During my time in seminary I took a leadership course taught by the late-great Dr. Howard Hendricks. As we studied the life of David, Prof shared a study he conducted with a group of men in full-time ministry who had fallen into a morally disqualifying sin.
At the time, I had only been a Christian for a few years, but unfortunately the subject was all too relevant. During my early days I had witnessed several men whom I loved and respected fall into serious sinful compromises. At one point in those days, the falls came so frequently I felt as if I was on the spiritual beach of Normandy watching buddies lives get blown apart all around me.
Prof’s study was of 246 men in full-time ministry who experienced moral failure within a two-year period of time. As far as he could discern, these full-time clergy were men who were born again followers of Jesus. Though they shared a common salvation, these men also shared a common feat of devastation; they had all, within 24 months of each other, been involved in an extra marital affair.
After interviewing each man, Dr. Hendricks compiled 4 common characteristics of their lives.
1. None of the men were involved in any kind of real personal accountability.
2. Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading, and worship.
3. Over 80% of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations.
4. Without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall “would never happen to me.”
As I reflect on this study, a few lessons come to mind. These are applicable for pastors, plumbers, stay at home moms, and anyone else who seeks to follow Christ.
- Sin thrives in isolation.
Satan lives in the darkness and longs to keep us there as well. He does this because lies live best in the darkness. God knows this, which is why when He calls us to Himself, He calls us into the church.
God has created the church to be many things, one of which is to be a community of people who help each other fight sin and love Him. He calls us into relationships where we speak truth to one another (Ephesians 4:15, 25), confess sins to one another (James 5:16), and love each other enough to chase after each other if we stray (Matthew 18:10-20; Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:19-20).
The question I want you to ponder is this: Who knows you? I mean who really knows you? Who not only has permission, but is currently acting upon the permission to ask you penetrating questions? Are you answering those questions honestly or are you hiding details and painting up your sin to guard your image?
Do not hide from God’s gracious aid of loving relationships.
- If you flirt with sin, you will fall into sin.
Sin’s slope is a slippery one. The longer you walk along the edge of the abyss, the more certain that your foot will slip. The men in the study put themselves in dangerous situations again and again. They ignored the words of Solomon who warned his sons to “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8).
These men did not guard their hearts, or the hearts of the people they were supposed to be protecting. Instead, they became blinded by the deceitfulness of sin (Ephesians 4:22; Hebrews 3:13) and were led into the ditch of destruction (Matthew 15:14).
What ways are you flirting with sin? What provisions are you making for the flesh in regards to its lust (Romans 13:14)? What guards have you stepped over? What details are you hiding? What emails are you deleting? What search histories are you erasing?
Sin is crouching at your door (Genesis 4:7) and the tempter is looking for an opportunity to pounce (1 Peter 5:8). How are you making his aim easier?
Flee from sin, don’t flirt with it (Genesis 39:6-12; Proverbs 5-7, Romans 6:12-13; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 2:11).
- Pride blinds us to our weakness.
Many of us think this sort of serious sin would not happen to us, just as those fallen pastors thought. But 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns us “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Let us not forget that Samson—the strongest man in the Bible, Solomon—the wisest man in the Bible, and David—the man after God’s own heart, were all overcome by the temptations of sexual sin (Judges 14-16; 1 Kings 11:1-8; 2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51). No one is above the temptation to sin in grievous ways. If you doubt this, you are on your way to a great fall.
Brothers, beware. Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
- Purity is cultivated by loving Jesus.
Somewhere along the line, each of the men in the study began to drift. Prayers became less passionate. The promises of God in His Word grew dusty. Love for Jesus became something spoken of in the past tense.
The seduction of sin and enticement to sacrifice all to satisfy inner longings became too strong to resist.
But Christ is stronger. Hear these words of promise afresh:
Hebrews 4:14–16 “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Brothers and sisters, there is no sweeter assurance of help than Christ Jesus the Lord. He stands ready at God’s right hand to supply the grace and mercy we are in such need of.
Do not allow your hearts to grow cold toward the Lord who loves you so. Draw near to Him daily, moment by moment, in hopeful expectation that He is better than any fleeting pleasure that might entice your heart. Do not seek Him only in days of desperation, but seek Him daily. Walk with Him. Rekindle passion. Plead with Him to help you. He is able to do it, and He delights to do it.
