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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  • David Kinnon says on

    Looking at #2. Plagiarism. I have never copied nor encouraged anyone to copy another’s sermon, even though TD Jakes, Charles Stanley, James MacDonald, David Jeremiah and others are capable of great insights into the meaning and application of the Word of God. On the other hand, I look at Sunday School programs where each class is taught essentially the same lesson, following a structure set out in a study guide or workbook, to enable the teachers to teach consistently. Where does the line between structuring and plagiarism lie, with or without acknowledgement of source?

  • I think we don’t have copyright rights over God’s Word. (Aproximate quote of Reinhardt Bonnke). When a preacher comes and says “The Lord gave me this word, sermon, etc” the copyright goes to… the preacher?

    • Not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

      Unless the employment contract with the church specifically states otherwise, sermons are, in the United States, work-product, and as such, copyright is held by the congregation, not the preacher.

      Likewise, lessons prepared for VBS, Bible Study, Sunday School, etc. are work product and as such, copyright is held by the congregation, not the content creator.

      This is why correct attribution of all content used, and sources consulted is critical.

      • Cheryl M. says on

        No idea of this “work product,” though I doubt it. Pastors publish their sermons in books all the time, and it’s the pastor’s name on the copyright page. (I work in publishing.) But VBS and Sunday school teachers rarely get paid, so that definitely would not make sense in their case.

  • In regard to plagiarism, I’ve seen sermon outlines that can be bought or even some are available for free. Is the fact that they are simply outlines, and not a ver batum print out of someone else’s sermon, the deciding factor as to whether it is acceptable?
    And is it normal for preachers to use content/outlines/series from other sources, rather than writing all their own material?

  • Emma Dillenbeck says on

    As to the sexual comment: I was exposed for 7 years to this kind of behavior both to myself and a couple other women. I was du bed a “malcontent” when I left and the pastor was never held accountable for over 3 years until his support staff of pastors confronted him which eventually led to him resigning. He never apologized.or repented however. Touching, hitting, throwing things at me, sexual comments, made for a difficult work environment and left me in doubt of ever being part of a church again.

  • “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.”

    And, of course, most importantly, because it is sin against the Lord. (Psalm 51:4)

  • Good article, Its super easy to steal sermons and its super easy to want to sound and feel smart. Cite sources and work harder on research to make sermons your own. I try to just borrow illustrations when I can’t think of personal ones. All good points overall

  • Jhonatan Torres says on

    Thank you for the advises and counseling words since Colombia. I would be a tremendous
    resource to have your notes , Pastor Rainer, in spanish as well!!!! It would help many and glorify God!!!! Think about it!!!!

  • Dr. Rainer,

    Total truth. Thank you for this post. I inherited a pastor on my staff who had been at the church 18 years, and had never given a cent to the church. Not surprisingly, his personal financial acumen reflected this trend.

    Upon my arrival, my leadership team and I confronted this gentleman and removed him from his position, on the basis that he had disqualified himself as a “lover of money” and “greedy for gain.”

    Unfortunately, I had to cash in a lot of my leadership chips to make this happen.

  • I just purchased the “Invite Your One” resource and Dr. Rainer has provided me with four sermon outlines!!!! I’m about to lose my mind, Dr. R!!! Come on, man! Do you understand the ethical dilemma that you have just put me in? (lol) I didn’t have a problem with preaching them until you told me not to. Thanks. Thanks a lot. I think a partial refund is in order because now I cannot use a key resource in the bundle. 😉

  • Helpful. Clear. Compelling.
    Thanks Thom

  • Under number 3, how about an associate pastor, who had responsibility to monitor a major church ministry… a Christian School, and the guy running it got the church into a million dollar hole? Then lied to cover it up.

  • A man who lives with God, is filled with the Holy Spirit, owns a bible, and has either a bachelors, masters and possibly a doctoral degree, or all three should have no problem receiving messages directly from the Lord to preach to his people!

    • Such a person should also have no problem understanding that the Lord will not be limited by personal opinion with regard to the methods and sources that He chooses to deliver and/or develop that message.

      • “All originality and no plagiarism makes for dull preaching” – Spurgeon (sorry, can’t find the original quote so as cite it properly. I don’t believe it is fake news). 😉

      • So tell me gentlemen, was God’s word – written by men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – plagiarized? From what earthly source did these mighty men of God get their information? Heaven forbid that we actually have to travail in prayer and study to show ourselves to be diligent to present ourselves approved to God, workers who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15

        The quote attributed to Spurgeon is ridiculous. If the quote cannot be substantiated, then don’t pass it off as fact.

      • When a preacher steals from other preachers without giving proper credit, he raises very legitimate questions about his own integrity.

      • My focus was really on the comment about “all originality” — I’m not condoning plagiarism – stealing without citing sources. I’m not sure how Sprugeon defined that. I just find the quote interesting.

    • Cheryl M. says on

      Actually, the days of the prophets are past, and pastors do not receive special revelation. But they have the Word of God, the ability to study, and the Holy Spirit’s illumination as to the meaning of the text.