In the last few days, I’ve had three communications from church leaders raising the question of when a pastor should step down.
One asked it about a minister who was found to be participating in pornography.
Another raised the question about her minister who had stolen money from the church and repaid it, but who was still engaging in questionable activities. They were about to vote on his staying at the church.
The third raised the question about himself. He was in the worst pastorate in his life, the leadership was opposing him in every way, and he felt his wife is slowly dying spiritually. Should he resign and walk away, he asked.
All of these issues, while different in a hundred ways, have certain things in common: they all involve the work of Christ through a church, they reflect upon the name (the glory, the reputation) of the Lord Jesus Christ in that community, and they have to do with the continuing minister of a God-called servant.
Let’s talk about them.
The pastor wonders if he should leave his church to save his sanity and his wife’s life.
He wrote to me:
My wife and I have few real friends in this church. In this remote community, outsiders are considered outcasts. A former pastor told me he marvels that we have stayed here this long.
We have no relationships with anyone here that help us to recharge our batteries.
My wife and I have gone on a spiritual retreat and have been working with a counselor regarding our burnout.
The counselor has suggested we consider leaving this church but not the ministry.
We have tried to follow all his suggestions for establishing relationships in the church, but nothing works. I’m so burned out now, if the Lord were to open the door to a new church, I’m not sure I can pull it off with the kind of enthusiasm a new pastor should bring with him. I see what this church has done to my sweet bride and it kills me.
I honestly dread going to a new church and starting over, considering the amount of fatigue, baggage, and dread I’be bring with me. That would be unfair to them.
Do you have any counsel for us?
I wrote back to say it seems to me he has already made his decision. He needs to leave the church and take a secular job for a while, join a church where he can sit in the congregation and be ministered to, and let the Lord bring about healing.
Obviously, this requires that the church they join should be a healthy fellowship. In my last pastorate, on more than one occasion, we received burned out pastors and their families into the membership. Watching the countenance of the wives change week-by-week was remarkable, going from worry and sadness to peace and eventually full radiance.
One of the best ministries a healthy congregation can have is reaching out to damaged ministers and their families.
Eventually, the Lord will return this pastor and his wife to the work.
The pastor has embezzled money and repaid it. Other issues have surfaced, and they are voting on him. What to do?
It was a longtime church leader who asked this question. She said they were to vote on his continuing as their pastor the following Sunday. (Last night) She and I swapped notes back and forth as I sought more details. She assured me her family loves the pastor and his family, but the issue was whether he was qualified to continue serving. I said ‘no.’
Her pastor wrote her a note, which she forwarded. The edited gist of it follows:
I confessed and explained all that a long time ago. I was forgiven. Personally, I am at peace with God. I know my failings. (Note from Joe: The pastor had taken church funds and gambled them away at the casino, trying to win big money for the Lord’s work, he said.) Those who knew of the casino forgave me and many church members have also.
If I felt that these failings disqualified me from being the pastor, I would have resigned immediately.
The deacons recommended I take a 2 week leave of absence. I rejected this because I felt it was not the time for the shepherd to leave the flock.
I’m being criticized for firing a staff member. But he had told me he could no longer work for me, so what else could I do?
I don’t think we should be sharing the church problems before the unbelieving world.
The Bible gives us many examples of men of God who were used of the Lord after their failures, such as Peter, John Mark, etc. They would have been disqualified if they had not repented and confessed. But when they did, they were still used of the Lord.
I plan to continue my ministry here until the Lord moves me.
This pastor is not listening to anyone except himself. Fire him and do it immediately.
Future pastor search committees that consider him should look closely at every aspect of this issue and make sure he sees how wrong he was (i.e., how wrong he presently is); otherwise, don’t touch this man. He is trouble for a church.
The pastor is found to be engaging in pornography. Is this grounds for dismissal?
I’m not at liberty to quote the correspondence here. Suffice it to say that the minister who contacted me was asking whether he himself should step down from the church because of this addiction.
I told him that in order to see what others had to say on this subject, I would put the question on Facebook, without giving any clue on his identity. A day later, I encouraged him to read the 20 or 30 comments. Most were all over the map. Some said he should resign immediately. Some said the main issue was whether he had confessed, repented, and was receiving professional help.
A pastor I know discovered that his youth minister was spending hours a day on a sex website and fired him on the spot.
A missionary I know and whom our church was supporting called one day, wanting to come by my home. At my breakfast table, he told how he had been found out on the mission field to be addicted to internet porn. The first time, his superiors had warned him. The second time, he had been sent home. He was ashamed and wanted to confess before the church.
I assured him that confessing before me or even the deacons would be sufficient. He said, “I want to go so public in my confession that the devil gets no victory from this. And maybe God can use this to help others.”
He told the deacons, then the entire church body. They were loving and surrounded him with affirmations. We did not, however, return him to the mission field. He has since married a fine young woman and they have children. God has redirected the young man’s ministry in the states.
I said to the pastor that every red-blooded male I know has at one time or another been fascinated by such pictures. The testosterone is working overtime in young males. Temptations abound on every side. It would be difficult if not impossible to find a man who has never looked at porn to one degree or another.
My pastor, Mike Miller, sometimes talks to the men of the church on this subject when they’re on a men’s retreat. This is an ideal time for them to put it on the table in a plain-spoken way.
We must never, ever underestimate the harmful effects of pornography, whether we are referring to the hard-core stuff or the soft-porn of Playboy magazine and its relatives. The effect of this is to fill the mind with impure thoughts, to undermine the love and appreciation a man has for the women around him, and to poison his relationship with his wife.
Anything that does all that has to be seen as a dangerous enemy and should be avoided at all costs.
Should the pastor resign? My answer is: “No. Quickly, confess it to your spouse and a few of the most trusted church leaders. Get professional counsel immediately and begin to reprogram your daily routines. You must stop this poison now before it kills all you hold dear.”
A verse I frequently quote to pastors is Acts 20:28. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock among whom the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
Notice the first command is to take care of yourself, pastor. If you lose your relationship with the Lord, you’ve lost your ministry. So, stay close to Christ.
If you lose your family, in most cases you’ve lost your ministry, pastor. So protect your closest loved ones and keep the relationship with them strong.
If you lose your health, pastor, you lose your ministry. So, take care of your body and keep yourself fit.
Pray for your pastor. It’s a great life when done well, but the dangers are on every side.