The preacher and moral failures

By Joe Bob Mizzell
Aug 28, 2007

Let’s face it, the minister of a Baptist church can be forgiven of almost anything, if he repents and changes his ways, except sexual sins. If a minister gets involved in a sexual sin (adultery, child molestation, homosexuality), he might as well resign and look for a new occupation. Well, maybe not every time, but almost every time. Even if he stays in the ministry, he usually has to move to an office other than senior pastor. Once a diamond is chipped, it may be reground, but it will never be as large as before.

Many are aware of the past history of outstanding preachers who have fallen to the sin of David. The movie about Elmer Gantry, the fictional preacher who fell to moral sin, made many people aware that preachers are human. In more recent times, the moral failure of Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, and in our state the failure of a large church pastor and successful evangelist, has created news events that reflect poorly on all ministers. Even sadder is the fact that there are hundreds of ministers who fail morally that we never hear about.

In a recent conversation with Dr. H.B. London of Focus on the Family, he told me of serving on the restoration committee of Ted Haggard and then he said, “When you hear the names of these great preachers who failed, you never think of their accomplishment because it is always overshadowed by their moral failure.”

What is wrong? Why are so many preachers failing morally? Can we trust any minister? What can the church do to make sure they do not call an immoral minister? Is there anything the church, association or state convention can do to keep ministers from failing morally? There are a lot of questions, but there are also some answers.

First, not all ministers are anywhere close to moral failure. Most pastors and staff serve all their lives and never do anything questionable related to moral conduct. The number of ministers who commit adultery is much, much lower than that of the average male population. Today we are made aware of the sexual sins of ministers more so than in past years. The failure of a well-known evangelist was on the first page of the Birmingham News, on the “Rick and Bubba Show” and even on Paul Fienbaum’s sports talk radio show.

The church can do a much better job making sure they do not call an immoral minister. Churches must check out the minister before extending a call. They should run references, talk to directors of missions, check with former church members, and question other ministers who know the prospect. Don’t hesitate to ask any question about the prospective minister. Listen carefully to what the reference may tell you.

The church can do some things in a preventive way to help their pastor when temptation comes. They can give him time off for family. The deacons or others can warn him if they see signs of over-involvement with a particular woman.

The minister is the one who can do the most to avoid sexual failure. He can guard his thoughts. Ultimately, the battle for sexual purity is won or lost in the mind. Those things that could erode your thought life should be avoided. He should make sure that his best time goes to his wife and family. Only great husbands and great fathers can be great pastors. He should resolve never to be alone personally or to be involved emotionally with a woman who is not his wife, sister, mother or grandmother, or at least old enough to be his grandmother.

The minister will do well to remember the cost of sexual sin. A big house may be attractive, but the payments are huge. He should recognize his vulnerability. No one is above sexual temptation. No pastor should destroy his call to the ministry for a moment of pleasure. An effective minister must be a holy minister.

The morally failing minister is usually a loner. He may be in his late 30s in a highly successful church, receiving a huge salary with praise coming from all directions. He may rationalize that he is so capable that God will overlook his moral sins and that he deserves a second or third woman, but he is usually a loner. He may be in his 50s with a troubled church and an unhappy family life, but he is usually a loner. We all need accountability!

We need to attend the associational ministers’ conference. We need to have minister friends. We need to have close deacon friends. We need to rely on our director of missions. We need accountability!

The minister should value his family. It is more important than the church, more important than money, and more important than pleasure. Outside God, family is the most important thing in a preacher’s life.

Most importantly, the minister must stick close to God. Pray, read your Bible, love your family, minister to your people and please keep your life clean.

Mizzell is director of Christian Ethics/Chaplaincy Ministries of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

Further Learning

Learn more about: Faith, Ministry, Pastoral Integrity,


1 On Aug 29, 2007, at 2:14am, Lilly Wilkinson wrote:

Your article about pastors and moral failures is a true reminder that no one is above accountability. It seems our churches have forgotten to put their faith in christ and remember that staff are people too.

2 On Aug 29, 2007, at 2:57am, Clay Lyons wrote:

Your opening statement, ‘A pastor can be forgiven for most any sin except…..’, is not quite correct.  A mature Christian understands forgiveness if they are themselves forgiven.
Also, a mature Christian sees that one that has gained the favor of a following and himself fallen should not expect to gain that position back again.  A person should be ‘big’ enough to not want their original status restored, even though they know they are forgiven.
Charles Stanley can’t (or shouldn’t) preach or counsel in areas of marriage, and has lost the respect of many because he didn’t work out his family situation.  Probably should have removed himself, even though folks applaud his ministry.
The rest of your article is great!

