Integrity in pastors: A deal-breaker

“I was the student minister in a fine church many years ago,” Will told me. “We had a wonderful ministry. The single negative about the entire experience was the pastor. You never knew what he would do next.”

“Case in point. One night in a church business meeting, the pastor announced that the property the church owned, including the former pastorium, was being offered for sale. At the time, my wife and I were living in that house! And now we learn they’re selling it. This was the first we had heard of it.

“That night, my wife was angry because she thought I had known about it and not told her. But that was the way this pastor worked.”

“Staff members were nothing to him. Just pawns to be manipulated.”

I sat there listening to my longtime friend Will tell of that experience some 20 years previously and thought once again that the number one trait a staff member is looking for in his new pastor–his employer, his supervisor, and hopefully his mentor, remember–is integrity.

Without integrity, nothing matters.

Will said the only thing that really counted for the Kingdom in that preacher’s mind was the mission work he was doing overseas.  Everything in church either served it or had no use. The ministerial staff could be manipulated, violated, and emasculated by the pastor if it served his purposes.

Is this extreme? Thank the Lord, it is. But there is enough dishonesty, misrepresentations, and deceit in the pastorate to make every potential staff member take great care before accepting an invitation to join a church team.

Question: How does a person inquire about the integrity of a pastor who is considering inviting you to work for him?

1) Ask around.  Former staff members will usually tell you freely whether the man keeps his word, whether he looks out for his staff members, whether he is dependable.  Ask denominational people who know him.  Ask the pastor who preceded him at this church or the one who succeeded him at his previous church.

Most will tell you enough that you can feel you know the answer.  A clue: if they hem and haw, nothing more is needed; they’ve told you all you need to know. (Remember: you’re not looking to build a case for or against the man. All you want to know is whether legitimate questions about his honesty and dependability have been raised. If so, you are gone.)

2) Ask the Lord. Seriously talk to the Father about the preacher. If you have concerns, tell Him.  If you have seen nothing but good, tell Him that too, but ask Him in so many words to stop you if this is not going to be a good match.

3) Ask your wife. Wives tend to be more sensitive about subliminal messages other people send out. So, assuming she meets this minister, pay close attention to her impression afterwards. (And never ever move your family to a church without your wife being in on the interview–at some point–and the decision.)

Do not ask in a letter or email. Those things take on a life of their own and people are afraid to put negatives in writing. This must be done in person or by phone.

Do not join a church staff where the pastor is a liar or cheat or con man. Or is rumored to be such.

This sounds so obvious, saying it may insult your intelligence. But not so.

In fact, there are two problems with vowing you will not go where the pastor is deceitful and untrustworthy.

a) It’s such a good opportunity.

Say for instance, the young minister is eager to join the staff of a sizeable church and get to work pouring himself into teenagers.   He has a passion for reaching kids for Jesus. And now, to his elation, he has been approached by a church’s “student minister search committee.” This is too good to be true. He  is impressed by the wonderful people as they are with him.There is, however, one little snag: A couple of friends keep telling him the pastor is a bear to work for and that the previous staff members could not wait to leave. That’s where the second concern comes in….

b) The committee gives such assurance.

When the young minister raises the issue of the pastor’s questionable reputation, the chairman assures him that all of that has been taken care of, it’s ancient history, it’s overblown, and/or “the fellow you probably talked to was fired and didn’t like it.”  Most of all, the chairman assures the young man that he will indeed be able to work with this pastor because (ahem) “we will stand with you and take care of you.”

No, they won’t.

They may mean well, but they are promising what they cannot deliver.

You will work with and for the pastor. You will see him daily, and the laypeople perhaps weekly. Think of that. Furthermore, if you ran to the chairman with details of every conversation with the pastor, a hundred things could result from that, all of them bad.

Search committees go out of business once they have done their job. This committee will no longer be an entity in the church; its members will not meet regularly with the young minister they recommended, and if they did it would raise serious questions within the rest of the membership (like, “Why can’t they turn him loose? They’ve done their job.”).

Once you join a church staff, young minister, you will work under the pastor. And unless this is a mega-church, you will relate to him more than anyone else in the church. He will define almost every single aspect of your ministry.

So, choose your pastor carefully.

One final caution….

Sometimes, the alert you sense in your spirit comes from the Holy Spirit and is not the result of a phone call or a bad reference.

As a young minister, I was a staffer of a large Baptist church and being contacted regularly by search committees. One day, the pastor of an equally large church in a nearby state called to inquire if I would consider joining his staff as his assistant.  A few days later, he was in our city and came by my office.  At the end of an hour, I knew this was not going to happen.  Why?

The Holy Spirit put a “hold” on my spirit. And that is all it should take for any of us.  We don’t need a reason and we definitely do not need to give the other person an explanation. But the crowning event came for me when this pastor, a man perhaps the age of my father, wrapped his huge arm around me as we walked down the hallway.  I knew at that moment that were I to join his staff, I would feel like a child with him as the grandfather. And that is one thing no minister needs.

Listen to your heart, child of God. Obey the Spirit. Love God’s people. Rejoice always.

