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.

Anger And My Fall From Ministry

This book can help you. But hear me out first. There was a stuggle that went before it. I was angry.

At least I was about this time three years ago. I had been caught in adultery. Man, was I angry. At a lot of people. And it was everyone’s fault.

I was angry at the head deacon. I went to him and explained to him what happened. Can you imagine that he was disappointed in me? Unbelievable! That he was disappointed that I would have comitted adultery after eight years of faithful service! What gives him the nerve? To kick me to the side like that?

I was angry. Pastor angry. Like the type of anger parishoners don’t know their pastors get.

More anger to come. From pastors in the area. Lord, help me. I had dozens of pastor friends in the area whom I had gone to seminary with and they had suddenly abandoned me! I had been kicked out of my parsonage and had to move to a rental home in Greenville, Kentucky, covered with cobwebs, and with a ghetto chouch. They didn’t care. Only two pastors and a director of missons reached out. No one cared. I take that back. The only friends I had suddenly were Mormons who were suddenly very friendly. And I was angry. People hated me. Guess whose anger it was? It was all mine. All the sin and anger belonged to me.

In the past two years, my estranged father had died. My mother, who had become my prayer warrior and primary support had been killed in a car accident. What was God doing to me? I had nothing left! The church was in an upheaval! I had nowhere to turn! Life was spinning out of control and I was a mess. And I found the love of my life.

Anger set in. It set in towards those who once had sat next to me in church. They were disappointed in me and my actions. I was alienated from them forever, I felt. I was the fallen pastor. I was an outcast. A sinner.

I began to call fallen pastors across the country. Do you know what they told me? “You’ll never reconcile with your former congregation, so give it up. You’ll never reconcile with your former congregation.” But I didn’t believe them. I was able to in many ways.

Guess what I did? I wrote a letter to them. It wasn’t well written. It was written with pride and I wish I could take it back.

Then, I sought real counsel. I began to blog. Anonymously. Through the name of Arthur Dimmesdale, I told my story online, anonymously. People responded. I told my story and what I had been through. Many people called me out on my sin and I listened. I heard them.

One day, I posted a blog about writing. A publisher came by and asked me if I would be interested in writing. I said I would. I wrote an essay under my pseudonym. Then, I wrote my book. I was overcome with thoughts about my mother who had written eight books on Christian topics. I wasn’t fit to fill her shoes.

I interviewed many fallen pastors, like myself. All of our stories were the same. We were isolated, stressed out, had intimacy issues with our spouses, and had been placed on a pedestal. What if the problems fallen pastors faced were a cultural issue? What if they can be prevented? I felt that there was hope to help others. So with Civitas Press and my editor, Jonathan Brink, I wrote a book.

I was still angry, but at whom? My ex-wife? No. She hadn’t done anything wrong. She and I get along wonderfully now. We agreed that on some level, we were both are fault. What about the church? I could get mad at the church, but pastors today face problems in churches that are worse than what I ever faced. What was I really angry at?

I was angry with myself. My inability to be something I wasn’t. I wasn’t able to meet people’s needs – the needs I thought I should be meeting. I thought I should be super pastor. I thought I was something I wasn’t. I wasn’t perfect and I hated myself for it. And at the end of it, I just wanted out.

When I look at pastors who cry for help, there are different kinds. I talk to many of my pastor friends today who are frustrated with ministry. They say that their families are suffering because of the ministry. Some get into embezzlement, pornography, or depression. Each of those men get help and are rehabilitated back into the ministry. But the pastors who really, really want out commit adultery. Those are the men who want out of the ministry. Out of it for good. I wanted out. And I got out. God help me.

But I will tell you this – three years later – I want to build a ministry for men who have fallen. I’m proud to say that I have a healthy relationship with my ex-wife. I have a great realationship with my current wife. I am able to minister to fallen pastors, their wives, and churches. God is not done with me quite yet.

Friends, what I’m saying is that our anger is a dead end. Our anger eventually finds itself at our own front door. Banging there. Incessantly. We can be as angry as we want with as many people as we want, but in the end, we are only angry at ourselves. Until we deal with the anger that we have within ourselves, we will never move forward. Good news? Christ has forgiven us. He has taken away the guilt for us. He has moved that anger away from us and set us free.

I have not been tossed upon the trash heap of society yet. I still stand here, waiting to be used by God as He sees fit. Angry? Yes. Angry at the sin that infiltrates our churches. Angry at the sin that is waiting at the door of our pastor’s studies. Angry at what pastors know is coming yet they turn a blind eye to it.

I’ve been there. And I have a batallion of men beside me who know the same. Don’t let it happen to you or your pastor. Ministry can weaken a ministry marriage. It can kill it. Be on the lookout for isolation, decreased time with your wife, high expectations, and conflict. Don’t let it weaken you to the point of ministry failure. Don’t become a statistic. Please. Reach out before it is too late.

