While traveling to speak at a youth camp in Northern California, I saw a beautiful bald eagle perched on a fence post. As I approached he stretched his mighty wings and climbed straight upward for about 500 feet, caught an updraft and disappeared out of my sight. What a magnificent bird.
John Denver sang:
I am the eagle,
I live in high country,
In lofty cathedrals that reach to the sky.
The eagle is king of the skies! He dwells in high places! Jeremiah 49:16: “Though you make your nest as high as the eagle's…”And in Isaiah 40:31, “Those wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.”
Since God uses the eagle metaphorically, it is certainly permissible to use the eagle to depict some church leaders. We all know pastor's who can be described as large and powerful with keen vision. Unfortunately, we also know church leaders who are birds of prey, preying on the unfortunate, living in lofty cathedrals. Like the eagle who dips so close to the earth he gets blood on his feathers.
I know that God's leaders are not perfect, they all make mistakes. They get hungry for power, and allow the flesh to rule their lives. I've been in ministry for over fifty years, and I don't like to recall all the mistakes I've made. My earlier history as a pastor was pretty dismal. Although I had pastored several great churches, I could always detect problems that I was not mature enough to correct. We all know the old saying "When the going gets tough the tough get going." Not so in my early years. When the stress of being a senior pastor started, I looked for another church. Know what I learned? The problems followed me wherever I went. The problem was me! Thank God, I have never left a church because of sexual sin, or financial disgrace, but oh so many have. I've known far too many pastor's who have fallen into sin. It is a terrible thing for a church leader, a man of God to fall, and God forbid that it should ever happen to you or me. But we are all made of the same human stuff as the man in the pew! It seems to be a common belief that men and women who constantly deal with the holy are naturally super-holy themselves. Every believer must fight the same temptations, and church leaders even more, because the Devil is unleashing an attack on God's leaders today that is unprecedented in the history of the church.
There are two principles to realize, first, the best of men are often weak, and unless the grace of God upholds them, they could fall at any time. Second, it is very humbling but true, put your trust in men and be doomed to disappointment.
M.R. DeHaan wrote this about pastors, from John 1:6 about John the Baptist, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness of the Light…” The pastor is a man, he needs your prayers; he is sent from God, he deserves your respect; he is doing God's work, He needs your help.
“Pastors today are faced with more work, more problems, and more stress than any other time. This is taking a frightening toll on the ministry, as seen by these statistics:
•Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each year due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.
•Over seven thousand churches close each year.
•Fifty percent of pastor's marriages will end in divorce.
•Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
•Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry in the first five years.
•Ninety percent of pastors said their seminary or Bible school training did only a fair-to-poor job preparing them for ministry.
•Eighty-five percent of pastors said their greatest problem is they are sick and tired of dealing with problem people, disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, board members, and associate pastors.
•Ninety percent said the hardest thing about ministry is dealing with uncooperative people.
•Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
•Almost forty percent of pastors polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry
•Seventy percent of pastors do not have a close friend, confidant or mentor.
God did not intend the ministry to destroy a person, but to build the inner spiritual person. Yet, today we see far too many pastors leaving the ministry dejected.
Pastor, what can you do to avoid becoming another one of those statistics?
•Find other pastors with whom you can covenant. They should be mutual, trusting relationships where you can openly talk and pray for each other.
•Get into relationship with a mentor. We all need help from time to time, maybe even more so when we are in ministry. We need someone who has the wisdom, experience, and hopefully the anointing to minister to you as a pastor.
•Fall in love with the Word of God. If the only time you spend studying the Bible is to prepare a message, you've put a muzzle on yourself, as you feed your sheep. They're receiving, but you aren't.
•Last, and most important, spend time in the presence of the Lord! More than anyone pastors and ministers need prayer time. Not the time when they are praying for their congregations, but time when they are just being alone with Jesus…" ––Adapted and copied from: Richard A. Murphy, Maranatha Life, P.O Box 1206, Donna, TX 78537, http//www. Maranathalife.com
Do we really want to be eagles, living in lofty cathedrals that reach to the sky? I went through a period in my ministry when I thought I needed more power (not necessarily spiritual power), but I went about it in wrong way. One year I went a little crazy on the subject. I read, Think and grow rich by Napoleon Hill. Power, how to get it how to keep it by Michael Korda. The power look, by Von Furstenberg. And Dress for success by John Malloy. I was young and inexperienced, perhaps I was just trying to compensate for my lack of knowing how to deal with difficult people. But I always knew that all of my power comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit. “Don't be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life, instead let the Holy Spirit fill and control you” (Ephesians 5:18 NLT).