Rules for living.


8 thoughts on “Integrity in pastors: A deal-breaker

  1. the first church i served as youth minister was a similar experience. While the pastor wasn’t dishonest or unethical everything was about his reputation in the community, and how things reflected on him. Conversation and feedback only happened when someone messed something up. I was miserable.

  2. Thank you for sharing your perspective. Our pastor has some great qualities. The Holy Spirit is truly a blessing. Although i had an uneasy feeling about our pastor, I prayed for guidance, understanding, and respectfully served. As with most things in life, time has a way of revealing the true character of an individual. I recently discovered that our pastor manipulated a situation for self glorification. It wasn’t about God, it was about his résumé. What makes things even worse is that he did not have to lie. He could have been honest about his ambitions. Now, I will always question his character. I have made a commitment to work with the youth. After these commitments are satisfied, I will be seeking another church.

    I hope this message reminds us all that honesty will remove obstacles that hinder our growth in Him. The Holy Spirit truly does guide us in the right direction.

    • Yes, our Lord said the person who is faithful in little can be trusted with much. Likewise, “he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous in much” (Luke 16:10).

  3. My heart is so troubled. Our young pastor has manipulated their way into their position as the new leader of the church and is now making decisions that have left me questioning their integrity. I hear Jesus being spoken of, but do not see Him in their actions. I was already employed by the church before the appointment and am the sole income earner for my family. I know without doubt that I was called to the position I am serving in, but feel I can no longer stay. I just don’t know what to do.

    • Joy, don’t try to handle this burden alone. Seek out two or three Godly counselors (not necessarily professional counselors, but mature men and women of the faith) who will pray with you and advise you. I’m lifting you to the Father today.

  4. We are struggling with integrity in our pastor and his wife. We love our church and like the pastor, but after 4 years, there have been so many things that have shown their questionable integrity. The most recent is the pastor’s wife starting a charity which she calls a 501(c)3 by siphoning funds through the church. She has received a $10,000 donation from a wounded vets program for her charity and recently (at our request) sent us her budget which gives 67 percent of all costs to salaries (hers and her friends). We know we need to leave the church and we just want to leave and put this behind us. We, as retired military, feel terrible about her scamming donors out of money under false pretenses, but we also live in a very small community and don’t feel we have the strength to approach her and the pastor about this. We also can’t be sure if we want to address this with them because we feel so horrible about her manipulating people’s generosity towards vets, or if it’s our duty as Christians. We would prefer to just leave and never speak of or think of it again, but pray that God would bring them to their senses. Are we being weak?

    • Sarah, there has to be a way to report this to authorities who would look further into it. It’s not necessary for you to take action against them. Merely raising the question with the proper government agency should be sufficient. If nothing else, the IRS would be a place to start. Using the church, a tax-deductible institution, for this purpose should be of interest to them. You are not being weak. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” (Prov 27:6).

  5. Joe, our pastor of 11 years has moderate agoraphobia and was raised in a very turbulent home by two alcoholic parents. These have impacted on him significantly and are causing harm to our church body as a result. He is emotionally withdrawn, seldom comes to the church except to preach his one sermon a week (leaving the staff of 2 – an assistant and a financial secretary -to handle all aspects of church administration and operation), is unable to keep confidential information between himself and those he’s counseling, provides little to no leadership, alienates (and bad-mouths) those members and informal leaders who come to him and confront him/challenge him for his actions or lack thereof. In the past year 8 families have left our church. All were involved, tithing, and leaders – deacons, SS teachers, and ministry heads. All of them had met with the pastor individually and colllectively, but were spurned; accused of rabblerousing and causing dessention. I have met with the pastor on 4 occasions, twice with witnesses, to discuss how his actions were impacting our church body. Each time he tried to “turn the table” and blame me or others for a the problems.we were experiencing. His answer to allbthe familiesnleaving was that people come and go and that he wasn’t losing any sleep over it. He has told others that the people ina nd outside the church that these folks needed to leave … that they were a negative influence. He also says that he did his best to ” be the pastor they wanted/needed to be” but just couldn’t meet their expectations. Having spoken with all those who left, nothing could be further from the truth. They came to the pastor wanting him to get engaged with them, their ministires … asking him to be the shepherd God intended. What they got in return was the pastor’s denial of his having any issues, blame for problems in the church, and accusations of not supporting him. In other words, it was them, not him. After this happening more than once, these families all felt it was time for them to leave. To their credit, they did so quietly and without any bitterness or backbiting. To the person, they told me that they did not want to cause any strife or split in the church. We’re a small congregation – with about 80-90 attending on Sunday morning – so having 8 families leave was very noticeable, yet the pastor made no mention of it. No mention made that 4 of the 8 deacons had resigned. With those folks gone the pastor is almost giddy, no longer will these folks be around to hold him accountable or put pressure on him to lead, mentor and shepherd. He’s now free to stay at his home all but the 3 hours he spends at church weekly. Free to not visit or do any kind of outreach into our community. Free to allow the 2-person staff do all the work. All’s well again.

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