There has been, in recent years, a growing concern about the number of moral failings and integrity lapses in megachurch pastors (churches with attendance north of 2000 people a week). Words like “epidemic” have been used, as the number of leaders disqualifying themselves has felt extremely high. I have been asked if a megachurch pastor is an endangered species, which I surely hope not as I shepherd a church that meets that definition.
I have thought a lot about this in recent years. The reality is that moral failings among spiritual leaders are not new. Sadly, ministry leaders have been imploding for centuries. The apostle Paul noted that one of his ministry partners, Demas, “deserted me because he loved this present world.” We hear more about the character implosions of ministry leaders today than in previous times, as news from all over the world is readily available to us. And the failings of megachurch pastors do seem to garner more attention, which makes sense as more people are impacted by their fall. But those falls are not more painful or more prevalent – just more pronounced to the watching world. Here are four reasons (of many) that ministry leaders are susceptible to a fall:
1. The pressure is real.
When the pressure of a role is greater than the character of the person in the role, the person in the role is likely to crumble. Because of the weight of leading God’s people, we are warned in Scripture to “not be quick to appoint anyone as an elder” [I Timothy 5:22]. Some articulate that the scope and size of the megachurch increases the pressure leaders face, while others point to the sheer volume of work on a pastor in a small church who has no staff (those pastors literally do everything). The reality is that all ministry leaders face intense pressure.
2. The pace is relentless.
A message is completed on Sunday and work on a new one must begin right away. A teaching series is finished, and the new one begins right away. A ministry year is halfway complete and planning for the new one is underway. The number of people to counsel, to meet with, to pray over, to shepherd in the midst of their suffering keeps growing. One ministry leader whose life fell apart admitted this to me, and it is heart breaking: “I wanted to fall so I could get off the rat-race I was in. And falling felt less humiliating than admitting I was not strong enough for it.”
3. Isolation can be attractive.
Sin thrives and flourishes in isolation and darkness. Isolation can be attractive to ministry leaders. Ministry leaders often feel like they have to “be on” in every interaction, and every meeting can lead to something they need to fix at the church. While all leaders can isolate themselves, megachurch pastors can use the size of the church as a justifier for their isolation. For some pastors, not being able to meet with everyone can tragically become a reason not to be in community with anyone. Isolation is tragic and leads to tragic choices.
4. The enemy is cunning.
Satan is “prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (I Peter 5:8). He looks for anyone, not just ministry leaders. But when Satan devours a ministry leader, he also harms the people they have helped. Are megachurch pastors an endangered species? Does the enemy hunt them more than others? While megachurch leaders may be able to more easily justify isolation, the enemy delights in the devouring of anyone and of any ministry leader.
Let’s pray for our leaders. Leaders, the risk of isolation is vastly greater than the risk of isolation.