“So, You’re The Adulterer!”

(Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk about several reasons why the book “Fallen Pastor” is for anyone concerned about the future of the church. We are in the midst of a crisis and need to understand how to approach it).

I love talking to people who work in funeral homes. They have some of the most amazing personalities. They deal with people and care for them at the worst point in their lives on a daily basis. Yet, most of them have the best attitude when you get to know them.

The other day, I was riding in the pallbearer car back to the funeral home with a lady who helped manage the funeral home. We had been talking a bit and she said, “What do you do?”

We had already talked enough that she knew I worked in sports medicine. What this 50-something woman who knew people really wanted to know was, “What was I doing as a pallbearer at this funeral?”

I said, “I used to pastor this church that most of these people went to.

She said, half-joking, “What did they do? Kick you out?

I had to smile because she probably wouldn’t have asked it like that if she had known. Or maybe she would have. She had a great sense of humor and, like most funeral directors, shot pretty straight.

I committed adultery,” I said.

Her mouth dropped wide open, “Ooooooohhhh!” I thought for a second the car was going off the road as she adjusted her sunglasses. Then she looked at me and said, smiling, “I’ve heard about you.

I said, “Most of it is probably true, I’m sure.” Her statement would have bothered me two years ago, but thanks to a lot of helpful people, time and forgiveness, I just smile.

She said, “You wrote a book! Didn’t you?

Yes ma’am, I did. Did you read it?” I asked.

No, I didn’t think I needed to, I’m not a pastor,” she said.

Well, it’s not just for pastors,” I told her. “It’s for everyone. It’s about learning to forgive, what we expect of our pastors, how we can restore people, how we’re all sinners…

She stopped me and continued my thought, “You know, you’re just a sinner like me. You’re no different. We all mess up. Why is it people find it so hard to forgive pastors?

That’s a great question,” I said. “We are all sinners. I disappointed a lot of people who expected more from me. And they should have.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t forgive,” she said with a slight frown.

No, it doesn’t,” I said. “It just takes some longer than others. Hurt can last a long time. I haven’t always been perfect and no one else is either.”

We talked about other stuff on the way back to the funeral home. For instance, I found out it was easier to make creme brûlée than I thought.

She let me out at my car and said, “Thanks for sharing that. You’re a good person.”

I knew what she meant. And I appreciated her saying so. But I’m not good. None of us are. None of our heroes are good. They are all stained with sin and mere moments from a fall. When they do fall, I pray we all have courage to forgive.

Pastors Need Comfort, To Avoid Disaster

(Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk about several reasons why the book “Fallen Pastor” is for anyone concerned about the future of the church. We are in the midst of a crisis and need to understand how to approach it).

I conducted an interview recently with Joy Wilson, author of “Uncensored Prayer.” I asked her a question that has been haunting me. When I wrote, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” I never looked back and thought it was incomplete. But I asked Joy the following question: “In hindsight, is there a message you wish you could have added to the book?”

Since I asked that question, I have been consumed by it. I wish I had added something to my own book. Pastors are very needy people. They need comfort, just like everyone else. If their comforts are not being met, it can become a dangerous place for the enemy to step in.

When I say comfort, I don’t mean that pastors need to be pampered 24/7. I’m not talking about the idea that trouble will come and pastors need to face them. Let me explain.

Tonight, my lovely wife Allison and I went to a local diner after a funeral visitation. Usually, when I go to a small mom and pop diner, I won’t even crack the menu. I will simply ask the server, “What is the best thing you’ve got?“At this restaurant in Crofton, Kentucky, they had three pages of meals that all looked really good to me at the moment. But I knew that there was something there that they did really, really well.

Our waitress paused and said, “The open faced roast beef sandwich. It’s served with a side of mashed potatoes and covered with gravy.”

I said, “l’ll have that.” Know why? Because her recommendation was more than just what they did best. It was something she had eaten. It was comfort food. It was food for the soul. And my goodness, when it came, it fed my soul.

I was suddenly reminded that pastors need comfort. A lot of people who read this won’t like what I have to say in the next few paragraphs, but it is important if we are going to change this culture. A culture in which I fell. A culture in which 1,500 pastors a month are leaving the ministry, many due to moral failure.

Pastors work in high pressure situations, regardless of the size of their churches. Much is asked of them. Many of these men see the ministry as an extremely high calling, and they should. Unfortunately, many of these men sacrifice time with their families and wives to do the work of ministry because of overly high expectations placed on them by their churches or by themselves.

They have no comfort. Some, over time, seek out comfort through a quick fix of pornography. Some, whose marriages are deteriorating because of ministry, look elsewhere. That may come as a shock to some. The pastor shows up on Sunday with his lovely wife, his beautiful children – some people think, “I wish my family was like that.

But what many people do not realize is that the pastor’s home life is in shambles. His home life and marriage is in awful shape. Why? Because he has laid out everything in pursuit of the ministry.

