from losing his ministry. Like the lowly tax collector in Luke 18, shouldn’t we be moved to pray, “God! Have mercy on me, the sinner!?” For without mercy, we would all be up the creek.

The fall of a pastor who has been caught and held accountable (perhaps long overdue) in a pattern of transgression is, nonetheless, not an occasion for celebrating in a “Ding Dong! The wicked witch is dead!” sort of fashion. Instead, it is an occasion for lament, prayer, and self-reflection. It is an occasion for tears and pain and sorrow on behalf of those who have been injured — namely, the congregations and family members of the one who fell. And if I may also dare say so, it is an occasion for sorrow on behalf of the fallen pastor himself…for as they say, it is hurting people who hurt people, broken people who break people, and damaged people who damage people.

When tempted to gloat over the fall of a shepherd, we will be wise to remember the redemption stories of David — the adulterer and murderer who abused his power who would later give us half of the Psalms, Saul of Tarsus — the blasphemer, persecutor, and violent man who would later give us one-third of the New Testament, and John Newton — the slave trader, murderer, and womanizer who would later give us the hymn Amazing Grace. Like these and so many others, our desire for a fallen pastor must not be his death and burial, but his resurrection to repentance and newness of life, even if he is never again restored to ministry (which sometimes — especially when there has been chronic and un-repented abuse, profane character, evil, and corruption — is the best and wisest course).

May God have mercy on us all—especially those of us who carry the burden, privilege, and unique temptations of a public role. As you read the reflection below, please pray for us pastors. Pray that our postures would be humble, gracious, and kind. Pray that we would be chief among all repenters, quick to apologize when wrong and quick to forgive when wronged, believing ourselves to be chief among all sinners. Pray that we would be kept healthy and anchored in our souls, that we would not be led into temptation, but delivered from all forms of evil. Pray that the flesh, the devil, and the pride of life would have no part in our ministries. Pray that our humility would always exceed our skill sets, and our character would always exceed our influence.

Thanks for listening. And I hope that the words that follow will help you and others.


His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God. (2 Chronicles 26:15-16)

In recent years, five of my friends who are pastors have lost their ministries because of moral failure.

Five.

Most of them were widely known beyond their local contexts as authors, conference speakers, movement leaders and such. From the outside, they appeared to be at their peak.

For reasons beyond my ability to understand, God has graciously protected me from moral collapse over the years. Knowing the fragility and fickleness of my own heart, sometimes I marvel at how this could be the case. Why them and not me? Sometimes I wonder if, under different circumstances, I, too, could collapse morally. As the famous hymn goes, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it…” Indeed, I feel my proneness to wander every single day.

When I was a seminary student, an older, seasoned pastor spoke in a chapel service and said, “Some of you are very gifted. You aspire to do great things in ministry one day. God have mercy on you.” Twenty-four years later, I am beginning to understand what he meant by that.

And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. (Jeremiah 45:5)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist “Prince of Preachers,” once told his students that if they could be happy doing something besides ministry, they should do it. I’m sure there were several reasons why Spurgeon gave this advice. But the reason his advice makes sense to me is because…

Being a pastor is hard.

One day in my mid-twenties, while studying to become a pastor, I came across a suicide note published in the local newspaper…written by a pastor, which included this excerpt:

“God forgive me for not being any stronger than I am. But when a minister becomes clinically depressed, there are very few places where he can turn to for help…it feels as if I’m sinking farther and farther into a downward spiral of depression. I feel like a drowning man, trying frantically to lift up my head to take just one more breath. But one way or another, I know I am going down.”

The writer was a promising young pastor—still in his thirties—of a large “resource” church in Saint Louis, Missouri. Having secretly battled depression for a long time, and having sought help through Scripture reading, prayer, therapy, and medication, his will to claw through yet another day was gone. In his darkest hour, the young promising pastor decided he would rather join the angels than continue facing demons for years to come.

Some of those “demons,” it turned out, were high-powered members of his church, whose expectations of him were impossibly high. More on this in a moment. But first…

Not many months after this man’s tragic suicide, another pastor, also from Saint Louis, asphyxiated himself to death because a similar, secret depression.

As an aspiring pastor myself, the news of these two pastor suicides rocked my world. How could these men—both gifted pastors who believed in Jesus, preached grace, and comforted others with gospel hope—end up losing hope for themselves?

As the stories of these pastors became more public, it became clear that both of them shared an all-too common reality for pastors. Both had allowed themselves to become isolated…especially in their churches.

They had plenty of adoring fans.

But they had few, if any, actual friends.

In his suicide note, the first pastor said that he felt trapped. He was isolated and depressed, but he didn’t tell anyone because he thought that it would ruin his ministry. He had come to believe that pastors weren’t allowed to be weak. Nor were they allowed to be human, like everybody else.

Unfortunately, the two pastors from St. Louis are not rare. Many of us pastors, including Spurgeon and including me, have fallen into the emotional abyss—not in spite of the fact that we are in ministry, but because we are in ministry.

Studies show that pastors experience anxiety and depression at a rate that is disproportionately high compared to the rest of the population. Due to the unique pressures associated with spiritual warfare, unrealistic expectations from congregants and oneself, the freedom many feel to criticize and gossip about pastors with zero accountability (especially in the digital age), failure to take time off for rest and replenishment, marriage and family tensions due to the demands of ministry, financial strains and self-comparison, pastors are prime candidates for relational isolation, emotional turmoil, and moral collapse.

Studies also show that some pastors face unreasonable, even impossible, demands placed on them by their people. I am NOT one of those pastors, thanks to a church that both receives my gifts and embraces my limitations. All in all, the people of Christ Presbyterian Church treat me with extraordinary love and kindness. But, sadly, not all pastors are as lucky as I am.

Dr. Thom Rainer, a leading pastoral ministry guru, once conducted a survey asking church members what they expected from their pastors. Specifically, Dr. Rainer wanted to know the minimum amount of time church members believed their pastors should give each week to various areas of ministry, including prayer, sermon preparation, outreach and evangelism, counseling, administrative tasks, visiting the sick, community involvement, denominational engagement, church meetings, worship services, and so on. On average, the minimum amount of time church members expected their pastors to give to the ministry was 114 hours per week.

Ministry can also take a toll on the pastor’s family. When church members don’t like the pastor’s sermon, when they don’t like the direction of the church, when they think the music is too loud (or too soft), when they believe the pastor should wear a suit instead of jeans (or jeans instead of a suit), when the pastor moves someone’s cheese or messes with someone’s “sacred cow,” the pastor’s spouse can become a sounding board for disgruntled church members.

Second only to those who are married to public officials, no spouse in the world is thrust into the line of not-so-friendly-fire more than the pastor’s spouse. For this very reason, it took my wife Patti forty-five minutes to say “yes” to my marriage proposal! The pastor’s spouse can also experience loneliness, because in some churches, the pastor is expected to be as available to the church as he is to his own family. (On that note, for those who wish to understand the unique calling and burden of the pastor’s spouse, please read and digest this essay by our friend Shari Thomas).

Then there are the PK’s—the “Pastor’s Kids”—those little ones in the church who are sometimes expected to behave like mature grown-ups. Consciously and subconsciously, the Pastor’s Kids don’t feel that they are allowed to be kids like their peers. They feel a unique pressure to please, to perform, to play the part, to put on a show, to be on their best behavior at all times. For some, this pressure leads to perfectionism and stress. For others, it leads them to rebel. It can be difficult for PK’s to blend into the crowd and develop their own identities and personalities—because unlike most kids, they live their lives in the public eye. Sharing a last name with the pastor fuels a lot of unspoken (and sometimes spoken) pressure for a six-year-old, or for a teenager, to navigate.

