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    Should a pastor with an addiction be fired?

    Should a pastor with an addiction be fired?

    This is the question that more and more churches are having to deal with these days.  How do you deal with a pastor who has an addiction.  Maybe it's an addiction to alcohol or drugs; maybe it's a sexual addiction like pornography.  The question is... what should be done with a pastor that has an addiction of some kind when it is found out?

    This scenario has actually happened this past week at Twin City Fellowship.  Recently Bob Dewaay's health was deteriorating and they weren't sure what was wrong.  After a bunch of tests, it was determined that Bob had Alcoholic Hepatitis.  Bob had been a vocal part of the discernment movement (calling out those who he though here heretical) for the past years.  As it turns out, the diagnosis was news to everyone in his church, including his elders.  The reaction was quick.  Termination.

    You can hear how the church responded publicly here.  (It's in the first ten minutes).

    How should a church respond when their leader is caught in an addiction?

    My thought is that the church acted properly in removing the man from leadership (although I think some of the words were rather harsh).  The shepherd of a congregation is held to a high standard, and I think this was the right decision.

    But what responsibility does the church have in the area of reconciliation? in the area of counseling and help?  and in the area of financial support of this man and his family?

    I think part of the answer to that question has to do with how the person caught reacts?  Are they repentant?  Are they making excuses?  Are they defiant?  

    And if they are repentant, do you work out a restoration plan with them as a church?  Are they restored to their senior pastor role?

    And if you, for some reason, decide NOT to terminate, how do you proceed?  Publicly?  Privately?  Seems dangerous to the life of the church either way.

    As you can tell... I have few, if any answers.

    Dare I say what happens most often?  When this type of addiction is found in a staff person (especially a person in a senior role); many times the person if quietly fired (without giving a reason) and is simply moved on to another church.  This is what should NEVER happen.

    What are your thoughts?  If your pastor (or you) were diagnosed with Alcoholic Hepatitis (and no one even knew you drank); should you be terminated, rehabilitated, or what?






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    1. Paul Kuzma on Tue, November 02, 2010

      It seems to me that this question ought to depend on the what the pastor is addicted to and the severity of the addiction. I’ve worked with some pastors who have been “addicted” to pain meds. They weren’t purposely using the meds to get high, but truly trying to find relief from physical pain. When they tried to get off them, the withdrawal symptoms were too much and they sought proper treatment to make change.

      We ‘re not talking much here about work addiction. Certainly more difficult to “diagnose”, but a very real epidemic among pastors nonetheless. We applaud this rather than ask what should be done for a pastor who is caught in this real sin that is many times a precursor to other “more serious” addictions. And should the work addicted pastor be fired? I think not, but it is up to each individual body of leadership working with a pastor to determine so.

      Working with pastors on these issues too regularly, too often in my experience, while the words aren’t used this way, we question too quickly “how the pastor should be handled” and too slowly question our methods of grace toward him or her.

      Just my thoughts on all too hot a topic!

    2. Cal Habig on Tue, November 02, 2010

      Shane: You say, “He has lost his ability to shepherd the flock.”  I may be nitpicking at words, but I don’t think he has lost his ABILITY as much as he has lost his CREDIBILITY.  Some people with addictions are amazingly talented at shepherding the flock.  They have (unfortunately) so segmented their lives that the addiction has little effect on their ability to pastor.  (Just as there are executives and artists who continue to function at a high level despite what we might otherwise see as debilitating addictions).  But ministry is not only based on ability.  It is based on character.  And what the pastor has lost is not necessarily ability as much as credibility.  Character has to be restored and publicly demonstrated over time.

    3. Chip Hagler on Tue, November 02, 2010

      PS: I agree that they should step down for a season.  No arguments here. 

      I come into contact on a regular basis with pastors that are struggling with sin issues.  They’re in a catch 22.  Do whats right and put my family at risk, or continue quietly in my sin until I’m forced to deal with the issue.  While I know it’s easy to sit in judgment and say we should always do what’s right, I don’t think “REAL” life plays out like that for any of us.  We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.  Period.  You, me and every pastor that’s serving today.

      The issue in our churches is that we’ve not created a safe environment for our leaders to discuss their issues and struggles.  The main complaint I hear from Lead Pastors, is that most don’t have one person they can really trust.  How sad is that?  You can’t preach and teach transparency when you’re unable to really live that out in your own life.

