I’m sure many of you have heard of the public resignation of Bob Coy in Ft. Lauderdale this month, as I have. The purpose of this letter is not to muse or lament over this pastor’s public failure. He has not offended or failed me, though I do hurt for him as I also remind myself that I’m more than capable of the same sin; or worse.
There are no shortage of news reports, all the way up to CNN, reporting about his resignation along with countless news articles and blog posts. In reading a few of them a word jumped off the screen this morning which prompted this open letter to my fellow pastors: Epidemic.
More than one article or blog post has determined that pastoral failure to sexual temptation has reached epidemic proportions. I, however, disagree with this assessment. Oh, I do think there is an epidemic. But, I believe the public failures that we read and hear about so often are but a symptom, not the whole disease. The epidemic runs much deeper than that. So many good men have been lost from the ministry and I know I could just as easily be one of them.
I received a copy of Leadership Journal yesterday and the entire issue is about struggle and failure. Like me, you probably have heard many of the gruesome statistics of pastoral dropout. Leadership Journal published that it’s even worse that many of us may have thought. In a side-bar called “Hard Calling” (Spring 2014 issue p. 24) the Journal reports, among other things, some very sobering reminders of this epidemic:
- 80% of pastors are discouraged in their role as pastors.
- 50% of pastors would leave the ministry if they could.
- And, here’s the scariest of them all. For every 20 pastors who go into ministry, only one retires from the ministry. That’s 5%! That’s tragic!
So, what is the epidemic? The epidemic is that we’ve forgotten. We’ve forgotten that this calling is a calling to enter into a fight. It’s a war! And wars have casualties. Any time we forget this truth we run the risk of becoming a casualty ourselves.
Here are three things I believe we must do, immediately: (If you’re reading this and you’re not a pastor, these principles will help you too.)
- We must have a continual camaraderie with other men who do what we do. Not so we can develop some kind of sub-culture or help each other cover up sin, but so we can encourage each other in the life of holiness to which our God has called us. And, the life of holiness to which we also, by the Word of God, call our churches members. (Just for clarity. We’re not called to a higher standard. We’re called to the same standard of holiness but with a stricter judgment. James 3:1)
- Do not seclude yourself, pastor. If you do, you make yourself a sure target for the enemy. We must have friendship and fellowship with other pastors.
- Do not push away accountability. Though it’s easier, at times, to lead without accountability around you because it keeps away opposition, accountability is necessary. I know none of us like the prospect of a blow-up in a business meeting or some self-absorbed lay person throwing a monkey wrench in to plans that we’re convinced are of the Lord. But, we must resist the urge to lead without input and accountability. It’s just too dangerous.
- Have someone in your life that has permission to ask you anything, at any time. That type of accountability, like having your computer monitor facing the door of your office, just may be what you need to “keep it holy” during times of weakness and temptation. And temptation is going to come, often!
- We must pray for each other. No, seriously. It’s imperative that we begin to have times, even seasons, of prayer over each other.
- What if the first question we ask when we meet in our fellowship is not, “how many did you have Sunday?” but instead, “Can I pray for you, right now?” Think of the spiritual difference it makes in us when we know our brothers are praying for us.
- I have to tell you, one of the most encouraging statements ever made to me was a friend and fellow pastor who told me he was praying for me before he ever knew me. That was incredibly uplifting because I knew he meant it!
- We must remember.
- First, we must remember that every day we wake up and get out of bed we are walking into to a spiritual war. A war that is as real as any conflict we’ve ever seen reported between nations on television. This war is even more vicious and dangerous because we can’t see it with our human eyes. (Ephesians 6:12) There is an enemy and he seeks to destroy. He seeks to destroy you! As soon as you surrendered to dedicate your life to the Gospel of Jesus Christ you became his greatest enemy.
- Second, we must remember that the calling that God has placed upon our lives is not an easy one. Don’t ever expect it to be. Don’t drop your guard and don’t wish for better days or places. Remember, our calling is to deny ourselves and pick up the cross (the block of wood we will be crucified upon) and follow him. (Matt. 16:24) You can do that where you are!
- Third, we must remember that we have the greatest power in the universe working within us. His name is Jesus. Failure happens when we rely on our ability instead of his. We must learn to live a life of, “it’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
- Finally, we need to remember there are success stories. There have been, and are, men who have lived long lives in service to the gospel, without failing! I know some of them. It is possible to survive and even more than survive, to flourish! There are men in the fellowship of pastors of which I take part who have been pastoring their churches, successful Gospel proclaiming churches for many, many years. Some of them have been faithful for 45 years or more. It can be done and that should be our goal too!
There is one last thing. When a brother struggles or falls that’s when he needs the love of his fellows more than ever. This is the time we reach out, not ostracize. I hope there are pastors who know Bob Coy who are calling just to tell him that God loves him as do they. When a man falls, he is still our brother.