The Four Most Common Acts of Stupidity That Get Pastors Fired

“Don’t do stupid.”

Those were three words I spoke to my three sons as they were growing up. And I would give them specific ways they could “do stupid.”

Why did I speak so bluntly to my three sons? Because I love them. Because I truly want what’s best for them. Because I want to give them clear and powerful warnings to keep them out of trouble.

Pastors and other church leaders: Please heed the words in this post. Please understand the counsel comes from a guy who’s been around a while, a guy who has seen stupid more times than I would ever want.

For some reason, some church leaders just don’t think they will get caught. Or they think the baby steps won’t lead to major steps toward a total fall. Please read these four acts of stupidity carefully and prayerfully. And ask God to protect you from falling in any one of these areas.

  1. Flirting dangerously with sexual boundaries. By the time the physical sexual affair takes place, the pastor has already crossed several sexual boundaries. There is no such thing as a harmless flirtatious comment or text to someone of the opposite gender who is not your spouse. Pornography is not a lone act that hurts no one else. Ongoing counseling that hints of meeting each other’s needs is never good. Close work relationships can become too close. Don’t think it can’t happen to you.
  2. Plagiarism. Don’t ever copy that first sermon. You might think you can get away with it, but it becomes a pattern. If you found cool sermons by Alistair Begg and Andy Stanley, so will those who are listening to you. If you discovered some incredible sermon sites with fully prepared messages, so will those in your congregation. I get messages on social media where members and staff share with me that their pastors are plagiarizing. They know. Don’t do it.
  3. Financial stupidity. A church credit card can be very helpful. A church credit card can be very dangerous. Don’t even think about putting a personal charge on your credit card. And don’t say you read the book Never Eat Alone to justify having a meal on the church every day. If you have any doubt about a financial matter, err on the side of total caution.
  4. Social media madness. I am sorry, pastors, but social media is not a place for you to vent, to get into political battles, or to join a bandwagon of critics. There is simply no upside to such madness. Avoid sarcastic and bombastic comments. Don’t take on a church member on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t be the constant critic. And never, ever, ever make unsavory or sexual comments. And if you think it’s unfair that you can’t do what others do, get another job. The office of pastor, and other church leadership positions as well, demand you demonstrate total integrity. Somewhere I read you are to be above reproach.

Pastors and other church leaders: you have enough bullets being fired by critics and bullies. You certainly don’t need self-inflicted wounds. It will almost always get you in trouble.

And if it’s one of the big four above, it will probably get you fired.

Please don’t do stupid.

Posted on September 27, 2017

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • This was great. Thank you for sharing it!

  • Don Shirley says on

    I am thinking there are several others. They are not cardinal, but in a small, traditional Baptist church, they can be the spark that leads to incineration:
    1. Complement Mrs. Annie’s pie where Mrs. Beth can hear you. Beth made her “famous” layer cake, and she watched you like a hawk when you had a small piece. Praising one to the exclusion of another is tantamount to Joseph’s many-colored coat and will likely not end well. God is no respecter of persons, so be careful. The eyes of widows are upon you.
    2. Move the flags. It really doesn’t matter how you move them or why. Most of the older group can’t remember them NOT being exactly where they are, and the change has the potential of creating a true medical emergency, not to mention the backlash. Be careful of the flags. Even time-honored VBS will tell you, “The pledges come in this order…”
    3. Try using a legal vote of consensus without fair warning. “OK, if there is no discussion or opposition, the motion is adopted by consensus.” Hang the rules, these are Baptists, and somebody has opposition to something, if nothing else, to adopting things by consensus. Be warned. Even a legal vote can lead to other illegal activity later.
    4. Preaching without a pulpit. What? It is the Pastor’s Desk, where he does his most important business. It is the conduit between the preacher’s mouth and the listener’s ears. Without it, they can’t hear. They will worry through the entire message about everything from “Where will he put his Bible?” to “Oh, dear, I pray he checked his fly.” The Baptist handbook reads, “The pulpit may be removed for dramas, musicals, Vacation Bible School, or any other such event that necessitates its removal, but never when the pastor is preaching” (Baptist Handbook, Chapter 7: On Things with Golden Plates). Leave the pulpit. Otherwise, when the deacon prays for you, what will he say you are standing behind?