3 On Aug 29, 2007, at 5:41am, Terri Ann Gibbins wrote:

I do not understand why Dr. Stanley did not step down from his ministry to minister to whatever his wife needed, or at least step down to try to fulfill his wife’s needs.  I love Dr. Stanley & still do & have followed him thru the years & my heart breaks for him & his family, yet I do not understand why a man with such wisdom from God cannot see to do this.  In the end, I thank you for your statement that any man’s first calling is to die for his family as a picture of the Church and Christ.  Thank you for this teaching.
Terri Ann Gibbins

4 On Aug 29, 2007, at 3:20pm, Linda Griese wrote:

I also believe that members of a church should be much in prayer for their Pastor and his family.  Prayer does accomplish much.  Don’t just pray for him casually but with great desire to see the Lord’s working in this man.  Please remember your Pastor needs your prayers and not just your after thoughts.  His family needs your prayers and look for some way to help him and his family, especially if he has young children and may need a time out with his wife.  Babysit for them (no charge) and help with chores around his home if possible.  I think sometimes the church expects too much from a Pastor and the church people don’t get involved because “the Pastor can do that”.  Maybe we should be examining ourselves to see if we are using our Pastor for things that the Lord wants us to do in our churches.  Pray for your Pastor!!!!

5 On Aug 29, 2007, at 3:40pm, Paulo wrote:

The pastor who falls to sin is not necessarily a loner -he is simply alone.  He is not necessarily the man who is well known or who is actually known for his sin - he may be the man alone with his thoughts.  Jesus defined adultery as mental impurity.  Honesty thus defines every man outside of Jesus as impure.  Is there a straight man who has NOT, at some time from 13 to 90, looked upon a woman “with lust?”  Few “sinless” men have had the guts to admit that, when it comes to Jesus’ definition of adultery, “all have sinned.”  “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…”

6 On Aug 29, 2007, at 7:29pm, Brad wrote:

Before this deployment even began I was convinced that my destiny didn’t include returning from Iraq to re-unite with my wife and 2 daughters. I resigned myself to this bogus “revelation”. When you feel your days are numbered you are vulnerable to a great deal. And in my case it subtly let me rationalize and contemplate betrayal of my vows.
I praise God for 2 seminary men who along with a current and former pastor were there to remind me of who I am in Christ.
None of us is beyond falling. Any emotional vulnerability can be grasped by Satan. And what a firm unyielding grip it can be! Satan targeted a man after God’s own heart. Satan targeted King Solomon with all his wisdom. We are naive to think that the Devil doesn’t have any one of us in the cross-hairs of his sniper rifle.

7 On Aug 29, 2007, at 10:49pm, Clay wrote:

True, there are no sinless men or women.
But when that sin is in their heart, they are only damaging themselves.  When they act upon that sin, others become involved with the sin, and you have the consequences to deal with.  This results in more hurt people and damage to the Body of Christ.
No one is throwing stones.

8 On Aug 30, 2007, at 10:25am, Rhonda Russell wrote:

I am the daughter of a wonderful pastor, who lived the messages that he preached, but also taught me that “no one is perfect, but Jesus”. We are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Many people place their preachers too high on a pedestal. Yes,scripture is quite clear about the conduct of a pastor….I don’t know about you, but I would not be the one to cast that first stone. I would lift them up to God in prayer and remain a loyal friend. The Apostle Paul called himself “the chiefest of sinners”, but that doesn’t stop us from reading his words and learning from them. I know that
God forgives the sinner and gives grace to the
humble, I can do no less.

9 On Aug 30, 2007, at 9:31pm, Brad O'Brien wrote:

I have re-read my post. It was not my intention to come across as any type of holier than thou stone-thrower.
Interestingly enough, the other morning at breakfast I saw a video of an actual stoning. A muslim girl was “dating” a young man who is a practitioner of the Yazidi religion. The muslims claim the Yazidi are Satan worshippers. They apparently worship an angelic being who is symbolized by fire (the bringer of light?)

Back now to the topic at hand:
I think when pastors fall or fail, a “post mortem” investigation would probably turn up instances where accountability with elder board or good close Christian friends was absent or allowed to fall by the way. At a church I attended the Elder Board VP murdered his wife. Later during the trial all sorts of stuff about his “double life” came to full disclosure. That such a man could ascend to a leadership post in the body was perhaps most disturbing of all.

10 On Aug 30, 2007, at 10:11pm, Clay wrote:

Pastors allow people to place them on that ‘pedestal’, furthering the pastor-laity distinction. 
A leader should not expect to stay above the people if he has fallen.  Often, a leadership position is attained too quickly, built on a foundation of stones that are loosly(hurriedly) put into place.  The cement hasn’t hardened yet.
To be humble and get off the top of the ladder doesn’t mean that you’re not forgiven or unloved, just that you don’t want to give opportunity to the enemy. 
Many folks vote for their leaders and haven’t read 1 Timothy 3.  Above reproach means that nothing bad can be said (honestly) about us.
Casting stones caused death.  (Let’s quit using that term)  Stepping down from a position won’t kill anyone.