In his mind, he has justified it all. He thinks he is doing the work of God. He visits the sick, attends deacons meetings, preaches the word, evangelizes the lost. But over in the corner, the relationship with his wife and family is fading and he doesn’t realize it.

He comes home from a bad day and tries to talk to his wife, only to see that she has become alienated from him. It is his fault. It is their fault. There is no comfort. So he seeks comfort elsewhere,wrongfully, sinfully. Through porn. Through lust. And maybe though an inappropriate relationship nearby.

Friends, what I am telling you is that pastors need comfort from home. From their churches. Just like those fried chicken home cooked meals mom used to fix. Pastors cannot be expected to extend themselves out on the church field and forget about the most important mission field – their family.

Comfort, the greatest and best comfort comes from home. Don’t extend your pastor so much that he can’t have the touchstone of relief from his wife and children.

When I was writing my book and interviewing fallen pastors, the most common traits of a fall were so obvious. The expectations were too high, they were isolated from having real relationships, there was too much conflict over silly things and they had lack of intimacy with their spouses.

Each of these things beg for comfort! The pastor needs friends, real friends who will comfort him! He needs a church body and leadership who will be able to discern what is really important – the preaching of the Word, not what color the carpet will be. He needs people in the congregation who understand him as a fallen sinner, like them, who has weaknesses. He needs them to be comfortable with his strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

Finally, he needs time at home to be comfortable with his wife and family. Most pastors get a day off during the week. But when I talk to my current pastor friends, they still get calls from the church on their days off. Pastors need time one on one with their wives. To bond, to heal. The ministry is, unfortunately, a battlefield. It doesn’t just involve the pastor, it involves his whole family. Give him time to nurture his family. To date her. To spend sweet emotional time with her, to forget the travails of the church for a few hours.

It’s funny as I write this, my power is out. I’m writing this on my iPhone as storms are wreaking havoc across the county where I live. Understand this: pastors who do not have adequate support and comfort are absolutely powerless. Yes, they are to look to Christ for all power, but He has given us the church to support one another through all things. None of us is in this alone.

Pastors across America need comfort time. And they need their churches to be proactive in giving it to them. It’s one positive step in ensuring we don’t have more fallen pastors.

Pastors and Killer Expectations, Part 4: Ready? Set? Humilify.

My family went on vacation last week to St. Louis. During the trip, our youngest, Leslie, made up a word. She didn’t mean to, it just came out. And it was pretty funny – she said something like, “Why is that guy being such a tweezernozzer?” A new word was born. Tweezernozzer can be a verb, noun or adjective. “That guy sure is a tweezernozzer.” “Luke, I am your tweezernozzer.” “I’m going to go out and tweezernozzer after I make about $1,000.”

The girls wore the word out from Mt. Vernon, Illinois (the place of the word’s creation) to St. Louis.

I mention it because if you’ve been reading the last few posts, you’ll understand that pastors face killer expectations and need to do something about it. Something serious. Killer expectations come from a lot of different places, they can’t be juggled and you can’t simply cope with them. Killer expectations, if they’re not dealt with, are one of the leading causes of pastoral burnout or ministry failure. It’s a topic I deal with extensively in my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.”

So what is a pastor supposed to do with these extremely high expectations that come from without, within and can be as overbearing as a category five hurricane?

A pastor has to learn to learn a new word. Like tweezernozzer. But it’s the word humilify. I’m sure the word exists in someone else’s imagination out there. If I wasn’t too lazy to Google it, I’m sure I could find it on the interwebs. Humility is a state of being. And it’s a great word. But I like humilify better. It came to me while I was thinking about this post. The pastor has to actively appropriate humility to every area of his life. There’s not really a word for that. But there is now.

If the pastor is going to delete killer expectations so he won’t be overcome with stress or defeat, he has got to humilify his entire life. In the last few posts, the point has been made that wrong expectations come from the church’s wrong expectations of the pastor, the pastor’s wrong expectations of himself, or the pastor’s misunderstanding of God’s role for him. Worse, if any mix of these is happening, the pastor can become miserable and begin to carry home his unhappiness and it will begin to erode his marriage.

Tell those killer expectations to, “Stay out of the Woolworth’s!”

So what’s a pastor to do with killer expectations? Kick them out the door. I’ve been there and I know it doesn’t sound practical at this moment, especially if you are living in a position where you dread going to work each time the church doors open. But I’ve interviewed a lot of guys and I hope the following advice is a little helpful.

1. Realize you are not in the right frame of mind if you are overcome with killer expectations. You could be on one of two ends of the spectrum as a  pastor. You could become idolized and placed on a pedestal. You can also become beat down with expectations. Neither are good places to be in. Know that you do not see yourself objectively. You think you do, but you do not. You may be angry, upset, tired, exhausted, cranky, irritated, or any number of things and not realize it. Go into this situation knowing you need help from your peers. Peers who understand you. Get ready to humilify yourself to someone you can confide in.