So why am I telling you all of this? For a few reasons…

First, if you are a pastor, or if you are the family member of a pastor, I want you to know that the pressure and isolation that you sometimes feel is normal. Yours is a unique calling from God—an unspeakable privilege, to be sure—but is sometimes also, as I have already mentioned above, unspeakably hard. The enemy is not fond of your life’s mission. He is threatened by it, so he is going to attack you. Sometimes he will attack and accuse you through the very people God has given you to shepherd and love. When this happens, please don’t get cynical about God’s people. Jesus didn’t, even from the cross. Stay hopeful about the church like Paul did with Corinth. Look at the cracked seed and envision the flower or the fruit tree. And? Even when you are unfairly criticized, look for a nugget or two of truth in the criticism, and you may find something in there to repent of…and every opportunity to repent is also an opportunity to draw near to Jesus afresh.

But, we pastors must also admit that there are times when we, and not congregants who struggle with our leadership, are the actual problem. When we feel under pressure, we can become sensitive, defensive, snippy, controlling, and even aggressive if we aren’t careful to guard our hearts. As pastors, we are vulnerable to paint ourselves as victims on the one hand, or to become bullies or crooks or adulterers on the other.

And so, if you are a pastor and criticism comes and the criticism actually is fair…when you have hurt people, compromised integrity, or even disqualified yourself from ministry…your task is of course to apply the things that you have taught others…to take full ownership of what you have done, to repent to God, and to make restitution to those who have suffered because of your decisions wherever possible.

But this isn’t all. Your task is also to do battle against the guilt and shame that will haunt you, the guilt and shame that will linger with you even after you have owned up to God and made restitution to and sought forgiveness from those who have suffered because of your actions. Even if the consequence of your actions ends up being the loss of your ministry, Jesus can still work with you. I dare say that he is eager to do so. If there was hope for Paul in his coveting (Romans 7), and hope for Peter in his xenophobia and cowardice and denials of Jesus (Mark 16:7; Galatians 2), and hope for David after his adultery and murder (Psalm 51), then you can be sure that no matter how far you have fallen, you have not fallen beyond the reach of God’s grace and concern. Jesus came for sinners, not heroes. Perhaps the recognition that you are not a hero can be an occasion—maybe the first one in quite some time—to fall into his healing arms. Though his rod and staff of discipline may seem harsh for a time, may they become your source of comfort down the line…just as they did for David (Psalm 23).

And, pastors, lets pray for each other, shall we? Though the spirit is willing, our flesh is weak. Let’s never get past our need for Jesus to carry us, because without him we are vulnerable. We are vulnerable when our ministries are struggling, and—as the moral collapse of my five friends attests—we are vulnerable when our ministries seem to be soaring. Paul called this “living in plenty” and “living in want.” Regardless of our situation, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. Let’s believe this together, shall we? And let’s hold each other’s arms up when we struggle to believe.

Second, if you are not a pastor, it is time to once and for all remove your pastor from the pedestal where you and others may have been tempted to placed him. Under the right circumstances, we pastors can be some of the best friends and advocates. But we pastors make very, very bad heroes. Turning us into heroes not only hurts our churches, it also hurts us. When you put us on a pedestal and we fall, it hurts a lot more to fall from a pedestal than it does from the ground where everybody else is standing. Plus, only Jesus belongs on a pedestal. We pastors are shepherds…but we are also sheep just like everybody else. We have struggles and fears. We sin and withdraw and grow cynical and get depressed and anxious sometimes. We are at times unsure of ourselves, and we go through seasons wondering if we really belong in ministry. Many of us are more frustrated with ourselves than you could ever be with us. Sometimes we see our hypocrisy a lot more clearly than you do. Sometimes we grow more tired of ourselves than you grow tired of us. And sometimes we get on our high horse and need a faithful Nathan, just like David did, to help us see how we fail to live up to the things that we preach.

For these and other reasons, my daily prayer for myself is:

Father,
Always grant me character
that is greater than my gifts
and humility
that is greater than my influence.
Amen.

Will you also pray this for me? And…

If you are a congregant, please don’t stop holding us pastors to a high standard. Don’t let us off the hook from the high calling to lead with things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. But as you do, please also leave some grace in your heart for us for those times when we will certainly need that from you. Because you see, all of us, including pastors, are incomplete works in process. We, like other Christians, are on a journey toward perfection. But we haven’t reached it yet. What Melville once said seems to fit:

“Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”

The best grace you could give to us pastors, then, is this: Pray for us, live in community with us, and invite us to live in community with you. Please don’t put us on pedestals or treat us as heroes. Rather, recognize us as your fellow sojourners. When this happens, I think that the chances of our becoming isolated and domineering and snippy and untruthful and full of ourselves and greedy and adulterous—and whatever else could eventually disqualify us—will be significantly reduced.

And every time you feel compelled to critique us, try to find something kind and complimentary to say, also. A generous word lifts our spirits in the same way that it lifts yours. And we need the encouragement, just like you do.

Thanks for listening to this dump of my feelings, which also represents the messiness of my heart as I cry over friends who have fallen…

…and as I wonder why it was them instead of me.

 


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99 responses to “Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Pastors”

  1. Kirk says:

    Thank you, Scott!

    • Shari Thomas says:

      Thank you, Scott! I took
      3 1/2 days to say yes to John’s proposal. I’ve said, to many peoples horror, that church ministry is my C word. My cancer experience actually gave me relief from ministry. And which of course reveals my peculiar brokenness. Ah, and we share your concern about our wondering hearts. Prayers for you and Patty, my friend.

    • Rob says:

      Thanks brother. A word in season. Many blessings to you and yours

  2. Jason says:

    I have several friends who are pastors for whom I am a confidant and encourager when it comes to this area. They know they can call me any time of the day or night if they need it, that I won’t condemn them and that I will be there to uplift them. I’ve seen pastors lose it because of a lack of support system and people who will allow them to be human; I vowed to be there for pastors who need it so we don’t get another pastor taking his own life.

  3. We Christians are all on a journey of grace; may we love and forgive one another as God in Christ Jesus has already done for us.

  4. LB says:

    This is so timely for me, brother. I am going to go back and read it again. Thank you x10.

  5. Hi Scott. A friend of mine shared this blog posting on Facebook. I was once his pastor. I had to resign, too, because of sexual sin. I did not run and hide. I did not move away and get “rescued” by a friend from seminary asking me to come join his church staff. Nope. God left me right where I was. Eighteen years later, I’m still in the same house in the same town. I stayed and face the music, you could say. I went to counseling and did my work. The Lord Jesus Christ and His Grace have met me in my shame, in the back story of my shame-based identity, and led me to know more fully my grace-based identity in Him. And Yes, I have found that Jesus is eager to use me. Thanks for speaking up and speaking out about this matter. (P.S., based on your description, I think I am friends with the sister of one of those young pastors from St. Louis.) –Carter Featherston

    • Kiki says:

      If every “fallen” pastor would stay and deal with the problem, that would be awesome. Instead they are whisked away, taken in by some other church, not really made to face the consequences of their sin and honestly not giving them a chance to make amends with their congregation and possibly gain mercy and grace and love and forgiveness face-to-face.

  6. Rod Arters says:

    Scott,
    Thank you for writing this and for keeping this topic in the forefront of people’s minds. Most people truly have no idea the pressure and temptation that face Christian men, even those in ministry. I am praying for YOU!

  7. Jez Bayes says:

    I agree with all of this …

    … BUT I don’t think this quite gets to the heart of the issue, and until it’s addressed widely in our church models, I predict that this will keep on happening.

    Yes, I totally agree that Pastors should not be on pedestals, because there is moral failure in the pastorate, because pastors are human and there is moral failure in all humanity.

    I also agree that pressure, burnout, depression and mental health issues are an even bigger problem.

