Some Thoughts On Why MegaChurch Pastors Keep Falling

megachurch pastors

So this isn’t an easy post to write, nor a glib one.

I’m not even sure what I’m about to write is accurate.

But once again last week, we heard of yet another mega-church pastor who isn’t in leadership anymore, this one fired by his church because of character issues.

I’m not naming names or linking to any post. If you’re plugged into church world, you probably know who I’m talking about, and if not, it’s not that hard to think of a bunch of others over the years.

Sadly, even if you read this months or years after this is published, chances are there will be yet another large church pastor who went down in flames.

The hardest part is there are just no winners. At least not in the short term. God is a God of redemption and he writes better stories than we do, but the pain of deliberate sin is something we’re best to avoid.

If there are direct victims (affairs, abuse, fraud), and sadly, often there are, their lives are devastated and their faith too often shattered or snapped. The people who were part of any movement or congregation associated with said fallen leader are crushed. The families of leaders are devastated, sometimes beyond repair.

And in the midst of it all, the unchurched gain one more reason to run in the opposite direction.

For those of us still in church leadership… think about that and let it sink in.

Bloggers and commentators who pile on to grab headlines or express outrage further destroy any hope left. I don’t want this to be that kind of a post.

And remember, for every mega-church pastor who has exited, there are probably 10 or maybe 100 smaller church pastors whose congregation and families are just as devastated. Only their stories never make the headlines.

Please hear me. I write this with a heavy heart and after a lot of reflection, introspection and prayerful consideration.

I’m far from perfect. There’s been no affair (by the grace of God) or fraud or anything worth headlines. But just talk to my family or my team. They see me on good days and bad days, and I write about the struggles of leadership as openly and candidly as I know how, as any of you who read this blog regularly or have read my latest book will realize.

So I’m not casting stones.

But I am writing so that all of us who lead anything (big or small) can look inside and notice the warning signs before it’s too late. Before yet another church loses its leader. Before yet another countless thousand people wince and say, “I told you so” or “Yeah…figures” and the collective eye roll/anger wave gets unleashed once again and more people walk away from Jesus.

Because, believe it or not, I think failure is in all of us. And yes, I think the seeds of failure are in me too. None of us are exempt.

But if you know what to look for…if you know where the danger lies, maybe, just maybe, you can finish well. Because not only are the seeds of failure in all of us, so are the seeds of finishing well.

So what’s the difference?

That’s why I’m writing this post.

Nobody who starts out in ministry sets out to fail. But all the time, people who never thought they’d fail, fail.

Every time another story breaks about a pastor who resigns, my phone lights up with texts from friends asking, “How do we make sure this doesn’t happen to us?”

A few years ago I wrote a post about the exit of two megachurch pastors…I think the observations are still true:

Most pastors aren’t fake. The struggle is real.

It’s hard to lead anything.

God uses broken people.

Even if all of that is true, still, why all the failure?

Here are some new thoughts…and some things I look for inside me in the hopes of finishing well.

The seeds of failure are in all of us. So are the seeds of finishing well. Click To Tweet

1. It Just Got Bigger Than I Could Handle

Please hear this: leading something large is not inherently bad.

Although I hear the argument all the time, I personally don’t believe there is anything inherently bad about a large church or organization.

But there is something inherently difficult in it. And to some extent, the larger something is, the harder it is.

Please know, this doesn’t mean leading a small church or venture is easy. I have led small churches. I get it. Few things in leadership are easy.

But I’ve also led some larger ministries and organizations, and the larger it is, the greater the pressure and the more there’s at stake.

I remember when our church grew past 300; my mind was blown. Now it’s five times the size.

Or look at this blog or my podcast. Honestly, 100,000 readers or listeners was inconceivable six years ago. Then millions showed up.

Nothing gets you ready for that.

It’s way too easy for your platform to outgrow your character. And that’s where all the danger lies.

There isn't anything inherently bad about leading a large church or organization. But there is something inherently difficult in it. Click To Tweet

Add to it one more fact: you and I are not naturally made to lead thousands or millions.

It doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you’ll have to grow your character faster. Much faster.

As I outlined in Didn’t See It Coming, that has come in the form of hundreds of hours of counseling for me, some dead honest conversations, and a lot of painful personal growth. And in my case, I’m so thankful that groundwork was laid before things became bigger.

It doesn’t mean I’m off the hook. It just means God beat some things out of me that had to go before the stakes were any higher. And he continues to do that. Daily.

It's way too easy for your platform to outgrow your character. Click To Tweet

So what can help you when things get bigger than you thought, whether that’s two hundred or two million?

Try this.

First, your platform isn’t yours. It’s God’s. It’s not your church or your organization. It’s His.

You don’t have a ministry, but God does (and out of his grace he chooses to use you).

Your life isn’t your own.  Are you allowing God’s spirit to loosen your grip on your life?

The more I remind myself of these things, the healthier I am.

Second, it’s a platform, not a pedestal. There is a world of difference between a platform and a pedestal.

Pedestals are about ego and adulation.

Platforms are designed to be shared and used for the benefit of others.

On the days I remember that I’m a better leader because I’m a better servant. On the days I forget it, the clock starts ticking.

There is a world of difference between a platform and a pedestal. Pedestals are about ego and adulation. Platforms are designed to be shared and used for the benefit of others. Click To Tweet

2. I Created a World Where Nobody Challenged Me

So…let’s be honest…nobody likes critics.

