Archive for the ‘Reputation’ category

Moral Failure part 2

June 4, 2012

The Rural Ministry Blog is currently exploring the fact that every month 1,500 pastors leave the ministry due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention within the church. In my last post we looked at moral failure, specifically moral failure as it relates to adultery.  Today I want to continue the topic of moral failure, but the area in which I want to focus is one that will be uncomfortable for many of you – pornography. XXX Church, one of the nation’s leading organizations dedicated to helping people overcome pornography addictions, calls porn “the elephant in the pew.”  It’s a huge issue, we know it’s there, but we refuse to acknowledge it.

One of the biggest issues with pornography today is the ease of access.  It used to be that you had to go to a store and risk getting caught to obtain porn, but today it’s as close, and as private, as your nearest Internet connection.  It is estimated that there are over 4.2 million pornographic websites, which means that porn makes up about 12% of all websites.  The effects of this are hard to ignore – 42.7% of all Internet users admit to viewing pornography.  53% of Promise Keeper men admitted to viewing pornography within the last week, and 47% of Christians state that pornography is a problem in the home.  On top of that, a survey done in 2002 showed that 30% of all pastors admitted to viewing pornography within the last 30 days.

Not only are pastors not immune to the dangers of porn, I would go so far as to say that pastors are in more danger than the average person.  Why do I say that?  Think about it for a minute.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  If the devil could get the average person to stumble with pornography, there would be maybe a dozen or so lives affected (spouse, children, close friends, etc).  However, if a pastor falls in the area of pornography, there are literally hundreds of lives affected (spouse, children, close friends, congregation, community, etc.).  If you were the devil, where would you concentrate your efforts?

It’s obvious that porn is a problem, but how do we as pastors deal with it in our personal lives?  I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are some suggestions to start with.

1. Stop making excuses – If we are making excuses, then we do not think what we are doing is wrong.  If we do not think that what we are doing is wrong, then we can’t repent.  If we can’t repent, especially as spiritual leaders, then we are in a world of hurt, and the ministry that God has called us to will never be as effective as it could be.

Another excuse to get rid of is the whole “they’re not naked so it’s not porn” or “it’s not porn, it’s art” argument.  The bottom line is that no matter what form it takes, if it stimulates someone sexually, it’s porn.

2. Be cautious with your time – The temptation to look at porn grows exponentially when we are bored or stressed.  Stay focused on the tasks at hand, and if you find yourself getting stressed or bored, make sure you are not alone (you are much less likely to look at porn if someone else is around)

3. Find accountability – This is one battle that you cannot fight alone.  I’ve spoken with countless Christians that felt if they just prayed harder and read the Bible more they could overcome their problem with porn, however in every single instance this strategy failed.  The only way these people found victory was through honest accountability with another believer.  I am convinced that one of the devil’s biggest weapons is secrecy.  Admitting your problem to someone else brings the issue out of the darkness and into the light where it can be dealt with.  An accountability partner is someone who will ask the hard questions and be there to help you through times of temptation.

I must admit that accountability can be a tough issue with most pastors.  Who can we go to for accountability?  For obvious reasons it is not a wise idea to go to someone in your church.  Unless you have a VERY strong marriage I also do not recommend going to your spouse for accountability.  So, where can we go?  This is where the power of prayer comes in.  Scripture is clear that if we need wisdom, ask God.  Trust the Holy Spirit to reveal to you who would make a good accountability partner.

4. Install filtering/accountability software – There are many content filtering/accountability packages on the market, and although they are not foolproof it is a good idea to have one installed.  I recommend K9 Web Protection, a free content filter, and X3Watch, an accountability program with both free and paid options.

When it comes to the topic of pornography, it’s not a question of if I’m going to deal with it, but how I’m going to deal with it.  Statistically speaking, you have probably already failed a few times.  Fortunately, the grace and mercy of God is there for us, but we still must come up with a plan of action.

How can we as pastors insure we do not fall into the trap of pornography addiction? What are some helpful strategies you have used? Why do you think this issue is so often ignored in churches?  Leave a comment below.

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Moral Failure part 1

April 2, 2012

In my last post I mentioned the fact that 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention within the church.  I don’t know about you, but I find these numbers to be pretty scary!  Here we are in a world that is lost and dying, yet those of us who are supposed to be leading the charge and training up others for the works of the ministry appear to be dropping like flies.  This is unacceptable and has to stop.  In my next few posts I will be dealing with this issue on the Rural Ministry blog.  Today I want to specifically address the issue of moral failure.