    But I think the reason for this is the elevation of the Pastor, Minister, Vicar, Lead Elder, etc to a strategic business model type role at the top of a hierarchy.

    This is never remotely proposed in the NT, and Biblically everything is community, from the pre existent Trinity, right through to the emphasis of the Acts church on hearing the holy spirit together.

    Single figureheads appear Biblically in the OT Kingdom, and this was against God’s advice, and with largely terrible consequences.

    Until we remove business models, celebrity culture, pyramid hierarchies, and the echoes of medieval semi-political structure from churches, the pressure on individuals to hold an individual office that God has not authorized will continue to be unbearable.

    IM(nv)HO!

    Cheers,
    Jez

    • David Wick says:

      I heartily agree with Jez. Also, let us remember that we can not control expectations others have of us, but we can control our response to those expectations. 114 hours/week? I can only laugh at that and say- Sorry, I am going to have a life, as Jesus intended ( John 10:10).

    • Ann Gemmel says:

      So so well stated! Time to dump the business/corporate model of ministry and get back to the Biblical concept of community and family of faith!!

    • Liz says:

      Yes, preach it Jez! I have noted the ‘business model’ of ministry is disturbingly antithetical to spiritual rest, growth, and overall health.

    • Mark B says:

      Thank you for your thoughts. However, I disagree…

      Jesus chose 12. They didn’t choose Him, He chose them. Within that twelve, there was the inner circle of three. If hierarchy doesn’t matter then there is no authority. Yet we know by Paul’s writings that some are called to be Teachers (thus they are above their students) and others are called to be Pastors (thus they are responsible for the flock).

      I dare say that part of the problem is that not all who are Pastors are called as such. Increasingly it seems that anyone who deems themselves a “Pastor” becomes one. Locally, there is a young man who has been a believer for 10 years that decided to start a church. He has no formal education but simply “felt” that the Lord wanted him to do so. The church is meeting in a home and is sparsely attended by those that were disgruntled with other area churches. Too often Christians practice a divisive attitude concerning congregations. It becomes a popularity contest and not a sanctification process. A pastor isn’t allowed to “step on toes” or challenge the congregation. He has to say the right things to bring people in and get dollars in the plate. He either needs to rail against sin or offer up a weekly therapy session. Itching ears rule the day.

      Too many congregations “call a pastor” on their own authority and then vote him out based on their own desires. Too often a search committee will express an opinion that a pastoral candidate is the answer to “prayer” yet when the honeymoon period is over, they begin to despise the new pastor for the changes and challenges he brings. A divisive vote is made and the “answer to prayer” a year or two earlier is now “the wrong man for the job.”

      No wonder pastors get depressed. Either they were never “called” (vocation or location) or they are being treated like an employee.

      Our problem within the Church is not that we have too much hierarchy, our problem is that we’ve thrown it all out the window. We have become like Israel in the Old Testament “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Jesus is King we like to say yet we fight against and reject those He calls as Pastors. If they aren’t endowed with responsibility and authority, why are they called? If they are endowed with said attributes, why won’t the Church listen?

      • David says:

        Mark,

        Your opinion is exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches. In fact, that last quote perfectly illustrates just how different it is. God was supposed to be the king of Israel – they would not follow. Instead, they demanded a human heirarchy (King Saul) to give them organizational power like all the other nations around them. God had intended, clearly in the law, for every single Israelite to directly report to Him as their king. Their rejection of God’s kingship led to anarchy, followed by human despots who, most of the time, led the people further from God. Hierarchy is not the answer – individual closeness to God and obedience to His Word is.

  8. Jake Tolbert says:

    Good thoughts. The one thing I’d note is that depression isn’t the same thing as moral failure–it’s easy to conflate the two because they’re both damaging to somebody’s ministry, but depression is an actual illness with symptoms that a reflected in somebody’s behavior, whereas moral failure is…well, a (very) public failure to follow the rules.

    Folks who face the latter need to take responsibility, repent, etc etc etc. Folks dealing with depression need medical help. Conflating the two makes it harder for the depressed folks to accept that they can get help.

    • Jon says:

      True they aren’t the same but depression often leads to choices that bring moral failure which then deepens the depression

  9. Sam says:

    I think pastors could use confessionals. Most friends won’t say all that’s on their minds to a friend; most guys, sadly, are just not built like that. Even though God knows our every thought even vocalizing to just get things out of your system to an unknown person on the other side of wall can really help.

  10. gjwolfswinkel says:

    I am Dutch reformed, and I am an elder in our local church here in The Netherlands. What amazes me is the emphasis that Americans seem to place on the role of a pastor. They are considered to be both leaders and pastors – and responsible for any and all things that go on in a local church. They have a kind of a rock star status, it seems. In this piece I never read about the role of the elders, or the church council of elders .. do they not exist in the US? Who sets church policy?

    Over here in our churches in The Netherlands, a pastor is called to a church and he may remain there for a minimum of four years, but ideally he should be called to another church after 4-8 years.. he is a passer-by, in the end. Our national synod recently even entertained the notion of dismissing any pastor from a church after 12 years, by default! We are a presbyterian-synodal church: the presbyters, the elders, are responsible. In a properly organized Dutch reformed chuch, it is never the pastor who sets long term church policy, determines course or direction or any of that. Of course he is listened to carefully, but the church council of elders (consistory? not sure about the translation) is responsible, not the pastor! So if (a part of) the congregation isn’t happy with what’s going on – complain to the elders, not the pastor.

    This is not to diminish the office of the pastor.. on the contrary. It helps to isolate him from all that mundane organizational stuff and sometimes negatively charged church goings on,, and lets him focus on being a pastor foremost, to the fullest extent possible.

    Of course this model sometimes fails, but it seems to me that for most US pastors our model would be an improvement over the current situation.

    • April says:

      It depends on the denomination here in the US. For example, in the Methodist Church, the denomination moves the pastor every fee years. In a Baptist Church, the pastor stays until he’s called elsewhere or booted out by the congregation (because they are congregation led).

      I attend an Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, which works very similar to what you are describing in your church, except the pastor may stay as long as he’s called. Our elders handle most things, such as complaints, and they make the decisions. Then, we have the office of deacons who serve members of the church’s needs such as hospital visits, prayer, care. Our pastor does some of those things as he is led, bit his main job is preaching and discipleship.

      But, your observation is not wrong. Our culture in general is obsessed with celebrities, so it’s no wonder that American churches fall into that and pastors become local celebrities and sometimes national ones. I think it’s one of the negative aspects of our culture that we’ve carried into the church.

      • gjwolfswinkel says:

        April, thanks for responding, this helps me to better understand the situation on your side of the ocean 🙂

    • Daniel says:

      Gjwolf…You probably made one of the most insightful comments on this subject. The blogger makes very accurate statements, but we need to keep in context that these struggles and trials fall on many leaders whether on pastors, CEOs, and entrepreneurs.

      Read the “Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship” and you’ll see many parallels to the life of a pastor.

      http://www.inc.com/magazine/201309/jessica-bruder/psychological-price-of-entrepreneurship.html

      With this said, Pastors are not alone.

      Two quick points.

      First, pastors are at a severe disadvantage than most for-profit organizations based on how they structure, hire, and run their organizations. As someone who’s been in both roles, pastors create environments where they simply have too much power for their own good. Within these environments, these leaders are more likely than the average leader to be ineffective, burn people, and burn out themselves. Gjwolf… your comment falls right in line with this point.

      Second, pastors need spiritual fathers. I cannot stress this point enough.