Recently we watched Billy Graham's "My Hope America" on The Fox News channel. It was a clear-cut presentation of the Gospel. Kudos' to Fox News for airing this without a disclaimer! And Blessings on ninety-five year old Billy Graham. Although I know some of you reading this, especially some Fundamentalists have had a problem with Billy Graham's cooperative evangelism. (By the way, the same criticism was leveled at Promise Keepers. Some said I do not support Promise Keepers because the men raise their hands in worship, others that Mormons and Catholics are invited to their meetings). While Billy has suffered much criticism over the years, scandals have never rocked his ministry, and it has been intensely scrutinized. Billy Graham has never been accused of immorality, or dishonest dealings, and he has never dipped his colors or compromised the message of the cross. One of the major reasons Billy Graham and his associates have avoided pitfalls and scandal goes back to November of 1948 and what took place in a hotel room in Modesto, California. It was there The Modesto Manifesto was birthed. Graham and his associates, George Beverly Shea, Grady Wilson, and Cliff Barrows, were just starting to get involved in evangelistic meetings. At the time, many traveling evangelists were crossing the country, and a number fell to moral, ethical and financial scandals. In a desire to see their ministry remain above scandal, the men met to discuss the problems evangelists faced. They came up with four problems to avoid and ways to avoid them.
1. Money: It was common practice among evangelists to put a lot of emotion and flourish into taking love offerings. This could bring unnecessary criticism and temptation. The men vowed not to emphasize the offering. To avoid criticism they would always have the local campaign committees oversee the offerings and the disbursements of funds – they would accept a straight salary regardless of how high the offerings were.
2. Immorality: Religious leaders especially those who traveled were regularly falling to this temptation. The men agreed continually to pray for God to guard them from it. They also set up some rules to follow. They would never allow themselves to be alone with women at lunches, counseling sessions, or rides to auditoriums or airports. And they would always get their hotel rooms close together as another safeguard.
3. Exaggeration: The words “evangelistically speaking” has been coined to label exaggerated figures of the number attending meetings or the number being saved. The men vowed not to fall into this practice. If numbers were mentioned they were the ones generated by the local police, fire departments, or arena managers.
4. Criticism: Often evangelists would criticize local pastors and churches from pulpits. The men vowed not to do this, nor would they ever criticize pastors who openly criticized them." –Discipleship Journal, Issue 84, Nov/Dec 1994, Page 45]
Not a bad idea for all ministers of the Gospel to adapt a similar manifesto for our ministries. There's a great lie, perpetrated by the devil that has convinced many, if we say, "I will never do that, that's the first thing we will do.” Allow me to give you a personal illustration: I determined years ago that I will never cheat on my wife. It's not worth it for a few moments or hours of sin to jeopardize my self-respect, my family, my ministry and my relationship with God! Just say no! Establish boundaries! Build hedges.
The year 1945 was a great year for rookie evangelists. Twenty year old, Billy Graham began filling auditoriums everywhere. As many as thirty- thousand every night! Ever hear of Chuck Templeton or Bron Clifford? They were thought of as the two evangelists with the most potential. They were written up in Christian periodicals. Templeton was considered "the most gifted, and best used of God...” He influenced more leaders, set attendance records, was tall, handsome, intelligent, and eloquent. He was even asked to audition for the movie, “The Robe.” By 1950, Templeton decided he was no longer a believer in Christ, and became a media personality. By 1954, Clifford lost his family, ministry, health, and finally, his life. Alcohol and financial irresponsibility had destroyed him. He died at thirty-five years old with cirrhosis of the liver in a run-down motel in Amarillo.
Pastor John Bisagno recounts as a young man being told that one of ten stay true to the Lord and finish strong. He couldn’t believe it. He went home, wrote the names of twenty-four young men sold out for God. Thirty three years later, there were only three names remaining on that list!
John MacArthur, in Scotland, was approached by a pastor who was saved with two of his friends under the preaching of John’s father. John asked about them. John’s dad was still preaching. One of the others had denied the faith, the other was an alcoholic. One of three, thirty years later!
Howard Hendricks conducted a survey. He found almost two hundred and fifty men had experienced moral failure in a two year period! He writes, “I recently found a prayer journal from 1982. I had written in the names of thirty-two people I was praying for. Of those names, four remained faithful – a tiny percentage more than just one out of ten.”