    • I know you’re being (somewhat) facetious, but I would add a word of caution about #2. There are specific rules for displaying the American flag properly, and if you have any veterans or military personnel in your church, they will call you out pretty quickly if it isn’t done right. My Dad was a career soldier, so I learned that lesson at a very early age! 🙂

    • I am hoping you are just joking and that you really don’t have this much disdain for your congregation. ????

  • Along with #4: don’t “like” or share a Facebook post that has profanity in it. Make sure you read where the post originated (usually found at the top of the post, written in blue). I can’t tell you how many times I have seen folks within the church repost something without reading every single word associated with it.

  • #4 got me in trouble during football season a few years ago. I was having fun with life-long neighborhood friends on social media when my team beat their team. Even though their was no malice and this was how we spoke to each other for over 30 years, I forgot the “www” stood for “world wide web”! There was one particular person who was so put off with what I said, she clicked on to my profile and once she saw I was a pastor, it was on! I received messaged from her that she would be attending my church just to let my congregation know what sorry, no good person I was. This was sent on a Saturday night and I did not receive it until Monday due to a Sunday fast of social media I have enacted upon myself, so thankfully she did not act as she said as I would’ve been completely blindsided that morning. But it did make me think and that whole “above reproach” thing came to my mind. I apologized to her, confessed it publicly to my church and made a vow to be extremely careful what I say on social media. Thank you for these reminders,

    • Yeah, that’s a good point. Every now and then I’ll make some wisecrack about Tim Tebow not being a real Christian, since he played for Florida. I’ve always figured the absurdity of such comments would be enough to let people know I was kidding, but these days some people take everything seriously.

      P.S. I’ve made similar comments about Dr. Rainer and his loyalty to Alabama, but in his case I wasn’t kidding…. (Yes, I’m kidding! 😉 ).

    • Brother, what did u say about football that have this woman any right to come after you? While we should have integrity, I would have told that woman to get A life. I feel for pastors who have been led to believe u owed that person anything other than a smile or possible rebuke for coming after you.

      • Robert, honestly I don’t know? I later came to find out she was ultra aggressive with anyone who wore different colors than she did. She passed away very unexpectedly a couple of years ago and her funeral was done in her teams colors and she was buried wearing their jersey. Her team beat Thom’s team for the national title last year, so he would be in trouble for the RTR response he posted as well!!

  • Rick Snowden says on

    This is excellent, and I have a comment on item 2. I am not a pastor, but I did work with many women prior to retiring. The issue of texting inappropriate comments is a problem not confined to the Ministry, and the only safe solution to sending a text to an individual of the opposite gender is to only send that which you would be comfortable also sending to your or their spouse. The ultimate safety is to include your or their spouse in the text. Small steps, aren’t.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Great point, Rick.

    • I’m always careful in this respect except that one time I thought I was texting my wife and told another woman that I loved her. She, her husband and my wife got a kick out of it. I was so embarrassed. Lesson learned, when you texting your spouse may sure it is your spouse.

  • My motto is “don’t give them a freebie”, meaning don’t give any critics a free shot at you.

  • Great article. If used in an outline, I will put an * by that part which is put in the outline and quoted, then give proper credit at the end of the outline.
    Regarding facebook, I have at times, lovingly “messaged” a member regarding a comment or word usage that doesn’t glorify God to again lovingly admonish them on that usage. All have received it as a spiritual lesson.

  • I’ve seen all of these. I’m amazed sometimes at the lack of self-awareness and stupidity of some pastors.

    Great post.

  • Ronald Jenkins says on

    I am wondering about one of the statements on using others material. For example, Life Church and Church of The Highlands makes all of their material available for that purpose. If I feel that God is leading me to a particular passage or topic and I see they are speaking on that and have already done hours of research, I use it. I don’t put a disclaimer that some of the material used is from Life Church on the other hand I don’t say that I personally wrote the material, made the graphics and the sermon bumper. I don’t feel that I look there for what to speak on but rather after I know, I do go looking for some material at times. Is this wrong?

    • Les Ferguson says on

      It is important, if you use information from a source to make reference to that source. Pastors have lost jobs over failing to cite sources – it is plagiarism. The motto I have used for years is – when in danger or in doubt cite. You are not wrong to cite something even if you don’t need to. When I say cite I don’t mean “name, website, chapter, verse, page…” but something like “I saw this on the Lifeways website the other day and felt it provides an illustration to reinforce the message…”

      When in danger or in doubt – cite.