  11. Strat says:

    I really appreciate the article and the prayer, “Father, Always grant me character that is greater than my gifts and humility that is greater than my influence.” I am currently working toward becoming a pastor so I cannot offer gems of wisdom from years of experience as a pastor, but I can share my experience. I served full-time in a ministry for a number of years and went through a time of severe depression. It came during a time when I felt like there wasn’t much fruit being born through my ministry. I felt like I was in a “pit of despair.” It seemed that fellowship, prayer and serving wasn’t enough. I finally reached a point of desperation- “Lord, I can’t deal with this. I don’t need another breath. I don’t need anything other than you, but God, I desperately need you. You have to help me.” I cried out to the Lord from my pit of despair and found the peace that only He could give. As I held tightly to Him, I was fine. Over a period of time I realized that God wanted me to see that my joy in life must come from intimacy with Him. Anything else is a poor substitute and will not satisfy. In fact, anything else can easily become an idol. Anything- ministry, family, success, the praise of man, fruit- anything other the God Himself. Nothing, absolutely nothing can take the place of a close, intimate daily time of worship and prayer with the Lord. I believe Pastor Sauls is right in his points about our need for each other, but I see an unstated truth in his article as well- ultimately, what we need is a close walk with God.

  12. […] Thoughts On The Rise And Fall Of Pastors | Scott Sauls “In the past year, five of my friends who are pastors have lost their ministries because of moral failure.” […]

  13. 一元营销 says:

    确实不错,这个要实话实说!

  14. Gordon says:

    Good forbid that more will continue to be overtaken by scandal. But the higher one climbs and the bigger one gets the more devastating the crash when the harness of their influence ceases to hold them up. God help us all who are in his labor.

    For many of these ministers, the churches are too large and their national and international platform is too far reaching. This causes church discipline to be affected in that the gravity of the offenses aren’t considered in their own. And the grief for letting so many millions down can be overwhelming.

    One more thing. Many of these men disappear into obscurity. Which might be warranted if they disappear into small communities of accountability where they can receive the discipleship they did not get while on the pedestal of their platform. But most don’t go with the sense of continued connection with Christ. Knowing that they are still loved by him and are still fully employed by him. And it is as though their Christian life ends when their ministry duties end. I believe that when men are given such opportunities like this it is important for them to know before hand and throughout their work how they should think if such would happen to them. They show have a normal Christian experience aside from the ministry platform. This I believe is something lacking. We push how high a standard they must uphold but we never say, “if you don’t hold that standard and are disqualified you are still a child of God and need to repent and wall with him just as all other members should be doing.

  15. Rob T. says:

    I was a church planter in Philly who did not take care of his wife’s emotional needs. I was out there conquering “for Jesus” while my wife suffered. Needless to say, my wife left me and I am now driving for Fedex. We are not independently wealthy, so how could we take a break in today’s economy and get help? Some people act like the reason pastors don’t confess or pause from their jobs to get help is because of pride. It might sound Unspiritual but we couldn’t financially afford to. Of course you could say that it’s because of a lack of trust in Jesus, but that is what they say about depression too. Ironically, not finding healing left us financially broke too (as divorce tends to do). I am not sure why we downplay the $ impact on these decisions. Churches don’t pay unemployment tax in the USA so a pastor really is out on the street.

    • William says:

      Spot on. EXACTLY.

    • Shari Thomas says:

      I am so sorry Rob. You are exactly right. Church planting is a brutal world. I’ve been working for ten years creating relationally safe space, training for wives of church planters and raising funds so church planting couples can get the alongside help they need before life blows up. It’s so true that they don’t have the funds!

    • BaB says:

      Not only do pastors not usually get paid very much, when they are terminated they also lose their house/parsonage. When I lost my church (not for moral violations but church politics) we were homeless for 3 months. I went into a tailspin trying to find work and my wife finally left me after 3 years of turmoil, taking my children. Now I work a job I don’t care about, wanting to be a pastor again but not knowing if I can or even how.

      • Rob T. says:

        BaB – I really mean this: God has not forgotten you. How do I know? I don’t deserve His attention and yet He has not forgotten me! Repent of what your part, FORGIVE, and wait on Jesus to restore you. God wants you to be a blessing in your stinky job. Remember: manure is one of the best places to grow things. Keep that crappy job and plant away… Until God opens a door.

  16. Wow, what an intense peek into the lives and hearts of pastors, thank you for sharing so deeply.
    Our pastor has been quite blessed by being surrounded by a group of elders who are also close friends, not to mention care groups. He doesn’t hesitate to ask for help and support if and when he needs it. We’re all happy to lift him up in prayer.

  17. McKay Caston says:

    Really well-written, helpful reflections, Scott. Thank you.

  18. […] Thoughts On The Rise And Fall Of Pastors –Scott Sauls “For reasons beyond my ability to understand, God has graciously protected me from moral collapse over the years. Knowing the fragility and fickleness of my own heart, sometimes I marvel at how this could be the case. Why them and not me? Sometimes I wonder if, under different circumstances, I, too, could collapse morally. As the famous hymn goes, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it…” Indeed, I feel my proneness to wander every single day. […]

  19. Interesting article but why do you randomly bold various sentences? Makes for a very distracting experience.

    • scottsauls says:

      The bold print helps people who only have time to skim, so they can get the key points. A lot of bloggers do this. If the bold print is problematic for you, you can always copy/paste into a word file and remove the bold print yourself.

  20. Phil says:

    I was taught long ago in 1985, after the suicide of someone I knew in a position of leadership, to always keep my faith in God and not man. Words of wisdom I have always remembered and try to always keep in mind.

  21. Brian Doyle says:

    What difference do you think it would make if the pastor of a local church had great confidence that a critical mass of the men of his congregation were in his corner and had his back? It would look like this – a team of as many as 31 men would to praying for him and once a month would not only pray but would reach out simply share via text or email or phone that “I am praying for you Pastor. You can count on me. My family and I are on board and are with you heart and soul. I have you back and thank God that He has placed you in my life.”

    We have this set up and ready to go with automatic reminders.
    Go to http://www.PastorPrayerTeam.com No charge – just effort.

  22. A, Amos Love says:

    Scott

    Is it possible the reason “Burnout,” “Depression,” “Moral Failure?”
    Is such a problem for Today’s “pastor/leader/reverend” is?

    They have found themselves with a “Title/Position?”
    That does NOT exist in the Bible?
    For one of His Disciples?

    “Pastor/Leader/Reverend?”

    This was a challenge for me to comprehend – But…

    In the Bible, can anyone name…
    One of His Disciples who called them self pastor?
    Or shepherd? Or leader? Or reverend?

    In the Bible, can anyone name…
    One of His Disciples who called another Disciple pastor?
    Or shepherd? Or leader? Or reverend?

    In the Bible, can anyone name…
    One of His Disciples who took the “Title” pastor?
    Or shepherd? Or leader? Or reverend?

    In the Bible, can anyone name…
    One of His Disciples who was Hired or Fired, as a pastor?
    Or shepherd? Or leader? Or reverend?

    In the Bible, can anyone name…
    One of His Disciples who became a…
    Paid, Professional, Pastor, in a Pulpit, Preaching, to People, in Pews?
    ———-

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **THEIR shepherds** have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  23. […] THOUGHTS ON THE RISE AND FALL OF PASTORS – Scott Sauls […]

  24. Julie Stell says:

    Thank you so much for this eye opening and heart wrenching account of our pastors’ struggles. My priest recently went through a divorce, left the priesthood and re-married very quickly. It was heart breaking to me to lose the pastor who was my shepherd. We are now in a new church and our pastor has been an inspiration to me. Over burdened with too many earthly cares, I sought others to help to alleviate some of the burdens he otherwise need not be concerned with ( making Holy bread, cleaning the church, taking care of the grounds…) We need to help our pastors so they can help others in their struggles, as well as their own. God bless you and your fellow pastors.

