Why do pastors keep cheating? We have seen it all over the news recently – affair after affair by high-profile mega-church pastors. I myself am a local church pastor of a multi-site church with locations in Brooklyn, Long Island, and Northwest Indiana/Chicago area, named one of America’s fastest-growing churches. When I see these stories unfold in the news, it breaks my heart, so I want to speak about it from the heart and perspective of a fellow pastor.
In my perspective, there are two conditions that create the context for infidelity among lead pastors, especially those who pastor large churches:
1. An Extreme Need for Comfort
When you’re a pastor, every single thing you do and say is scrutinized, judged, criticized, and gossiped about. Then when you go home, you talk about church and church people with your wife and family. There’s no relief from the pressures of church life. Therefore you create a situation where 100% of your life is the work of ministry. This causes depletion. Therefore you are in extreme need of comfort. The high demands can mean don’t ever have an off day because you don’t ever “clock out.” Now hear me – this does not excuse sin. It only explains explain the context for how sin happens.
2. The First Class Experience
The second factor is what I like to call “the first-class experience.” Pastors who are in celebrity positions can create a false reality where eventually they start to think that the world is afirst-class experience. If you’ve ever flown first class before, you know that it’s a high-level experience. The seats are larger and more comfortable, and the section is in the front for quick on and off access. In the back, everybody eats peanuts, but in first class you get a full hot meal. There are two different sets of rules – a set for first-class and a set for everybody else.
Many churches have a deeply ingrained honor culture. In trying to honor the pastor, they give him a preferred parking spot, seat him and his family in front, they feed him between services, and all manner of “first class” experiences. It can all be a good thing, because their pastor’s life is more difficult and the honor culture seeks to alleviate some of the pressure and pain. Conversely, this first-class treatment can be blown out of proportion. This preferred experience can plant a seed of exemption where a pastor begins to believe that the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to him.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” When a pastor does not guard his or her heart and there’s an extreme need for comfort, it is an explosive combination. Then, combine it with the first-class mentality that exempts you from normal life. Eventually, you feel exempt not just from normal life, but from the commands of God.
In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (ESV). A lot of pastors who are in sin have learned how to confess their sin but never repent of it. Even though they may have the honor of the crowds, a special parking spot, a special seat, and first-class plane tickets, they’re not exempt from Jesus’ commandments.
John 14:16-17 (ESV)
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
God has promised a helper, the Holy Spirit, to abide with us forever. You can have an accountability partner and still sin. It is possible to be in the same hotel, even the same hotel room, as your accountability partner and still sin. But you can’t deceive the Spirit of Truth or lie to the Holy Spirit.
A lot of pastors in sin are ministering out of a gift and not out of a relationship with Jesus. Preaching is a gift. Teaching is a gift. But a relationship with God will cause you to not want to grieve the Holy Spirit. Because even if an accountability partner doesn’t find out about your sin, the Holy Spirit knows and will be grieved.
As I think about all of the recent pastors in the news, my heart is heavy. As a pastor myself, I want to walk in humility. I have to worship. I have get before God and depend on the Holy Spirit. I have to feed the poor (without taking a photo of it for Instagram). All of that plays a part in humility. The higher you go, the more you have to decrease.
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