2. Get into touch with God, the one who defined you in the first place. If anyone has set up right expectations for you, it’s God. He has placed you where you are and knows you need help if you are in crisis. If you’ve fallen out of fellowship with Him, return to Him. It may not be easy, but do it. Humilify yourself before him. Tell him how weak you are. You might even have to confess that you’ve tried to do more than He called you to do. He will respond and heal you.

3. Communicate with your church leadership. This part may seem like a nightmare to a lot of guys. You don’t have to tell them all at once. There are a few things that may have happened here. The church might not have communicated properly the job expectations to you in the beginning. Church members may have unwritten expectations that are overwhelming you. Or it could be something else. You could be trying to be superpastor. Either way, you’ve got to tell them. Tell them before it burns you out or ruins you. You’re not at that church to ruin yourself or offer yourself and your family as a sacrifice to the gods of overworking. Humilify yourself to your church.

4. Talk to your wife. My mentor used to tell me that a wife has something that men don’t have that is more valuable than gold – intuition. Humilify yourself to your wife and just tell her about how you feel. Tell her about the expectations and what you plan to do about them. Tell her about your plans to communicate with others. You might just discover how smart your wife is.

5. Don’t stop humilifying. When this process is over, it’s going to be easy and fall back into old habits. Don’t do it. You have to remove yourself from it by replacing the old behavior with a new one. Instead of trying to meet old expectations, strive to humilify. Ask yourself, “Why am I desiring to do this new task? Is it for me, for the body of Christ, for my edification, or for someone else’s?” Pastors do a lot of things under the guise of false humility. We will do extracurricular tasks that we know no one else will do and before long, we are over worked and over stressed. The entire time we are doing it and ignoring our families we are telling ourselves, “It’s okay, it will help someone.” Don’t do it anymore. Humilify. Seek God first. Ask Him. If He has a program or activity He really wants done, He’ll find someone to do it, right?

Pastors and churches, we’re here to work together as the body of Christ. Humilifying together. To seek His glory. No one person in the church should ever be overwhelmed with an entire load of work that burns them out so much that they want to pull their hair out. Christ has called us to strive and thrive together.

Pastors and Killer Expectations, Part 3: How to Cope

How can a pastor cope with killer expectations? He can’t. If you find yourself coping, you’re not doing it right. You need to go back and read the first two posts on this topic. Coping is getting by. It’s like using one oar to paddle a cruise liner through the Bermuda Triangle. It’s not going to happen if you just try and “cope.”

You want to know how you need help? If half of your bookshelf is filled with titles like, “How to Manage Conflict in the Church,” or “Burnout in the Life of the Pastor.” You have got to get help. More than that, you’ve got to change your lifestyle and how you communicate with your church.

Let’s go back for a moment though. In researching my book, “Fallen Pastor,” I did a lot of research. Before my fall from ministry (long before I ever even thought about committing adultery), I lived the life of the stressed out pastor. I knew stressed out pastors. I still do. And after I fell, I talked to a lot of fallen pastors who told me that one of the factors that was part of their lives was high expectations – killer expectations.

So what do we do about killer expectations before they catch up to us? I want to address how it appears that most pastors deal with them – wrongly. I’m a seminary educated guy. I understand the purpose of seminary. It’s a theological education. There were a few practical classes spread out in there for good measure. But for the most part, I didn’t learn how to manage expectations or people.

I was surprised about how little I really knew about how to deal with people after two years of ministering. During that time, I was talking to a church member about seminary. I was dealing with some conflict in the church and she asked, “Didn’t they teach you how to deal with that in seminary?” Not really. I didn’t even learn how to cuss in Greek effectively so they couldn’t understand what I was saying to them when I got mad.

Where does a pastor go after he has a bad Sunday? You know, after the church gossip tells him that she heard from her aunt’s friend that he hadn’t visited Miss Suzie in three months when he had just seen her last week. When two deacons approach him separately about some problems with the music leader. When a trustee wants to meet with him on Tuesday about a “budget problem.” When two ladies want to talk about VBS issues at the same time. When four Sunday School teachers tell him they’re all going on vacation – next week – and can he please find a replacement? When three new families visit for the third time that day and he hasn’t gotten around to visiting them yet for very good reasons. When during the invitation time, he thought he had prepared a good sermon, but felt he had just been flat.

Where does he go? Who does he talk to? How does he manage all these killer expectations?

Most pastors are taught to not form close relationships within their church. I don’t know where this comes from, but ask any pastor (if they’re willing to be candid with you) and they’ll tell you it’s true. I wrote about it pretty extensively in the book, so I won’t discuss it heavily here. I think it comes from the idea that if a pastor makes close friends with someone in the church, they might turn on you. It can happen. Some people can turn on you and some pastors learn this the hard way. It’s also true that solid friendships can be made within the church. In my experience, though, most pastors don’t form strong relationships with families in the church.