  25. Jim Doggett says:

    “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

    Simon Peter was the man Christ had invested the most time with on the planet, had seen the most miracles, and had even walked on water. In a 24 hour period he was told that he would be given the keys to the Kingdom, that the kingdom would be built on rocks like him. He had been told to exit because he was echoing the words of Satan. His feet had been washed by the Savior, and he had pledged that he would never leave his master, even unto death. He had fallen asleep when asked three times to stay awake and pray. He had cut off the ear of a soldier to be rebuked again. He had denied Christ three times and wept bitterly at his failure.

    And the Lord, knowing of all this, let’s him know that he is not facing anything that was not allowed by the Father. Satan had only been allowed to hurt him with permission. The Lord let him know that he would fall away, and then would be restored, and that after restoration, he was to strengthen his brothers. This was magnified after the resurrection when on the beach the Lord asked him three times to feed his sheep. The good Shepherd knows that His sheep need shepherds most of all. He knows they are flawed. He knows it will be hard. He knows the life so lived is made possible by His sacrifice and atoning gift. God, help us all.

  26. Buddy says:

    I think that many but not all pastors seem to inflate and misrepresent the condition of their perspective church’s to peers as to not be shamed by the truthfulness of decline. They tend to tell all their friends about all the good that supposedly is going on ,when in fact their ministries are slipping into decline because of personal sin. They will never get good advise by telling half truths to their peers; so they continue to fall more and more into despair, all along knowing that the truth will set them free but the pain is to much to bear from admitting they were wrong. Repentance is good but also very hard. Being depressed can most of the time be cause from our turning away from GOD and becoming pragmatic. Being discouraged by not getting the things from GOD that they expect from GOD. Much prayer is needed for these guys that they can fight the battle against themselves and pragmatism.

  27. William says:

    Thank you for this, one point. It is true that if you admit to suffering with depression/anxiety, you can and some have been told, they are unquilified, uncalled for ministry. FACT.

  28. JLMills says:

    I am not a pastor. Most of my life has been spent in a church. A church, is the body of believers, not a building or denomination. They all have the responsibility to take care of each other. It is not supposed to be a social circle where those with money can out do those with pennies. It is supposed to be a place to meet and learn more about God, the Holy Spirit and Christ, and to put into practice what we learn. A pastor should preach. Not do anything else. There are enough people in most churches who can fulfill all the jobs so that NO one is stressed or put on a pedestal.

    It is a group effort. Not a one man/woman show. My brother was an elder in a Presbyterian PCA and was there for more than a decade. He was my younger brother by a year and a half, and constantly was telling me that my life was not where it should be and even went so far as to tell my mother that the meds the doctors had put me on at that time was not going to fix what the “problem” with me really was. He never ever took the time to have a real conversation with me most of my life. The church adored him. As did my parents to the detriment of the other 5 siblings. Why? Because he had managed to become very rich. Hence he thought he was all that and more and my parents could not see past it and neither did the church.

    Then the day I decided to visit the church he was an elder of, after the death of our parents, my brother does not show up. Then I find out from his wife that he left a note on the kitchen table for her that said “I don’t love you anymore and I am leaving”. That was it. Nothing else. He refused to speak to anyone at all in the church. I joined the church some months later. For over 6 years no one has talked to him because he refuses to talk. He moved to another really close town, married a woman whom he was having an affair with while he was still married, and she was also married then and divorced her husband to marry my brother.

    To this day he will not allow any of his siblings to speak on what he did even though we know that he had more than one/two/three affairs while married for 36 years. And he expects us to accept his new wife with open arms. Well, none of us can do that. You see, his wife of 36 years is a true friend and sister to us. She did nothing wrong. We do not hate him. We love him but until he removes the barriers we cannot get close to him so we pray.

    The problems that you are speaking of here are heart problems and are not exclusive to pastors. It is inclusive to all of us. No one person at anytime should be on a pedestal. No one. It is supposed to be about God, not us. We need to be on our knees not our laurels. Even those who are authors and put their likeness on the cover and their bio on the inside. That is wrong. That immediately makes it about them, not God. TV preachers have nothing to offer but CD’s with their photo, anything for money. Nothing is about us. NOTHING. All that we are is BECAUSE OF CHRIST. Not of our own doing. It is the gift of God and NOT of OURSELVES, lest any man should boast.

    People need to get a backbone and knuckle down to do the work and finish the race and if you are overworked then put others to work and if they won’t then close the church. Whining does nothing. Everyone suffers from depression in some form or another. If you do then go see the doctor. No amount of talking will relieve it. What will work is to focus on God and not on your own self and weakness. God’s grace IS sufficient. You don’t need a confidant you need the Holy Spirit, that is His purpose. HE is your comforter.

    I could be mistaken but I believe that ‘churches’ nowadays, including the one I joined, are nothing but a huge social gathering. For 4 years after an accident has left me bedridden until the day I go HOME, I have not seen nor heard from anyone at the church I joined. Even though they know through FB that my situation is bad physically and financially. For the first year or two, yes I did hear from them but since then I mailed them the tithe from my settlement and that was the last time I ever heard from them.

    I understand human frailty. What I don’t understand are those who decide to pastor and they allow the church to fail to support them by putting all the responsibility on him. Our leader is Christ, our pastor is human, our church is the body of Christ and should be there for EVERYONE whether they can sit in the pew or not. This is not a pity party. This is a side that many bodies of Christ forget about. There were times when I was called to see if the elders could come by, but I had to say no because the pain was too intense at that time. After about 2 or 3 times they stopped calling. I would rather they had come and mowed my lawn than sit and talk anyway. Constructive love, that’s what they just don’t get.

    My youngest brother also got fed up with the politics of churches. Now they have a real body of Christ that meets in each other’s homes and looks out for each other, relying on the Holy Spirit to lead them. A body of Christ that is modeled straight from the Bible, like it should be. They do not have a building fund. They do not need a corporate board.

    It is not about the pastor, elders, music director etc. or even just the members, it is about Christ. Not a building, not a denomination, not a social status, not the number in attendance, not the amount of money that comes in, not about who wrote what and was published, not about who sings better, not about how to change so that it attracts the world, not about who wore what, not about who drove what. It is STRAIGHT UP about God. Anything else is sin. And the whole church disintegrates because of the encroachment of all of these situations. Hence we have no end of denominations/non denominations ad nauseum.
    Perhaps this has rambled a bit, but it is a perspective from one who once was able to sit in the pew, and was able to visit those who could no longer do that. One who helped where they could without prompting yet also worked for a living more than 55 hours a week. Those in the pews are just as important as the one in the pulpit and are prone to the same sins. Pastors/elders do not have a corner on being put on a pedestal, although the majority of them would like to. There are some who relish the chance to say I have sinned because they can use it, spin it so “people can see their repentance and marvel.” I have seen this before. My sin is impatience with those who want to be on the pedestal BECAUSE of sin. Sometimes it feels sounds like one person is trying to outdo another in the realm of sin and needing forgiveness.
    Church as the world sees it is full of those who sin. And they are right. We all sin. We need to get back up, suffer the consequences quietly, and get back in the race. It is now and always, all about Christ.
    JLMILLS

  29. […] Thoughts on The Rise and Fall of Pastors: Scott Sauls – Sauls says, “The best grace you could give to us pastors, then, is this: […]

  30. Fred C.B. says:

    In my opinion, not that it counts much, this is a very thought provoking article. It highlights the problem of what happens when far to much reliance and expectation is placed on the shoulders of a single individual, rather than have a ‘church/congregation’ function as a cohesive unit, where everyone shares the load, according to their individual gifts/skills/talents. Expecting one person to not only ‘pipe the music’ but to also ‘do the dance’ is a recipe for the type of outcomes that have been drawn to attention. By the same token, no person should ever think that it is entirely up to them up to them to write the music, play the tune and dance all at the same time. The Apostle Pauls’ illustration of how the human body works is a very apt picture of how a Church should function. FCB

  31. Excellent thoughts, but having counseled 100s of fallen pastors, the issues in this article need to be addressed: Sexual Sin in the Ministry http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/sexual-sin-in-the-ministry

    • Allen says:

      IMHO sexual sin is a leading symptom vs. the root of the problem of moral failure in ministry and the greater problem of pastoral dropout and leadership ineffectiveness. I am not saying sexual sin in the ministry is not a big problem. It is. But it is not the BIGGEST problem of the pastoral ministry, just the most visible and repulsive.