But the bigger your organization or church becomes, the easier it becomes to surround yourself with like-minded people who won’t challenge you.

Please hear the distinction. You need like-minded people. You have to run with people who get your mission, vision and strategy. Otherwise, your organization descends into internal chaos.

But what you really need is likeminded people who can challenge you.

You need people committed to the same vision, mission and strategy you are, but who will push your thinking and who will push you.

Sure…maybe you have an accountability partner. You can spin your accountability partner. You can say it’s better at home than it is. Maybe they should ask your wife how it’s really going.

What you really need is people who have influence with you and power over you who can speak into you. Like a board and an inner circle to whom you are transparent and to whom you are truly accountable.

I realize in the age of social media, those of us at a distance might think we have a responsibility to speak truth to power or to criticize someone from afar. But I promise you, most leaders just tune out an angry person or troll 1000 miles away from, and perhaps to some extent rightly so. You don’t know them. They don’t know you.

There are also critics inside your church who intend to harm you or the mission. Learn what you can from them, but move on. They will not help you or your church long term.

But what you and I need most is people in our lives who know us inside out, who love us and as a result of that love, tell us the truth about us.

But you’ll be tempted—so tempted—to tune those people out. Don’t.

Keep them close.

Cultivate an atmosphere in which your team and those around you can tell you the truth. How you hurt them. What you’re not seeing. What you don’t realize is that they’ll be afraid to do that. You can fire them or dismiss them.

Just welcome their feedback, and encourage their critiques.

They may feel like your enemy in the moment, but I promise you they’re your best friends. They’re on the same mission as you, and they want you to win. And to help you win means they have to call your sin.

To help you win, your friends have to call your sin. Click To Tweet

The way to cultivate that is to thank those on-mission people every time they critique you. Welcome it. Tell them how much it helped you.

And if it hurts, get on your knees and talk to God about it. Ask what needs to stick and what you can discard, but for God’s sake (literally), listen.

And in the further need of transparency, a few things that have helped me.

First, give the people close to you your passwords.

My wife can look and at times does look at anything on my phone or devices. She has ALL my passwords and I let her see ANY of my conversations. DMs. The whole thing. Especially with the women I work with and talk to.

To make it even more interesting, because of the nature of my team, they have access to virtually everything in my life—all my inboxes, my passwords, my notes. So even if my wife’s not looking, they are. Everything. And that’s a wonderful thing.

Should you share that with everyone? Of course not.

But just because everybody doesn’t need to know everything, it doesn’t mean nobody does.

Give people access. And let the people who love you challenge you.

Just because everybody doesn't need to know everything, it doesn't mean nobody does. Click To Tweet

3. I Stayed Too Long

This isn’t a problem for everyone, but it is a problem for many of us.

I’ve been in the same church for 24 years. And you know what, we grow bored and accustomed to power. So I change it up. Regularly. That’s another story for another day.

And just over three years ago, I moved out of the Lead Pastor role and into a Founding and Teaching Pastor role at our church. Why? Because I sensed the season of me being the point leader at the church I founded was ending.

I wanted to jump before I was pushed. I wanted to leave while I was still serving the church, not when the church was serving me. I wanted to go while I was still fresh, not when everything grew so stale that everyone knew it was time for me to go except me.

By all accounts, I left early. But looking back, I think the timing was perfect.

Don Miller did an incredible interview with author Stephen Mansfield who shared 10 signs a leader is heading toward a leadership crash.

Sign #1? The leader stayed too long.

I get why leaders stay too long: it’s all you know how to do, and financially, you can’t afford to leave. But that’s such a mistake.

First of all, you’re supposed to serve the church. It’s not supposed to serve you. Secondly, I get that you’re not ready for retirement. But that’s not a tenure or honour issue: it’s a financial issue. Boards should get far better at handling financial issues as financial issues, not tenure issues. (I wrote more on why pastors stay too long and the succession crisis facing the church here.)

When I jumped out of the Lead Pastor role, I took a pay cut. It was a huge trust issue.

But I promise you, trusting God is never a bad thing. So trust God.

Leaders, you're supposed to serve the church. It's not supposed to serve you. Click To Tweet

4. Somewhere Along The Way, I Lost My Soul

You got into this for the right reasons. I know you did. Everybody does.

But somewhere along the way, it’s too easy to lose your soul.

How exactly does that happen? Well, it’s a subtle art.

Most leaders who sell their souls aren’t 100% on the right track one day and the next day wake up in someone else’s bed. It just doesn’t usually work that way.

Selling your soul starts with compromise.

You look at a little porn. Once. Okay, twice. Okay, a little more, and soon it’s a habit…

You flirted with her once…then again. Then you were emotionally entangled. And then…

You started justifying your impulsiveness. If they only knew the pressure I’m under, they’d be this way too, you told yourself. And you repeated that to yourself the next day, and the next…

You swore a bit because just because you think cussing a little doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian.  But now, your internal dialogue is just so foul…

You had the one drink…then the other, then every Friday, then most days…

You blew your stack at the meeting the other day, but man they were being dumb, and you’re the leader, and you can get away with it, and…

And before you know it, a thousand little compromises left you compromised.

You’ve gotten so ugly you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror.

The challenge is several fold.

The more I see leadership as a trust, the less likely I am to use it for personal gain or to indulge my flaws.