      Higher standards yes!  But on both sides…..

    4. Dr. Don Walker on Tue, November 02, 2010

      He should not have to be fired. A true man of God who’s life become sin captivated and out of control SHOULD resign. If he refuses to do so, the spiritual leaders of the church should inact church discipline that would lead to healing and restoration of the individual BUT he should not return back to the pulpit but find other ways to minister until he is healed and proven worthy of the position of Pastor. There are actions that biblically disqualify one for of office of Pastor. Way too many churches, in the name of grace, walk away from God’s principles and render the church spiritually powerless. Example: Today on the news is word of a Pastor outside of Atlanta who has been married twice and divorced (and left in office). Now he is “coming out” as a homosexual and justifying himself. God must grieve when he sees how we disobey and do it in His name.

    5. Phillip Maine on Tue, November 02, 2010

      I believe the pastor should not have been fired but given time off and forced into drug rehab.  He then should be associate pastor for a while with periodic tests then placed in senior leadership after about five years.  This church had a legit reason, but he is one person of 2-1/2 percent of pastors fired.  Most of the time when a pastor is fired the church and lay leadership is sinning.  When Jesus called the pastor to the church he knew what he was doing.

    6. Rev Eric on Tue, November 02, 2010

      Phillip:Your suggestion would not work in my denomination; PC(USA). For us, we believe men or women are called to serve in a specific position. Should a senior pastor leave, the associate does not step “up.” The senior pastor position remains vacant until filled by someone called to be the senior pastor. There’s no hierarchy, just different callings. All that to say that this is a complicated issue and each scenario will present different solutions.

      By the way Paul, excellent point on work addictions. We had an intern at my church this past summer who said she’s never seen a pastor work as much as me. That scared me. I’ve changed my habits. (Otherwise, I could have been fired! smile )

    7. Rev. Roger Olsen on Tue, November 02, 2010

      Being a full time Therapist and a clergyman, I think the first thing to realize is that addiction is a process. The problem didn’t just happen overnight. Addictions are also signs that there is a much deeper issue or pain that has never been resolved. This is why I encourage pastors to seek weekly counseling. Denial is a powerful defense mechanism and wants us to believe “I can handle it” or “I don’t really have a problem”.  I suffered from gambling addiction and I have been clean for over 15 years but I still attend 12 step meetings and work my program. I resigned from my ministry because I realized I could not lead the flock until I got help for myself. I found I had unsresolved issues which needed to be dealt with in a healthy manner. Remember, the goal of any addiction is to destroy the host.

    8. Todd Leupold on Tue, November 02, 2010

      Got question and good response, Todd. Peter, I also like your insights here.

      I think there should be no question in this instance both that the Pastor should immediately be terminated AND that a reasonable, biblical and compassionate plan for help, restoration and provision should be offered. If the individual refuses to accept responsibility and accountability, then that is a different matter and by his own insistence he is on his own.

      Now, it if were a situation where it is a church that condones ‘social drinking’ and the Pastor was at the beginning of an addiction, then a thing a case could and should be made for making provisions (and boundaries) for helping him through this without automatic termination.

    9. Cal Habig on Tue, November 02, 2010

      I really appreciate the spirit of your post.  While I definitely am not a tee-totaler, however, I still understand the Bible to say that drinking to excess is a sin.  Can one really become an alcoholic & develop Alcocholic Hepetitis without drinking to excess?  I agree, I don’t see it in the same vein as embezzling & sexual impropriety, but I struggle with including it in the category of “not sin”.  Can you help me with that?

    10. Rev. Roger Olsen on Tue, November 02, 2010

      One other comment on the subject of addictions, when we look at many of the great “Heros” of the Bible we see that many of them had addictions in their lives and had to be chastied by God before they became Great Godly Men. Paul was addicted to destroying the church. David was addicted to sexual sin, and the list goes on. When one looks at the disease model of Alcohol, and the fact that addictions are a process, it is easy to see how many Pastors can fall into the trap of using some sort of coping mechanism to help fight the stress of taking care of a congregation. Every Pastor should have a counselor, outside to his or her church, that one can go to on a regular basis to help process the stress related aspects of the ministry in a healthy manner. It’s too bad the Pastor with hepatitis didn’t seek help sooner.