  32. Jordan Smith says:

    I’m in agreement with some of the other commenters who have pointed out that the single, figurehead pastor doesn’t really jive with what we read in Scripture. Many churches, my own included, attempt to take some strain off the pastor with a group of elders who are supposed to share in the counseling and shepherding duties. However, I’ve noticed that largely those elders go ignored in favor of the man who addresses the church each week. I’ve long wished it to be the norm that a church be made up of three or more elders who all share the Sunday-morning teaching responsibilities, and I’m not just talking about an occasional sermon from each elder—it should be either a rotating weekly schedule or have two or three elders each give a 20-30 minute sermon during the service. That arrangement is not only in keeping with the biblical requirement that an elder be able to teach, but it also makes it obvious to the congregation that each elder is equally qualified and available to do his shepherding job.

  33. […] Thoughts On The Rise & Fall Of Pastors by Scott Sauls via ScottSauls.com […]

  34. Timothy Decker says:

    Virtually all of the pressure of the job can be removed by simply removing the job. An understanding of New Testament church government reveals that the original apostolically-authorized leaders of local churches performed in a group called elders or bishops. The notion that those gifted as pastors (Ephesians 4)–that is, as those who care for the sheep–are to be placed in a CEO position with a title and administrative responsibilities, and endowed with a fiction of clergy authority, has not only corrupted the church from its authentic simplicity but has burdened the resulting individual so-called pastors to death. It is a religious system inherited from the Roman catholic ecclesiology, which borrowed it from pagan religion and secular politics. It’s time to dump the whole paradigm and return to the truth.

  35. […] Ponder Scott’s further reflections in Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Pastors.  […]

  36. Jim says:

    I feel the pain. Inadequacy, ineptness, inarticulateness…The list can go on until all self-deprecating words are exhausted. The congregation I have pastored for 10 years is in decline. We probably have 4-6 months until the treasury is emptied and I feel directly responsible. “What if I had done this differently? If only I had been a better preacher”… and that list goes on and on in my mind from the alarm clock sounding until I have fallen asleep at night. I dare not speak thoughts of utter failure to any man in the congregation. I tried counsel from another pastor (which was humbling to the point of agony) and it was like one addict going to another addict for guidance.
    I do think of the prophets often. I love the prophets of God. What is most wonderful to me is that these men, called by God to speak for Him, could not stop their fore-telling and forth-telling if they had wanted to. God would not permit them to quit. I can read these prophetical books and wish that God would speak to me directly and comfort me, telling me that I will suffer and agonize and even die for preaching His word, but that He is with me, and when the ministry is over, in spite of all the distress and affliction from Satan and myself, I will be with Him in His Kingdom. That what I am doing is not dependent upon me, but Him. Press on in My name.

  37. Nathaniel says:

    Failures of Pastors is a direct result of not knowing God through their ministry…

    Such people should not be pastors or teachers if they themselves have not been filled with the Spirit…

    How can anyone who has the Holy Spirit go and commit adultery or watch pornogrophy???
    Simple answer is: you can’t… The Holy Spirit is our helper, guide, and teacher. To many are looking to teach their views and little are willing to get alone with God in the Secret, not for another sermon or teaching, but rather to actually encounter God.

    Stop your ministry…
    Get alone with God
    Follow God
    Be used in His ministry.

    Collossians 1:28.

    • scottsauls says:

      Though your note here has some valid things to consider, it misses the mark. It is very possible to have the Holy Spirit and stumble. Paul coveted (Romans 7), Peter denied Jesus and fell back into racism and legalism (Galatians 2), King David committed adultery and murder…all after they had received the Spirit. The more correct statement is that you cannot be filled with the Spirit and sin actively. But in moments of weakness, the old man creeps in and the flesh is fed instead of feeding the Spirit…which leads to tragic results. It’s important to recognize that “having” and “being filled” with the Spirit are different things. It’s a key distinction.

    • Katrina says:

      I”m guessing that you have never failed in life and are free from sin. For the rest of us this is an excellent discussion that deals with real people and their issues.

    • ML says:

      …that is, of course, what we are set up to be as Christians–Spirit-filled. It is presumptuous, however, to think that everyone be perfectly in gear with the Holy Spirit–as you would have them be–in order for them to be “enough” as ministers. Would you say that King David was a lesser man than you? He fell. Paul had some post-conversion “arrogant jerk” moments. (I’m not even sure the letters are written in a spirit of perfect grace and graciousness). All of us are human still. Jesus came for sinners. Peter messed up big time. His first pastor and closest friend. 3 years RIGHT THERE with the savior. It was because of this, I think, that Peter himself could be compassionate to all who would come to him later. He wasn’t marked by humility in his early years. Jesus didn’t tell him to go get a spiritual time-out; he called Peter by name specifically so that he could restore that massive break of relational love and trust. If you are doing so well that you can boast in such a way, honestly, I’m not sure I’d feel safe in your church.

      There was another thing that I think we have forgotten about church leadership. Like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Jesus picked 3 initial leaders for his church, not simply one. We always think about Peter and forget about James and John. I think the triune leadership (because we DO need leadership; we can’t simply wander around as a sheep democracy) would a. balance itself out–those are 3 VERY different personalties–, b. keep friendship and accountability on equal footing. All three men had spent time with Jesus. Peter didn’t show up in a shop filled with 11 guys and say, “guess what, I hung with Jesus; you should listen to me”. It was, I’m sure, in part their (Peter, James and John’s) shared experience that they needed from one another as they led. “Well [x,y,z]” “Bro, aren’t you forgetting about the time Jesus said/did [ ]?” “Oh yeah… ”

      The Enemy is looking for sheep to devour–not discuss the finer points of theology with over tea.
      If you are familiar with anyone who is truly ruthless, I think you might reconsider your confidence. Spirit-filled men have fallen. Not because they were unfit to lead but because they were being ruthlessly apprehended by spiritual enemies who knew their every weaknesses and will exploit them. If the Holy Spirit were as close to your heart as you claim, I think you’d have a different sort of compassion for the brothers serving beside you.

  38. We have a restoration ministry for those pastors. If you know a fallen pastor or one on the edge, have him contact us at crashministries.org or me at rick@herestores.org

  39. James Naughton says:

    Passive aggressive case in point. A casual perusing of the internet would validate Scott’s statement, but it seemed important for you to retort. I only point this out because when this is multiplied over the years of a ministerial career, it contributes to malaise that becomes a burden

  40. gk says:

    Friendship: Profoundly critical. I am not sure what is taught in seminary about friendship. My guess is that for pastors-in-training, or in our case, Catholic priests, cautions are taught about “special relationships” with members or parishioners, and the potential pitfalls. It seems it’s dancing on the razor’s edge, with the simpler avenue of just avoiding intimate friendship altogether as the best decision. Pastor’s can’t be blamed for that kind of prudence; yet they can’t be made to twist in the wind…alone…either.

    In my own work (not a pastor, but occasional lay leader), encouraging friendship has been central. I was gratified to see that it was your first criterion (it’s mine too), as an indicator of well being.

    What would be helpful is to produce a ‘how to’ manual, or better, a practicum, on what is friendship. Having done intentional friendship and academic work on it, I’ve found that it’s often a word, as well as a practice (a spiritual discipline), that is taken for granted.

