It wasn’t until I was nearly twenty-two years old that I first became a member of a church. In the college town where I was, there was a small Presbyterian congregation that seemed to fit with my changing convictions. I was and still remain thankful for the three years I spent there before going to seminary. As a dating couple my wife and I were taken under the wings of the pastor and his wife, we enjoyed a lot of friendships and fellowship, I was learning a lot, and it was also the church where I preached my first sermon! However, all of this was mixed with profound sorrow when spiritual tragedy struck our small congregation.
Only weeks after he married us it was discovered that our pastor was being unfaithful to his wife of twenty-five years. His family was left utterly shattered and broken as a result of his sin. But his adultery also affected each member of the congregation in different ways. For my family—as we looked toward seminary and the pastorate—this was deeply discouraging. I remember telling my wife with tears that if this would be the result of my future ministry then I’d rather not even begin “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). That was a formative experience for our marriage and what has become my present ministry.
Unfortunately such spiritual tragedies are not uncommon. If the statistics are accurate—and they’re supported by Barna, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary—forty percent of pastors have been or are engaged in the sin of adultery. No, not the Matthew 5:27 adultery, but a physical or emotional extramarital relationship. Forty percent! And the other sixty percent are not immune to the possibility. No wonder Paul warned, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Many of us have not only watched prominent pastors fall, but we’ve seen it up close and personal as mentors, friends, and seminary classmates have yielded to temptation destroying their marriage and ministry. Every time it’s sad, and every time it’s tragic. As a young pastor words cannot express exactly how disheartening this is.
While responsibility for sin lies directly on the conscience of the one who forsakes their marriage vows, I’ve often wondered what might be done to help prevent such tragedies. I remember asking one of the elders of our church what accountability or oversight had been given to the pastor prior to his fall. To my astonishment he answered, “None.” Now, I want to emphasize that this man wasn’t a helpless victim of bad shepherding, but it did confirm my suspicion—one I still have—that often times and in many ways, the pastor is one of the most neglected sheep in the congregation.
So here’s my appeal. Churches, shepherd your pastor! Shepherd the shepherd. While every member has a responsibility to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24), the shepherding responsibility, I think, falls primarily to those men who are called to be elders, as “those who have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). As an elder you mus “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2), and your pastor is among you. I have the immense privilege of serving alongside four other elders and, for my part, I need them. And your pastor needs you too. Don’t leave his shepherding to his fellow pastor-friends, to seminary professors, to those outside of the church, to spiritually edifying books, or to the assumptions that he’s doing okay. You are the one who is called to shepherd him. Your pastor needs you and he needs your shepherding.
Your pastor needs you to encourage him to hold the faith and a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:19), and to continue in what he has learned and firmly believed (2 Timothy 3:14); he needs you to remind him to keep a close watch over his life and doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16); he needs you to bid him to keep the commandments unstained and to be free from reproach (1 Timothy 6:14); he needs you to challenge him to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11); he needs you to warn him to avoid that which is foolish and ignorant (2 Timothy 2:23) and to flee youthful passions (2 Timothy 2:22); he needs you to instruct him (2 Timothy 2:2), and set an example for him (2 Timothy 3:10); he needs your help in fanning into flame the gift of God (2 Timothy 1:6); he needs you to exhort him to preach the word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2), he needs you to reprove, rebuke, and exhort him with all patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2), and to correct him with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:25); he needs you to remember him constantly in prayer (2 Timothy 1:3); and, most of all, he needs you to remind him of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:8). Please, for his sake and for the sake of the church, shepherd the shepherd. And, pastors, let your elders shepherd you and be blessed by their presence in your life. You need them.