A pastor does not wake up on a particular morning with the thought, “I’m going to compromise everything that I stand for.” Yet it happens. Pastor Jason was terminated due to moral failure. Yet, every pastor believes it will never happen to him or her. Most believe the famous last words, “It will never happen to me!”

Prior to my involvement as the clinical director of Full Strength Network I had spent more than two decades as a counselor and coach to ministry professionals. A part of this work included a 14-year longitudinal study on the vitality of those who serve in vocations of ministry. The findings of this research revealed some interesting patterns regarding moral failure. One discovery in the research had to do with the conditions that preceded every kind of moral failure in spiritual leaders. It is my conviction that the findings apply to all of us. Of 64 ministry leaders who lapsed into moral failure that resulted in an exit from ministry, there were FIVE CONDITIONS true of all of them:

  1. Accountability had ceased to exist even if he/she had been involved in an accountability relationship. It temporarily dissolved into ‘hiddenness’.
  2. Belief that “This will never happen to me” was present. Because I have had so many men and women in my office who are much more spiritually mature than myself who lapsed into moral failure, this condition is the one that has protected me. Never do I want to believe that it could never happen to me.
  3. Commitments to relationships at work had taken precedence over relationships at home. So many ministry spouses feel like they and the family get the left-overs. This situation has only intensified by the increase in communication via email and texting where people are willing to communicate information that would normally be viewed as inappropriate in a face-to-face interaction.
  4. Devotions or one’s own spiritual feeding had virtually become nonexistent except in moments of desperation.
  5. More Emotional Energy was invested in “self-justifying” one’s choices, attitude, and behavior rather than choosing to humbly enter into “self-evaluation” with the openness to receive feedback from others

I have a firm belief that moral and spiritual safety is found in the counter-intuitive of these conditions that are characteristic of walking in the Spirit: 1) Accountability, 2) In humility, believing that I am not above moral failure, 3) Being intentional about commitments at home, 4) Entering regularly into a rich and fruitful spiritual feeding, and 5) Exhibiting an openness to examine our heart condition before God and others.

On a scale of 1 to 5, how are you doing in each of these areas?

Above all, Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
(Proverbs 4:23)

By: Denny Howard, LMFT, LMHC, LCSW, ACCA
Denny is the Director of Counseling & Coaching for Full Strength Network. He's dedicated his life to serving missionaries, ministry leaders, and nonprofit leaders through counseling and care.