Live in a way that people closest to you become the people most grateful for you. Click To Tweet

Second, the more sensitive I become to the impact of my actions and attitude on the people closest to me, the better I lead. The gravitational pull is to to make excuses to those closest to you or find people who tolerate your weaknesses. And that’s a mistake (see #2 above).

I need to become an expert at noticing the little compromises.  I don’t have to confess them to my whole team, but I need to confess to someone.  Bringing them into the light when they’re small prevents them from growing into something sinister.

The challenge in leadership is to live in a way that people closest to you become the people most grateful for you. Who cares if hundreds of people who live hundreds of miles away from you (who only know you on social and video) love you when your family and team can ‘t stand you?

People become truly grateful for you when your life is characterized by humility, confession and grace.

Who cares if hundreds of people who live hundreds of miles away from you (who only know you on social and video) love you when your family and team can 't stand you? Click To Tweet

5. I Invested Too little Time at Home

Often—not always, but often—when you talk to leaders who are no longer in leadership, you realize that there were some serious issues in their marriage that were either neglected or never resolved.

And that can create a vicious cycle where because things aren’t going well at home, you throw yourself even harder into your work because you feel you can win there, all of which makes home go even more poorly.

Here’s what I’ve come to believe: Ultimately, everything rides on how you lead at home. 

If you’re winning at work but losing at home, you’re losing.

The stakes are high.

If you’re winning at work but losing at home, you’re losing. Click To Tweet

The difficult issues you work through in your home life will make you a wiser, stronger leader organizationally. Like many couples, my wife Toni and I have worked through some difficult seasons and (thankfully), came through to a better place.

But in my thirties, I became so consumed with work because it was honestly just easier to win at church than it was to win at home.

Why do so many leaders fall for that trap? There are at least three reasons.

There’s a clearer scoreboard at work. You can accomplish things far easier at work than you can at home.

It’s easier to earn respect at work than it is at home because you hold a title, and for senior leaders, direct a team.

You can avoid the hard conversations at home by staying later and working longer.

All of these are terrible reasons of course, but that doesn’t keep leaders from falling for them. I’ve fallen for them in different seasons too.

The challenge with home, of course, is that no one is that impressed by your title, latest progress, or corner office.

But lead poorly at home for more than a season and the consequences will play out in several ways throughout your life and leadership:

You may win in ministry but lose the heart and affection of your family. Most of us have met leaders whose family is still together but deeply resents the leader’s organization.

Your leadership in ministry might be permanently stunted as unresolved character issues leak from home into your organizational leadership. Your flaws tend to eventually impact everything you lead and touch.

You might lose it all – the collapse of your family might lead to the collapse of your ministry and leadership.

See what’s at stake?

But here’s the truth.  You can’t have a great ministry and a bad marriage. A bad marriage will eventually undermine a great ministry.

So if you’re struggling at home, invest more there. It will be painful at first. It may involve expensive counseling and hours (days, months…) of wading through mud. Do it.

I look at the investment I’ve made over the last 15 years in counseling, coaching, retreats and more time on my knees, and I can’t believe how much it’s paid off. Naturally, I still have a long way to go. The ancients called this process sanctification, and it’s never done. But things can get better. They really can.

Lead well at home, and you will inevitably become a better leader in your ministry or organization.

It’s just too easy to lose at home. So don’t.

You can't have a great ministry and a bad marriage. A bad marriage will obliterate a great ministry. Click To Tweet

Addendum: Four Likely Reasons Billy Graham Finished Well

The news is not all bad. There are more than a few long-time leaders who appear to be leading and finishing very well.

Billy Graham was certainly one of them.

Most people in church leadership are aware of the Billy Graham rule: never meet alone with a member of the opposite sex. And while it has its critics and limits, it’s helped many people.

Thank you to Kadi Cole who alerted me to the origin of the Billy Graham rule in her fantastic new book, Developing Female Leaders.

As Kadi points out, the Billy Graham rule actually had four aspects. Billy and a few of his colleagues got together in 1948 in Modesto California after seeing other evangelists become entangled in affairs, greed and running down local churches.

It consists of four rules:

  • Financial integrity…so that Billy Graham and his team would not raise money themselves at crusades.
  • Sexual integrity…so they wouldn’t fall victim to affairs or impropriety.
  • Respect for local churches…so they would build up local churches, rather than compete with them.
  • A commitment to accuracy in reporting…so they would not exaggerate how many people attended or how ‘successful’ their ministry was.

All four issues are still real issues. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

You can read Billy Graham’s own description of the Modesto Manifesto here.

Some Deeper Help

13 years ago, I burned out. By the grace of God, there was no affair, nothing that precluded me from moving forward in ministry except my loss of energy and passion.

And also by the grace of God, I recovered. Since then, it’s become a passion of mine not only to try to thrive in life and leadership but to help other leaders do the same.

Of course, none of us have mastered this entirely and it’s an ongoing commitment, but I recently released two resources that I hope can help you.

The first is my latest book, Didn’t See It Coming, which outlines how issues like cynicism, compromise, pride, burnout and disconnection can take out leaders or stunt their potential. You can explore more or get a copy here.

The second resource is my High Impact Leader Course, where I show you how to avoid burnout, get more done at work and have more time to be fully present at home by getting time, energy and priorities working in your favor. It’s an online, on-demand course that outlines the principles I’ve used over the last decade+ to get healthy. The course has helped thousands of leaders do the same.

You can learn more or enroll in the High Impact Leader here.

What Do You See?

I would love to hear in the comments some of the things you see in your own life that you need to watch.

