The Pastor: Not One of Us


Blood on the collar?Does the title of this post bother you? It bothers me.

I’ve known pastors in my life who crashed and burned. They flamed-out, transgressed, or a combination of both. In each case, he faded into the ether like some double-agent, either by choice or by his ex-congregation expunging his name like he’d never been in the pulpit.

No vulture-like obsession with the carrion once known as Ted Haggard washed over me, but reports that he’s hightailed it out of Colorado Springs still caught my eye. Made me shake my head, too, but not for the reasons one might think. Everywhere one looks in Evangelicalism, the story’s the same: pastor falls, congegation responds by acting like he never existed, and he’s out of town on the next red-eye to Obscurity.

Time and again the unintended message we Evangelicals send to the world shows that we don’t truly bury our wounded, as goes the common in-joke. Instead, we act is if they were never part of us to begin with. “Our wounded? No, someone else’s wounded.”

You encounter a lot of handwringing in some sectors of the American Church from those upset at a lack of church discipline. Why is it then that this group typically consists of those who fire their fallen pastor, kick him while he’s down, and run him out of town on a rail? They decry the fact the Church can’t seem to discipline, but is it “discipline” for them to toss their pastor’s carcass on the burn pile and wipe their hands clean of the whole mess? What kind of church discipline is that?

The way we operate in American Evangelicalism forces our pastors into a no-man’s land of fellowship. We may crow about our renowned community, our loving fellowship, and on and on, but if we were honest with ourselves we’d have to admit that holds true for everyone BUT the pastor. He’s different. He’s not truly one of us.

Part of the problem comes from our shocking inability to raise up pastors within our own congregations. I would venture to guess that at least 90 percent of churches are pastored by the product of some other church’s educational system. He didn’t grow up in the church he pastors. Has no real familial ties to the church, either. He’s already an outsider from the second he takes the call. This disconnection of history and relationship only further aggravates the tendency to affix him to the pyre the second a problem arises.

In some churches, we’ve also developed this wacky idea that the pastor is Wholly Other, like some enlightened paraclete who transcended to a lofty plane inhabited by the rarefied likes of Paul, Moses, Peter, and Elijah. His decision to leave Abraham’s Bosom to visit us poor mortals is almost shocking in its humble bravura. So when he finally stumbles like a normal human being, we—like some cannibal tribe no longer impressed by our white-fleshed gods who descended to us out of the belly of a metal bird—cook the poor sucker and eat him.

But any quick perusal of the New Testament makes it pretty clear that the Lord Jesus wanted his Church to be brothers, not lords over each other. The pastor is not first among equals; we’ve made the mistake of equating him with Christ Himself. No, the pastor’s a fallen human just like you and just like me.

In that case, why is our discipline for pastors so radically different from what we mete out to others in our congregations?

Perhaps we need an adjustment of how we view pastors. Not that we hold them to some slack standard, but that our dedication to restoration match our swiftness to discipline.

Restore a fallen pastor? What a novel idea! I’d love to see it happen. In truth, I’ve never seen it happen. I’ve seen pastors blackballed from their denominations, but I’ve never truly witnessed one restored to his own congregation.

It shouldn’t be that rare. In fact, it should be the norm—at least the way I read the Scriptures.

As long as we’ve got this pedestal we put Church leaders on, we’ll continue to see assaults on the pedestal and the persons atop it. What happens when the whole thing comes crashing down should be something we address in a healing community. Instead, we heat up the tar and feathers. No wonder these guys vanish like smoke.

Sure, once in a while a real con artist dons a clerical collar, but I suspect that most guys who get into the ministry do so because they genuinely love the Lord and love other people. If all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, then there’s not a guy preaching today who’s not guilty of something. If we blackballed them all, we wouldn’t have a Church. Still, people line up to cast the first stone…

In the end, the messages we send to those in the pews when we run guys off like this should cause us some real soul-searching. I could post on those messages for the next week, but I’ll leave you to think about the between-the-lines preaching we do to the impressionable in cases like these.

Oh, well, why not just one: Don’t you ever mess up or we’ll treat you like toxic waste, too. Doesn’t sound very Christ-like, does it?

I’d love to see a Church that treats pastors as fellow laborers and saints, not grand exalted poobahs. A Church that deals wisely with a pastor’s sin, rather than marking him like Cain before he’s driven off into the wilderness. But to get there, we need a total paradigm shift in how we view THE MINISTRY or else we’ll perpetually fall into the mode of shooting first and asking questions later.