The ministry is supposed to work to help the church, brighten your marriage and bring light to the world. Make sure it is doing all of those things. If it isn’t, seek help from a mentor, a counselor or a friend. Get help now.

Finding Meaning At The End Of Life

I’ve always believed that no matter how long or how short your life is, as long as you are drawing a breath, God will use it for His glory.

I saw it the other day in a dear friend. Those of you who know me well know who I’m referring to. An old friend who has been overcome with cancer. Those of you who have read my book or blog might know him as the church leader I first shared my infidelity with. He’s much more than that. He’s a father figure to me. He was one of the first church members to offer me unconditional forgiveness.

I remember the day I approached him, in his pole barn. It was a year after my adultery. I laid it all out on the line. I had even been mad at him for how things had gone after I got caught. But there I sat, humbled. He said finally, “Yes, I was disappointed. All I could think of was all of the good you could have done. But I forgave you a while back. I’m glad you’re here.” A few months ago, before we even knew he had cancer, I saw him and he wrapped his hard-working agrarian arms around me and said to me unexpectedly, “You know I’ve always loved you, don’t you?”

I grew up with a rocky relationship with my own father. When I met this man, he mentored me as a young pastor. He lead me in the right direction, give me a kind kick in the pants when I needed it, encourage me on the days when I must have looked frustrated, and he looked after my family. I remember the day my mother was killed in a car accident. The nurse came into the room where he, I, and another deacon were waiting. She asked, “Who is going to identify the body?” She was looking at me. I began to descend into a panic attack. He stood up without hesitation and said, “Can it be anyone?” She said, “Yes.” He said, “I’ll do it.” I wept. When he came back, he was crying.

When I heard about his cancer a few months ago, I went and saw him. It hadn’t slowed him down too much yet. But we found we had more to talk about. He said, “I wish I had a little more time. There are a few more things I’d like to do.”

I about lost it. I started coughing uncontrollably. I said, “Really?” (For this next part, you really have to have been sitting where we were.) I said, “Look around these eighty acres you own. You bought them from hard work at coal mining and bull dozing. Not only you live here, but you have made it so three other families can live on your property, including my ex-wife and your own daughter. You built a covered, wooden bridge. Really? I built a wooden bookshelf once. And it fell apart. You have done more in your life than most men could accomplish in two lifetimes. What’s more is that you love people from your heart. You are an amazing man that gives and gives and sets an example. I wouldn’t be sitting here if that wasn’t true.

He’s the heart of that little rural church. He was there the day the doors were first opened as a kid and he’s still the heart of it now. His heart beats for that place. If I could give you an example – there was an awful ice storm about four years ago here. The power was out all across the county. Except for two places – the parsonage and the church. We were the only church that had services that Sunday after the ice storm, dagnabit. But we were there. All eight of us. He led songs, I preached like I had a cathedral full of people whose hearts needed to be warmed. And it was enough.

He led the choir. And he did more than lead a choir – he led it with his heart. He had sang in a quartet for years and just loved to praise God and that’s pretty much what he did while leading that choir. Sometimes, when the music got to him, a tear would come to his eye. And that was the best kind of worship.

He loves his wife and daughter and granddaughter. They are the world to him. He would fight fiercely to defend them, work his tail off to provide for all of them, and yet a tear comes to his eye when he talks about any of them.

He loves people. If a man showed up at church, regardless of his story, who needed $20, he’d fish it out of his wallet and pray with him. He just loved people. He loved people like Christ told us to love people. And he didn’t do it because it was being dragged out of him or because it was legalistic. He did it because it was the nature of his heart.

Most of all, he loves his Savior. I told a lot of stories about him in this blog post to get to this point. Finding meaning at the end of life. He’s in extremely bad shape and I told him what I tell everyone at the end of life – “God has a purpose for each breath and every heartbeat.” Then I said to him, “Is there anyone you haven’t talked to that you want me to contact?” He whispered, “no.” He’s unable to talk, eat or drink. His esophagus is completely destroyed.

I guess he had a little time to think about my question, though. I showed up a day later and asked his wife, “How are the visitors? Anything new?” She said, “He had me call two people up here who haven’t been here. He witnessed to both of them even though he can hardly talk. He gave one of them his bible. Both of them left crying.

I got choked up. Every moment we have in this life is worth something. Every breath we draw, even in suffering, is worth the glory of God. My friend won’t be around much longer, but I know he loves his Savior enough to make the best of it. He looked at me about a week ago. He’s not able to swallow the ice water that is given him. It can’t make it’s way to his stomach. He has to suction it back out.

He looked at me and said, “I’d give a million dollars to drink a glass of water. But soon I’ll have my fill of the living water.” Yes you will. Yes, you absolutely will. I said to him, “I don’t envy you right now, but soon, I will heartily envy you and your position right next to Christ.” He smiled and we shared a tear together.

