Another Pastor Down

June 9, 2009

The news has sadly been circulating the internet over the last couple days regarding the confession of Pastor Gary Lamb at his blog of an affair with his assistant. There’s already enough opinion flying around about who is for who, who hasn’t said what and what ought to have been said, and more. I don’t have anything to add to that. Don’t really want to even be a part of all that.

I will only mention that probably the healthiest two places I have read response to Gary’s situation have been from Geoff Surratt and Ron Edmonson. They are certainly not the only two who are speaking painfully well of the circumstance, but they’re at the top.

Since the launch of Pastor For Life last Summer, I have endeavored to keep any commentary or review of stories like Gary’s to a minimum, just trying to bring about anything factual and pointing out what we can learn to keep such stories from becoming mine or yours. Frankly, sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.

I’ll never forget being at Mountain Learning Center in June Lake, CA in May of 2001. I was 3-1/2 years into a Senior Pastorate at a church I had served for 12 years before being appointed as the Sernior Pastor. In those first 12 years, I had worked with the three previous Senior Pastors. All three pastoral transitions were painful for the previous Pastor’s family and the congregation. The last two had pains of immorality and both Pastor’s marriages ended in divorce.

When I became the Senior Pastor, I was sure of two things:

  1. I was nothing like my predecessors (watch out for that pride, folks!)
  2. The one thing that would never happen to me was “burnout”.

Yet there I was, deep in burnout, wondering how in the world I got there. My wife was with me, there had been no immorality or “sinful” mess that had been made of my marriage or ministry. But my foundation of inner life was in shambles and I was depressed and spent.

What I will never forget is my counselor at MLC, Dr. Russ Veenker, having no idea of my two certainties above, hearing my story and saying to me:

“Paul, you are just like your predecessors. I can guarantee you that before they messed up their marriage and ministry, they were in burnout. The only difference between you and them is that you sought help before doing something stupid.”

The advice to Pastors that I’ve scanned today on all the blogs in response to Gary’s situation has been good stuff for the most part.

  • “Don’t counsel alone with the opposite sex.”
  • “Have an accountability structure in place.”
  • “Don’t spend time at the church office with staff of the opposite sex.”

All of it is good advice. It’s good stuff to have in place. Bottom line, however, is that most people close to me were able to see my slow descent into burnout way before I ever saw it coming. And they were saying things. And I was giving blank stares. And before I knew it, when the pressure became too much, my inner life crumbled.

Thing is, at some point, we ALL crumble. Um, yes, ALL of us. I’ve seen it happen time after time, and so have you. If you can’t say that, you haven’t been around ministry long enough. Just wait.

So, what does it take to last? My belief …. do whatever it takes to monitor your heart regularly and keep it at Jesus’ feet. This requires that you adjust your pace to your current life and ministry circumstance, and “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” (from John Ortberg’s “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”).

Most of us Pastors, I find, are unwilling to do that. I was. That’s how I ended up where I was. I am convinced I was headed for a major life adjustment no matter what, even because of age. But it could have been experienced much differently had I been less “Superman” and more hu-man.

I realize, too, that for many Pastors, you serve in a system (church body) that doesn’t allow for much adjustment in these areas for you. That’s a whole other story of change and transformation that must take place for real health to occur, both for you and your congregation.

How about you? Your thoughts?

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