31 thoughts on “The Pastor: Not One of Us

  1. francisco

    Your post raises a lot of questions:
    1. If the church raise his own leaders, should they get training inside or outside the church? If the church provides the training, who is to teach them and what they need to know? Would they need greek, hebrew, etc? If from outside the church and given the current rates of mobility, in four years he’ll be back and perhaps be a stranger to many of the congregants.
    2. We don’t get real about sin because we believers have higher expectations from fellow believers than we do for unbelievers. In other words we have a tendency to see ourselves as “only saints” -or “only sinners”. This mindset seems prevalent in evangelicalism, so we need to see ourselves as “sinners and saints”, we need to live cross-centered lives engaging the mind and the affections in joyful praise to the Savior.
    3. Why is that we may be willing to suffer persecution from Nero, but once Paul gets bitten by a snake we are quick to conclude he might be a criminal. Scripture says “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger… 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 1-2)
    3. Could it be that a reason why many pastors hide in the dark is because they do not get encouraged by their congregation beyond than hearing the commonplace phrases: “good job!”, “good sermon!”. We’d better make sure we encourage them too in a real way! Scripture says “Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouth, but only as it is good, as it fits the ocassion, that it may give grace to your hearers”. (Eph 4:29) Pastors -like us- need to hear too so that they may receive sanctifying grace, convicting grace, etc. The great Shepherd of the sheep is watching.

    • Francisco,

      I believe that churches should put their money where their talk is. They should be able to identify individuals within their body who are gifted, then help guide them to good sources of education AND pay for as much of that education as possible (with the understanding that folks come BACK to that church rather than going someplace else after their education is done.)

  2. Dan,

    Concerning the pastor, you said, “He’s different. He’s not truly one of us.” I believe this is crux of the issue. We do not truly consider the pastor to be one of us. I examined the issue briefly a few months ago in the post “Are Pastors Part of the Body?

    While I agree that people (other than pastors) play an important part in this by elevating the pastor above the “laity”, pastors themselves (ourselves) also tend to encourage this misconception. If pastors see themselves (and communicate to others) as the ones responsibile for teaching and making decisions, then they separate themselves from others within the church.


  3. I once asked our pastor how he thought the elders measured themselves against himself; spiritually and administratively. He thought that they took full responsibility for the administration of the church, but that only one of them felt himself the spiritual equal of the pastor. Herein lies the crux of the matter. If the elders think that way, what about the rest of the congregation? We all, I think, tend to look at pastors as a bit higher than us, much like we view missionaries. The result is a pedestal that it is all too easy to fall off of, and a lazy laity that can often rely too heavily on the spiritual leaders to do all the spiritual work. We are all in this together, and while some have a responsibility to be shepherd, we are all responsible for the roles God has given us. We should not be focused on the size or importance of our role, just that we get it done. We don’t want to be faithless servants. The consequences are not pretty.

    Good post, Dan, and hopefully one that will reach beyond the “choir”

  4. This is a great post. Made me think. I absolutely agree with what you are saying. Years and years and years ago, pastors were trained via apprenticeship. Our “internships” are a poor substitute. I do believe that it is ideal to get formal training in some sort of seminary in order to get the theology, greek, hebrew etc from “experts” and do be able to be exposed to a broader view of the body in the meantime, but you are right, so few return to their home churches.
    I do want to say that I’ve seen one or two exceptions to your post, and those exceptions are beautiful things indeed.

    • Heather,

      If interns were to live as servants first, work a real outside-the-church job, and do all the “scut” work before they bacme full-fledge pastors, I think we’d all be better off. David Fitch talked about this in his book, The Great Giveaway.

  5. dan macdonald

    Interesting post. My context sheds different lights; I pastor a group that don’t, as far as I can tell, put me on a pedestal at all. More and more, I see pedestals being removed wherever I go and to whomever I speak.

    I don’t think that the issue of discipline/restoration is as integrally related to the issue of pastor-on- a-pedestal as you do. I think you have hit on a rather under-discussed issue that needs much thought – that of how to properly respond to fallen pastors. But lumping it with the issue of pedestals is too easy – pedestals are the favorite whipping boy of the blog world. Easy targets, with predictable responses. But outside the mega-church context, I rarely see pedestals for pastors.

    Most churches are under 200 people, and in those churches, the pastors are not, in my experience, on a pedestal, except maybe in the South and Texas. in my city, pastors dwell in the region somewhere between social service worker and trash collector. In my church, I am challenged every week by people as to what I believe and say. They love me, they respect me, they pray for me – and many actually allow me to speak into their lives. But in this day and age, the pedestal is an anachronism, unless you are a superstar preacher with a flagship church. Different rules apply to those contexts, but in our church the discussion is most often around how anti-authority our culture has become.