Please don’t pile on leaders who are already down or take cheap shots at people or the church. I’ll delete those comments. This isn’t a place to make the problem worse.

I want this to be a place to help us all find solutions that create a better future.

So as you look inside, what seeds of failure and seeds to finish well do you see inside yourself?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

64 Comments

  1. Joy on May 18, 2019 at 4:34 pm

    I don’t have much to share other than to say “thank you!” I am not a pastor, but I do serve in ministry with my husband at our local church. I was reading Colossians 3 today and thinking a lot about the command to set our affection on things above (3:2). I kept thinking about what that means for me especially with my tendency to binge watch on netflix… I was on my computer reading the verse in different translations and decided to search for church scandals. I know that sounds strange–it is strange. It was not my intention to search for scandals when I began reading the Bible today, but I intentionally typed the words “church scandal” in my browser and began reading articles. All the while I was still thinking, how does this relate to affection. I came upon your blog–never read it before–and was moved by what you wrote. It has the ring of truth. It was practical, honest and a grave warning. Especially the part about having those at home be most grateful for you. I am a working mom with young kids and have had good success at work. I’ve also have a community at my church that tends to think well of me, but I want all the parts of me to be sanctified. I want my children to know that I love God and be moved to love Him because they see a genuine example of a humble Christian in me.

    While I still cannot clearly articulate the connection between all of this and affection, I do feel moved to discipline myself to spend more time engaging my eyes and energy in things that are heavenly so that I can be a person who truly loves God and His people more than anything else. I believe that will help to finish well.

    Again, thank you for what you posted here.

  2. Monica on April 25, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Thank you for this very insightful post. When my husband and I married 30 years ago, our wedding invitations said ‘You are invited to join (us) as we covenant for a lifelong ministry together.’ We have ministered in small, medium and large churches throughout the years. Your thoughts ring true in our experiences, and as my husband continues in full time ministry, as an intentional interim pastor we have often seen the ugly truth of what you have shared. Thank you for sharing such a concise and easy to read description. This is an excellent resource!

  3. 420cheats on March 28, 2019 at 2:32 am

    magnificent points altogether, you just gained a new reader. What would you suggest in regards to your post that you made a few days ago? Any positive?

  4. Nathan Adams on February 21, 2019 at 10:20 am

    I need to watch what I watch and how quick I am to speak before listening. I need to see my neighbors and fellow leaders especially as children of God, just as I want them to see me. Father help me with these compromises. Thanks Carey for a challenging read and my co-laborer JDub for a thoughtful share with our team.

  5. Jedidiah Jonathan on February 20, 2019 at 2:55 am

    Thanks Carey!
    Just two thoughts:
    1. Most leaders miss the passage about Eli and his sons in 1 Sam 2-3 about leadership gone bad at home and ministry. Would love to hear you unpack it?
    2. Some of the most humblest leaders (I know off) are actually outside of the North American context leading churches and movements bigger that anyone in US or Canada. They won’t make it on a blog or a podcast or the next leadership conference, but they are quietly moving the kingdom forward.

    I’m a rookie Pastor, may I never lose the simplicity of going on knees before Jesus each day.

  6. Jeff Mattesich on February 19, 2019 at 7:16 pm

    This is an incredibly insightful post, and I could not agree more. I appreciate your candor and I have never written a comment like this. I am a local church pastor in Los Angeles County. In my world, I continue to be amazed at the celebrity culture around pastoring. I am sure at certain points in my life I wanted and sought out that kind of “influence”… but when we allow our people and the ministry subculture to make us experts and celebrities we run the risk of actually believing we are. Then we get our own entourages – and the very things you cite are easily forgotten and ignored.

  7. Barry Drinkel on February 19, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    Carey, thanks for this post and many of your others, and the sensitivity with which you handle it. I appreciate the humility with which you write as it really is in each one of us to fail or succeed, to glorify God or commit the most heinous of sins. There but for the grace of God . . . ! I was particularly thankful for point four, Somewhere Along The Way, I lost My Soul, which was a good reminder to constantly guard our hearts against the subtleties with which Satan seeks to take us out. I often think of the song by Casting Crowns:
    “Be careful little eyes what you see
    It’s the second glance that ties your hands
    As darkness pulls the strings
    Be careful little feet where you go
    For it’s the little feet behind you that are sure to follow
    It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away”

    Rarely is it a big failure that happens overnight, but rather, a slow but sure lessening of our values. Telling ourselves it’s OK when we know full well it isn’t. John reminds us to “walk in the light as he is in the light” and there is never a time when we can afford not to, not just as leaders, but also as disciples of Jesus. It is so sad when a brother falls and we must carry him, his family, and his church in prayer and respond with bucket loads of grace too.

  8. Glenn Garvin on February 19, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Carey,
    Thank you for your vulnerability and boldness to wade into the muck of ministry life. I was just reading 2 Cor. his morning and read this, “We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.”
    ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭1:12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

    Paul was MOST vulnerable and honest with the churches in Corinth than any of the other churches. And, 2 Cor. is where Paul just lets it all out.

    A friend once told me, “never believe your own press release.”

    Somewhere, in all of us, there’s a flaw that says, “oh, I’m above that,” whatever the issue might be. Or, “I deserve this.” As men, we’ve always been too good at compartmentalizing and bifurcating our inner-life from our public-life.

    Great leaders ALWAYS have to shed two things: Money & Power. The church has always done poorly with both. The only way to truly live the longview is to give away to the least of these.