Who here has not grieved over too many fallen brothers and sisters? We counsel and seek to restore them! It is imperative that we stay the course for our whole life. So many fail after a lifetime of successful ministry. When I was serving on Promise Keepers staff, Coach McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers would walk past my office, look in and say, "Finish Strong, Sparky!" It's not just how you start but how you finish that really matters!
At this writing I have passed my eightieth year. I have seen just about everything there is to see in the ministry. I've observed the fall of people whom I loved and respected, people of God whom I trusted let me down. We know of some soaring eagles who dipped so close to earth they got blood on their wings.
I have actually spoken with people who use the Televangelist's scandals to excuse their own sin. One person, quoted in a Los Angeles Times article about fallen leaders said, "It's dangerous agnostics like me who aren't addicted to drugs, are not committing adultery, not misleading the public, and are not invoking the name of some supreme being every time we want to frighten others, who will continue to spread so-called evil in the world." See what I mean! How can the unchurched differentiate between those so-called Christian leaders they have seen on the morning news and the church on the corner?
With the rise of the Electronic Church and instant media attention to every negative story about Christianity, we have been bombarded with reports of fallen church leaders. There have been accusations, blame denial and innuendo hurled at the church and its leaders. The Church of Jesus Christ has been dragged through the mud, and perhaps rightly so. The church cannot expect to commit public sin without a public outcry. Indeed God’s reputation is suffering from the behavior of His leaders here on earth.
Who suffers when God’s leaders fall? The whole church! But that’s not all, the world suffers as well! When unchurched Harry and Mary are faced with marital problems, to whom do they turn if they do not trust the church? When the hearse backs up to the door, and their whole world is coming apart, where do they turn if they do not feel comfortable calling a pastor? When the pain is so intense that they are contemplating ending it all, where do they turn of they are not sure about God, or His leaders? Indeed, God and His work have been damaged by all the fallen eagles, men of God who forgot for a moment that the world was watching.
Look at just a few of God's leaders who did not start out well. Noah committed sexual sin. Moses lied. Aaron led the people into idolatry. King David, “a man after God's own heart,” not only committed adultery, but tried to hide it with murder, and there was “Jeroboam…who taught Israel to sin.” Always remember God does not ignore sin!
It’s hard for the layperson to accept the humanness of his pastor. The saints seem to be super-human. Most parishioners cannot even imagine their pastor going to the bathroom, or having body odor or bad breath when they get up in the morning. Even as a long-time minister of the Gospel, I have a hard time thinking that John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon or Martin Luther were made out of the same human stuff that we are, with the same sinful thoughts, and having to battle Satan every moment of every day. Remember even Elijah ““A human being even as we are” (James 5:17 NLT). Intellectually the lay person can accept the fact that his pastor is a sinner, saved by grace, he says, “He’s a human being just like us,” he says, but to accept this emotionally is quite another matter. Most of us would like to think there is someone around better than we are. One man said, “I want my pastor to be a cut above me.”
Paul and Barnabus had a problem with man-worship when the crowd at Lystra wanted to offer sacrifices and worship them. Paul and Barnabus tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you.” (Acts 14:14,15). Unfortunately far too many Christian leaders promote this attitude, believing they are above the average “Joe or Jane Christian.” Jesus’ servant attitude is far from their thinking. One man said that when he was a child he thought his minister was seven feet tall, actually he was only five foot three, and stood on an orange crate to preach. The revelation came when the orange crate broke one Sunday leaving the pastor hanging by his microphone.
One pastor confessed to a deacon that he was frequently depressed, the deacon’s response, ”Pastor, I don’t understand how you can be depressed, you are a Seminary graduate, you have a Doctor’s Degree, you have studied the Bible, you are a Christian man! You help many people. I just don’t understand how anyone who knows the Bible as well as you do can ever be depressed.”
Let's talk about the layman's expectations of his pastor. Doctor Robert K. White, a psychiatrist who has counseled many ministers wrote in The Walk on Water Syndrome. “The minister is under constant pressure to accomplish far more than he is capable of doing. He must be a perfect moral example. He must provide support at all times, regardless of his own condition. He must be an able administrator, both in the church and in the community. He must be an able public speaker on any and every topic. He must perform as an actor, keeping people on the edge of their seats at all times; be able to act in all settings, funerals, weddings, picnics, baptisms, etc. He must serve as a philosopher, a teacher of values, even though people agree beforehand that they will not listen. He must perform as a counselor, a role which is particularly emotionally exhausting. If a man could accomplish all of these tasks-He would also be able to walk on water.”
