I’ve sat pretty close to some ministry self-destructs. Some have been so close I’ve still got the scorch marks.
And, of course, like all of us, I’ve watched some high profile ministries collapse in disgrace. The after-the-event analysis has been horrifying, and many of us have seen people we respect leave their ministries at least under a cloud or a question mark, and usually much more.
Each one has its own type of failure, because they have the fault lines of each man’s sin. (Yes, ‘man’ – that’s just reality. But I’m old fashioned enough to believe that had women had the same opportunities for as long as the men, they’d have fallen as spectacularly, and with the same disgrace. Sin is a great leveller, and no respecter of gender).
Having said that, there are some inevitable common patterns: usually some permutation of money, sex and/or power, taken advantage of by the world the flesh and/or the devil.
But for all the range of permutations there, the more I’ve reflected, taken stock, checked myself for pride and so forth – because none of us is bulletproof, and Satan wishes to devour each and every pastor, by name – there is one common element. It applies to the internationally known mega-pastor, as much as the suburban pastor of a church of a hundred.
Each of them had taken themselves out of active fellowship within the church, even while they continued to pastor. They took part – but always up front, leading the discussion, chairing the meeting.
Each of them had taken themselves out of active fellowship within the church, even while they continued to pastor.
- No-one could call them out on their sinful actions or patterns; the pastor was too isolated.
- No-one could see their sinful actions or patterns; the sin was too cleverly concealed.
- No-one could get close enough to challenge; the pastor was too senior and the power was too imbalanced.
- No-one heard the pastor confess sins, needs, temptations; the reputational risk of that information going public was too great,
And so each one had constructed a ring-fenced zone, where sin could roam free but still safely caged.
Had none of them watched Jurassic Park?
More to the point, had none of them read the scriptures which they were still teaching in public while defying in private?
Of course they had. And there’s nothing unique in the fact that they read their bibles and sinned. Every Christian does that, daily. No excuses, and we all call each other to repent, but that’s our fallen – saved-but-fallen – nature. Every Christian knows that battle, and fights it, sometimes knowing victory, at other times just digging in a determined resistance.
But one of the means of grace, is church. Meaning fellowship, mutual growth in discipleship and so forth.
Being part of church – note this, pastors – does not mean preach a sermon, lead the worship and job done. We need church to be church for us too, for our spiritual health.
We need to be the receivers of fellowship too.
Once we see ‘church’ as something we provide, lay on, for others, we have made a subtle but deadly false step; we have opened up a weakness into which Satan will pour every poison of attack, to bring us down. We have deprived ourselves of one of the principal means of growing and of keeping safe as a Christian, and that will be exploited.
Once we see ‘church’ as something we provide, lay on, for others, we have made a subtle but deadly false step; we have opened up a weakness into which Satan will pour every poison of attack, to bring us down.
I’ve just run through my mental list of pastoral self-destructs to make doubly sure, and each of them fits this pattern. To repeat, Each of them had taken themselves out of active fellowship within the church, even while they continued to pastor.
So, my fellow pastors, are you still a member of the church you oversee?