I am sad, concerned and humbled. In recent months, five ministers I know have succumbed to some form of sexual sin. The sin is often a symptom of long lived and deep rooted issues. From what I know, all but one has sought counsel and reconciliation with their spouse. They range in age from early 30’s to mid 70’s without regard to conservative, progressive or liberal labels—however you define it. The consequences, however, are legion for family, friends, congregation and the community in which the minister has lived and served. Like a brick thrown through stained glass is the shattering of holy trust. The shards of glass litter the floor and find their way into the crevices of the pew. Shock, anger, and denial permeate conversations.
An elder of a large congregation shared, “This is the third minister on our church staff in the last ten years who has been terminated for sexual sin—addiction, adultery or abuse in some form.” Another elder of a 350 member congregation said, “The irony of it all is that he is a good preacher.” No amount of talent, giftedness, education, knowledge or experience makes one immune from self-deception and the deceitfulness of sin.
We all minister from broken places in our lives. No one is exempt. No one gets a pass from “the desire of the flesh that wage war against the soul.” Being tempted by one’s own desire is a common human experience. Desire lures, entices and once conceived it gives birth to sin and allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. Dying before you die is no way to live. The shriveling of the soul occurs over time in subtle, mostly secretive and unhealthy ways. Many ministers struggle with loneliness, isolation and even depression. They feel like the Psalmist who says, “There is no one cares for my soul.” It is, in these extended periods of time that we are vulnerable—dominated by the flesh; plagued by self-doubt, faithlessness, despair, and easily tempted.
The blessing of preaching is seeking, discovering and knowing God. The curse of preaching is knowing self and speaking for God, anyway. Preaching is an act of vulnerability and self-disclosure —of both validation and rejection. Imagine standing naked before people week after week with only words for clothing. Perhaps nakedness is a synonym for vulnerability. Adam and Eve can relate. With sin comes self-awareness—the nakedness of shame. Preaching is act of intimacy and in many ways lends to presenting a false self. For if the church really knew the war in my soul; the demons that won’t go away they would certainly be disillusioned if not disgusted with cries for a preacher with greater faith and integrity. This is why the false self is often presented and why approval is addictive.
Church leaders, like it or not, are called to a higher standard and are judged more harshly than those they lead or teach. Character and integrity is the capital of leadership. When a leader falls, trust is broken. Grief can, and often shows up as anger, blame, or even guilt—sensing something wasn’t right but remaining silent. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” As people in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, we are called to restoration, redemption and grace. It is not easy. It is hard work over time. There are some things to consider and do that are helpful now and for the future.
For the Fallen Minister and Family—
- Pray for healing and restoration.
- Pay for counseling for the minister and family.
- Stay connected to the minister and family members.
- Listen without fixing—grief takes time.
- Provide financial support in the interim.
For the Church—
- Deal openly with the reality but do not give sordid details.
- Leaders remain calm and listen to people many expressions of grief.
- Those who preach in the interim need to know and understand the pastoral implications; how to help the church process grief and respond as imitators of God.
- Avoid social media for sharing feelings, opinions or judgments.
- Know that the situation may surface others with similar struggles.
For the Future—
- The spouse is part of the interview process.
- Do the background relational homework.
- Spiritual and marital counseling is provided.
- Budget for a spiritual and life coach outside the church
- A personnel policy that includes a required sabbatical.
- An annual growth review focused on personal development.
Investing in the health and growth of the minister is essential. There is no guarantee, but ignoring health and growth is high risk and poor stewardship.
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6. 1-2
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
 1 Peter 2.11
 James 1.14-16
 Psalm 142.4
 James 3.1f
 Proverbs 27.5