J.R. Dolby presented a talk on the human quality of the minister, “He listens to all the fears, mistakes and loneliness of his people, but has no one to whom he can tell his struggles. He is a man who cries inwardly and often openly in the quietness of his office because he has so many human weaknesses. He is a man trying to play the game of religion but often doesn't know where the ballpark is. He is a man who plays so many roles that he doesn't know who he is. He is a man who stands behind the pulpit and tries not to let his people know that he often doubts what he is saying. He is a man who sincerely wants to know just how the gospel meets men's needs. At home he is a lover with itchy fingers and a suggestive pinch. He wants to become involved in the cause of those treated unjustly, but is afraid to be too open about it because he is afraid of his congregation's response. He is a father who often isn't home. He wants to be well known and hopes his next church will be bigger and more prestigious. He would like to tell some of his congregation to go to - - - - but this would take six months of theological discussion to clarify. He tells his congregation to walk in the Spirit, then goes to his office and wonders what that means. He is syrupy sweet in his conversation, like a used car salesman. He curses under his breath when the chronic neurotic in the church calls when he is entertaining guests, and feels guilty when he has treated her rudely. He is a man with temptations just like every other man in the church. To the child he is God, the God that lives at the church. He is the one who wouldn't express even a little smile if a hole had developed in his waders and his shorts were getting wet during a baptism. He is concerned about the well being of his city, but is more concerned about a new building for the church, a building for the over privileged. Above everything else he is a human being.”
I am not trying to excuse God’s leaders who step into sin. The great harm caused by the immorality or dishonesty of any religious leader, whether it is a famous Televangelist, or a local pastor with one hundred people in his congregation is devastating to the whole Body of Christ!
Emporia Kansas was shocked by a double murder in 1983, a pastor and his secretary, having a love affair killed her husband and his wife. It was the talk of this small Kansas town for years, and the shock waves have not stopped for the cause of Christ these many years later. The County Attorney said, “Why would a man who stands there on Sunday morning proclaiming to be a man of God become involved in plot to kill his parishioner’s husband (and his own wife)? Love and money are some of the oldest motives that have ever existed.” The motive for killing his wife was, he couldn’t divorce her because it would hurt his chances for promotion in his denomination.
Headline news: _____ __________, “famous televangelist, was arrested with a prostitute in his car.” Television news aired the story morning and evening for several days. Every major newspaper in our area ran the story several times. It was the talk of our whole community and it impaired our ability to witness for Christ for a long time. Nearly every person with whom we attempted to share the Gospel wanted an explanation of what happened to the televangelist.
God will not allow anyone to get away with sin, especially His leaders. Christian leaders with great power often get away with their sin because others are afraid to confront them! One televangelist went for seven years before a man of God confronted him. Another was involved in an affair for thirteen years before someone had the courage to expose him. Need I remind you of the Prophet Nathan, who confronted King David with his sin? He simply said, “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7). “You may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23) God will not allow sin to go unpunished forever!
There are many examples of the failure of God’s leaders in Scripture:
•Noah got drunk and was naked in his tent (Genesis 9:18-29).
•Abraham, lied about Sarah his wife, when said, “She is my sister” (Genesis 20:2).
•Jacob was a cheater, cheating his brother Esau out of his birthright (Genesis 25-28).
•Moses lost his temper more than once.
•Aaron, the priest of God made an idol, then made a lame excuse, “So I told-whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off. They gave me the gold, an I threw it into the fire ad out came this calf” (Exodus 32:22).
•Miriam, Moses sister was stricken with leprosy because of her opposition to God’s leader, Moses. “When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous” (Numbers 12:10).
•Samson wanted a woman so desperately that he was willing to give up his supernatural strength to have her (Judges 13-16).
•King Saul was a bloody men (2 Samuel 16:8).
•David, a man after God’s own heart was an adulterer and a murderer (2 Samuel 11).
•Solomon, in spite of all that God had given him, turned away from God and His temple, and turned to idols at the end of his life (1 Kings 11).
What must a leader do when he sins? Be humble and listen when confronted in a sermon or by a friend. Admit your sin, “I am guilty before God.” Listen to David after his sin with Bathsheba, “Against You, You only have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:4).
Marlena, my beautiful wife of fifty-nine years just said to me , “Why don’t you write something encouraging about how God can “restore the years the locusts have eaten.” Thank you, Babe! Joel 2:25 NLT: “I will give you back what you lost to the stripping locusts, the cutting locusts, the swarming locusts and the hopping locusts.” Four different types of locusts are mentioned:
Joel was a prophet of God who most likely ministered in Jerusalem. There’s not a lot of information about him. His name means “Yahweh is God.” He is the first of the writing prophets. He spoke to God’s people during a time of crisis…the immediate crisis was a terrible plague of locusts, which destroyed the land completely. I saw a Middle east locust…it was very large, about six inches long, fat as a taquito. (Hope you understand the Mexican food analogy). It’s not hard to imagine how destructive a swarm like that could be. These locusts in Joel came in four successive waves and left nothing but bare ground. They destroyed the grape vines, splintered the fig trees, leaving the bark on the ground.
Now, how does that apply to us? Picture Satan, our worst enemy, like a swarm of locusts eating away at a harvest of blessing in our lives. What does this swarm of locusts do? They devour your blessings, eating away at your joy, your provisions, and your way of being able to fully prosper. But never fear, for the green shoots of blessing will appear and God will “restore to you the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25). Look at this powerful promise from God, “I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes!” (Malachi 3:11). Allow the Holy Spirit to rule in your life; let Him rebuke the devourer, so you will experience the latter rain, so your threshing floors will be filled with grain and your vats will overflow.
Perhaps you’re going through a season of life where you feel that God has gone on vacation and has taken the checkbook with Him. You feel like years of your life have been eaten by locusts. Pastoral burnout is very prevalent in our day. In my own life and ministry I used to experience frequent depressions. My wife told me, even though I can’t remember, that I would come home from my church office, sit down and not speak for an entire evening. Well I determined, just by sheer will power, that I was never going to get depressed again! I just renamed it, I call it “burnout” now.
Here are some symptoms of burnout: change in sleep patterns; weight change; lack of energy; loss of sexual drive; tremors, twitches; gastric problems; lack of concentration; worry; apathy; irritability; crying spells; depression; feelings of loneliness; changes in moral behavior; loss of your joy in the Lord; loss of your joy in ministry; loss of faith; and avoidance of God’s Word.
Allow me to conclude with God’s promise after the invasion of locusts: Joel 2:26,27 NLT: “Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God, who does these miracles for you…Then you will know that I am here among My people…That I alone am your God…”
We have been comparing the eagle with some of God's leaders, "I am the eagle, I live in high country, in lofty cathedrals that reach to the sky." The eagle is king of the skies! Jeremiah 49:16 speaks of the eagle, He dwells in high places: Though you make your nest as high as the eagle's…And in Isaiah 40:31, Those wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.
We all know pastor's who can be described as large and powerful with keen vision. Unfortunately, we also know church leaders who are birds of prey, preying on the unfortunate, living in lofty cathedrals that reach to the sky. Like the eagle who dips so close to the earth he gets blood on his feathers.
You ask, “What can I do?” You can pray for your pastor so that he does not get blood on his wings. I often hear the expression a certain pastor "fell into sin!" No one ever "falls" in to sin. In biblical terms it is “apostasy.” The word for “apostasy” in Greek means “to stand away from." Moral failure is a deliberate act, perhaps by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have always encouraged people to build hedges, or boundaries, so that they could never be in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, Never be alone with a person of the opposite sex, not only is it putting yourself in the place of temptation, but your testimony is to be considered. The Bible says, “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). “Let not your good be evil spoken of” (Romans 14:16). I knew a Christian leader that had a beautiful secretary whom he took with him everywhere. People talk!
Here's a good formula for praying for your pastor and church leaders:
•Pray for your pastor's relationship with God. That he would be a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22).
•That he would be a man of the Word. “Your Word have I treasured in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).
•That he would allow the Lord to guide his every step. “The steps of a good man are established by the Lord, and he delights in His way (Psalm 37:23).
•That he would experience a growing and deepening relationship with God in prayer. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).: “That He would grant you (pastor) to be strengthened with power through His Spirit…That he may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).
•That he would be a Spirit-filled man of faith and love. (Ephesians 5:18).
•That he would be devoted to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).
•That he would intercede for his people and instruct them with confidence and without fear.
•That he would know the hearts and needs of his people and would be able to minister to them accordingly.
•That he would have a fruitful ministry (John 15:16).
•That he would be sensitive to the Lord, as he prepares and preaches.
•That his relationship with his family would be loving, unselfish, respectful, understanding, honoring, guiding, and harmonious. (Ephesians 5:25,33).
Now that you I've described for you the difficulties of being a pastor, here's my challenge for you: Pray regularly for your pastor and his family. "Lord, give our pastor (church leader) good health, clear thinking, strength and endurance." Gather others together in your church to lift your pastor and his family up in prayer daily. May he finish strong!
Please let me know if this was helpful to you, firstname.lastname@example.org