I received an email recently from someone who is disheartened because their pastor was caught in a moral compromise. This church member is having trust issues now and wonders how to know if any pastor can be trusted. I was saddened by their disappointment and certainly share their hurt. It's justified. I did, however, jot down some thoughts for their reflection. Here's a summarized version of what I shared.
"Hi _______. I'm sorry that you had a pastor who didn't live up to his calling or commitment to his family, friends, and congregation. I share your disdain for the hypocrisy, but it's important that we don't judge the army by the deserters. In other words, there are 380,000 churches in the U.S. today; the vast majority of them are led by godly men and women who take their calling very seriously. The problem is that when any of them fail, it tends to generate a lot of publicity, which causes many to wrongly conclude that, "Maybe no pastor can truly be trusted." They also find themselves asking, "Why didn't I see this coming? Are there warning signs that I ignored? If so, what are some of them?"
I humbly offer a short list of expectations we can and should look for from pastors, along with an observation or two about each: 1. Are they authentic? Be stingy with your trust when the person who asks for it seems to lack authenticity. 2. Are they angry? Never implicitly follow a pastor who is angry. We pastors should never try to communicate the love of God with a red face and a clenched fist. If we do, beware. 3. What family dynamics are evident? Are we kind toward our spouse? Are we overly harsh and impatient with our children? 4. Do we seem obsessed with our physical appearance and the image we project? Do we have dozens of profile pics of ourselves on social media? 5. How do we treat the poor? Are we compassionate? Do we show partiality? (See James 2:1-13). 6. What is our social media presence like? Are we always ranting and raving online? 7. Do we lambaste and denigrate those who think differently than us politically? Worse than that, do we do it in the name of God? 8. Do we lack empathy for others viewpoints? Are we over- committed to our own opinions? 9. Do we exude the fruit of the Spirit? (See Galatians 5:22-23). Particularly the first and the last "fruit" in the list of nine? 10. What is our leadership style? If it isn't collaborative and methodical, be cautious, and rightly so. 11. Is there accountability in our lives? Do we talk about it? Pastors who are lone rangers, or who surround themselves with "yes" men/women, are an accident waiting to happen. 12. How do we interact with the opposite sex? Are we flirtatious? Do we linger too long in a conversation? In social settings, do we gaze inappropriately at members of the opposite sex? Do we speak negatively about our spouse? Our marriage?
It's certainly possible to grow spiritually under the tutelage of someone who is gifted at teaching the Bible, but we need to evaluate more than their teaching abilities. Over the years I've counseled many "fallen" pastors who had excellent study habits and were very effective teachers, but I would say that all of them, at some level, lacked personal integrity, accountability, or strong self-discipline...and they simply didn't slam the door shut in the early stages of temptation. Worse than that, they weren't aware of how desperately they needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit on a daily basis--i.e. they depended on their own strength way too much. (Rom. 8:6-11; Rom. 5:18)
Being a pastor is a terribly challenging job. A mentor of mine once described it as the "calling of an inadequate person to an impossible task for an indefinite period of time." Good insight. In addition to that, I believe that another common challenge for pastors is that people admire us at a distance and don't really know us. That quite often leads to many unrealistic expectations and misunderstandings.
All I know for sure about us pastors is that we all deserve to go to hell, but for the amazing grace and steadfast love of God. We should never pretend otherwise. By the way, that's true of you too. You and I should play only to an audience of One, and we should both walk daily in close fellowship with the Holy Spirit. My experience has been that the vast majority of pastors do these things. The ones who don't, unfortunately, are the ones who make the headlines.
To my many friends who follow Jesus, and to my many friends who haven't yet made that life-changing commitment, please accept my apologies on behalf of Jesus and His Church...but don't allow the failures of those you once trusted to keep you from ever trusting again. You're better than that.