How about staff members? For pastors who are blessed to have staff members, some can have a close relationship with their fellow pastors on staff. Again, I’ve heard the same thing. Some keep them at arms length while others nurture a close relationship. I’ve talked to guys who are pastors at large churches and many of them are content to be a CEO type and run it like an organization. They have great prayer time at their weekly meeting and let everyone attend to their own projects each week. It’s difficult for anyone on staff to meet the expectations they have and nurture any kind of relationship.

What about fellow pastors? In a lot of communities, there are meetings among the local pastors. Some of these are fruitful and interesting. Sometimes, these meetings turn into internal contests of envy. Some guys love to compare congregation size or budget allocation. A lot of guys don’t. For some pastors, they brood internally, looking at what other men have instead of dwelling on what God has trusted them with. On the other hand, I’ve seen some pastors have a great relationship of accountability and trust that extends all the way back to seminary.

So who is left? I get the feeling that a lot of pastors (for the first few years) go home and complain to their spouse. It’s like many occupations. Who else gets to hear what went wrong that day but your other half?

When the pastor comes home the question, “How was your day?” is not met with, “Oh, it was a blessing from God! It was an amazing pouring out of His Spirit!” Nope. Instead, the wife gets to hear after a Sunday service, “What a horrible day. You’re not going to believe what that busybody Helen said to me. Those deacons were meeting over in the corner. Who knows what they were talking about!

The pastor’s wife might have just had a wonderful worship experience and not have even noticed anything was awry. So for the first few years of pastoral experience, she may be in shock when her husband complains. When I interviewed these men, the pattern was unmistakable. They said after a few years, their wives just stopped listening. Either that, or they told them to stop telling them about what was going on at church. Honestly, I can’t blame them.

Most people don’t see church from the pastor’s high stress viewpoint. When he hits the door, he has to know that his wife may not see it that way either.

That’s one of the reasons the pastor has to learn how to do more than just cope. Coping isn’t going to work in the long run. It won’t cut stress, it won’t help him manage his life and it won’t make him an effective leader.

If there are killer expectations, the pastor has to go to the root of it and find out where they are coming from. Are they originating from a misunderstanding between him and the church? Are they there because he is placing too much stress on himself? Is there sin in his own life? Does the church have unrealistic expectations of him? A lot can be solved with communication. That communication may not be easy at first, but it may save a serious problem in the long run.

Don’t cope. Thrive. Excel. Know that Christ didn’t put his leaders in a position to fail miserably and lead miserably. He has placed them there to lean on Him and glorify Him in all things. He didn’t put them there to go home every night and complain loudly in front of their spouses or kick the cat. He has many plans for his leaders. Success everyday? No. But he has promised us peace amidst the storm.

Next time: Wrapping it all up – what do we do with all these killer expectations?

Pastors and Killer Expectations, Part 2: Can They Be Juggled?

You’re a pastor. It’s finally your ‘day off.’ Another week of preaching, sermon prep, visitation, phone calls, crisis management, complaints wrapped in sugar coating, leadership meetings, and time of prayer behind you. A day to yourself. Maybe you’ll start by spending time with your family (after you make a few phone calls to church members who are recovering or ill) or maybe you’ll finally finish that book you started six months ago.

Then it happens. Your cell phone rings. It’s ‘you-know-who.’ Yeah. That church member. The one who never gets off the phone in under 30 minutes. But if you don’t answer it, you’ll hear about it later. Or you’ll get six more phone calls the rest of the day until you do answer. Your heart pounds. Maybe they’re calling for a real good reason this time. Maybe there’s been a death. Maybe there’s a real crisis. “But it’s my day OFF!

You answer the phone, muttering to yourself, “Pastors don’t get a day off…”

Pastors face a lot of tasks. Can they all be juggled? Easy answer. Absolutely not.

The last time I saw someone juggling was a dude who had eight flaming chainsaws. And he was a professional. Even then, I wouldn’t recommend it. It took an amazing amount of concentration and he got at least four days off a week. No joke. Can a pastor live, thrive, and lead the flock whilst “juggling” tasks that are primary to the health of his own spiritual life and the church? No.

If the pastor is going to merely survive for a while, then come crashing down to the earth and burnout, then absolutely. Feel free to juggle. That’s what juggling is. Having at least ten things in your hands, but only having each of them come into contact with your attention for mere seconds. Can it be done and mastered over time? Sure. But I don’t recommend it. It can lead to failure as I chronicled in my recent book about fallen pastors.

Pastoral tasks need to be managed wisely. I’m not here to tell you how to manage your time better. There are better men than me who can tell you how to do that. But I can tell you this – if you are a pastor and don’t know what your church expects out of you, then don’t get upset when you’re juggling those 16 tasks later that you’ve put on your own plate. If you’re a church leader and you haven’t given your pastor a good job description, then don’t get upset when he doesn’t do more than preach, teach or basic visitation.

Expectations much be shared mutually between pastors and churches. The church needs to outline their basic understanding of what they expect the pastor to do. You know what is just as important? The church leadership telling the rest of the church what the pastor is expected to do.

I have a friend who was given an excellent job description by his church leadership. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people who thought he was supposed to be in charge of an outreach program when the leadership made it clear to him that the Sunday School superintendent was in charge of it. After about six weeks of infighting, a lot of unnecessary emails and backbiting, they finally got it figured out.

The pastor needs to do two things. First, if he feels he has failings or weaknesses in any area, he needs to be upfront. Not very good at visitation? Fine. Then get help, find someone to go with you or let the church get him some training. But don’t hold back that information. Don’t let the weakness become a point of contention that people can pick at when things begin to go wrong, friend.

Secondly, I think it’s fair for the pastor to let the church know that much is expected of them. Share with them what Christ’s expectations of the church are. Keep it biblical and sound. It never hurts to have a series on roles in the church. What is required of elders, deacons, and members of the body of Christ?

And that’s ultimately it, isn’t it? We are the body of Christ. Any time we have overly high expectations of any human being, we really need to check ourselves. We are all members of the same body, all with different functions, but all with an important task.

But I’ll tell you this, I have extremely high expectations of my Savior. Because He delivers. He has never failed His church. He does expect more out of his leaders, but never more than He has asked of Himself. In fact, what He asks is far less than what He gave to us.

This post is part 2 of a series in killer expectations for the pastor. Part 1 dealt with where killer expectations come from. Next time, I’ll discuss some of the mechanisms pastors use for coping with killer expectations.

Pastors and Killer Expectations, Part 1: Where Do They Come From?

A 2001 Barna study shared the following information: “Church-goers expect their pastor to juggle an average of 16 major tasks. That’s a recipe for failure – nobody can handle the wide range of responsibilities that people expect pastors to master.”

That was one of the most interesting statistics I found while doing research for my book, Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World. That statistic reflects what I believe many pastors feel is the cause of killer expectations – the congregation or a controlling group of church leaders. What I discovered in writing was that blaming one side was incompatible with what was really going on in today’s churches.

Before I wrote my book, I thought I knew a lot about high expectations for pastors. I had practical experience, but it was nothing compared to what I learned after studying statistics and interviewing fallen pastors. If a pastor does not understand expectations rightly, misperceives them, or does not have the right center, he stands the danger of burnout or worse.

It’s important to understand where high expectations come from, where they should come from, how to understand them and how to take it all in. In this post, I’ll address where expectations come from, and at the end I’ll throw in a curveball for those who stick around and read the whole thing.

Where do high expectations come from? Whether you’re a pastor, plumber, architect, ambassador to Korea or stay at home mom, you have a set of expectations you deal with. Specific to this post, if you’re a pastor of a congregation of 20, 200 or 2,000, those expectations are very real and if they get out of control, they can become overwhelming.

Expectations come from many places. First, there are congregational expectations. What does the congregation expect out of their pastor? What did the pulpit tell the pastor when he was hired? Have those expectations changed as the church has grown or declined in attendance? Does the church setting make a difference? Is the church’s set of expectations based on Scripture, bylaws or any written standard that can be measured quantitatively? Do church expectations come from a leadership council or the entire congregation?

All of these questions can help sort out where congregational expectations come from. I had a friend in seminary who pastored a rural church that voted on whether to keep him every year. It had been in the bylaws since a pastor had fallen over six decades earlier. I know of churches who pass out pastoral satisfaction surveys on occasion.

Expectations also come from within the pastor. These are typically the strongest expectations pastors wrestle with. Pastors who are perfectionists are rarely satisfied with the job they are doing. These men often work long hours with the idea in mind that they are never quite fulfilling every need in the church. Somewhere in their brain, they perceive unmet needs among the congregation that they could be fixing or making better. They are hard workers, but without a system of checks, these men experience tremendous burnout.

Pastors can experience several things that can warp their view of expectations upon them. One is pastoral competition or self-competition. A lot of guys love to talk about numbers. When pastors meet, they may not say it, but they intrinsically measure success by the number of people in their congregation or total budgets. While many give lip-service to the idea that, “I’d be happy preaching to one person each Sunday,” there seems to be an innate drive to move forward to the next big thing. Even if they aren’t comparing numbers with other pastors, a lot of young pastors are taught a business model of church where moving on to the next big position is just a natural progression.

Of course, this isn’t always true. There are always exceptions and we all know of men who are content with the congregations they serve. The point here is that this drive from without or within can lead to a warped view of success and high expectations.

