5 Posts from November 2011

Disintegrating Families

The temptation of any child of vocational Christian ministers is to see the work of the ministry as just another thing, just another religious occupation. Breaking through the wall of “public religion” must be the intense responsibility of the parent-minister if his or her children are to understand that this isn’t big business, a slick profession, or an entertainment arena where Mommy or Daddy puts on a performance.

The key word is authenticity. Not perfection, for no one gets it right all the time. But being real. Admit your faults, own them completely, ask for forgiveness, be quick to give it, allow children plenty of room to fail, and let them see you live your life behind the scenes with love, grace, and humor. All of that takes time and effort, both of which will cost you productivity on the job. Consider it a priceless sacrifice . . . a permanent investment.

Disintegrating families have parents who refuse to face the severity of their children’s actions. Eli knew how horrible his sons had become, yet did nothing! I’ve seen parents in such denial that they cannot bring themselves to admit that their child has a serious problem with drugs or pornography or sexual promiscuity or stealing—behavior that most others would consider a red flag. Yet they act as though the crisis will resolve itself if given a little patience. Wrong.

If you have children who are young, you have those around you who are impressionable. Now’s the time to make your most important investment in them. If you wait until they’re as tall as you, you will have already allowed them to sow seeds of self-destruction.

If your children are nearly adults, take responsibility for your part in their poor choices, then do whatever is necessary to save them. Because you’ve waited so long, there are few options that don’t have grave consequences. So consider the long term, and do what you must.

It is never too late to start doing what is right.


Preventing the Accountability Breakdown

Isolation . . . Loneliness . . . Solitude.

Though surrounded by scores of people, pastors know these feelings all too well. Our position as shepherds, separated from the flock in many ways, can cause us to become closed off to much of the world. Living a private life in secrecy or inaccessibility leaves room for self-betrayal and, ultimately, to what I call an accountability breakdown.

To prevent that breakdown, we need the vulnerability that connecting with others provides. Recognizing our need for others means that we stay aware of any tendency to compromise. We also understand that we are not immune to a fall. We must be willing to open up and connect.

So how do we maintain genuine accountability as pastors?

First, seek out a few men of integrity with whom you can be vulnerable. I advise you to choose people outside the sphere of your own work. As a pastor, don’t choose other pastors! Connect with those who can evaluate your life with objective eyes. (And be sure to choose people who are not in awe of you.) These need to be people without anything to gain or lose.

Second, be committed to absolute, gut-level honesty. Refuse to hide or excuse or deny. Self-betrayal is a danger for all people, especially pastors. For some reason we feel that being an “example” means we never goof up . . . and so we cover up! Be vigilant against any half-truths, because the only ones we fool are ourselves.

Finally, determine to answer questions on a variety of practical topics to facilitate your candor. I’ll be painfully specific:

  • Have you been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
  • Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
  • Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
  • Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer this week?
  • Have you invested sufficient priority time to your family?
  • Have you fulfilled the mandates of your pastoral role?
  • Have you just lied to me?

That last one is the clincher! Unless you are a practiced hypocrite, answering these questions in a small group of individuals will provide you the spiritual and moral moorings you need to accomplish your God-given role as a pastor. When we deliberately engage ourselves with those who keep us honest, we safeguard our lives, our families, and our flocks from the backwash of the accountability breakdown.

The pain of real accountability is nothing compared to the pain from a lack of integrity. My advice? Begin today.


The Superman Syndrome

Are you an aspiring Superman?

I’m not talking about pulling on a pair of blue tights and a red cape and putting a fancy “S” on your chest. I’m talking about an attitude: “I am self-sufficient,” “I need no one else,” or “I will show no weakness or admit any inadequacy.” These betray the presence of the Superman Syndrome—that particular peril for pastors who go it alone.

Funny thing is, I’ve rarely seen anyone lose ground by admitting inadequacy or weakness. The best professors I ever had said, “I don’t know, Chuck, but when we come back together I’ll try to have that answer for you.” I deeply respect that attitude in a person. Kids acknowledge weakness all the time and never feel as if they’ve lost face.

As pastors, we set ourselves up for letting people down when we pose as Superman. I remember a young believer in our church who gushed, “I don’t know of anybody I admire as much as I do you.”

“Stop right there,” I interrupted. “I appreciate your admiration, but always remember: When it comes to one another on this earth, never put anyone on a pedestal.”

“I never thought about that before,” she replied.

“Only one person deserves to be on a pedestal, and He’ll never fall off. That’s Jesus. You can respect me,” I continued, “but please don’t put me in that place where I’m sure to let you down.”

By the way . . . have you heard what the mother ape said to her baby ape? “Watch out about climbing on those high poles. The higher you get, the more they’re gonna see your rump.” Remember, when you’re up high, you’re a big target. You’re on display. So it’s essential to say, “I can’t handle this myself.” Or, “I need you guys right now.” Didn’t Jesus do this at Gethsemane?

As 2 Corinthians 2:16 asks, “Who is adequate for these things?” Obviously, the appropriate attitude is to embrace this fact: We are not self-sufficient. We need other people. It’s wise for us to ask for help. We should never leave the impression that we don a cape and tights.

Let’s get practical. Ask for help! Hardly a day passes that I don’t ask someone to assist me in doing something. Also, make sure that when someone helps with a project, that person gets the credit. If a guy comes up with a great idea, and the whole church applauds it, let the people know it was his idea. Why leave any other impression?

Admit weaknesses and failures. Acknowledge your own fallibility. Don’t buy in to the Superman Syndrome. You can’t carry the weight of the whole world on your shoulders. Someone else already has that distinction.


The Integrity Assault

Our jobs as pastors are not without work-site hazards. We don’t wear hard hats, of course, but maybe we should!

The hazards I’m speaking of are those within our hearts. One of the greatest of these is what I call “the integrity assault.” I believe our integrity is assaulted when we yield to the temptation to allow our position—and the privileges that come with it—to lower our standard and to weaken our witness.

With every privileged position comes trust. You may carry a church credit card. You are trusted to use that card with integrity. You may drive a car provided by the church. That is a privilege. Your time and how you use it are at your discretion. Your board and congregation look to you to give a full day’s work for a full day’s wage.

You have a computer and, probably, a private study. A dangerous combination if you lack integrity. The statistics are maddening to me how many in ministry confess to viewing pornography on the Internet! So many who have fallen morally began their fall by viewing pornography on the Internet.

I remember a layman leaning over my desk, and his knuckles got white as he looked me right in the eye. “Chuck, I want to ask you a straight question,” he began. “Up and down this hallway at this church, is there anybody in any of these rooms who could walk in here and ask you the hard questions?”

“Choose any office up and down this hallway and the person will tell you, ‘I can go in at any time and tell him or ask him anything.’” That was my answer. But let me tell you, it is hard work to cultivate an environment where that kind of honesty can occur.

Remember Asaph’s words? I think of them often. After 69 verses, he ended Psalm 78 this way:

He also chose David His servant
And took him from the sheepfolds;
From the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him
To shepherd Jacob His people,
And Israel His inheritance.
So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart,
And guided them with his skillful hands. (Psalm 78:70–72) 

That’s not just beautiful Hebrew poetry; those words describe character. God chose David not because he had the résumé of a king. Not because he had killed bears and lions. Not even because he killed a giant. He was chosen to shepherd God’s people for one major reason: he had integrity.

My brothers, that is our calling and our standard as well.


Consequences of a Moral Tumble

A number of years ago, Randy Alcorn wrote a little sidebar called, “Consequences of a Moral Tumble,” in a magazine titled Leadership. I’ve carried it with me since 1988. Trust me, if you review such consequences regularly, your lust will take a backseat . . . but it still won’t go away. He writes,

Whenever I feel particularly vulnerable to sexual temptation, I find it helpful to review what effects my actions could have:

  • Grieving the Lord who redeemed me.
  • Dragging His sacred name into the mud.
  • One day having to look Jesus, the Righteous Judge, in the face and give an account of my actions.
  • Following in the footsteps of these people whose immorality forfeited their ministries and caused me to shudder: (list names).
  • Inflicting untold hurt on Nanci, my best friend, and loyal wife.
  • Losing Nanci’s respect and trust.
  • Hurting my beloved daughters Karina and Angie.
  • Destroying my example and credibility with my children, and nullifying both present and future efforts to teach them to obey God (“Why listen to a man who betrayed Mom and us?”)
  • If my blindness should continue or my wife be unable to forgive, perhaps losing my wife and my children forever.
  • Causing shame to my family (“Why isn’t Daddy a pastor anymore?”).
  • Losing self-respect.
  • Creating a form of guilt awfully hard to shake. Even though God would forgive me, would I forgive myself?
  •  Forming memories and flashbacks that could plague future intimacy with my wife.
  • Wasting years of ministry training and experience for a long time, maybe permanently.
  • Forfeiting the effect of years of witnessing to my father and reinforcing his distrust for ministers that has only begun to soften by my example but that would harden, perhaps permanently, because of my immorality.
  • Undermining the faithful example and hard work of other Christians in our community.
  • Bringing great pleasure to Satan, the enemy of God and all that is good.
  • Possibly bearing the physical consequences of such diseases as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, herpes, and AIDS; perhaps infecting Nanci or, in the case of AIDS, even causing her death.
  • Possibly causing pregnancy, with the personal and financial implications, including a lifelong reminder of my sin.
  • Bringing shame and hurt to these fellow pastors and elders: (list names). 
  • Causing shame and hurt to these friends, especially those I’ve led to Christ and discipled: (list names)
  • Invoking shame and life-long embarrassment upon myself.

(Taken from Randy Alcorn, “Consequences of a Moral Tumble,” from the Winter 1988 issue of Leadership Magazine.  Used by permission.  Related articles may be found at his website at www.epm.org, or visit his blog at www.randyalcorn.blogspot.com)