    The work done by Martin Marty, Lewis, and Paul Wadell are good starting points.

  41. […] Thoughts On The Rise And Fall Of Pastors […]

  42. […] post first appeared at Scott’s blog and is posted here with […]

  43. […] Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Pastors […]

  44. C says:

    There is a moment in ministry when you know you are about to blow up every bridge you’ve ever walked over, and yet, it seems better than the lonely abyss of death. It may seem selfish in hindsight, but the mind is functioning in a state that circumvents reason and rationalism. However, there were months and weeks before that the Holy Spirit could have intervened. And yet, sometimes he does not. Maybe for my own good.

    • MM says:

      “C”

      I wonder if it’s a blessing in disguise that some of these “fallen pastors” have fallen. Maybe after years of living a lie being a super-star instead of a human being, being adored and admired instead of understood and accepted. Maybe God in his abundant MERCY judged these pastors in a way that would lead them to true repentance and healing. Especially now that the great apostasy has begun, could it be possible that God wants to save some of these men from themselves? I wonder if some of these mega-pastors, if in their prime would make it to heaven after observing what goes on in private and behind the scenes.

      After attending a church of a “fallen pastor” seeing more than my soul ever wants to see again, I pray that the heart of the fallen pastor is recognizing that God is in everything and to accept His judgment as an act of love and come back to Him–to purge and purify the flesh.

      My thoughts are: Lose the whole world and gain back your soul.

  45. ML says:

    I think that there needs to be a more serious and clear look at mental illness in the church in general. I am not a pastor but I am mentally ill and I do believe that God’s work is for every Christian, not simply the paid ones. There are church environments which are toxic for the mentally ill–and all backed by scripture. Scripture is a beautiful tool… and a horrible weapon.

    You make a lot of insightful comments. PKs being on a pedestal is one of them. I didn’t really think about that with regards to the “perform/perfectionism” to which I am so accustomed (though I also come by it naturally).

    The pro… or one pro of being a PK is that you know pastors aren’t invulnerable or invincible. My father is a great father. I was once asked by a younger child in my father’s church if “my dad was God.” Well yes. No. Ah, the theological conundrum (at like 8) of explaining that yes, while God the Father in Heaven was my father, that the man who stood in front of the church, who was also my father, was not God. After hours he played Jimmy Hendrix on the guitar and made ridiculous puns with us around the dinner table. He was just a guy. If he was any sort of hero to me, it was because of the kind of father he was, not the title of pastor. That said, I also somewhat intuited that my father never really had peers. I noticed because it was hard on him, not as a flaw. In a way, I was grateful to be within the circle of real life that allowed my father to simply be… but even loving children are not the same as trusted adult friends.

    Back to Christians and mental illness, however, particularly suicide. I’d like to talk more about that. This may be more appropriate out of the public eye (email?) but this is something I’ve had to think about for a lifetime. I have had every bad answer thrown away and a few life rafts at JUST the right moment. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. The pressure on the mentally ill by the world is hard enough. That such fears might be–not just present, but intensified–in and by the church is a difficult, dark reality. My own story is one I am not afraid to share… what it needs is the right place (or audience) at the right time.

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  48. Linda Mew says:

    Hello,
    I look at how the apostle Paul chose his leaders such as Silas. What was the criteria? The elders of the church set apart Paul and Barnabas for the work of ministry when the Holy Spirit directed them to do so. They laid hands on them and sent them away. The thirteen who were chosen for the ministration of food and helps to the Greek widows were chosen based on their being recognized by the believers and elders as being full of the Holy Spirit. There were I think other criteria used as well to find these thirteen individuals qualified for this ministration. When we read about Stephen later on at his martyrdom we get a real sense of his commitment and maturity as well as his life and devotion being pleasing to God.

    How does a young man who is in his twenties who makes his decision to go to a theological seminary get enrolled? Based on what criteria? He should be mature and qualified before ministering as a pastor. Maturity here does not mean his age, but rather his qualifications for ministry. His spiritual qualifications, his lifestyle qualifications, his sacrificial qualifications, etc. He should be dead to his own life. By this I mean he has come to the point where he has laid down his own dreams, goals, ambitions, and is now doing God’s will. I doubt that a normal young man today in the church would have come this far in his spiritual walk. How is he then put into a position of authority within the church that is fraught with snares and difficulties?
    I guess my point in this comment is that people are placed into authority and leadership positions in the church (by schooling criteria alone) that they are not ready for.
    Linda

  49. […] Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Pastors – Scott Sauls […]

  50. Allen says:

    I CAN SO IDENTIFY with every word of this article. I have been that suicidal pastor as well as that pastor with ‘issues’. Fortunately, I found the grace to deal with my depression TWICE. The first time (2000) actually cost me my church. The second time (2015) provided me with an AMAZING level of GRACE. I try to reach out and encourage every depressed looking/struggling pastor I know….there are so many! The last year has been the most life transforming in my ministry. After 25 years in Full Time ministry I am FINALLY at the place I need to be to take the hatred, meanness and pure evil church members direct at the pastor and ESPECIALLY their wife….and then there is the world to deal with. …..Pastors have an IMPOSSIBLE job. Only by walking in the power of the Holy Spirit can we become spiritually and emotionally whole enough to survive! IF anyone needs a listening ear or an encouraging word, please reply to this comment so we can connect. I am as serious as a heart attack about this problem. It is a BIG part of why the church in America has become in so much trouble. Without healthy leaders how can we ever have healthy churches? Before we strive to be boldly evangelistic we had better strive for spiritual, emotional AND physical health!

    • Linda Mew says:

      Hi Allen,
      Perhaps what is also causing much disturbance and dissatisfaction of church leaders and the membership is a mistaken goal for the church of numbers of people that are attending. This goal has changed the focus and the intent of church gatherings. What Christians are hearing from their leaders in abundance these days is grow the church in numbers. Get people into the church. This is not the goal of the Bible teachings or of Jesus, the Apostles, Paul, or other writings in the NT.
      For example instead of Easter being about the dying of the believer on the cross with Jesus, the new creation of the believer, the death of our own ambitions and lusts, where I went it was all about inviting others to come to church. They even had a video of how this might be done which I think in most people’s minds was not realistic. The ‘neighbor’ in this case was ‘dying’ to come to church but waiting to be invited by his Christian neighbor.

      Pastors are leading in their own strength and wisdom much of the time. This is burnout, despair, futility, frustration, maddening, etc. They are trying to make a living and also trying to make their mark among their peers. A lot of what this means for these men and women is how many people are attending their church.

  51. Ruksis780 says:

    ruksis 102

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  52. Cary Saeler says:

    Can I just say what a aid to search out someone who truly is aware of what theyre speaking about on the internet. You definitely know how one can deliver a difficulty to mild and make it important. More people have to read this and perceive this facet of the story. I cant imagine youre not more well-liked because you positively have the gift.

  53. […] different circumstances, it could be me instead of them. I recently wrote a blog post called “Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Pastors,” which seemed to resonate with fellow pastors especially. What I’m learning is […]

  54. Ka-Ming Au says:

    Thank you for writing that Scot. I was a missionary in Cambodia for 20 years and I was really shaken when three senior leaders had moral failures. One I used to drive to meetings, another I used to listen him preach – and admired him, and the third I only saw from a distance. I wondered, like you, why men much better than myself chose moral failure? When, from my perspective, I am made of much weaker fibre and character. It is only by HIS grace that somehow I am still preaching, even though now living in Ireland, when so many better than I have had to stop. It is so easy in the ministry to be deceptive, to have a divided heart and to deceive oneself. Recently, reflecting on my missionary service, I marvelled at how GOD has somehow preserved myself and my family. Two things came to mind, how within my possession I have the agency to destroy all the good relationships in my life and secondly who am I really before GOD? May we see ourselves as HE does, May he continue to preserve us.

