By Chuck Lawless
We all know stories of long-term pastors – leaders who’ve been in the ministry for years – who still fall morally. We grieve when we hear the stories, and we wonder how it can happen to ministry veterans. Based on my studies of how Satan attacks leaders, here are some reasons even long-term pastors fall.
- “Success” leads them to let their guard down. The more “successful” pastors are, the easier it is to assume, “That will never happen to me.” Their thinking sounds like this: “After all, God has always blessed my ministry, hasn’t He? He won’t let this happen to me.”
- Longer ministry = more opportunities to fall. This reason is really simple. The more time pastors spend with more people, the more opportunity they have to get wrongly connected with someone. Longer ministries demand more awareness of falling—not less.
- They’ve learned to hide in the ministry. Busyness and excellent speaking skills can cover a lot of private sin. Public ministry does not always include private accountability. What looks great on the outside isn’t always so pure on the inside.
- They never really developed spiritual disciplines. I speak to a lot of pastors who candidly admit that Bible study and prayer have always been struggles. They’ve searched for a deep relationship with God and have never really found it.
- Ministry has worn down their defenses. I’ve not met any pastors who started ministry defeated and discouraged. I’ve met many, though, who are now in that state. Sometimes emotional and spiritual fatigue drives them to wrong solutions.
- Their own marriages have been strained. Sometimes their spouses feel second (or worse) in the line of the pastor’s priorities, and they’ve felt that way for a long time. Marital neglect has led to long-term emotional and physical separation – and the pastor wrongly looks elsewhere for comfort.
- Mid-life crises happen. They really do. Leaders who figure out they haven’t reached their dreams battle their own emotions. Some feel hurt, alone, disrespected, and tired. Others have had success, but they thought they’d see more by now. Weakness leads to disaster.
- They’ve seen others restored. I tread softly here, recognizing views differ on whether fallen pastors can be restored. I also affirm ministries that walk alongside fallen leaders to bring them through the defeat. My point is simply this: the enemy is so evil he convinces some folks to go astray with these words: “Well, you can be restored, too. This action won’t cost you much.”
Take time now to pray for some long-term pastors you know.
What other reasons would you add?
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Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on Twitter @Clawlessjr and on at facebook.com/CLawless.