Jude 24-25 “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Come Lord Jesus, come.
Great assessment, brother – thanks for writing it.
May we all take heed lest we fall. Thanks, Garrett!
Thank you for posting this…used it today in a sermon illustration…one of our men translated it into Português and posted it on his blog. God is using the truth to touch lives here in Brazil. http://www.comeorolo.blogspot.com.br/2015/02/pastores-que-cairam-uma-licao-para.html
Pingback: A Pattern Among Fallen Pastors – Lessons for Us All
This is right on target. Hope to see an article also on the redemptive process for these men that brings about repentance and eventually restoration. It’s always easy to find the sin and the reasons that lead to it but few want to walk with those back to being whole again.
Pingback: Just In Case You Missed It – February 22-28, 2015 | Worldly Saints
Used on Sharper Iron here
Pingback: UN PATRÓN ENTRE PASTORES CAÍDOS–LECCIONES PARA TODOS NOSOTROS. | Cristianismo Serio y Eucatástrofe
Pingback: sobering | dc from the cheap seats
I can relate to this as it it what happened to me 15 years ago. God has been so good to me through this long process as has my loving wife and family. We have had our ups and downs for sure, but He is faithful. I am currently still in an Accountability groupwhich is a very healthy process for me. Thank you so much for this post. It was an encouragement and challenge to me today.
Thanks so much for sharing!
Pingback: GROW | 3.2.15 | the hub
Thanks Garret for the sobering reminder. Trust all is well at Del Ray!
Thanks for sharing this challenge message. I plan to share this with seminary students that I teach, by referencing your blog. This entry is poignant words of truth to all, especially those called into ministry.
Pingback: Here and There (March 3) | Susan L. Stevens
Pingback: More Good Reading | Second Chance Pastor
Pingback: Around The Web - Jeff Kennon
Pingback: Links for Your Weekend Enjoyment - JoshuaReich.org
Pingback: Notable Voices: March 7, 2015 - ThomRainer.com
Whenever a pastor or church leader falls, the lost, unchurched, and hurt immediately point a finger and justify in their minds why they want nothing to do with what they call “religion.” 25-30 years ago no one thought that homosexual marriage, and homosexuality would be a major issue in the Christian Church. No politician who wanted to get elected would support gay marriage, how the world has changed. Pastors send most of their counseling time on broken marriages. That is not handled correctly is like purchasing a ticket on the Titanic. Every Christian, not just pastors needs a strong accountability partner who knows them inside and out. Not a wife, not a husband, but someone who can objectively look at our life and call us into account when needed by God’s grace and word.
Pingback: Notable Voices: March 7, 2015 | Do You Really Believe?
Wow… This is such a great article. Thank you for posting this.
In my last two churches, I followed pastors who had been terminated because of adultery. The guy that follows is the one that has to deal with “the morning after.” In both cases, the men I followed were greatly loved. There were three categories of saints left behind: The confused, the heartbroken, and the angry self-righteous. Ironically, what I learned in each case was that these men fell pray to temptation in the presence of overwhelming pressure placed upon them by the congregation. I’ve learned to be compassionate towards the fallen. Church members should do more to help their pastors lead healthy lives. That’s not to justify their sin, but to answer the question as to why some pastors throw their ministry away.
I don’t doubt that these are important observations. I’ve been in ministry for more than twenty years. Happily I haven’t had an affair and I don’t counsel women unless my wife is in a room nearby; the church is next to the parsonage; when I counsel a woman, wifey comes over to the church building.
As for having a close friend or accountability partner, I don’t think I’ve ever met a person I would trust with my inner thoughts or struggles. God will have to do.
Thanks for your comment. I’ll pray the Lord does give you a good friend whom you can humbly share what is going on in your heart. I believe this is one of the things God has used to keep me from utter destruction. This is an article I wrote on the subject, http://garrettkell.com/step-into-the-light-a-call-to-confess-your-sin-to-someone-else/
Pastors who sleep with congregants or people they are counseling aren’t just committing adultery. And it is adultery not “moral failure.” Moral failure doesn’t appear in the Bible. Sin isn’t an ugly word. Christ died for our sins. These pastors are also committing spiritual abuse. In Texas, it’s not just a SIN to have a sexual relationship with a congregant, it’s also against the law.
