Pastors and ministry leaders are not above character implosion and wandering from the Lord. In time, their wandering manifests in a variety of self-destructive and disqualifying behaviors. In the last several years, I have thought a lot about “fallen pastors.” My role at LifeWay provides a painful view of the fallout. As pastors are removed from ministry, the implications on churches and families are far-reaching. Here are five lessons from a season of fallen pastors, a season that has, at times, felt epidemic.
1. Self-destruction transcends theological tribe.
The landscape of ministry leaders who have been removed for disqualifying behaviors includes leaders from traditional and non-traditional churches, reformed and non-reformed positions, charismatic and liturgical worship styles, and congregational and elder-led polity. While what we believe matters greatly, leaders can hold to right doctrine and still drift dramatically in their lives.
2. Drift in life and doctrine don’t self-correct.
The apostle Paul warned Timothy to “pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). Our lives and our doctrine must be guarded carefully. A drift in either does not self-correct. The only solution for a drift in life or a drift in doctrine is repentance, which is why we must continually repent.
3. Leaders who ignore rebukes and corrections must not be ignored.
A common thread in the stories of fallen ministry leaders is that when people called them on their drifting, they ignored the rebukes and corrections. When a leader ignores correction, others must not ignore their shunning of correction. God is merciful to us to provide godly leaders who challenge us, and we must pay attention.
4. One can grow a ministry and grow cold at the same time.
Ministry leaders who fall are often in growing and thriving ministries. Sadly, leaders can learn how to nurture and feed the masses without nurturing their own souls. And when the growth of a ministry is more important than the health of a leader’s soul, implosion is inevitable.
5. We all need God’s grace.
The apostle Paul reminds us, “Whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). If we think we are standing strong, we are setting ourselves up for a fall, as we are foolish to put confidence in our flesh, in our ability, instead of God’s mercy and grace. Ministry leaders and those in the ministries they lead need God’s grace and cannot stand without it.