Monday, June 8, 2009

Thoughts on Pastoral Falls

Gary Lamb confessed this week of an affair with his assistant. He has followed his elders' request for his resignation. He was the pastor of Revolution Church in Canton, GA.

I don't know Gary Lamb. I've read his blog a few times and his Twitter feed, but I've never listened to his messages and don't know much about his church. What follows will not be about Gary Lamb. But he's a prominent voice and influential leader in the evangelical landscape right now, and his confessed sin has brought the surrounding issues back into the spotlight in a way they haven't been since Ted Haggard's "fall."

Some thoughts and suggestions:

- Pastors aren't holy and fall when they have affairs (or get caught surfing p()rn or something). We "fall" because we're sinners.

- Pastors, if you're gonna have an assistant -- especially one that spends lots of time with you outside the office and/or traveling -- get a dude. I know dudes don't usually want to do "assistant" work or get paid what assistants get paid, but find a young guy who would see it as a way to serve and maybe learn ministry. Turn it into an internship sort of thing. I don't know. Just find a dude. Or an old lady.

- Gary Lamb didn't wake up one morning and randomly decide to sleep with his assistant. They both gave up ground along the way, choosing lesser compromises that led to bigger ones.

- The usual "hedges" make sense: Don't meet alone or be in the church/office alone with people of the opposite sex, have regular accountability with brothers in Christ, have Internet filters or accountability software installed on your computer, etc.

- No hedge gets at what's in your heart -- meaning, modifying your behavior without transforming your heart won't make you less of a sinner -- but hedges are your way of repenting of what you know is in your heart. And preempting wherever your heart may lead you.

- People, if you think your pastor is spending too much time or acting too flirtatiously with someone who isn't his wife, tell him. Gently, respectfully. Maybe there's nothing there, but you might be saving lives. Don't gossip about it. Ask him about it.

- People love extremes. When something like this happens, one crowd is so enthusiastic about grace they tend to forget about victims and they tend to immediately expect restoration to ministry, etc. The other crowd is so enthusiastic about discipline they forget about grace, become bitter, and write everybody off. The right way lay somewhere in the middle. There should pretty much be zero talk of Lamb's "next step" in the ministry. He needs to work at restoring his marriage and walking in repentance. His family needs healing. If he needs a job, he should not look at ministry for a long while. On the other hand, "for a long while" is not "forever." Maybe it is. But it is not necessarily.

- If you've got a little church where the pastor does pretty much everything, he's in danger. Stress + fatigue leads to utter weakness against temptation.

- If you've got a big church where the pastor runs the show and has little accountability or connection with others, he's in danger. Power + lack of accountability leads to egomania, sense of entitlement, etc.

- Gary Lamb is in the spotlight, so he's who we talk about. This isn't about him. It's about his wife, and if his assistant was married, it's about her husband. One of the several problems with cheap grace is that it ignores victims. It is possible to be so merciful to sinners that we forget mercy for those they've hurt. (I saw this vividly in action in "cottage meetings" about a pastor's firing at a previous church. Hours of evidence laid out about verbal and emotional abuse of staff, and at the end all several people cared about was how do we comfort the abuser? No mention of "Hey, how can we minister to the victims left in his wake?" It's twisted, but it shows where our interest lies.)

- Pray.

- Gospel gospel gospel.

Some stats from various places:
1. Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.

2. Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.

3. 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.

4. Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within 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.

5. Ninety percent said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be before they entered the ministry.

6. Seventy percent felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry, only fifty percent still felt called.

7. Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.


Bird said...

Gary Lamb didn't wake up one morning and randomly decide to sleep with his assistant. They both gave up ground along the way, choosing lesser compromises that led to bigger ones.

That is the truth. That's why we're supposed to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Sin is deceptive, and, as James says, we deceive ourselves on top of that.

Good post ... and a very important issue in our sex-saturated culture.

Joe B said...

Let me demonstrate why hardly anybody likes me...

Jared, you point to some deep stuff on this topic. But there's something else, and there's something deeper.

Pastors often throw themselves into meaningless vanity disguised as Christianity. Programs and entrepreneurial religion that have really very little to do with Jesus' call to enter and follow in the kingdom of God. These folks are prone to living heathen lives in holy robes, following the worldly way of power and accomplishment rather than the way of Jesus (even in the small pond of a tiny church.)

These folks are not only susceptible to temptation--they have long since succumbed to the religion-endorsed twin scandals of ambition and pride, applauded by the whole community of "faith" who set them up for their fall. The proud are already living in adultery, because they have chosen the way of this world rather than the cross of Christ Jesus.

Then (as I think you pointed out), the same people who cheered the man along in these naked sins will stand by in feigned, pious shock when he also drops his trousers.

I'll tell you what. I'll sooner trust an adulterer who's merely come to his senses than I will an ambitious and prideful "man of God" whom everyone still adores.

I'm not saying that humble people cannot stumble into adultery too, they can. But I will also say that humilty is the best cootie-spray for sin that was ever invented. Pride goeth before a fall.

All in my humble opinion, of course.

Ron Edmondson said...

I agree with you Jared. We have similar thoughts on this:

Jason Morrison said...

I listened to this past Sunday's message from Revolution Church (about 35 minutes) and thought the speaker did a very good job addressing this issue and all involved.

Anonymous said...

You know-the stats you share, at the end of this article, is why I no longer trust most professional clergy. The fact that 50% are willing to admit that they would leave ministry if they "could" is just a disservice to the body of Christ.

These pastors that teach about truth and yet-most are not willing to be truthful with their congregations that they no longer desire to be in ministry.

Luke said...

Good suggestions here. A lot of pastors are catching on the accountability software idea, that's for sure: