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6 Risky Habits That Can Lead Pastors To Moral Failure

moral failure

Over the years I’ve helped quite a number of churches, ministries and nonprofits navigate the confusing maze of communicating the news of the moral failure pastor or leader to the congregation, ministry partners, donors and the general public. Then my task becomes helping them craft and share a new vision for how the organization moves on past the crisis. My goal is to never allow a leader or staff member’s mistakes, pride, stupidity and sometimes criminal behavior to irreparably damage victims, including the innocent members, donors and supporters of that church or ministry.

During that time, I’ve discovered a certain pattern of behavior from leaders who fail. I’m not a psychologist or counselor, so I’m not addressing the sin, emotional problems, pride or other issues that lead to a moral collapse, but particularly in the case of pastors and ministry leaders, there are six types of risky conduct I’ve seen played out time and time again. These behaviors can sometimes go on for years, but I’ve noticed that at least one of them is almost always in play at the time of his or her fall.

1) Abusing Alcohol and/or Sleeping Pills – Especially if you’re a pastor, I can give you plenty of reasons never to drink at all. But having said that, I don’t believe the Bible prohibits alcohol, but it does clearly warn against getting drunk. The problem is, with booze, you don’t have to be drunk to do risky and stupid things. Plus, I’ve known pastors (or their wives) who became alcoholics, but wouldn’t dare tell anyone until it was too late. If you do drink, do it at home, or do it around trusted friends. And please don’t do it alone in places like a hotel bar where it’s often filled with attractive members of the opposite sex.

Sleeping pills can sometimes be worse, and the biggest offender seems to be Ambien. Early in my career after a long film shoot, my doctor proscribed Ambien to help me sleep on an international flight. When we changed planes in Brussels, it was all my poor wife Kathleen could do to drag me off the plane and into the airline lounge to sleep it off. That was my last experience with sleeping pills. There are incredibly bizarre stories of people on medications like Ambien, so the best advice is to avoid them altogether.

2) Crude or Sexualized Joking with Staff Members – Years ago, I was consulting with a large church, and during a staff meeting the pastor started trying to guess what color underwear the female staff members were wearing. I pulled the executive pastor outside and asked him what in the world just happened. His response? “Oh, everybody knows pastor is just a joker. It’s not a big deal.”

It was a big deal. Within a few months, he was forced to step down because of adultery. You don’t have to be a prude to know that crude or sexy jokes with staff members aren’t appropriate – especially in a church or ministry environment.

3) Spending Too Much Time Away From a Spouse – There are a lot of red flags when it comes to a deteriorating marriage, but a big one is too much time apart. One pastor preferred to enjoy a vacation home without the company of his wife. Another would go on long work trips alone without his wife. I’m not even a pastor, but while I’ll do 1-2 day trips without Kathleen, any longer and she’s coming with me.

Too much time away alone usually leads to spending too much time with a woman other than your wife. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a female staff member suddenly “promoted” to an important job that required lots of private time with the pastor. And of course one thing leads to another…

4) A Fascination with Pornography – In today’s digital, social media age, porn is everywhere. It’s online, incredibly easy to access and it’s impacting younger kids more than ever. When I was growing up, the Sears Catalog or the occasional National Geographic was a big deal. Today, statistics reveal just how early kids are being exposed to the most graphic sexual content.

And adult leaders can access it even more easily. I met a Navy Seal Team member who told me that whenever they captured high-level Muslim terrorists, they all had one thing in common: a huge stash of pornography. It’s almost as if being so radical in restricting women creates an unhealthy obsession with them.

I don’t know if it’s similar with pastors and ministry leaders, but I do know that far too many are watching this stuff regularly – and many are doing it right in their church or ministry office. And before you think it’s just a male problem, counselors and therapists are telling us they’re seeing a rise in women who are addicted as well.