    • Ronald, you can see my above post. I don’t have a problem using material from preacher’s I trust as I feel the Lord lead. I agree it needs to be: God led me to this passage/subject and then I found this resource that works well. On the other hand I do try to include a word in the introduction that gives the congregation that head’s up. It is just how I feel best about handling it.

  • A friend of mine who’s ministered in 1,200 Churches over the past 20 years said one of the things he sees a lot of Pastors do is find their best friend within their congregation. He said he has NEVER seen it work out good, that it almost always breeds contempt, and can cause very substantial problems, people leaving the Church, even Church splits. Anyone have any thoughts on this. Should this be on the list?

    • Peter,
      While I believe caution is in order regarding your point, I think it is a bit artificial to disallow that kind of friendship from your congregation. It is prudent, even necessary, to find good friends outside of the congregation, but if a deep friendship naturally develops with a congregation member, you should have the freedom to let it happen.

      The success of having a best friend in the congregation depends on the maturity of both as well as the health of the congregation.

    • I guess it depends upon whether you see yourself as hired by the church or part of the church. I consider myself a member of our church, and I think the church is the best place to find close friends. While I also pursue friendships outside our congregation, I will always seek to have close friends in the church. In the church, each one has a role. My role is pastor. This role does not preempt me from having friendships in the church. All friendships bring the possibility of hurt, not just those of the pastor in a church. I think the caution is showing favoritism within the church to friends.

    • Many of my best friends are in our congregation (particularly in my small-group) and I don’t find issue with it. I guess the argument may be that if a problem arises and you go to the same church, that can cause division within the body.
      If we can’t be close with the people of our church, with whom can we be close?
      When problems arise, we’ll work them out like family (ok, not like Uncle Earl on my mother’s side, but I digress..). I love my church and the people in it. I feel placing an unrealistic expectation of “no best friends” could create more problems than solutions.

      A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
      John 13:34-35

  • Thom, I know there are mixed opinions on this subject, but I would point out many pastors are ok with the reuse of materials if the Lord is in it. Simply be upfront of that with your congregation. I have preached sermons gleaned from other great preachers…but have always tried to include that fact in the introduction. For example, at the convention in St. Louis, David Platt encouraged everyone to go home and preach the “Can We Talk” sermon he gave there. I did just that, I prayed about it and preached that sermon the Sunday after we got home. I told my congregation exactly how it went down and to my knowledge, no one had a problem with that. You just have to be committed to being open about the fact this isn’t original material to you. Just my thoughts. Thank you for all you do!

    • That’s a good point, Justin. The issue is plagiarism, which is taking credit for something that’s not your own. There is nothing wrong with what you did.

      • Some pastors are not gifted with writing a good sermon. I would rather hear a great message if credit is given to the author.

      • I believed that there’s no such thing as original they researched it, study it maybe if they copied all the outline word to word…

    • I agree with Dr. Rainer, but I would add one more caution: don’t make it a habit. Even if you give credit, people are not likely to be impressed with a pastor who always preaches someone else’s sermons. It’s okay to do it once in a while as long as you give proper credit, but make sure it’s only once in a while.

      • I have seen pastors even rip off the stories inthe sermon & tell them like it happened to them. It’s a slippery slope!

      • Is that like certain news broadcasters and presidential candidates. They rip off so much they don’t realize they are doing it.

      • “I have seen pastors even rip off the stories inthe sermon & tell them like it happened to them. ”

        Yep, I’ve heard of pastors doing that, too, and that’s clearly dishonest. When I was in seminary, we were talking about this subject in a Greek class. A student said he had watched Adrian Rogers on TV that morning, and then when he went to church, he heard the pastor preach that exact same sermon. Another student said, “Gee, I wonder what you’d call that?” My professor didn’t mince any words. He said, “Thievery and laziness is what I call it.”

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you.

      • good stuff. As to the credit card, wouldn’t it be less the method of payment, and more staying within the bounds and policies of the church and budget? I have an entertainment expense account for taking leaders, members, and folks who need the Lord to eat. There is a set amount, and you turn in receipts and use the card. I do benefit by ‘getting meals'(not one a day!), but the church approved the budget and it’s all accounted for. I used to use my own card and get reimbursed, but recently our finance team gave me a card to streamline things. It’s simple, if it’s budgeted and I document it, it’s ok. We all think its a valuable ministry tool.

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