Stressed Out Pastors, Crazy Sins, and the Death of Pastor Zach Tims

(This post has not been edited for errors.)

Hands down the most stressed out people I know are pastors.

Very few people understand the size & scope of the stress that pastors carry, but it is pretty extreme.  Pastors carry…

  • The financial stress & uncertainty of a high level entrepreneur
  • The responsibilities of a school teacher as they teach the fundamentals of the faith
  • The weight of a psychiatrist as everyone shares their deepest, darkest secrets and problems and expect solutions
  • The burden of an artist that weekly crafts a freshly creative message for all to see and hear (and critique)

I could go on and on.  I didn’t even mention the public pressure and scrutiny that pastors and their families receive.  Over the past year, my wife & I have had people publicly question if we took too many vacations, received too high of a salary, spent too much time helping Haiti, and more.  It’s a lot of pressure and I am not even talking about the regular pressure of paying bills, raising kids, being married, etc.

Here is what I also know and what we have to discuss…

Pastors are often very broken people with painful pasts.  They often become pastors because they have a keen awareness that they need God just to get through the day.  Let me speak for myself here…

I became a Christian after being assaulted, abused, and ridiculed as a teenager.  The church community embraced me during a very hard time in my life.  Soon, out of this brokenness, I decided that I wanted to lead other broken, hurting people into the same relationship with God that saved me.

Did God rescue me? YES!  But the pain from my past was still real and has taken me years to overcome.  In fact, some things that I do today, good and bad, still come from this painful place.

This was the story of Pastor Zach Tims (found dead last week).  He was such a gifted, encouraging dude.  He spoke openly of being addicted to drugs as a teenager, spending serious time behind bars for crimes he committed as a juvenile, and how God rescued him from those things. And this was true. But the pain from our past and the present pain inside of our hearts has a way of finding its way back into our lives in very crazy ways if we are not careful.

I met Zach Tims and the one thing that I really took away from meeting him was how crazy he was about his wife and kids.  He spoke about them glowingly and it was real.  I saw him interact w/ his wife and they were clearly very, very close and Pastor Zach spoke of how hard he would work to be home every single night to tuck the kids into bed.

So then, two years ago, when it came out that Pastor Zach had a year long affair with a stripper from London, I was stumped at first.  Why would he do this to his family?  Why would he risk throwing away the ministry that he loved so much?  The gut reaction is to wonder how he could be so hurtful to his family and to the church, but that’s the wrong path to go down.

Zach Tims already had a beautiful wife.  You don’t have an affair with a stripper because she’s hot.  You have an affair with a stripper because something is very wrong with you and here is where it gets tricky.  Pastor Tims was, in part, such a great preacher and pastor because he could relate to what it meant to need God in hard times because he had been through them and WAS GOING THROUGH THEM.

Pastoral Stress + Unresolved Issues from the Past = High likelihood of Crazy Sins

I have seen this at least 15 times in the past few years with very high profile pastors – many of them were my friends and college classmates – and I think we will continue to see it unless we deal with some of the root issues at hand.

While it is being speculated that Pastor Zach died from some type of drug overdose, we don’t know.  What we know is that he was 42 and died in his hotel room.  Here is what we also knew before he died…

Pastor Tims was under a HUGE amount of pastoral stress, he had major issues from his past that were not resolved, and he had crazy sins that nearly took him under.

Instead of removing the pastoral stress, it appears to me that Pastor Tims started working 2-3 times as hard as he was before he had an affair.  He preached more, traveled more, was on TV more, etc.

In essence Zach increased his pastoral stress, created less time to deal with unresolved issues, and now he is dead.  And while I think we are all responsible for our own decisions, I think a lot of people hold at least a little bit of responsibility for killing Pastor Zach.

In his eulogy of Pastor Zach on Saturday, Bishop TD Jakes said,

“I thought I was the only one who knew how unhappy Zach was, how broken he was, how afraid he was if anybody was to see any flaw in him. He tried hard to heal himself, to fix himself.”

But I think we all saw this and we kept inviting him to speak at our church, preach at our conference, appear on our TV special.  Like most pastors, Zach obviously had a hard time saying no to anything and the world put more and more and more pressure on him and behind the scenes this dude was dying on the inside.  He was divorced from his wife, separated from his 4 kids, and was so broken, but we kept saying “AMEN” and “Preach Pastor” and he held out as long as he could.

What makes this so doggone hurtful is that so many leaders this past week spoke of Pastor Zach being their best friend, spiritual son, favorite preacher, etc.  Maybe his death wasn’t preventable, maybe those folk were all in his business and he ignored them.  I really don’t know.  I know it’s tragic and I know that the enemy is so pleased right now because of all of this.

Since I like solutions, here are a few thoughts I have on how we can better handle stressed out pastors, crazy sins, and the death of Pastor Zach Tims.

1. We should talk about all of these things so much more.  Publicly. Privately. In forums.  In seminary.  In church services.

2. We should not pretend like the death of Pastor Zach is normal. It wasn’t.  We can still honor him and discuss this issue and we should.

3. More resources and support systems have to exist for stressed out pastors. The ones that are available have to be better known.

4. When pastors exhibit stress through crazy sins, they should consider being removed altogether or taking a very long time away so that they can deal with the root issues of their stress and sin.  It is not enough just to go away until the smoke clears if you haven’t dealt with your stress.

5. Friends & “spiritual fathers” need to be all in the business of their friends and “sons”. High-fives and hugs are not enough.  We need invasive conversations with one another way more often.

In the end, I just know we can all do so much better.  I hope this post is received in the kind spirit in which I intended it for Pastor Tims, Bishop Jakes, and others.

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Shaun King
A techie-humanitarian, Shaun King is widely regarded as one of today’s leading voices on how social media and a little bit of courage can make our world a radically better place. He speaks a message of hope and action over 150 times a year, has appeared in dozens of national press outlets, and is the founder of TwitChange, aHomeInHaiti, and Courageous Church in Atlanta, GA.