The final place expectations come is from God. This is where proper expectations should come from. God has a high expectation for those He calls. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is the most common passage quoted when listing the moral qualifications for an overseer:  “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (ESV)

There is discussion over some of the specific ideas in this passage, but for the most part, it is agreed that God expects His leaders to have a certain level of morality and moral leadership. Ultimately, God’s standard is the greatest standard. Any idea outside of Scripture attributed to the pastor should be discussed and agreed upon between pastor and church leadership. Any unspoken or assumed expectations can be harmful for both parties.

The warped view of high expectations (whether from congregations, from within, or both) can be seen in one of two examples, although there are surely more.

If congregations or leadership have expectations that are too high, unspoken, or unrealistic for the pastor, he can become frustrated in his duties. Despite his normal duties of teaching and preaching, he can become overwhelmed with a myriad of other tasks. He can become party to this as well if he takes on tasks without asking for help or communicating clearly to his people. Pastors who believe they can or should do everything will experience a large amount of frustration, leading to potential burnout.

Sometimes, churches are unaware they are adding to these high expectations. Many people mean well or are unsure of how to approach the pastor but can say things that come across as hurtful to the pastor: “Our old pastor didn’t do it like that,” “You only work one day a week, surely you can do more,” “Why haven’t you visited more people?” “There sure haven’t been many people here lately.” People often mean well or aren’t thinking when they make statements like this, but need to be aware of the weight their words carry. Most pastors spend all week concentrating on the church and the duties he performs and takes his job very seriously.

Now, for the curveball. I’ve mostly been talking about how pastors get burned out when expectations are too high, but there is another issue at stake. The other problem that can occur is when the pastor perceives high expectations on the other end of the spectrum. The high expectations become adoration as he fulfills them and accolades begin to pour in every Sunday. If his set of expectations are not from God and he fails to be humble, danger can lie ahead.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview several fallen pastors who allowed this to happen. The church appreciated the fact that the pastor was fulfilling the high expectations through long hours and hard work (sometimes at the expense of time at home) and was praising him each week. The pastor begins to compare the high accolades from the people at church to his marriage relationship, which is an unfair comparison. Often, the pastor would say to his wife, “How come you can’t appreciate me like the people at church do?” Much more about this in a later post.

High expectations happen to everyone, but understanding their source is of great importance. Pastoral/Church communication about correct expectations can prevent church disappointment, pastoral burnout and can also promote proper church health and focus on Christ’s community and everyone’s role within it.

“When He Came To His Senses”

When a pastor falls from ministry, he goes through a series of stages after his infidelity is discovered. I outline those stages in my book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.”

In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the son runs off in search of a better life, but finds himself sleeping amongst tomorrow’s BLT fodder. He begins to remember how good his father was to him and the bible says, “when he came to his senses.”

When a pastor sins so greatly, it seems he’s lost his ever-loving mind. There is no excuse for violating God’s law. There are always reasons that the pastor started on that path to begin with. In my book, I talk about conflict, isolation and poor marital relations that are found in the majority of men who fall.

Again, no excuse. But know that one of the first stages a pastor goes through after a fall is anger and isolation. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone. One day, though, whether he reconciles with his wife or not, he will find his heart crying out to God. And he’s going to need Christian people. People who haven’t given up on him.

When the pastor falls, most people give up on him. That’s understandable because his actions hurt a lot of people. But it’s reasonable to expect that someone will reach out in the beginning. I’m not talking about reaching out once. Someone needs to reach out over and over again. He may not listen right away. He may even react harshly and tell you to shut up. But don’t stop.

Because there will come a day when he “comes to his senses.” And he will remember who reached out. He’ll remember the person who texted, called, emailed and said, “I just want to listen. I just want to be here for you. Not to judge, but to be your friend.”

Reach through the pain, the hurt, the disappointment and try it. Be ready to listen and love. Love like you would want to be loved if you were in that situation.

Fallen Pastor: Who This Book is For – Including My Past Self

My book has been out for a month. I’ve had two book signings. Several book reviews. And a lot of personal feedback.

I want to be very honest with you. I had an expectation of who would read my book – pastors. But that hasn’t been the case. The people who are buying and reading the book are mostly the people in the pews. They are people who people who can be put in several categories.

First, there are people who know me and are curious about my story. They just wanted to know about my story. They wanted to hear what I had to say. Overwhelmingly, they’ve said, “Ray, you’ve been humbled, and you’ve learned a lot. And in reading your book, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to forgive people.”

Second, there are people who were curious about pastors and the battles they face on a daily basis. They’ve said to me, “Ray, I had no idea what pastors face. I had no idea that the struggles were so intense.”