    • Dan,

      The pedestal thing is secondary here. Whatever separates the pastor from his flock is what’s at issue. Some congregations put the pastor on a pedestal and do obeisance to him. Others hold him from regular fellowship by treating him as an outsider. Whatever the case, we don’t treat him as a real brother within the body. I think it’s almost self-prophetic in those situations that he stumbles and everyone wrings hands.

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  7. Brandon

    Great questions and comments.
    The church should be the one place that models restoration rather than eradication of those who fall.

    I was at a pastor’s conference with our senior pastor a few years ago. A man walked up to him that I’d never seen before with tears in his eyes, all he said was, “thank you” gave him a hug and walked away. He later explained that this man was on staff in his church and had fallen to an affair. When the whole thing was exposed he confessed it and went before the church to confess it to the church body and ask their forgiveness. Rather than crucifying this pastor they began the process of restoring him…This is the way it should be.

    Thanks for your post!
    Be blessed…

    • Brandon,

      But did he return to the same church? That’s the question. Some denominations have restoration processes, but then they never send the guy back to where he came from. Failure to do so doesn’t bring the final resolution we all need to see.

      • Brandon

        Actually, in this case he elected to move on after the restoration process was completed. He did have the option to stay on and serve there though.

        I agree with you totally, otherwise you simply help them to their feet only to then ex-communicate them later…

        Be blessed…

        • Brandon

          One other point, this denomination isn’t known for being one to restore fallen pastors, from what I’ve seen the majority of the time it’s a feeding frenzy. This was one individual church (or senior pastor) within this denomination that did the right thing…IMHO

          Be blessed…

  8. Kaye

    It seems to me that if we have human, fallible church leaders, this shouldn’t cause us too much concern. We would certainly be a bizarre body if they were anything other than that. But what happens when one falls into serious “sin”? Paul admonishes that not all should strive to be teachers for they will be judged more harshly. In our congregation, we had something like this happen, but it was one of the deacons. He resigned from the position. I love this man and I support him, but I think he was wise to step down. He is still a member of our body, loved, forgiven, nurtured (he himself would tell you these same things). He may someday be in a position of leadership again and it is my prayer that this be the case.
    I think the problem arises with paid positions within the church. If your pastor steps down because of gross error, do you continue to pay him? If not, this may be part of the reason he leaves, not because he was run off. Just because he is looking for another church to preach in. And then if he does find himself involved in very compromising sin, and doesn’t step down, what is the reason for that? Pride?
    I don’t know the answers. It’s just food for thought.

    • Kaye,

      Your comment that this process gets short-circuited because pastors are paid to pastor brings up a whole ‘nother issue. That’s one of the hindrances to restoration right there. Churches won’t pay to have their pastor restored! Shows how much the guy truly is an outsider.

  9. I think this is a serious issue in the church. I’m not sure you can hold the congregation completely responsible for their understanding of what a pastor is. The pastors and teachers are responsible to teach Scripture and correct errors, but growing up in the church and being in and out of leadership has brought me in contact with many pastors who obviously don’t want to be truly part of the body. They can sometimes act like the people in their church are their arch enemies, always on their guard against them. I realize that this is a real temptation, especially in traditional hire and fire churches but this shows the need for structuring churches in a Biblical way. We have adopted far too many worldly business mindsets and structures in the church and it’s time to get back to God’s way of doing things. I’ve written on similar topics on my own blog (for example one called “..not lording it over…” ) and am encouraged that others are beginning to long for a more loving church. Great post!

    • Julie,

      I studied Christian Education in college and despite all my classes on how to minister, the great void came in those areas of actually dealing with power struggles within churches—or any of the other “real life” idiocy that afflicts our churches.

      I don’t blame pastors for putting up a force field to protect themselves from their own congregations. Talk to some pastors some time about the things they have to do to protect themselves from their own flocks! That’s not the way it should be, though, and hints at the immaturity and pettiness that shows up in our pews.

      • I’m not unaware of these issues at all. My dad was a pastor who was kicked out of his first church (for refusing to compromise Biblical convictions) and my whole family was falling apart due to the abusive treatment of a church 5 years later when my father decided to leave ‘the ministry’ to protect his family. I think the whole structure is faulty and unbiblical, and we need to get back to Scripture to see what the church really is, what elders really are, and how God intended the church to be built. I was mainly trying to point out that there are sinful attitudes on both sides-pastors and congregations-further illustrating the truth that pastors are truly part of us. We are one body with one head. Maybe we all get mixed up about who the head is sometimes (when congregations think they are, and pastors think they are this equals power struggle).