Thanks for your comment. I certainly agree with you that adultery is not something to be glossed over and that sin is not a word to avoid.I don’t think I did that in this post, but if it seems that way, know that’s not my intent. May God give grace to us all as we seek to walk in purity before Him.
I hope this message finds you well!
My name is Daniel So, and I’m the General Editor of ChurchPlants.com, a sister site to ChurchLeaders.com. I’d love to share this insightful article with the CP community. We would, of course, cite you as the author, and include your photo and bio at the end of the article.
Please let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to hearing back from you. Thanks!
General Editor, ChurchPlants.com
I dropped you an email today. Thanks for reaching out.
Thank you for this article. I am married to a pastor and also involved in a long time extra marital affair with a pastor. For years it was an emotional affair, it has now become sexual. I want to tell my husband, but i realize that I will ruin 2 families, disrupt my husband’s calling, and end two careers. I love God and never thought I would be here. I don’t know how to end this without hurting so many people. I am using an alias to write this, as I am terrified. Please respond! I’ll check the post for a response.
Thank you for reaching out. Your situation is heartbreaking, but your path forward is clear. You must step into the light. From where you are, this seems terrifying and unthinkable I am sure, but if you are a follower of Jesus, this is the only option for you. If you would like to talk with someone about how to do this, my wife would be more than willing to help you processes your next steps. Please know that while the fallout from your honesty will be great, the fallout from staying in hypocrisy will be infinitely greater. The good news is that God gives grace to all sorts of sinners, I know because I am a among the worst. So please, “Rachel” do not hide any longer. Honor Jesus by speaking truth, confessing your sin, repenting deeply, and trusting God to lead you in a path of healing. We will pray for you.
Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
James 4:7–10 “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
Hebrews 4:16 “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
There is hope, help, and healing in Christ. Draw near, draw near.
I’m a wife of a pastor too. I think you were very aware of what you were doing at the very beginning. Women are very smart. As a pastor’s wife this is a very real concern for all of us when we marry. I think you should examine why you ever wanted to destroy another woman’s security in her marriage,which you were definitely aware of from the beginning. If you claim that’s not true, then repent to God & do not ever speak to that man again & pray for God to call your husband to a different job. Unless what you really want is for your lovers wife to know is that he chose you over her! Get honest with yourself! God will take care of the other man as He sees fit…… You’ve done enough. As far as scripture to reference you need not go much farther than several of the 10 commandments taught in Sunday school kids class & the golden rule.
I’m not “angry self-righteous”….. Just sick of adulterous women looking for excuses. I think you want people to know & maybe he will get free in the process…… Otherwise you would move on.
Thank you for your honesty in this post. This is a real concern for pastors and as you indicate, Pastor’s wives. Theft of another woman’s security is putting it mildly. I have read some articles by Godly men who have taken measures to ensure they do not find themselves vulnerable to these situations. I have had to learn this myself. I believe scripture puts the responsibility on the man to watch over his “temple” diligently, as well as for the dignity of his dating partner/ fiancée. However, we do live in a broken world. I have mentioned the need for pastor candidates to protect themselves and get quite the look from the women in seminary class and you know what they are thinking. Men seduce women…women do not seduce men. It’s women that need the protection. The truth is, women do seduce men, and especially vulnerable are pastors. Although proverbs (especially # 7) speaks to such an adulterous women, quite frankly I am dismayed that the finger always gets pointed at the man. To even suggest that a woman would seduce a man/ pastor in church is seen as “heretical”, but I know this to be true. Proverbs 30:20.
May we all be strengthened in Christ to follow Him, and be faithful in our relationships and marriages.
Every section been pronouce is powerful,I love this message and I wish evrybody should,thanks for sharing.
Pingback: “The Plane Has To Fly If You’re Ever Going To Land It”, Episode 48 of The Gospel Friends | The Gospel Friends
Pingback: Fallen Leaders: What are the Underlying Causes and Who’s to Blame? | Think Theology