his is not easy to talk about. There is always the danger that we would look condescendingly on the struggles of others or somehow imagine it could never happen to us.
There is a reason God gives us these warnings:
• “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12 NKJV).
• “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1 NKJV).
The number of ministers succumbing to one form of temptation or another that strips them of credibility and effectiveness has reached epidemic levels. Pride, abuse of power, lust, and excessive lifestyles are all too common. We painfully watch peers paw through the ashes of ruined lives, families, and ministries. We have seen it too many times.
This should motivate us in a couple of ways. Galatians 6:1 says our capacity to restore is a measure of our spirituality and maturity, or lack thereof. We believe nothing is beyond God’s grace and that, with complete repentance, there is complete restoration.
We should also make sure safeguards are in place in our lives. Understanding why some preachers fall should serve as preventative medicine. While this is not an exhaustive list, it should help us to think through the health and strength of our lives and callings. What are some reasons preachers fall?
1. Slipping in Prayer
In every instance that I have assisted in restoration, in some way this has been the case. Like you, I have seen those I was sure would never fall. Being aware of my own weakness, I have become convinced my prayer life is one of the primary things that has kept me from falling.
I do not intend that as a self-righteous or superspiritual self-witness. I do mean it as a witness to the power of prayer. Regular and sustained periods in the presence of God expose me for what I am and connect me to God’s power, like plugging an appliance into an electrical outlet.
2. LackingAuthentic Ministerial Relationships
When I have the opportunity to spend time with other ministers, I find a common weakness. We can’t stop being preachers long enough to be people. We love the people whom we pastor, but there are things we cannot tell them. Some things only another minister can understand.
Whether it is the Methodist pastor across town with whom I can eat breakfast, or my friend in another state I can call, I better make sure there is somebody. I have to spend some time cultivating a few of these friendships; they usually won’t happen by coincidence. I should see it as another dimension of my ministry, because I need it, even if my congregation does not always understand it.
At times, I have traveled significant distances to be part of a pastoral prayer gathering. I have done so not only because I have a heart for prayer, but also for the value of the connection with other pastors. It has helped sustain me.
There is not much good we recall about Joab (captain of King David’s army)—he was a rascal. But when faced with enemies on both sides, he told his brother, Abishai, “If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the people of Ammon are too strong for you, then I will come and help you” (2 Sam. 10:11 NKJV).
If you do not have a strategy like that in place in advance, it may be too late when the battle comes. You may know lots of people, but that is different from building a few deep, meaningful relationships with other ministers.
3. Making Ministry an Idol
Next, preachers tend to substitute ministry for relationship with God. They are not the same thing. I can’t just study the Word in order to get something to preach—the Bible is not merely a sermon resource manual. I should be ministering to people out of my overflow, seeking Him for myself. Preaching won’t be a problem after that.
It is easy to make an idol out of ministry. We get more excited about ministry than about knowing God. We have to remember that being is far more important than doing. In Acts 6:4, the apostles gave us their philosophy of ministry: “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
Perhaps the main reason so many preachers are falling is that we have deserted our primary calling—our personal walk with God.
As a pastor, I cannot lead people where
I have not been. I cannot take them any further than I myself have gone. There will be no more anointing on my church than there is on my life. My church will be no closer to God than I am.
4. Cracking Under Pressure
Ministry is a pressure cooker, perhaps more now than ever. Pressure cookers have a valve that periodically lets off steam, when necessary. Unless preachers find release from stress through the right means—relationship with God, Sabbaths, and godly friendships—it will be released in the wrong way, such as sexual indiscretion. The foundational problem may not be sexual, but it is expressed in that way.
God will sustain me with His grace as long as I need it, but I must avail myself to it. When the pressure gets excessive, I must find the proper relief.
5. Failing to Find Healing
All of us in ministry have scars; it goes with the territory. Scars do not indicate we are wounded. Instead, they show we have been healed.
It is not easy for us to talk with someone else about our wounds; it may be a pride issue. We are so accustomed to being the one up front that we find it difficult to listen. We are so used to giving that receiving proves a challenge.
How can we expect to help others find healing if we do not receive it for ourselves? It concerns me that in a large worship gathering I can usually identify the preachers, and not because I know them. They are probably the ones who are not worshiping. Have we taken the platform for so long that we can’t even worship God anymore unless we are in charge? We need safe places in which we can receive from God and others.
Depend on the One Who Can Keep Us
In the end, it is vital that you are possessed by a conviction. You never want to imagine you are beyond falling, but you do not have to live in fear of it, either. Believe in “Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24 NKJV).
We should not be naïve to our propensity to sin, but neither should we doubt the power of God to sustain us. We are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).
I have gone into hotel rooms for a personal prayer retreat and literally turned the TV toward the wall to avoid watching things I should not. Could it be turned back around? Yes, but it was a reminder to keep my thoughts pure. And I have learned to listen to a wife who was strong enough to confront me over my pride or other concerns, even if it wasn’t pleasant at the moment.
People who pour concrete understand expansion joints—spaces for the concrete to expand and contract with changing temperatures. Wise individuals build some spaces into their lives that will keep them healthy in the end, and they trust in God’s ability to preserve them for His purpose.
God is more than able to keep me, if I want to be kept. There is no reason to fall, so long as I am depending on His strength and not my own.