Why Pastors Fall
By Steve Gallagher
Over the past 15 years, the church in America has been rocked by numerous sexual scandals within the roles of its leadership. A great number of ministers have fallen prey to the temptress of sexual sin. Surely Solomon spoke the truth when he said, “For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her.” (Proverbs 7:26 KJV)
In a misguided attempt to explain this on-going phenomena, there have been those who have used 1 Corinthians 10:12, “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall,” to support their theory that it can happen to anybody. “After all, even David fell,” goes their argument. The real culprit is the devil who brought such an overwhelming temptation that the poor minister couldn’t help himself.
While it is true that the enemy is a master at setting believers up for temptation, just as true is the fact God has empowered His people to overcome the allurements of sin. There are definite identifiable factors involved when a minister falls into illicit sexual activity.
To correctly interpret Paul’s admonition to “take heed,” it is important to see the context behind his statement. The 10th chapter of 1 Corinthians is taken up with the story of the Israelites living in the wilderness: “And do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer (verses7-10).
The overriding point of this chapter is to show the importance of living in obedience to God. The Jewish people had given themselves over to Egyptian idolatry. Their lives were characterized by carnality and worldliness. Because of their consistent refusal to repent, they were judged severely by the Lord. Having established the fact they were leading ungodly lifestyles, Paul uttered his warning: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” This is not a warning written to those who live godly lives but to those who have filled their lives with idolatry and immorality. While it is true that every human has a fallen nature and is prone to the enticements of sin, none need do so. Paul went on to say: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (verse 10:13).
Paul’s point is precisely the opposite of those who claim that anybody can fall at anytime. Although it is right to pray for, believe the best about, encourage and support those who have fallen into sexual sin, it is wrong to excuse their behavior under the premise that it can happen to anybody. People don’t just “fall” into sin, as if they were walking along a path in the dark and suddenly — through no fault of their own — fall into a hole. There is a reason why it happens. People are vulnerable to temptation when their daily lives are not lined up with God’s Word.
The Fall of David
The “Sweet Psalmist” of Israel was 50-years old when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. The sight of him leering at her from his rooftop, arranging for her to come to his chambers, seducing her, and then having her husband killed must have been enough to make angels sit down and weep. What a blow it was to the Kingdom of God. How could it happen?
David had a unique hunger for the Lord from the time he was a boy tending sheep out in the wilderness. This was enhanced as he spent time with Samuel and deepened during his years of running for his life from Saul. Undoubtedly David was hitting his spiritual peak when he became king at the age of 30. Unfortunately, the power, prosperity and carnal indulgences such a position afforded him began to take their toll upon his walk with God.
By the time he had his affair, he had been king for 20 years. David had become so soft and pampered that he no longer even went out to battle with his men. He luxuriated in the palace while they laid siege to Ammon. David — who had once walked so closely with God — had gradually slipped away from the Lord in his heart. Years of indulging his flesh had left him spiritually weak. It was then that the devil presented the temptation. It is highly doubtful that David would have done such a thing when he was walking closely with God. We see the same thing in his life as was true of the Israelites in the wilderness: One’s daily life sets the stage for either victory or defeat with the temptations that are sure to come our way.
It is true — if it could happen to David it could happen to anybody. However, the real issue was not so much what he did with Bathsheba and Uriah, but what was going on in his heart prior to this. Those acts were simply the out-working of his inward life. Undoubtedly David maintained a pretence of devotion to Jehovah, but the reality was that he had long since slid away from that place of intimacy he had once enjoyed with Jehovah. In fact, he was so backslidden that he stayed in sin with Bathsheba for 9 months before Nathan’s confrontation jolted him into reality. Psalm 32, which he wrote after he came to his senses, describes his state of mind during that time.
The Dangers Pastors Face
The danger those in ministry face are not the sexual enticements one is assaulted by in the sexualized culture of America but the overwhelming pressure exerted upon them to slack off spiritually. In Galatians 5 — that marvelous chapter that describes the battle between the Spirit-led life and the carnal life —Paul said, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (verse 16). My testimony is that in all my years of ministering to Christian men who had fallen into sin — including many pastors — I have never found any evidence that would dispute the truth of that statement. To put it in its most basic terms: those who walk in the Spirit in their daily lives will find the strength available to withstand temptation when it presents itself; those who walk in the flesh will not.
Having said that, allow me to briefly touch on some common denominators I have often found in the lives of pastors who have fallen into sin.
1. Their devotional life has not been properly maintained. A number of years ago, Sup. Otis Stanley asked me to speak at the S. New England District pastors’ retreat on the subject, “Why Do Our Pastors Keep Falling Into Sin?”One of the things I said to those men was that, of all the fallen ministers I had dealt with over the years, I had never once had to minister to a “Mary,” but I had dealt with many “Marthas.” In other words, those who stay at the feet of Christ are not vulnerable to falling into sin. At Pure Life Ministries, every worker — whether he is counseling others or simply filling telephone orders — is required to spend at least 2 hours a day seeking God. If these laypeople can live that way, surely those who are representing the Lord to others should do so as well.
2. There is an over-busy life. This is difficult, because ministry can be very demanding. However, I have found that much of the activity of those who had fallen into sin was not generated by a sincere love for people as much as it was by selfish ambition or fear of man. The sincere minister will go to God and ask Him to reveal his motives. “Lord, am I involved in this activity because I truly want to help others or because I am trying to build a bigger church?” Or, “Lord, even if my motives are pure in this, is it your will?” Jesus scolded Martha by saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41,42). Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.”
3. There is a habit of going to the world for comfort. Ministry can be incredibly draining. When a pastor has worked at a frantic pace all day (or all week) it can be very tempting to “veg-out” in front of a television set. Sports. Especially. are a strong lure. TV affects the believer in many ways — all of them bad. I will mention only a couple here. First, television is the acting out of the deeds of the flesh (Galatians 5:19–21). As such, it relentlessly pounds its carnal message into the heart of the viewer. Second, it desensitizes the viewer to the evil nature of sin. Third, it deadens a believer’s spiritual appetite. Fourth, it dulls a person’s ears to hear God’s voice. The pastor who regularly watches TV weakens his spiritual vitality and allows the enemy inroads into his innermost being.
The final factors — which I will just briefly mention — are of no fault to the pastor. Satan often capitalizes upon discouragement to lead a person into sin. When a believer gets down or gets hurt by others, he becomes more vulnerable to temptation. Being worn out by ministry is another thing that will weaken a leader’s resolve to live a holy life. The ministry is both stressful and sedentary by nature. I don’t believe these factors alone will take the believer out of God’s protecting grace, but coupled with spiritual apathy, they can make him more vulnerable to temptation.
The things I have listed are not meant to be a comprehensive list. Rather, they are mentioned to support what was stated earlier: the way a believer lives his daily life will determine how vulnerable he is to the allurements of sin. A man who is living a consecrated life, walking humbly with God, and has his priorities in order very well may face temptations to fall into sin. However, in that temptation he will find the grace of God there to empower him “to denyungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12.