Thank you, Lord, for a friend like that. A man like that who showed me forgiveness, kindness and the model of what a father should be. May we all remember and learn, especially if we end up in the same circumstances one day.

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.

Fallen Pastor: Why My Book Is Nauseating

Since Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World was released in January, I’ve had a lot of positive response. There have been a wide array of people who have read it and told me it has made them see forgiveness and restoration in a different light.

That’s great.

But there have been a few who have said, “I found it sickening. I couldn’t get past the first part. You know, where you’re sharing the stories of other pastors who committed adultery. Sin is so sickening.”

I tell the stories of ten other pastors who besides myself, fell from the ministry. I’ve said it once on this blog and I’ll say it again – their/our sin was inexcusable. There were warning signs and things that led up to the adultery, but there was no excuse. The sin and consequences were all ours to bear.

The book has four sections. In the first section, I outline the problem. In the second, I tell the story that keeps repeating itself in our society of the fallen pastor. In the third section, I talk about the four most common issues that surround the pastor before he falls and that can serve as warning signs. Finally, in the fourth section, I ask, “How can this be prevented and how can the fallen pastor be restored?”

I remember talking to one pastor who read the book. He was very angry with me. He told me how sickening the stories were, how it seemed like I was justifying sin, and how I never took credit for my sin. I was pretty patient with him for a while before I started reading specific sections to him out of the book where I made it clear I wasn’t trying to justify anything. In fact, chapter 18 is pretty damning on the fallen pastor as the consequences of his sin play out.

Those things aside, it is a true statement that sin is nauseating. It is most nauseating to God. As the holiest being in the universe, He is farthest away from it and cannot gaze upon it. The closer we are to Him, the more awful and disgusting sin will be to us. That is why we strive for sanctification and personal holiness. When we don’t, and when we distance ourselves from God, we cannot smell the stench of sin when we wallow around in it for a while.

I’m thankful for the men who shared their stories. Each of us were pastors who sat in a position where we were to rightly divide the word of truth, not just for a congregation, but for ourselves. But each of us sinned. We fell. We proved that we were no mightier than those who came before us and others will fall after us. Each time a pastor falls, the name of King David is invoked, not for the kingdom he built, or the bravery he showed, but for his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah.

Our stories are published in a book that won’t ever see the top 100 of the New York Times Bestseller List, but they are there. They are common, too common. Like the adultery of David, the disobedience of Moses, the drunkenness of Noah, or any of the sins of God’s people, we stand amongst them in shame. The good we did will never reach the heights of our heroes of old, but our shame will be compared in the same breath.

Thankfully, there is hope for those of us whose sin is nauseating. It is true that God is totally “other” than sin and separate, but that did not keep Him from sending His Son into this world to save those who are sinners. Who amongst us is a sinner? All of us.

In a moment upon the cross of sin-bearing, in a moment of torture that was most definitely nauseating to the local observer, all that disgusting sin got washed away. Not because we deserved it, but because He graciously desired it.

Yes, there are consequences to sin. Earthly consequences. Church discipline is a reality for leaders, but it should always start with the spirit of Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, restore….” The Spirit of Christ should lead all of us to love as Christ loved the adulterous woman who was accused. His focus was on her, not the angry mob.

And no, those who sin will not always listen to us at first. Their sin may nauseate us. It may sicken us to the core. But what I’ve learned since my fall is that God poured out all His wrath over my sin upon His Son so that He might look upon me again and love me as His child. Behind all that nauseating sin is a person God is reaching out to and has a future for.

God Is At Work Amongst Fallen Pastors: Are You Interested?

Over the past month or so, I’ve been contacted by several men who are pastors who fell from ministry. I get contacted a lot, so that’s no surprise. But each of them has had one clear thing in mind – doing something to reach out and help other fallen pastors. To find a way to get them together and help them.

That’s not a coincidence. That is God at work, possibly pushing us to ministry.

I’ve been talking to my friend John Wilbanks about this for a bit, but it seems to be picking up a little speed.

There is a definite need for some type of retreat, seminar, or getaway to help fallen ministers. I don’t know if it would be regional or nationwide. I don’t know how it would be staffed, who would speak or where it could happen. All I know is that God is putting this thing together in His glorious time and in His way. I’m just trying to listen.

People are contacting me because God is moving them to. I’m not a planner, I’m more of a problem solver/facilitator. I’m the guy who puts person A and person B together so they can get stuff figured out.

So what am I blogging on about? I’m asking a simple question – has God been speaking to you about this? Has He specifically given you guidance about this very thing? If He has, let me know. I don’t know how it’s going to work, but if He’s moving, I don’t want to miss it.

All you have to do is send me a comment for this blog post. I won’t publish it, but I’ll respond to you via email. If you’re serious and have some ideas, I’ll probably call you and we’ll see what’s going on. I’m excited. To God be the glory!

“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.

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