    Let’s lead a neo-reformation that finishes what Martin Luther started.

  9. Cathy Little on February 19, 2019 at 11:54 am

    While I agree with your thoughts, I think it stops short of the deeper issues at play. Often we focus on the fruit, but don’t understand the root or the tree that it’s coming from. What is the “why?” There a lie somewhere that is being believed that leads to the things this article lists. It’s the enemy’s primary tool – he is a liar. There is also a reason for the lie – a place, time, event where it was birthed. People who have their interior world in a healthy place, who know and walk in their true identity as a son or daughter, not as an orphan, tend to make better decisions. They don’t stay too long, isolate, or neglect their families or their souls. This article screams of the need for inner healing ministry and emotional healing for leaders and pastors. We ALL need it. Root issues have to be addressed. Often, people don’t even know they have a bad tree, or what that bad tree is – but if your life is manifesting bad fruit – bad decisions, addictions, isolation, triggers, sin… it’s because there is a bad tree. You can behavior manage all day long (which is exhausting), but a bad tree will still produce bad fruit. You have to replace the tree. This is why I’m so passionate about inner healing. Inner healing prayer ministry connects people with Jesus, and Jesus reveals truth, He replaces the tree. The truth really does set you free! The ministry I run is in the early stages of putting together a film and podcast series about inner healing. The attached link is to a clip from our interview with Dawna DeSilva who co-founded one of the inner healing prayer models we use called Sozo (Greek word, used over 100 times in the New Testament meaning “saved, healed, AND delivered” – it’s a “total package” word. It’s what Jesus does.). She is sharing a testimony of a pastor who was ready to quit because he couldn’t shake a cycle of sin in his life. It is heartbreaking when pastors and leaders fall – whether it be a sin issue, or a burnout issue, or whatever… but those things happen because of a bad mindset, a bad tree, a lie buried somewhere within. We need to deal with the bad tree, or the bad fruit will continue to come. https://youtu.be/U0QAs5jEcBs

  10. Joey A on February 19, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Thanks Carey! Realest post I’ve read in long time. #3 smoked me. This was so encouraging and life giving. Keep it coming! Makes me see His grace is sufficient for me, His power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore…His power may rest on me. Man has that been seared in me through this today.

  11. Gary Black on February 19, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Carey, thanks for the insightful and challenging post. And I appreciate the way you interact with all who respond. That takes hours to reflect on what each response communicates. Our church is in the midst of a building season which brings challenges of all kinds. I have served in the lead role for 31 years. All the cautions and concerns you mentioned are so relevant. Our elders have focused on being a healthy church. While they are very supportive of my leadership, they are not yes men. They call our church and me to prayer as a foundational aspect of our faithfulness. It may sound trite to church leaders reading this thread but the PRAY FIRST practice has brought staff and elders and congregation to a recognition of our dependence upon the Lord. I agree with your emphasis on transparency. I hadn’t thought of it it in this way but that is humility. As a long term pastor I constantly ask the Lord, ‘let me know when I am done before they ask me to be done.’ I resonate with your comment about growing past 300 and feeling overwhelmed. Thanks for sharing that. I feel better knowing you have experienced those feelings even at this level of ministry. Blessings to you. I appreciate your posts and recent book.

  12. Joy on February 19, 2019 at 5:32 am

    Hi Carey,
    Your article has come to my attention at a critical time. As an associate pastor or lay minister I am astounded by the responses I get when I seek to give leaders constructive criticism. Gently and unemotionally for the sake of “their work” or”their ministry”. Working with a leader who cannot take on feedback but rather isolates you from ‘the pack’ has happened to me several times. Perhaps it’s the fact that they see it as “theirs” that is the problem. And they become comfortable, particularly if paid! And don’t want to lose that security. Well called. Write more Carey!

  13. [p] on February 19, 2019 at 2:36 am

    Thanks for sharing this! maybe i missed it, but i was surprised that there was no mention of the pervasiveness of sin & the “sins of our past”…sure character is important, but isn’t our defiance & lack of repentance the real issue? There is no arriving in the Christian life as Paul writes. We are not exempt…

    When I look at when I have fallen, my relationship with the Lord is where it starts (or ends), a lack of repentance, and lack of accountability are key indicators of trouble coming & the loving discipline of the Father. I pray for restoration for these leaders & healing for those affected.

  14. Chad Clark on February 18, 2019 at 9:09 pm

    Thank you! This impacted me greatly and opened my eyes to several things in my own life. Coming from a fire service back ground, risk management has always been a top priority. This is the epitome of risk management for those in ministry. Gordon Graham a leading teacher on risk management said, “If its predictable, its preventable.” Many blessings!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 9:25 pm

      Thanks Chad. Great insight.

  15. Dan G on February 18, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    Hey Carey,
    I appreciate your openness and willingness to be vulnerable, two things that are important but too often lacking in our churches. Another thing to think about is the right role of elders to provide spiritual oversight to the churches. When that authority level is compromised or missing, there is no objective checks and balances for the church leadership. I know there are many models but the correct biblical undrstanding of being under authority is very often missing in many of these cases and that exposes the church and the Pastor to be tempted into self governance. We need elders to stop prioritizing the Pastor, the budget and the attendance over the health of the church body.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 9:26 pm

      Hey Dan…true. I think the elder group can/should be the group of like-minded aligned leaders who can challenge you.