  10. Tom

    I just want you to know that I agree with you about how the church tends to separate the preacher from the congregation. I now live in Michigan, but had lived for 13 years ministering to one congregation in Texas. We had our ups and downs, but I naively thought we were all brothers and sisters together … a true family of God.

    Without going into details, the congregation was subjected to what I can only describe as a “hostile take-over” bid from a couple of families who wanted to take this small country church and remold it into the image they wanted. In standing up against some serious error, an action that resulted in these families leaving, it seemed that all the support for myself and my family abruptly vanished.

    Suddenly we were pariahs, who needed to go so that the congregation could start over. In a congregation of 50, we now had only a couple willing to even talk with us. Not only that, but we actually had some effort made by a few to recover monies paid out to us over those 13 years because “obviously” they were wasted on us … and good stewardship demanded that we return “stolen’ funds to the church for them to use in replacing us.

    I have never felt lower than I did those months I was looking for a new place to preach. I found a place in Michigan, a congregation which itself had been through a betrayal experience. It is not perfect, and sometimes I look at things with suspicion … but I am learning that I can be supported by a group of elders who make it clear that the preacher is a human being as well.

    I don’t know where I will be if I have to go through this again. I certainly can see the issue is a real one. The preacher is almost never a part of the congregation in any real manner; and that is very sad.

    • Tom,

      I’m sorry to hear about your experience. The expectations we have grown up with in Evangelicalism the last hundred years have forced this rift. Until we revise how we view community with the American Church, I fear it will not change.

  11. Dave

    I’m coming into this late, so I don’t know if anyone will read this, but I thought that I would share a little here.

    1. I am coming from a large church perspective (400-1500 people) – I don’t believe that the congregation has very much to do with the shaping the minister. I have a lot of experience with ministers and I believe that ultimately, it’s the Seminary that has a much larger influence in the molding and shaping of a minister.

    2. I don’t like Seminary very much, I don’t mean that I tried it and failed, I mean that, I don’t like the idea of a person getting all of their training in an environment that is separate from where they will eventually work. But most of all and this is pretty much the central point of my reply, I believe that it’s in Seminary that a minister is ‘conditioned’ to separate themselves from the rest of the congregation or body.

    As we look for direction from the Word of God what do we see?

    Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

    3. There always seems to be a shortage of ordained ministers in a church. I believe that a church should have enough ordained persons as to take care of church business and it’s people in an eight hour work day. I DO NOT LIKE SEEING PASTORS AT THE CHURCH ALL THE TIME!!!
    My current pastor has just gotten a divorce, why? Well, it’s a no brainer, he was never at home. He also never has time to spend on anyone either.

    4. I believe that ministers tend to separate themselves deep down from everyone else. I’m just a layman and I need my Pastor. I need him to be my friend. I need him to counsel me and my family. I need him to listen to me and to know me and to shepherd me. I need him to check my sin, I need him to exhort me and admonish me. I need him to balance my theology and so on…….. Guess what? It’s been my experience that it is rare to find ministers like this.

    5. Ministers should stay in one church and again there should be more than one minister and their should also be dependable and trustworthy church leaders that should be active in the upkeep and the ministry of the church.

    6. But at the end of the day, we’re all fallible and it’s often very hard to do everything right. So I don’t worry to much about these things. I accept what goes on and focus on the good and edifying things that still exists and shines through the leadership and the body. There is no perfect church and ultimately we all need to look at Christ who is the head of the church for our direction and our comfort and guidance. I find that when I tend to look vertical, I have less of a tendency to worry about what is going on horizontally around me. 🙂

    In His grace,


    • One thing that has recently stood out to me in the ‘standards for overseers (Elders)’ is that of having a good reputation among outsiders. I wonder how many churches call up the co-workers of elder-elects and ask them about the person in question? When considering pastors, how many churches talk to the tellers, grocery store clerks or other people a pastor might run into on any given day, and ask them about the attitude that the pastor presents to the outside world? I think we would view our pastors differently if we considered them according to the view of the outsiders that they meet.

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  13. Steve

    Hi All,

    This is a great post as I am talking to someone who’s Pastor makes decisions that effect the flock with out discussing it with anyone. I asked her why don’t they say anything, or if the elders mentioned it and she said “He would not receive that well”. I think many churches give their pastors too muh power. In this case, the pastor was also the founder of the church, so I don’t know if that sceanrio has been listed here. I would hate any ministry to fail, but I wonder if someone who is used to being in charge of everything will easily let go of that power, repent and be the pastor God wants him to be. Please pray. Comments are welcome and appreciated!

    God Bless you all!


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