The other day I heard that a pastor had an affair in a church attended by many people I know. Though unfamiliar with those involved in the actual incident, it certainly hit closer to home because I spent time in this church and at one point in time hoped to be on staff there.
What is it with pastors and affairs? I did a brief search through Google and found all kinds of stories about pastors having affairs with secretaries, the wives of other ministers, and who knows who else. It makes me wonder if this is just plain and simple sin that has to be dealt with, or is sin working within our system of ministry to crack people. I’m sure there are plenty of other options and combinations, but I’d like to muse on whether or not our ministry paradigm contributes to the problem.
When I think of the people who are notorious for affairs, I think of politicians and people in big business: people who carry tremendous responsibility. I’d hate to break it to you, even Martin Luther King Jr. had a well-known affair, and I don’t think it’s necessary to mention Bill Clinton or the vast majority of our Congressmen. In my opinion, pastors fall into this category to a certain extent.
We don’t expect pastors just to be nice, doctrinally sound, and excellent public speakers. We expect pastors to take care of us, to watch over our souls, to counsel us, to solve the problems we’re too cowardly to handle, and to provide us with a vision to cut through this dark land into God’s glorious kingdom. If you don’t believe me, just look at the slew of classes required for an MDiv and read between the lines on some job descriptions for pastors.
Now, take this heavily burdened pastor and look at the factors that typically lead to an affair from Focus on the Family:
Vulnerability often occurs when a person is:
- under a lot of stress
- grieving major loss
- feeling insecure and looking for affirmation
- feeling rejected and looking for validation
- going through a burnout
- experiencing boredom and looking for fun and excitement
- not aware of his/her personal weaknesses, e.g., boundary issues with persons of the opposite sex, such as, often wants to save or rescue someone.
Stress? Check. Insecure and looking for affirmation? Double check. Feeling rejected? Check some of the time. Burnout? Probably a check. Not aware of personal weaknesses? CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!
I’m not a counselor, or an expert on churches, but I’ve spent enough time in them to know about the tremendous pressure on pastors. Curiously, many pastors fall into affairs when their ministries grow. Success has a way of turning on its master.
Of course we’re not big fans of learning from our mistakes. That would explain why we’re destroying our planet and ruining sovereign nations one cruise missile at a time. I know if I started pastoring a church tomorrow I’d say to myself, “Those other guys fell, but not me. I’m going to be fine.”
I wonder if we need to start approaching ministry from the perspective of, “We know that whoever is in charge is going to screw things up in a really major way, so let’s prepare for it on the front end.” Perhaps we need less trust and more grace.
I’m not necessarily opposed to large ministries, but if we dare to try running something big, I don’t think we can expect a lot of success if we want every pastor to be like Bill Hybels. Even Uncle Bill had to step out of ministry to give himself a break.
In the end, the least we can do is reexamine our expectations of pastors. Are we setting them up for failure? Probably. Can we help them ? Definitely. Can we change our ways? We’ll see.
For further info about affairs and healing in the aftermath, visit the Marriage Restored blog.