  16. Phill on February 18, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    As a man now managing a business and no longer in full time ministry due to my own failures it can easily be summed up by continuing to sound this warning. “Beware of ever saying, Oh…that wouldn never happen to me.” None of us is too great to fall. And by all means. None of us should be exempt from or too great for feedback and criticism. Even Tiger Woods had a swing coach at the height of his career. Who is on the outside looking in at your life and suggesting changes to keep you on top of your game? I appreciate Carey’s writings and podcast more and more each time I digest some new content. The article is also a great reminder to me to be praying for my church leadership team regularly.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 9:27 pm

      Phil…this carries so much weight. Thank you. And thanks for still praying for and believing in church leaders. Humbling.

  17. Steve Fogg on February 18, 2019 at 6:35 pm

    Hey Carey,

    There are so many deep truths in here I don’t know even where to start. But I wholeheartedly agree.

    Another truth I see is when a leader no longer only serves the Kingdom of God, but serves to only build up their own kingdom. Like you said, they serve themselves, rather than the church. Church leadership was never designed to be self-service. Often they are motivated through insecurity, or just plain selfishness or greed. The dysfunctional seed of power is still very fertile even in the most hardy of soils.

    When power takes root, integrity dies and staff see that very quickly.

    Thanks for being real and transparent. SO appreciate you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 9:27 pm

      Steve…thank you, and right back at you.

  18. Jenny on February 18, 2019 at 5:52 pm

    Oh carey you hit the nail on the head when you said accountability partners should ask the pastors wives or husband’s how their really going. As a pastors wife and now a senior pastor I think this is gold. Usually it’s the wife who knows first how he’s really going. I’m going to give permission to my accountability partner today to check in with my hubby or when she’s worried about me and give hubby the permission to tell her if he sees me in a bad place. What a great post thank you for writing it.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 9:28 pm

      Thanks Jenny!

  19. Marvin R Brubacher on February 18, 2019 at 4:37 pm

    Thank you for this interesting, informative, and introspective reflection on some reasons why “mega” church pastors fall. One further observation is that the sins of our youth are often never addressed adequately and/or confronted ruthleasly. Unless this happens in our early experience of leadership, the seeds take root and produce a harvest eventually. I am not talking about sexual sins, but the sins of pride, arrogance, abuse — becoming a law unto oneself. One’s giftedness can overshadow one’s character, especially in our evangelical church culture that promotes “successful leaders” into cultural icons. While no two stories are alike, at the root of all failure is pride which produces terrible fruit. No wonder Jesus rebuked James and John by saying leadership in His Kingdom turned Roman cultural models upside down. We need to re-embrace Jesus’ teaching in thougthful, transforming ways as a counter action to our tendency to import our broken western leadership cultures into the church.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 9:29 pm

      There’s so much to watch in yourself. Thanks!

  20. Nha Long on February 18, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    Wish we have more pastors like you. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 9:29 pm

      Thank you Nha. There are many…we have a great tribe here.

  21. Ralph Juthman on February 18, 2019 at 2:15 pm

    Carey, the only change I would make in this outstanding article, is to remove the prose MEGA CHURCH pastors. The sad truth is, pastors fall whether they are large or small church pastors. We are all flesh and blood and but for the grace of God, there go I.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 9:30 pm

      Thank you Nha. There are many…we have a great tribe here.

  22. Joe Lightle on February 18, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Appreciate your humbleness and transparency.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 1:39 pm

      Thanks Joe.

  23. Mike on February 18, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Kind words and advice for a tricky situation. This just sucks. I left the institutional church several years ago after experiencing bad leadership and haven’t been back. I know the pain and how real it is. I feel for the folks involved.

    Perhaps the western church model is in need of reform. As much as church people say the church is the people, not the building or the service, that’s not what unchurched people see. Ask those outside the church what the church is and they’ll tell you it’s a building where people go to sit and listen to a preacher speak about the Bible. The church seems to be more about encountering the preacher and less about encountering God. Couple that with an inability to ask questions to the pulpit and it’s easy to see how preachers can acquire dangerous levels of power and ego.

    I wonder if the pulpit structure of church is mutually enabling for both the preacher and the audience. The preacher gets to be the center of attention and speak theories about God. The audience gets to numb out their hearts and distract themselves with a good lecture.

    For me, I wish church looked more like AA. A group of people sitting in a circle, acknowledging their own sin and mutually sharing their hearts in a place of grace. I fear that as long as preachers keep making their platform and their words the most visible and important aspect of the church, people will remain stuck and true transformation won’t occur.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 12:57 pm

      I get that Mike. My question when people challenge the structure of the church is simply this…how do you reach people. No American model has ever been effective at staying small and reaching people that I know of. But transparency and acceptance? With you all the way.

      • Mike on February 18, 2019 at 2:34 pm

        Thanks for the reply, Carey. I’ve asked the same question of how to reach people. Maybe an answer is to study the history of AA and see if there’s a pattern to follow. That organization seems to be pretty visible and well-known while creating intimate spaces at the same time.

        Maybe rather than theorizing I should “dog food” the idea myself and see what happens. 🙂

        • Jonathan on February 18, 2019 at 6:03 pm

          Mike, Alpha (The Alpha Course) might be worth a look. It was designed with that discussion model in mind from AA. And from what I have seen has been successful in small and large churches.
          Don’t think it will be exactly what you are looking for but might give a model that could be worth a try and easy to adapt.

