Eight Reasons Long-term Pastors Still Fall


By Chuck Lawless

We all know stories of long-term pastors – leaders who’ve been in the ministry for years – who still fall morally. We grieve when we hear the stories, and we wonder how it can happen to ministry veterans. Based on my studies of how Satan attacks leaders, here are some reasons even long-term pastors fall.

  1. “Success” leads them to let their guard down. The more “successful” pastors are, the easier it is to assume, “That will never happen to me.” Their thinking sounds like this: “After all, God has always blessed my ministry, hasn’t He? He won’t let this happen to me.”
  2. Longer ministry = more opportunities to fall. This reason is really simple. The more time pastors spend with more people, the more opportunity they have to get wrongly connected with someone. Longer ministries demand more awareness of falling—not less.
  3. They’ve learned to hide in the ministry. Busyness and excellent speaking skills can cover a lot of private sin. Public ministry does not always include private accountability. What looks great on the outside isn’t always so pure on the inside.
  4. They never really developed spiritual disciplines. I speak to a lot of pastors who candidly admit that Bible study and prayer have always been struggles. They’ve searched for a deep relationship with God and have never really found it.
  5. Ministry has worn down their defenses. I’ve not met any pastors who started ministry defeated and discouraged. I’ve met many, though, who are now in that state. Sometimes emotional and spiritual fatigue drives them to wrong solutions.
  6. Their own marriages have been strained. Sometimes their spouses feel second (or worse) in the line of the pastor’s priorities, and they’ve felt that way for a long time. Marital neglect has led to long-term emotional and physical separation – and the pastor wrongly looks elsewhere for comfort.
  7. Mid-life crises happen. They really do. Leaders who figure out they haven’t reached their dreams battle their own emotions. Some feel hurt, alone, disrespected, and tired. Others have had success, but they thought they’d see more by now. Weakness leads to disaster.
  8. They’ve seen others restored. I tread softly here, recognizing views differ on whether fallen pastors can be restored. I also affirm ministries that walk alongside fallen leaders to bring them through the defeat. My point is simply this: the enemy is so evil he convinces some folks to go astray with these words: “Well, you can be restored, too. This action won’t cost you much.”

Take time now to pray for some long-term pastors you know.

What other reasons would you add?

Posted on October 30, 2019

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • I’ve been a pastor for 40 years, and the mercy of God has kept me through those years. Some of the things which have kept me in a practical way are: (a) my wife who has shared the hard times as well as the good times. (b) the warningss of older men – I well remember speaking at a conference for young pastors, and another speaker looked at the young men and said with passion in his voice – “Remember, you are always a hair-breadth away from ruining your ministry. (c) Being open with my fellow elders, and asking them to ask me the difficult questions. (d) seeing the devastation that occurs when good men fall (e) Feeling the anger when someone I trusted betrayed his own ministry (f) reminding myself that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, so Scripture and prayer for my own need, and not just for preparing sermons have been vital. (g) Remembering my own weakness

  • Providentially, this came to me as I am realizing today is the 14th anniversary of arriving to serve at Hunt Baptist Church, Hunt, NY. The Lord has protected me throughout and these warnings and admonitions are a great spiritual help!

  • Thanks for the reminder of Satan’s craftiness. Only a greater light, the Greatest Light, will reveal the masquerading angel of light.

  • I would add that they do not have anyone that holds them accountable, their spouse is not that person. There is a deep need for having someone who loves them enough to call their hand when they move away from morality, orthodoxy, etc. We all need that, but in ministry, it is really needed.

  • Roy Wahlgren says on

    Boredom. After several years, the routine gets to be “Ho-hum” and something that appears new and exciting can be certainly enticing.

    The thought pattern that “folks love me and it really will not matter to them and they will forgive me for this discretion.”

    One truly needs to get their guard up rather than let it down.

  • A group of people planted a church in 2004, of which I am the lead pastor. In the first couple of years, we experienced great success, as far as church plants go – growth in numbers and baptisms. In 2012 we merged with another church, experienced some growth, then a decline. We are in the process of trying to turn the decline around. The opportunity for moral failure is as great during times of perceived success as it is during times of struggle, but for different reasons. Success may breed overconfidence in self, where struggle may create a desire for support and comfort from a wrong source. I am thankful that God has protected my heart over the years, given me an awareness of the vulnerability that accompanies ministry, and given me an amazing partner in ministry – my wife.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      I, too, am grateful in my life for the things you mentioned, David–God’s protection, an awareness of my vulnerabilities, and my incredible wife.

  • First mention rule
    If Jesus could be tempted so can I

  • Success and longer ministry can mean more “auto-pilot” moments when the work is routine, perhaps boring. In those moments the Tempter is sure to provide just the right spark for the pastor to discover his next challenge.

  • As I look back at some near misses in my life, I have looked back to the root and found sinful thoughts that were never dealt with as a child or teen that were allowed to become attitudes.

    I have gone back and,with God’s help, set some boundaries.

    Proverbs 4:23 says, Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

    A statement I read years ago in a Sunday School lesson.

    Sew a thought. Reap an attitude.

    Sew an an attitude. Reap an action.

    Sew an action. Reap a habit.

    Sew a habit. Reap a lifestyle.

    Sew a lifestyle. Reap a destiny.

    Our thoughts have to kept under control.

  • So, remind me, what’s the “Billy Graham rule”?

    • My opinion, but I have held the “Billy Graham Rule” as the “Mrs Billy Graham Rule” with some of its etiology conveniently filtered out.

      There was fruit from that tree, too.

    • I still try to abide by the “Billy Graham rule” myself, but some pastors don’t. Why? I guess they think they’re strong enough to handle the temptation. As I said in a previous comment, the famous last words of many a pastor are “That’ll never happen to me.”

  • Dr. Odel Sterling III, D.Min. says on

    I believe you can stay so long that you no longer believe that this is God’s House but instead your own House. Therefore giving you a false sense of feeling that your a God who can’t fall in his own house.

    P.S. I know a Pastor who feels this way right now. Please Pray For Him!

  • I firmly believe the worst thing a pastor – or any Christian, for that matter – can say is, “That will never happen to me.” When you start thinking like that, chances are the devil has you right where he wants you.

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