Moral failure can be defined in several ways.  There’s the obvious issue of adultery (or fornication for our unmarried readers), but it doesn’t stop there.  Moral failure also includes things like inappropriate non-sexual relationships and pornography.  None of us entered the ministry planning on having a moral failure.  In fact, I bet the vast majority of us even stated that it would never happen to us.  The first thing we must do to insure it never happens to us is to admit that it could happen to us.  I can’t begin to tell you how many couples I’ve spoken with in the past that were dealing with the issue of adultery that said “I never thought I could do something like that.”  We must realize that, given the right set of circumstances, anyone is capable of anything.

How do we protect ourselves against adultery?  There is one thing necessary for someone to commit adultery – opportunity.  If you eliminate the possibility of opportunity, you virtually eliminate the possibility of adultery.  This, however, is easier said than done.  I’ve heard many pastors say that they are never alone with members of the opposite sex that they are not related to.  While in theory I agree with this concept completely, reality can often times be different.  If you are in a large church, with multiple staff members and set office hours, this can be fairly easy to accomplish.  In rural ministry, however, we do not always have the luxury of staff members and office hours can be sporadic.  Even if we do have staff, that does not mean that they are always present.  I am fortunate enough to have an associate pastor and a secretary, yet there have been many times that I have been alone at church when a woman walks in.  Sometimes it’s someone needing to talk, sometimes it’s a church volunteer coming to do work, sometimes my associate pastor is out and it’s just me and my secretary.  So even though I do my best to avoid being alone with females, on occasion it happens.

So what do we do?  How do we make sure that we do not fail in this area?  Here is a list of suggestions:

1. Make sure you have a strong marriage.  I have spoken with many people over the years that have committed adultery.  In almost every instance, the person had a need that was not being met by their spouse.  That person then started to have that need met by someone else and suddenly things started to progress.  What started out as something seemingly innocent ended up in adultery.  Quite frankly, if my emotional and physical needs are being met by my spouse, I will not have the need or the desire to go anywhere else.  If you are concerned about your marriage, please do your family, your ministry, and yourself a favor by getting help.  If you do not know where to turn, contact me and I can help you find the resources you need.

2. Don’t be stupid. This may sound harsh, but it is a valid warning.  Even though we realize that being alone with a member of the opposite sex is sometimes unavoidable, we also need to be smart about these situations.  Do not purposely seek out a situation in which you will be alone with a member of the opposite sex.  If it happens, it happens, but do not intentionally cause this situation.  Doing so is just simply asking for trouble.

3. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. This may seem obvious, but all too often we can get swept up in the moment and forget to listen to the Holy Spirit.  Only the Holy Spirit knows who is innocently seeking advice and who might have ulterior motives.  Only the Holy Spirit knows which people are emotionally needy and will get an unhealthy attachment to you.  Stay sensitive to the Holy Spirit and respond accordingly to any cautions and warnings.

4. Stay accountable. I try to keep my wife informed when I have met with a female alone.  I tell her who it was, when it was, where it was, and generally the content of our conversation.  I know that some of you are thinking “but what about confidentiality?” In situations like this, I inform the female ahead of time that I will be sharing our conversation with my wife, and only my wife.  I’ve never had anyone complain about that policy, but if I did, I am not sure that I would continue the conversation

One final caution: We need to remember that all it takes is suspicion, not proof, to ruin our reputation.  Do not allow yourself to be put in a situation where suspicions could rise.

How about you – what guidelines have you put in place to avoid moral failure?  Leave a comment below.

Your Safety Comes First

February 16, 2012

Fire helmetI’ve been involved in volunteer Fire and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) since I was a teenager. This has allowed me a very natural way to become part of my community and I am currently serving our local volunteer fire department as the first assistant chief as well as being an EMT with the ambulance. It is often said in Fire and EMS that your own safety must come first. It’s very easy to focus only on the immediate problem at hand and forget about looking for potential hazards. It’s natural to look only at the victim trapped in the wrecked car and not see the live electrical lines from the broken utility pole lying nearby. It’s natural to see only the burning building and ignore the propane tank that could possibly explode. If I do not look for, and take action against, possible dangers, then I myself could become a victim. If I become a victim, then that means I cannot help whomever it was that I came to help. If I become a victim, that also means the resources that were intended to help someone else now need to be used to help me. If I want to be an effective firefighter, then I must make sure that my own safety comes first.