          • Mike on February 18, 2019 at 7:30 pm

            Thanks for the tip, Jonathan. 🙂



    • DeAnna on February 19, 2019 at 12:38 am

      Hi Mike,
      What you are proposing sounds like being involved in a small group (bible study). If you have never experienced one, I would encourage you to join one. 😀
      DeAnna

  24. Joe P. on February 18, 2019 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for this excellent warning. As a man in ministry, I greatly appreciate it. One thing I would like to raise to your attention. You repeatedly said you have not had an affair and I admire that. My challenge to you is whether that statement is consistent with how Jesus defines adultery in Matthew 5:27–28 (ESV), “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The reality is we all are adulterers. We have all had affairs if we take Webster’s definition, “a romantic or passionate attachment typically of limited duration.” Now not all adultery is created equal and certainly a man can be eliminated from being in the ministry as not meeting the character qualifications of being a one woman man (which is the type of adultery I think you are referring to). However, I think that sometimes we set the bar a little too low when we assume that as long as we have not had a physical affair we are ok. I am not saying you are doing this but sometimes we in the ministry can be more like the Pharisee than the tax collector. We can look at men who have fallen and say thank God we are not like them instead of realizing that we are all sinful adulterers and it is only by God’s grace that our adultery has primarily been the our heart and it has not manifested itself in a physical sexual relationship with someone who is not our wife. Anyways, I hope you find this feedback helpful (dare I say challenging?) and you understand the heart with which I give it.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      Great point. And yes, I am guilty of that. I preached on that Sunday at Connexus. Here’s the message if everyone is interested.
      http://connexuschurch.com/sermon/alt-sex/

      That said, there would be no one in ministry or leadership of any kind if that standard was applied as an entry or sustaining criteria for any leadership. So I think there is a distinction between inappropriate thought and inappropriate action.

      • Joe P on February 18, 2019 at 1:38 pm

        Absolutely. I completely agree. When I said the following I was alluding to the point that adultery of the heart is not in and of itself a disqualifier for ministry, “Now not all adultery is created equal and certainly a man can be eliminated from being in the ministry as not meeting the character qualifications of being a one woman man (which is the type of adultery I think you are referring to).” I agree with you that if Jesus’s standards of adultery were applied no one would be qualified. My main point is that if we do not think of ourselves as ever having been involved in an affair or having committed adultery then we probably would not respond with the grace we should to those who have committed the physical act of adultery (more in a 1 Corinthians 10:12 or Galatians 6:1 type of way). Thanks for taking the time to respond and I appreciate the opportunity to learn from your perspective.

      • Alex Hanks on February 19, 2019 at 11:19 am

        When counselors start looking forward to seeing the counselee, it’s time to send them to a different counselor.
        When the preacher or staff member starts looking forward to being in a meeting with someone, or attempts to arrange things so that can occur, it is a danger sign. When the staff member overprotects a staff assistant or secretary assigned to them, is flattering toward them or is jealous if someonelse gives them attention, something is wrong.
        We have all been guilty of such things, but must pay attention to those warning signs.
        Retired

  25. Mike Alvarado on February 18, 2019 at 10:42 am

    Thank you so much for this article, it truly spoke to my heart. I’ve been guilty of many of the issues that you wrote about but I’ve found that transparency with my wife and inner circle have helped me greatly. I’ve been pastoring in the same church for nearly 18 years and we’ve had our ups and downs and most recently have seen great blessing but through it all, God has been faithful to me and my family and His church. Carey, all of us need more dialogue regarding these issues because unfortunately there are many of us who are isolated and cannot find a trusted friend in whom we can trust with our weaknesses. I appreciate you.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 11:25 am

      I think the best years are where you have the deepest investment. Keep going Mike!

  26. Rondee Striegel on February 18, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Thank You for your kind prayer Pastor Nieuwhof. I do always hope and pray that someday the church will find unity and be sadden by people that fall. I am never happy when someone falls from the church and I know that I could very much fall too under bad conditions. I can only hope the church in the future will believe more in restoring people who fall and not write them off as a sinner that GOD cannot restore.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 11:25 am

      Absolutely Rondee. With you on that!

  27. Mary on February 18, 2019 at 10:28 am

    An observation: This article about why pastors fall and how to guard against it has no reference to God’s Word.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 11:25 am

      Absolutely Rondee. With you on that!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 11:28 am

      Mary…I get that question all the time. I’ll answer it here.

      I read God’s word every day, value it deeply, and use it as the model for my life and leadership.

      Pray, scripture and trust in God are the foundation of this blog too. They’re assumed. And if I wrote about that in each post, they would all sound the same: Should read your bible more, pray differently, and trust deeper.

      So I try to point out the others things.

      There are many great theological blogs and books that use scripture more widely than I do. To me it’s the bedrock, and the observations I offer try to help those of us who are navigating the ups and downs of life and leadership.

      Hope this helps.

  28. Sam on February 18, 2019 at 10:01 am

    Excellent writing based on the given context. This is not for the ones who have already decided saying all leaders in church are hypocrites.

    It is a word for Pastors and ministry officials to be careful, vigilant and take time to examine what are the areas we are prone to weakness and ask the Holy spirit to help us get out of those areas. Yes some may need counseling or talk with other pastors and seek help.