Next were pastors who said, “You nailed it. I face those pressures on a daily basis. It reminds me that I need to be careful about the dangers around me. The stories in the book remind me of the sin that is so close to me. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to fall. I don’t want to lose everything.”

Then, there are people who have fallen in their own right. They weren’t pastors. They’re just Christians who fell in their own lives in adultery or some other way. They were afraid to say anything. They’ve said to me, “This book has given me a voice. It’s let me know that even pastors aren’t above failure. Everyone sins. And I know I can be restored again to Christ.”

Finally – and this one is difficult for me. There are people who buy the book and they never say anything to me directly. They are people who don’t like it. They think I’m a hypocrite still. They think I stood in the pulpit for eight years and was a liar for the entire time. They think my entire ministry was a failure for the sin I committed at the end of it. I never hear their voices, but I hear it from other people through second hand information.

And that’s absolutely okay with me. It gets posted on message boards. It gets passed on to me through gossip. Once upon a time, that kind of talk would bother me. But not now. I fell. And I fell terribly. I can see where someone would think my entire ministry was a sham because of the sin I committed. I can absolutely see that.

I stood in the pulpit and preached the word of God for eight years. I baptized people, visited the sick, loved a congregation and gave people my best, but in the end, I will be remembered as an adulterer to many. I deserve that if people want to think that. That is the fallout of my sin. That is the consequence of my sin. I have to live with that. All I can do is live a life that is holy and pleasing to God from this day forward.

The aim of my book is to help those who have fallen. To help those who are in the ministry and prevent a fall. To help those in church to understand the risks their pastors face. Pastors are human. They are in a dangerous culture that places dangerous expectations upon them. Many times, they chase after unrealistic expectations of ministry that stresses out their marriages and places them at horrible risk.

I wrote the book to warn people. I don’t care if I ever make a dime on this book. At this moment, I haven’t made a single red cent. My heart is to make sure that the church knows that there needs to be reform so that their pastors won’t be at risk. What we need are churches that don’t just care about Sunday to Sunday. But churches that care about authentic Christian community seek it week to week.

I crave a church, regardless of denomination to embrace their members, love them for who they are, despite their faults, including their pastor. And if and when a member of the congregation falls, seek them out to restore them. Not ignore them, but find them out as we are commanded to. The body of Christ is incomplete without any of our members.

Because the most important group I wrote this book for is those pastors out there who say, “That’s never going to happen to me.” I’ve met several of them. A few of them have bought books from me. I have talked with them. I was that guy.

In fact, if I could go back in time and taken the 2005 version of myself and brought him to my book signing, I know exactly what he would have thought:

“Look at this loser. He fell in the ministry. Selling books. What a jerk. He couldn’t hold fast to his call. I’ll buy his book. But I’ll put it on my shelf next to the other 400 books I haven’t written. I’m not going to fall. I have a seminary degree. That will never happen to me. I guess some guys are just like that.”

That’s who this book is for. Among others. It was for me. About a decade ago.

I hope you will read “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.” Not because I want to sell copies. But because the church of Jesus Christ needs to be restored to a true fellowship.

Finding Restoration in a Broken World

Today is the official release date for my book, Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World.

I’ve got a thousand different emotions going on and a lot of things I want to blog about, but today, I want to take a moment to write about the basic idea of the book.

I fell from the pastorate two years ago when I committed adultery. There were a lot of factors that led to my fall that are common among other pastors. Unrealistic expectations, isolation from friendships, declining relationship with spouse, church conflict and major tragedy. In the end, it was my decision to sin. I’ve discussed that a lot on this blog.

Today, I stand in amazement, though. I’ve found restoration.

Two years ago, I hit rock bottom. I thought God wasn’t listening and I was sure He didn’t care about me. I felt like a failure as a pastor (before and after I fell), I had lost both parents in separate accidents within a year of each other, and I had no one to talk to. In fact, I was pretty sure God had it in for me.

There were days long before I even contemplated adultery that I stood in the pulpit with a smile on my face, tie on properly, shirt pressed, but with a dark, hardened heart. Then the fall came. During the months after, I was sure no one would ever speak to me again. I was sure the stain of sin would be a mark that could never be removed. I was sure that shame would be my constant companion for the rest of my miserable life.

Slowly, repentance came. I discovered that truly, God is a longsuffering and patient God. If He were not, I would have been a grease stain on the carpet of my former church a long time ago. He waited for me when I would not wait for Him.

After I sinned, I had few people who would speak to me, but the ones who remained were the right ones. They encouraged me, loved me and walked with me. I had two close friends who were patient, sometimes firm, but always loving. I reached out to fallen pastors throughout the country who were in various stages of their own fall. They each encouraged me, told me the truth and prayed with me.

My new wife Allison and I also went through a process during that time as well. She watched me as I went from angry to depressed to anxious to humbled.

Those months were terrible, yet redeeming. They are etched in my mind and will stay with me forever. They were necessary for God to break me and make me into something usable.

