Geoff Surratt wrote the following true but scary blog:
An open letter to pastors
This weekend Gary Lamb, one of the more popular pastors in the social networking world, admitted that he has been in an ongoing affair with his assistant. Following the direction of his church Overseers he resigned from the church he planted five years ago effective immediately. The damage his actions caused will continue for many years in the lives of hundreds of people. I do not know Gary personally but I have followed him on Twitter for the past year and have read his blog occasionally. I have no comment on his specific situation other than to say I am praying for his family, his church, the woman he has been involved with and for Gary.
I do, however, want to comment on pastors shipwrecking their lives and the lives of their families. I have been involved in ministry all of my life, the past 27 as a staff member or pastor at three different churches, and I have seen stories like Gary's over and over. The details vary, but the end result is the same; total devastation. The key question is not what happened, but rather how can we avoid the same fate. Here are some random thoughts:
- If you think you aren't vulnerable, you are already toast
I had a counseling professor in college who said that the pastors who are in the most danger of a moral shipwreck are the ones who think it will never happen to them. If you think you are too honest, too faithful, or too transparent to ever be involved in an affair you are skating on very thin ice. David never thought he'd sleep with Bathsheba until he saw her naked; then he couldn't think of anything else. You can steal money, you can get involved in pornography, you can cheat on your spouse, and you can lie to your family. Every day of our lives we have to remind ourselves we are vulnerable to complete moral failure.
- If you think you can burn the candle at both ends, you are already toast
There are no super humans in ministry. When I read twitters of pastors who get up at 4:00 a.m. every day, who work seven days a week, who counsel people at night and on their "day off", I know that they are headed for a fall. God took a day off when he was creating the world, Jesus took a beach trip to Tyre and Sidon (Mark 7:24) during his ministry. Unless you know something God doesn't know you are headed for a major fall without regular downtime
If you think you can do ministry without accountability, you are already toast
The only "conversation" I ever had with Gary Lamb was a Twitter exchange over the importance of an accountability group. Gary felt that the Overseers of his church provided all the accountability he needed. My contention is that we need people who are face-to-face with us on a regular basis, who know our wives and our assistants, who can ask us the really tough questions. I don't know if the Overseers provided that for Gary or if a local group would have prevented his fall, but I do know that I need that kind of scrutiny in my life.
If you think you don't need safeguards, you are already toast
Filters on internet access, never handling cash for the church, never meeting with someone of the opposite sex alone, letting others have access to your email; these are such a pain and to be honest I don't always have all of them active in my life. The reality is that safeguards will not keep you from doing what you have already decided to do, but they can give you enough margin to change your mind before you act.
- If you think it's about you, you are already toast
Failure begins with ego. When you begin to think that success is because you are smart, funny, talented, cool or a 100 other adjectives and not simply because God is God and has chosen to bless you; you are headed down a very dangerous path. When you being to think the ministry will crumble without you and that you have to work 24/7 to make it happen you are headed toward destruction. When you think the rules stop applying to you and you can cut corners and you are above it you are on a crash course for disaster.
As ministers we are in a marathon. If you do not pay attention to the danger signs along the way you will crash before the finish line. Your crash may be a spectacular moral failure like Gary's, it may be the slow destruction of your marriage, or it may be the rotting of your soul; but Satan will use ministry to destroy you. And God will not say to you in Heaven, "Too bad about your family, but awesome job building a great big church. Fist bump, dude."
Three things every pastor needs to do:
- Slow down
- You will not change the world today and tomorrow isn't looking good either. There is plenty of time to hang with your wife, play with your kids, play golf, relax. God was at work long before you showed up and He will be at work long after you are gone. You cannot live on adrenaline all of the time. You cannot be pumped up about every weekend. If you live that way for an extended time you will crash.
- Open up
You need someone in your life who knows you inside and out; someone who will ask the hard questions and know when you are ducking the answers. It is difficult as a pastor to find someone you can be truly honest with, but it is essential that you find that person. Another pastor who does not attend your church might be ideal.
- Count the cost
Every time you are tempted to break a rule, to cut a corner, to go somewhere you shouldn't go consider what it will cost you when it all comes to light. What is going to happen when your wife finds out? How will she feel? What will it do to your children? What will this do to your church? How will it feel to write a letter like Gary had to write?
You don't wake up one day and decide to shipwreck your life. You do it one stupid decision at a time. As someone who has seen this happen again and again and again I am begging you to take action today because it will happen to you.