    At the same time i am from Asia but Canadian citizen now for the last 11 years. One of the observations I have made seeing mega church Pastors either watching online or DVD or in few times directly by visiting is there is a sense of huge celebrity style.
    PRIDE.
    It is virtually impossible for people to talk with the Pastor. I understand on special days it may require some privacy. But every Sunday? Give us a break. If you dont like to meet with people because you are high above them….then better to quit and go elsewhere. There is so much pride about them as lead Pastor, their church is almost the one and only best in the world, their model should be followed because they plant churches in other places like the mother church and based on the local context.

    The Pastor who Carey is talking in this article has done church planting in few places in Toronto. It is saddening to know the church was planted not because of people saved, but because of the huge tools and money they had and then pulling people from existing churches, excellence in radio advertising helped them build new churches in wrong way.

    When we begin it wrong…we will end up wrong.
    As we talk I am watching few mega church pastors who are having same style of Administration like the one who is referred here.

    I come from a church of 50000 in India. The Pastor who started with 7 peopke 45 years ago gave appointments to meet with people when he had 7, meet people during church….very humble and man of faith. So easy to talk to him then…

    Today after 45 years it is the SAME. HE REMAINS APPROACHABLE. I can call him on his phone from Canada and he will pick up..no secretary needed..of course he has secretary…when I go to India I can easily get a time to see him talk with him. He has started 1000 of churches, lives in the same 3 bedroom house even when members told him to move mansions.

    I think mega church pastors in north America think they are called to serve church as boss and not as jesus taught us to be servants.
    It is very easy to get an appointment to meet with local MP or Senator but so hard to meet with mega church or bigger churches Pastor.

    Carey has given enough practical tools to use. May we take them, pray and serve as Jesus. Let Us be like Jesus.

    Phil 2:5-11.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 11:29 am

      Humility is so important. Thanks for sharing!

      • Sam on February 18, 2019 at 8:33 pm

        Thank you Pastor Carey.
        Appreciate your boldness to bring it up. I know you do it because it is the right thing to do.

        Is there a way to talk current mega church pastors and tell them…its time for you to look into style of leadership or character. Before another one more blow for church will the key leaders like you talk directly to some of the mega pastors and make them accountable.

        If they dont listen its their responsibility to answer.

        Thank you again. Hope to meet you in 2019.
        Sam

  29. Svetlana Papazov on February 18, 2019 at 9:58 am

    Thank you for this deeply thoughtful article! Great insights!! I also whole heartedly agree with your “lead at home well” and you will be a better leader at work. I’m a female lead pastor. Im convenienced that my leadership at home is as important as my leadership at church. If we don’t win on daily basis the respect of those who know us best—our kids & our spouse, then it is likely our character is not developing into the leader who can model the way of Christ at church and the marketplace. Thank you for your ministry!!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 11:29 am

      Love hearing this Svetlana, thank you!

  30. Gary on February 18, 2019 at 9:43 am

    Billy Graham did not run his ministry. The team ran it and Billy was the visionary. Preachers are not designed to be a CEO or a COO. Most conferences on Leadership put all the emphasis on the Dynamic single person. I served in a large church with a dynamic visionary but we made all ministry decisions about Big Rock Issues as a team.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 11:30 am

      Team matters so much. Thank you Gary!

  31. Tim Riordan on February 18, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Excellent article. Thanks for your spirit and for underscoring some really important principles for effective ministry. I’ve been in ministry a long time and could write books about my mistakes. Some of the things you address are challenges or have been challenges I’ve had to face. The thing is that I was told some of these things many years ago as a young pastor and ignored dealing with it or didn’t really understand the significance at the time. I suppose my counsel is don’t ignore these principles and start yesterday. One thing I might add is to feed your soul before feeding your congregation. Sundays come so quickly and we find ourselves always getting ready to preach that we start living in the mode or preparation to preach/teach all of the time. How do you disconnect from Sundays? A strong, spiritual leader must first have a passionate relationship with Jesus Christ. Ministry failure begins as a spiritual failure from a shriveled soul.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 11:30 am

      So true Tim. The soul is where this all happens…

  32. David on February 18, 2019 at 9:18 am

    That is one of the best articles I have read. Thank you for sharing this. Even those of us who are not pastors of large churches can benefit from it.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 11:30 am

      Thanks so much David. 🙂

  33. Janet Horman on February 18, 2019 at 9:16 am

    When you talk about leading at home, it sounds like the type of theological framework that believes that men are to be the lead pastors at church and the lead spiritual guide at home. Is that your thinking? If so, that type of distortion can lead to the very downfall you are trying to avoid.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 11:32 am

      Hey Janet, thanks for asking for clarification. The kind of leadership I’m talking about is servant leadership. And I guess it’s as much a case of neglect v. truly caring for your family and marriage. See Svetlana’s comment above. She models what I’m talking about as a female leader. My family needs my wholehearted attention too.

    • Gary Coleman on February 18, 2019 at 11:33 am

      1 Tim. 3:5-6 seem pretty clear.

  34. Jeremy Mahood on February 18, 2019 at 8:47 am

    Building on your comments in my experience in leading a church for over 40 years managing the stress of growth and the dynamics of change and my own personality have been the biggest challenges. Finding healthy ways to manage stress is critical. As you mention it’s far too easy to to allow pirn or alcohol or drugs etc. to creep I to your life, just to creat a diversion and try and turn your mind off from the pressures of work. Stress management, accountability to your self, your family, your organization and to God is the key to longevity and to ending well. Thanks for the insightful article.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 18, 2019 at 11:32 am

      Thanks Jeremy!

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