The same thing could easily be said for those of us in rural ministry. Our own safety must come first if we wish to help those around us. Obviously we don’t have to worry about live electrical lines or exploding propane tanks, but there are hazards that are just as real and potentially just as dangerous. Recent statistics show that approximately 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention within the church. These issues are very preventable, as long as they are recognized and dealt with properly. The problem is that we can sometimes be so focused on the crisis at hand that we do not realize the dangers and run the risk of becoming victims ourselves.

When we become victims, we cannot help those to whom we are called to help. When we become victims, resources that were intended to help others must now be used to help us. And unlike many instances in Fire and EMS, the consequences of us as rural ministers becoming victims often leads to negative eternal consequences for those we are supposed to help. It is paramount that we take the necessary steps to insure our own safety while we fulfill God’s call on our life.

None of us entered the ministry thinking that we would have a moral failure or burn out, yet it’s happening to 1,500 of us each month. Of course we never think it will happen to us, it’s always the “other pastor.” One of the first things we must realize is that we are not infallible. That the laws of life and ministry apply to us just as much as the next pastor. Over the next three weeks we will be taking a look at the big three safety hazards of pastors (moral failure, burn out, and contention within the church) and what we can do to effectively deal with these problems.

I know that the whole concept of “your safety comes first” seems to contradict what we’ve always been taught. I’m sure all of us have heard at one time or another the lesson on J.O.Y. Which, of course, stands for Jesus, Others, You. If I put my own safety first, does that mean that I’m putting myself before others? Not at all. I would argue that in order to consistently put others before ourselves that we must put our safety first. We must make sure that our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being is where it needs to be before we can ever hope to effectively serve others.

What about you? What potential dangers do you see in your ministry and what steps can be taken to avoid them? Leave a comment below.

Lessons from JoePa

January 25, 2012

I’m sure that all of you who are college football fans, and many of you who are not, have heard about the death this last weekend of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. Joe Paterno, affectionately called JoePa, was truly a living legend. JoePa was the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions for 46 years, held the record for the most wins by any NCAA division one football coach, and is the only division one coach to have over 400 victories. JoePa lead the Nittany Lions in five undefeated seasons, and in 2007 was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In addition to these accomplishments JoePa was well known for his emphasis on high moral conduct among his players, as well as encouraging their academic success. JoePa was also well loved off the football field and held in very high regard in his community.

There is no doubt in my mind that JoePa was one of the greatest football coaches that ever lived. Yet despite all of his success on and off the field, there will always be a shadow hanging over his name. In November of 2011, JoePa’s longtime assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested on allegations of child sex abuse. As the story unfolded, we discovered that JoePa was made aware of these allegations. According to reports, JoePa passed the information along to two university officials and then did nothing more concerning the situation. The report was apparently swept under the rug. After these details came to light, Penn State University fired JoePa for his inaction. No matter how many great things JoePa did, his name will forever be remembered as the man who only did the “minimum.” The allegations against Jerry Sandusky were not fully exposed and addressed as they should have been.

The point that I’m trying to make is that all the great things accomplished by JoePa were dwarfed by one poor decision.

This makes me think of a quote that I heard several years ago, “it can take years to build a good reputation, and only one poor decision to ruin it.” This principle is greatly magnified in the world of Rural Ministry. In urban areas, it’s much easier to remain anonymous, and poor decisions can often times be easily hidden. In contrast, when you live in the sticks everyone knows everybody. In addition to everyone knowing everybody, they also tend to know everybody’s business. As I said in my first Rural Ministry blog post, “You know you’re in a rural church if there is no such thing as a secret sin.” I meant it as a joke, but there is a lot of truth in the statement as well.

As rural ministers, we need to make sure that we do everything we can to maintain a good reputation. This doesn’t mean that we need to be perfect, but we do need to be cautious. We need to make sure that we do not allow ourselves to be put in potentially compromising situations. We need to conduct ourselves in ways that honor God and show His love to others. We need to be honest in our dealings, and transparent in our lives. We need to live our lives as if there was no such thing as a secret. And, if we ever find ourselves in a situation like JoePa, we need to make sure that we do everything within our power to protect the innocent.

What are some ways that we can make sure we maintain a good reputation? If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation like Joe Paterno, how did it make you feel? Leave a comment below.