    11. Dr. Larry Lucas on Tue, November 02, 2010

      We Evangelicals are notoriously inconsistent about drawing skillful and caring lines around the facts of such issues. First, this pastor drinking is not a matter of sin, but drunkenness is. The question is, how should the drinking problem be handled? I don’t see a lot of negative judgment in the posts, but let’s substitute issues. How about gluttony? Should obese pastors receive walking papers? No? Why not? If it is traceable to an inability to control eating, is that a disqualification? The list can be expanded. Where do we draw the line and why?

    12. rlb on Tue, November 02, 2010

      The standard for pastors are set forth in 1 Tim. 3 and also Titus.  Whether an individual remains or removed would probably depend on the situation.  If the person is being dishonest about his addiction then termination would be necessary?  If he is willing to submit to counseling and accountability, then removal won’t be necessary.  The other consideration is the nature of the addiction - i.e., substance abuse, sex, materialism.  The discipline should be geared towards protecting the flock.

      Considering your bold hypothetical, I would say termination, would be in order, coupled with leaving the door open for restoration.  I am not a pastor, but if I were lying about a habitual sin, and later got caught I would expect to be removed by the elders of my church.

    13. Brian Coday on Tue, November 02, 2010

      I’ve known way too many ministers that have been dismissed for addictive issues. Even though they are friends and colleagues, I just don’t see how a pastor that admits (or gets caught) to addictions can retain his position at the type of churches that we produce in this country. Congregations are audiences with a vote. They have high expectations of the pastor(s) that they pay to lead their church. The same grace should be granted to everyone but it just doesn’t seem possible with what we call church today.

      I do think that churches should do all they can to help an exiting pastor. I’ve recently heard of a place in Branson, MO that has developed a program to help ministers with these certain addictions. The approach is a week long, one-on-one “intensive” program that seems to have some positive results.

      I like it because it’s a week long in-house approach rather than single sessions spread out over several months. I don’t think many addictive personalities would really stick with a treatment approach that spans so long a period. The intensive idea really makes sense to me.

      I would love to see churches provide this kind of restorative program for the pastors that are dismissed as a result of sexual addictions.

      It may not be appropriate to post the link here so send an email and I’d be happy to send the contact information to you. bcoday (at) mac (dot) com.

    14. Kevin on Tue, November 02, 2010

      As a pastor who has gone through this kind of situation, most of these comments just make me sad, because it’s mostly just theorizing.  When the boots hit the ground its really hard stuff and most of these words just have no relevance at all. 

      Higher standards-  Sure
      Protect the church-  Sure

      But what about the pastor?  The position is like no other job…bar none.  The pressures (spiritual, emotional, physical) are without comparison.  So pastors (in an church culture who speaks transparency but doesn’t validate it when it counts) don’t deal with their stuff in a healthy way and when they fall, almost without fail they are discarded.  It’s disgusting and those of you who aren’t pastors don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.  These are real people with real families and real problems.  They are also really called to lead (in and out of their failings) with real anointing on their lives. 

      I won’t bother going point by point….the whole discussion even though extremely relevant (Todd thanks for keeping your blog that way) is just over most of your paygrades.

    15. Daniel Moore on Tue, November 02, 2010

      I am a recovered alcoholic (dry and sober since Aug 8, 1985).  I am a pastor.  Prior to entering the ministry, I was a career soldier.  From my military experience, those with drinking problems often had to have a DUI or other serious incident as the “wake up call” for change.  You are not “fired” but put into a counseling/rehab program.  There is some military discipline imposed 9 (Article 15, UCMJ).  It makes no difference as to rank.  Officers, senior NCO’s must have the trust of their soldiers…and it appears to me that the military is better at this issue than the church in grace.  It is complicated.  I had no DUI, just a moment when I had my head in the toilet and realized this won’t do.  God’s gace got me through.  (I was just a faithful pew warmer at that time…)  There is responsibility on both sides - the pastor should face up to his or her alcoholism and seek help and be honest about it; the church membership should weight all factors in grace before termination (which may be necessary).  A healing sabbatical and follow-up maybe an option ... and I am not downplaying the sins of the pastor by any means. Galatians 6:1-2 need to be our guide in this.

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