One of my personal heroes is Dr. Gary Sweeten. As a Christian and a Psychologist he has tremendous insight into helping pastors build strong Christian lives. In fact this is his life’s work as the director of Life Ways Ministries.
He made some comments in his blog this past year about the breakdown a minister can go through when no one is ministering to him.
We consider the pastor of a church to have a gravy job. You go to work on Sunday morning and speak for 90 minutes. Perhaps there is some weekly service you are required to lead. You have to smile and make nice and hope the church board provides enough for you and your family to live on.
However according to Dr. Sweeten, there is a lot more that Protestant ministers have on their plate than these sweet aspects and it is driving many of them to find comfort in hidden vices and many others are calling it quits and leaving their profession. From a reading of the news the outlook in the Catholic community appears just as bleak.
In yesterday’s news we learned about the hidden life of Evangelist, Ted Haggard. Reverend Haggard serves as the head pastor at a 14,000 member charismatic church in Colorado called New Life Church. He was elected to be head of the National Evangelistic Association. A male prostitute in the Colorado area claims that Reverend Haggard has been paying him for homosexual acts over the past 3 years.
Yesterday Reverend Haggard denied that claim. As Dr. Sweeten said in the blog I referred to, “He doth protest too much.”
Today when taped phone messages became public Reverend Haggard amended his denial to say that all he did was pay the prostitute for an innocent massage. Oh yeah, this reverend and father of five admitted that he bought illegal methamphetamine to share with the gay masseuse. So much for his credibility. The good reverend has quit his gig with the National Evangelistic Association. He has stepped aside as head pastor while his churches governing board investigates.
When I was a very young guy I was involved with a Christian group that was lead by a very charming middle aged man. He was married and the father of three. He was a seemingly devoted Christian and worked as a city engineer. He lost his position as leader in a church due to what he said was a difference in interpretation of the Bible. That should have raised a red flag, but I was a young and naive kid at the time.
To make a long story short, the light shone on a secret life that he thought he could keep hidden. He was having sex with a lady that was staying in his home and he was physically abusing his wife and children. The man needed help, but based on what he perceived as his position as leader there was no one to help him to come to grips with his spiritual and psychological needs. This is that same position in which Reverend Haggard finds himself.
We have seen this sort of thing in the news before from other well known Christians. These events are probably repeated on a daily basis by “professional” Christians in bedroom communities throughout the USA.
The men (and women) that serve us in the capacity of minister need someone to help and share their burden and give them the encouragement. They need to be provided with the tools to cope to continue in their work In fact isn’t this something that we all need?
It would seem to me that people in positions of counselling emotional and spiritual advice would do well to have some sort of professional guidance on a regular basis. Most professionals in other fields have mandatory continuing education and peer review which keeps them not only on par with their contemporaries, but gives them a scorecard of how they compare. It is doubtful that most churches have these business standards in place. I am of the opinion that pastors need to have someone to open up to and help them with resolving their inner conflicts. At the very least they would have an unbiased sounding board to provide them with reponse. And if it is found that their inner life has become totally polarized the response may be for them to find another line of work or at least take a sabbatical to evaluate their life. We see news articles like Reverend Haggard too often. This creates an embarrassment for his family, his church and the entire Christian community. If the cause of a man's problem could be diagnosed and dealt with before it comes down to bringing shame upon his family and all that associated with him we would be so much the better.