  55. […] different circumstances, it could be me instead of them. I recently wrote a blog post called “Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Pastors ,” which seemed to resonate with fellow pastors especially. What I’m learning is […]

  56. Christian says:

    I have a bad news about IAG, a morally compromised pastor :

    http://kelanakota.suarasurabaya.net/news/2016/167503-Oknum-Pendeta-Ditangkap-Polisi-karena-Lakukan-Pencabulan

    (The news is in Indonesian. Please use https://translate.google.com to read it in English. Untranslated word “Ditreskrimum” is “directorate of Common Criminal Investigation”, “Kombes Pol.” is “Police High Commissioner”)

    The pastor is from a Pentecostal denomination. Some of his victims are his own nephews.

    When I heard this I don’t blame him fully, but I wonder how many times his people has prayed for him. I become encouraged to pray for my own pastors. As Roman Catholic parish priests, they had no families, but I know they must have their own struggles. I sometimes saw them tired and weary, especially after night mass, or after they visit congregant houses, to conduct services or preach.

    The pressure could be higher for married pastor IAG, until he compromised his morals by molesting children. I wonder how could his fellow pastors and church didn’t act swiftly to help him at the first sign of breakdown ???

    Please pray for IAG. May God use his jail time to become a better minister !

  57. […] RELATED POST: Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Pastors […]

  58. […] As I’ve written before, these moral collapses by ministers are not uncommon. […]

  59. […] Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Pastors […]

  60. […] Thoughts On The Rise & Fall Of Pastors by Scott Sauls via ScottSauls.com […]

  61. kathrein says:

    Thanks for sharing. Please share this type of more post…..!!!!!

  62. Lulu says:

    My husband is a board certified psychiatrist. He is an MD, of course. We are Catholic, but we totally admire Protestants both in their fellowship with members of their churches and their study of the Bible. We attend Bible studies with mostly Protestant people. We have noticed, however, that psychiatry is regarded negatively. We hear about “Christian counselors.” I am sorry, but they do not have the training that a medical doctor has…four years of medical school plus four years of residency. Many times on the weekends and at night, the phones for the Christian counselors are turned off because they do not want to put the time in that a psychiatrist must. His liability far exceeds that of a counselor. In any event, depression is a treatable disease, but it can be intractable even with the best medication and therapy. It is not a weakness to see a psychiatrist. I think that there is a mindset that all a psychiatrist does is to tell you not to feel guilty. Of course, that is absurd and childish. Just as a minister should not form his own church when he has improper or limited education, neither should a Christian counselor hold himself or herself out as having the ability to treat true mental illness. I appreciate your thoughts. As a cradle Catholic, it is interesting to see that priests and ministers share so many similar problems which occur despite their marital status. God bless all of you.

    • greg rogers says:

      Thanks for sharing. I have been through “Christian Counseling” and have read several books related to the subject and must declare that not all counseling labeled “Christian” is really of the Bible and truly Christian. Recently I have come across a person whose husband is terminally ill. This wife is obviously incredibly distraught over this circumstance (rightfully so) and happens to be of the type to believe that if she is just good enough to muster as much positive energy some incorrectly call “faith,” her husband will be more likely to be healed. Guess happens if her husband dies? Don’t you think depression would be a logical rotten fruit and result? Indeed.

      The idea of Biblical faith does not have its focus on how positive I can be or how much I am convinced that God will do what I know is best. This sets us up for a fall and depression and yes, perhaps psychiatry. Instead, Biblical faith is trusting in what we as Christians should know is true and that is that God exists, He has our best interests in mind for His glory, and He has prepared eternity for those who have trusted Christ for the forgiveness of sin and trusted in Christ alone! So 80 years on an evil planet with an aging body compared to infinity in God’s love. What is that ratio compared to? The more I engage even a muster seed of faith in the Bigness and Greatness and Lovingness of the only real living God who created the universe, the less I need anything to help me crutch around this broken, sinful world! The more I go there with a Christian community calling me away from me and towards Him, the less likely my body chemistry will lapse towards a need for psychotropic drugs!

      Our King chose to die for us, so that we could be forgiven and carry His righteousness. His light through us shines brightly in a dark world and with this I wish all a very sooncoming Happy Resurrection Sunday!

  63. Sarah says:

    Thank you, I needed to hear that today. Much of it applies to anyone in Christian work, and not pastors only.

  64. […] Thoughts On The Rise And Fall Of Pastors […]

  65. […] but the ministry brings expectations and temptations of another kind; of another world. Scott Sauls wrote about it and he is spot-on. Could I make a personal (and slightly selfish) request? Please read Scott’s […]

  66. Mark Demel says:

    Thank you for your character-filled reflection and the sweet spirit with which you share it.

  67. David says:

    Sometimes we grow more tired of ourselves than you grow tired of us.

    Yep.

  68. Lou Obersteadt’s says:

    Scott, thanks for sharing. We are praying for you.

  69. Lynda KTP says:

    I attended a mega church near Chicago for decades. I drove an hour to be involved with a huge group of Christians that were truly following Jesus and committed to making a difference in our world, in His name. Sometimes as many as 100,000 people a weekend would revolve through the hundreds of doors, travel escalators to upper balcony seats and sit in eager expectancy to hear the Word of God. As the lights and music filled the auditorium, we would worship our living Savior. I remember one day I was compelled to slip off my shoes, as I knew I stood in His presence. Many times I was moved to tears as different speakers challenged us to move to action for the call of Christ in our own lives. I have since moved away, but often miss my mega fellowship of believers.

    Then I hear of the sad news, allegations, denials, resignations. The devastating choices of one man in leadership has hurt and effected so many, it is truly, so sad.

    But I know God is in the business of redemption, to bring all of mankind to Himself. As it all comes down to Jesus, dying on the cross for our sins, and His unconditional, unwavering, undeniable love for us all. It is really quite an amazing life, as we seek His face, and truly know the powerful and holy God of the universe is our loving Heavenly Father!

  70. […] the last year, in the US, many seasoned church leaders have written about the impact of the moral failure of those around them. Particularly challenging was the muddled response to Bill Hybels which rocked many who saw Willow […]

  71. Bonnie Jean says:

    Your article was very thought provoking. I feel that Pastors are called to be Pastors and that God equips those He calls. I also feel that being human, Pastors need what all of us need… fellowship, prayer, friends, family, rest, relaxation, recreation, a decent paycheck, time for living… the 114 hour idea is insane. I feel heartbroken for those who chose to end their lives, how lonely they must have felt. And we all sin… we all fall short of the glory of God. Some sins have bigger consequences and may hurt more people than others. I understand the concept of Elders and Deacons, but I have always thought that they were there to support the Pastor in various parts of the ministry of the church, and Deacons as well, but their roles are not all the same. Jesus is the Head of the Church… but these roles I believe are temporary while we are here on earth. Though Elders and Deacons may be there to support the pastor, that is not the same thing as friends. Friendships are not automatic … and need time to grow and flourish. My father became a Christian through the faith, prayers and encouragement of a Pastor whom he referred to as “The Rev”… they were friends as close as a brother. He and his wife drove my mother to the hospital in NJ when my brother had spinal meningitis along with a few deacons who were his friends as well… not just his Deacons. Then when He had a multiple bypass in the days when you were in the hospital for a month… they all drove my mother to and from NYC. And when he had to go back a few weeks after that for another one as the first failed… they did the same. They drove me to the college they had gone to when I decided to go there. We were church family… and real family… and true friends. I knew I could call them in the middle of the night not because they were a Pastor and Deacons… because they were friends. I am very thankful that this Pastor took the time to be more than a Pastor and to be a true friend. He also had a true friend in my father. And I had a great example of true friendship and support. A friend that is closer than a brother.

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