Very few are willing to reach out to a fallen pastor. It’s something I ponder in the book. A lot of people don’t know what to say to him. Some people think they might be “guilty by association” if they speak to him. Typically, he is cast out, never to be heard from again.

At some point, God grabbed me and said, “I’m not done with you. I have plans for you, but I’m going to humble your proud heart in the process.” He did. And He continues to do so.

When I speak of restoration, I don’t mean restoration to the pulpit. I don’t even mean restoration to the ministry. I just believe that fallen pastors need to be shown compassion and love. They need people to walk with them, to show them the way to brokenness and repentance. It’s important because even a pastor can’t always find the right path, even though we think they should know the way.

I recently joined a ministry team, Fallen Pastors (www.fallenpastors.com) who help pastors who are contemplating sexual sin or who have already fallen. They have a small staff, but do their best to answer every email. If you are a fallen pastor or are in trouble, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. It can become isolated, it can feel like you’re alone. But you’re not.

This book isn’t about me. It’s not about my glorification. It’s about the glory of God and restoring those who have fallen. There is a problem with the culture in which we live. The best thing about problems is that they are fixable. Together, with the compassion of Christ, we can fix people, we can fix cultures and we can find restoration in this broken world.

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Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World is available at Amazon.com. It will be available soon at other outlets. Ask your local bookstore about availability.

 

1,500 Americans Are Disappearing A Month – Did You Notice?

There is a tragedy that has been taking place for a long time around us. According to one statistic, 1,500 pastors a month leave the ministry due to conflict, burnout, or moral failure. 1,500. If you like annual statistics, that’s 18,000 a year.

I remember on the first day of seminary orientation, the leader told us that only half of us in that room would graduate. Of that half, only half would make it two years.

The ministry is a difficult thing. It is hard on the pastor, his family and his emotions. Unless you’ve been “behind the curtain”, it’s hard to know exactly what a pastor goes through. There are high expectations (which should be there), unrealistic expectations (which should not be there), feelings of isolation, a distancing between himself and his spouse and the daily grind of ministry. Behind all of this, the pastor forges ahead, seeking to do what he feels is right, chasing after the ministry. In the end, many leave disillusioned with bitterness, sin and a wounded church left in the wake.

In my upcoming book, “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” I deal primarily with those pastors who leave the ministry after committing adultery. In most cases, they leave in shame, without counseling and are thrown on the trash heap of Christendom. But there are more casualties than that. There are those who leave the ministry because of too much stress, pressure and an easier life. Even they are scorned to some degree.

In the end, it is easier for those in the churches to disperse blame upon the pastor for leaving. In the case of the adulterer, it was most certainly his decision. He sinned and he is to be held accountable. Those who leave because they “just couldn’t take it anymore” are often viewed as weak and abandoning their call. To view it in this way, from one set of circumstances, will simply cause the American church to continue in a crisis that it has been engaged in for a long time and may not have realized it.

There is a culture in our churches today that together with the heart of the minister, weakens those in ministry. Statistics bear it out. Over 60% of pastors are battling depression. In one report, close to a majority of them felt the ministry was destroying their marriage. This isn’t to blame the modern church. It is however, a way to say that something is wrong. It cannot always be the fault of the ministers who seem to be abandoning ship at such a high rate.

What if we were able to step back from the problem? What if we could see that there is a severe culture issue at hand that needs to be addressed? One that needs to be addressed in the heart of the minister as well as the way we run our churches? I believe there is.

In my book, I interviewed several experts and fallen pastors and came to a startling conclusion. Many pastors are not chasing after the things they need to chase after – they are chasing after the ideal of ministry. In turn, many churches are placing their pastors on a pedestal that is unrealistic. Together, this causes the minister to chase after ministry instead of Christ. His attention turns to something other than what he was originally called to do. In turn, the relationship he has with his wife suffers. His feelings about ministry suffer. He begins to seek after affirmation instead of the comfort of Christ.

There is no blame to be cast here. What needs to happen is an awareness of the culture we have cultivated. Pastors are not honest about their weaknesses. Churches are puffing their leaders up very highly. Pastors become isolated and disengaged. Eventually, many find a way out. Adultery, quitting, or leaving after a conflict. Are they the right responses? Sin is never the right response.

Prevention is the best approach. Deal with the culture that is in play. How many of us know churches that run through a pastor in about three years and cast him aside? How many of us know pastors who are at their wits end and are struggling to find meaning? How many of us know churches that seek definition not in the person of Christ but in their leadership or programs?

I don’t want to see any more pastors fall. I pray that my book will help those who have fallen, those who are on the verge of a fall, the churches who desire to change their culture, and those who desire to restore the fallen.

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Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World is available for preorder at Civitas Press. It will be available soon at Amazon.com and will also be available for the Kindle.

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