Sadly, there are plenty of stories in the news these days about a lack of moral integrity in ministry. Is there something about ministry work that is contributing to the problem?
Craig Groeschel thinks so and he set out to change the culture at his church to address the problem. He talked about the changes on a ChurchLeaders podcast.
Groeschel is the founding pastor of Life.Church in Oklahoma. The church as 26 locations. He’s also the author of several best selling books.
Life.Church is 21 years old and Groeschel said in the first 10 years of the ministry there was only one moral failure. But in the last few years there has been a significant increase.
He blames several factors. One is pastor burnout. Twenty to 30 years ago churches only had one or two services. Life.Church now has up to nine services every week. As a result, pastors are working longer hours on the weekend away from family. The time away, workload and stress make people vulnerable.
There is more temptation available than ever before. He said 30 years ago access to pornography or inappropriate relationships was limited. Today, both are available via a smartphone in a pocket. He said we are primed for failure.
He set out to make changes in the culture of his church to be proactive.
One was with scheduling. Groeschel recognized that their model of ministry was difficult on marriages. With nine services a week pastors were working at a time when their families were home. So Life.Church completely rearranged the weekend schedule. Now pastors work far less on weekends, more volunteers are used, and pastors rotate off some weekends to give them more family time.
Premarital counseling for staff members is now mandatory, and when the counseling is finished the couple is assigned a mentor. Church staff also has access to free marital counseling. And when a new hire is being considered, the candidate’s spouse is also interviewed.
The church did away with the traditional idea of vacation days where a staff member has a set amount of time off. Life.Church tells its staff to take as much time as they need to be with family and they’re trusted not to abuse the policy.
Groeschel said they also set out to create an atmosphere where it’s safe to confess sin early.
“We’re afraid to confess our sins in the church, but that’s exactly what we need to do. We have to take away the fear. Some things you cannot do or you are disqualified but we are on your side and we want to help you conform to Christ. We must be transparent and vulnerable. If the church culture is one where we hide things, sin grows best in the dark.”
He said Life.Church offers a road for pastors to come forward with something they are struggling with instead of trying to handle it on their own. They aren’t fired, instead they’re offered counseling and help. He proudly says several have come forward and the church was able to bring healing and restoration “to salvage some that the devil could have taken out.” He adds, “We have to [do] these things today or we will be in trouble.”
Groeschel also talked about two personal disciplines he has to safeguard his own ministry.
First, he’s honest about his vulnerabilities. He said he is susceptible to pride so he has people in his life who will call him out when they see evidence of it.
And before Groeschel was saved he said he was involved in lustful activities. Even though he is now a believer, he puts safeguards on his computer to ensure that in a weak moment he won’t do something he regrets. He said safeguards show intentionality. “Why would I resist a temptation in the future that I have the power to eliminate today?”