11 On Sep 1, 2007, at 11:14pm, Robert Driskell wrote:

I am not familiar with the details of Charles Stanley’s failed marriage, but, if it wasn’t because he committed a sexual sin, I see no reason that he cannot continue in his ministry just as he is.  The Bible gives legitimate reasons for divorce, and if the “above reproach” clause is to be used to disqualify pastors, then no one qualifies because no one is above reproach, i.e. perfect. If, and I can’t know this for sure, Dr. Stanley did all in his power to save his marriage and it still fell apart, how can we lay the blame on him and disqualify him from the ministry? I have been, and am currently, being blessed by Dr. Stanley’s teachings and preachings and I thank God for him…I would hate to see his ministry lost through no fault of his own.

12 On Sep 2, 2007, at 12:30am, Gary Morris wrote:

I can’t help but think that King David, had several moral failures that if that would have happen today we would have written him off too. Yet we still think of him as a “man after Gods own heart”. What defines a mans work in the kingdom of God. We are all prone to sin and will give an account before God one day.
When sin is brought to light the soul of a man can then be restored to right standing. A moral failure should not define any man, if so the parts of the Bible on David should be crossed out of the Bible, he has no credibility. Satan, is our enemy. Lets work on restoring our brothers and sisters in Christ.

13 On Sep 3, 2007, at 11:03am, Nat wrote:

We Christians treat some varieties and species of moral failure far more seriously than others.  The same pastor can condemn gay marriage and then go and officiate at a marriage Jesus would have called adulterous.  We confront outright sin, but allow impurity to fester in our own lives and in our own churches.  I believe that this is one of the reasons why our culture is so rapidly embracing gay marriage, and co-habitation and a steady coarsening of our media.  How can they take seriously God’s moral code when his people don’t demonstrate a commitment to not only avoid gross immorality, but to live holy lives?  This is an area in which most of modern evangelicalism, not just pastors or leaders, is failing.  I know that so often I fail to live up to Jesus standard- but whosoever looks on a woman with lust in his heart has committed adultery- and then impose a different standard, one I haven’t failed in, on other people.

14 On Sep 7, 2007, at 6:04am, Clay wrote:

Hopefully, we are all men after God’s heart.
The situation today seems to be much the same as in David’s day except the consequences of sin.
A quick look at David in 2 Samuel 11. 
When kings went out to battle, David stayed home. He had the man killed whose wife he’d gotten pregnant. 
Nathan spoke for the Lord and confronted David.
Some of the consequences of his sin: The child died.
The sword would not depart from David’s house, so he wasn’t able to build the Temple(my conclusion).  David’s wives would be given to his companion to lie with in broad daylight.
David’s son committed incest.
24. He foolishly called for a census and was given a choice of consequences.  He chose a plague for the people and 75,000 died.

I’m thankful for Grace given to us today.
I’m not wanting to disqualify anyone from their service to the Lord. (Most churches have chosen to ignore that aspect of the Word).
I’d just like to have more Christian heros.

15 On Oct 22, 2008, at 11:04am, MJ wrote:

I read nothing in these posts about the ripples of damage created in the lives of those around the minister who commits adultry.  My husband a minister for 30 years went on and began dating women throughout the US. I know he did not love me and I chose after 40 years to give him the divorce he wanted.  We have three children.  My daughter married a youth minister and today she is due to give birth to her first child.  Her husband came home last wednesday and told her he lost his job due to a high school senior girl going to the pastor about his relationship with the her.  My daughter is beautiful, an accountant, and loves life.  Her father last yeaar and now her husband gets caught in the same week their little girl is to be born.  The ripples are large and I know God did not do this - I just do not know how to cope at this point.

16 On Oct 31, 2008, at 4:30pm, Mario wrote:

If I judge a preacher, reverend, minister, or pastor, is that a sin?

17 On Dec 4, 2008, at 11:07pm, Cindy wrote:

Judging is not a sin provided it’s not done in the context of being hypocritical. We need to judge all things even ourselves to see whether we are in the faith. We need to be like the Bereans and test the “spirits”. That is not a sin, otherwise how will you ever know if something is of God. Especially now in this consumer driven church age and Emergent style mega-churches, so yes, you do need to judge. If you don’t, you will drown in a sea of lies and slick chicanery of the Enemy Satan himself.

Simply put… need to dicern Truth from error even in your Beloved church.

The comment thread for this article is now closed. Please use our contact form.

You May Also Like

TRANSCRIPT: World Vision’s change of course

By Russell D. Moore - Apr 29, 2014

Hello, this is Russell Moore, and this is Questions and Ethics, the program where we take your questions about issues that you are facing in your life or in your home or in your neighborhood or in your workplace and answer them through the grid of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Read More
Regulation the Right Choice to Reduce Tobacco Use Land and Wallis to debate priorities of evangelical voters during Washington Briefing