Posted tagged ‘Reputation’

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.

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.

What are you Communicating?

February 3, 2012

I once read a quote that said “everything you do communicates.”  While I don’t know if I agree that everything I do communicates, I do know that I communicate a lot through my words, my actions, my body language, and my appearance.  Not only does this apply to me personally, but also to my church.  My church communicates through everything from its cleanliness to its advertising, signage, and the friendliness of its people.

There was an incident that took place last year that really drives this point home.  I was traveling along an interstate highway and noticed a church that had several red, white, and blue painted buses parked in the parking lot. The thing that really grabbed my attention was a huge sign that read “Patriotic, Fundamentalist, King James” along with their service times.  I couldn’t help but sadly shake my head and say a quick prayer for this church.  Why?  Because of what that sign was communicating.  What do I mean by that statement?  Let’s take a closer look at the three phrases on the sign.

Patriotic – To many people, myself included, this is a very positive word.  I love my country, and feel very blessed to have been born in the good ol’ US of A.  But that’s just me.  What about foreigners?  Would they read the word “patriotic” and look at the red white and blue buses and feel like they would be welcome?  My guess would be no.

Fundamentalist – This is a word that can mean different things to different groups of people.  Within Christian circles it tends to mean something along the lines of “Independent Baptist.”  To the world it often carries a different meaning altogether.  When many hear the word “fundamentalist,” they think of the fanatics that blow up abortion clinics, or maybe those people we see on the news protesting at the funerals of soldiers and homosexuals.  This is not the kind of imagery we want attached to our churches.

King James – You and I both know that this statement simply means that this particular church uses the King James translation of the Bible.  While this has meaning to those of us already in the family of God, to the average non-Christian it would mean absolutely nothing.  I can just imagine them scratching their head and wondering “Who’s King James?”

It may sound like I’m blasting this church, but that is certainly not my intention.  I do not know anything about the church or their impact on the Kingdom.  What has me concerned is that their sign was obviously directed towards those who are already believers – specifically those believers who are patriotic, fundamentalist, and prefer the King James translation.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, my thoughts keep coming back to the lost.  There was nothing about that sign that would attract a non-believer, and plenty about it that would push them away.  We cannot lose sight of the primary mission of the church, which is the fulfillment of the Great Commission.  In pursuing this mission, we must never water down the message of the Gospel, but we do need to make sure we are communicating that message effectively.  Our churches should be places which attract the lost and in which the lost would feel welcome.

What message is your church communicating through its appearance, advertising, community presence, etc.? What things could we do to attract the lost without compromising our beliefs?  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.