The preacher and moral failures
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.