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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. Peter Hamm on Tue, November 02, 2010

      In my experience… Everybody gets grace except the leader.

      I won’t fault their decision except to say that I felt like there might have been too much “theology” in the explanation, but I wasn’t there.

    2. Dr. Steve Nestor on Tue, November 02, 2010

      Those with addictions should not be allowed to continue in the pulpit, without some type of rehabilitation, counseling, etc.  Addictions are difficult to deal with, and such a problem distracts the pastor from performing the function of pastor.  How can one knowingly have a problem, i.e. watching pornography and still stand in the pulpit and preach about sin?  I would think any pastor who is serious about the call would want to have a pure heart and to live a holy life.
      Unfortunately, when they do not, it hurts the church and individuals directly impacted by such behavior.

    3. Tim Leadingham on Tue, November 02, 2010

      I think it’s easy to cast judgment here.  How can a person knowingly have a problem and still stand in the pulpit to preach about sin?  It’s called grace!  I can’t find a Scripture verse that places sin in some type of order from bad to worse.  How about gluttony or taking a pen from the office or using church equipment such as laptops and printers to use for personal projects?  Wouldn’t it be more helpful to help this leader through the process of handling the addiction (of any kind) and there is great potential for even stronger leadership and teaching as a man that is now transparent and dealt with sin just like everyone else.  I agree that leadership sets the pace but a quick and private termination helps no one.  I agree that pastors/leaders are held to a higher accountability….I get that…but let’s seek restoration and healing…that’s a win-win for both the person and the church.

    4. Todd Rhoades on Tue, November 02, 2010

      I agree… restoration and healing MUST be the #1 priority.  I would be terribly against any church terminating an employee and not having any plan for either restoration or healing.  That, in and of itself, is sinful.

      But I do think at least a period of stepping down is in order… in many cases permanently from the current position in that church.  Restoration and healing may occur in that church.  It may not.  But the person should not be allowed to pastor another church a month later like nothing ever happened.


    5. C.C. Risenhoover on Tue, November 02, 2010

      Pastors should be held to a higher standard, so I think the church was justified. How do you lead by example if you’re not an example? And, it’s not being legalistic to give more grace to a church member who strays than to a preacher who strays. It may not always be pleasant for a pastor, but a he and his wife know going in that they live in a glass house - and they should actually want people to see and know what they’re doing.

    6. Chip Hagler on Tue, November 02, 2010

      “How can one have a problem (sin) and still stand in the pulpit and preach about sin?”  That’s one of the biggest problems in the church today.  “Come, let us show you (the world) what true grace really looks like, while we treat those amongst us with sin, like lepers.”  The world sees that we say one thing and act in a way that’s in direct opposition to the message we’re trying to get them to believe. 

      I’ve personally seen many pastoral families destroyed by addiction and many times, unfortunately, I’ve seen the church lead the way.  Should we hold our leaders to higher standards? Absolutely!  Should we demonstrate even more grace towards them when they stumble under the tremendous weight of their calling? Even more so! If, as Todd mentions, the pastor is broken and repentant, how many times does the Bible say we should forgive?  And if we truly forgive and demonstrate the love and grace that’s been so freely given to us, does that ever equal a pink slip and a toss out the back door?  I think not!

      When the church starts treating our own with the same dignity and respect as we would treat those outside the church, then maybe, just maybe, the world we see that we practice what we preach.

      To say that anyone has to be sinless to get in the pulpit and preach about sin is a position that’s setting our leaders up for failure.  Can you imagine how isolating that would feel?  We’re teaching those who lead us to put on the pretense of perfection, instead of the cloak of fallen and forgiven sinner.

      I pray for a church that loves it’s own and like any family would seek to restore the fallen.  How beautiful would it be if we demonstrated to the world that when you stumble, our family will do everything within it’s power to help you overcome.  Now that’s a message the world will find irresistible.

    7. Scott Lowther on Tue, November 02, 2010

      What we have to remember is that the position of pastor has divine criteria listed in God’s word. Unfortunately, in today’s age of celebrity ministry the Bible is often overlooked. A pastor of a church needs to not only meet the standards of the office but also model it to the people. “Follow me as I follow Christ” is the clear call of scripture. All that to say a pastor not living what he is preaching needs to go. Yes, he needs to be restored to the body (church family) but not the pulpit for a long time that would be determined by wise elders depending on many factors. God doesn’t need our “talent”.

    8. Leonard on Tue, November 02, 2010

      The struggle with addiction is a tough one.  Were not talking about an oops but a pattern and even more than a pattern, were talking about being gripped by an addiction into a pastern. 

      One reason more leaders do not ask for help is because of the high cost of getting help.  Somewhere it would be nice if there was a place for pastors to get some assistance without losing their job.

      I am not talking about lowering a standard, I am talking about lifting people to that standard biblically. 

      Thanks Todd for asking the question.

    9. CS on Tue, November 02, 2010

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

      What’s the difference between an ongoing lifestyle of sin and an addiction?  And, does the Bible make any differentiation between the two?


    10. Leonard on Tue, November 02, 2010

      Scott, this IMO has nothing to do with celebrity pastors.  Of the 600k pastors in the US, I am not sure there are that many celebrities. 

      There is a high standard, but the same standard applies to all.  Paul’s words about elders and overseers are a standard for all followers of Christ. 

      We have a very western view of this.  What about the country where the man who has come to Christ and is leading others to Christ in his village but has 3 wives, all married him before he was a Christian?  What do you say to him?  Divorce two of them…  This is a real situation in many places, I was recently training a group of pastors in Africa who were wrestling with this very scenario. 

      Let’s work to create greater accountability, better processes of restoration along with keeping a high standard.

    11. Peter Hamm on Tue, November 02, 2010


      That’s a debatable point, as some argue about Paul’s thorn in the flesh… however, any attempt to use biblical passages to talk about the right treatment of addiction is, I agree with you (I think), reaching.

      But… let’s say it’s all sin (it is)...

      I think the grace and mercy extended by Christ through the church to a leader should be the same for this addicted man as the man who has an affair.

      I agree that he should step down for a season… at least… I also agree that a PLAN of graceful action needs to occur as well. Sadly, that is rarely, it seems, the case.

      And I have to tell you that the amount of transparency a pastor has with his congregation… let’s just say be careful out there, boys and girls…

      Leonard writes [Somewhere it would be nice if there was a place for pastors to get some assistance without losing their job.] Sadly, this is just not the case. I wonder, if I were in these shoes, who I’d be willing to go to. Probably just crawl under a rock and drink myself to death, as there are so few, if any, safe people in this regard… (I do have one, but that might be it… maybe two…)

    12. Shane Moffitt on Tue, November 02, 2010

      I agree whole heartedly that the pastor must immediately step down.  He has lost his ability to shepherd the flock.  And I agree wholeheartedly that the pastor must be cared for.  However I have an observation.  I have personally observed this 2 times in the last year. In both cases, the pastors did not ask for help, or “repent” until caught—then, and only then, were they struck with the need to “repent” and ask for help.  For a shepherd that is called to lead both by example and word, neglecting to confess their faults one to another until they have no other option…. doesn’t set a very high standard for conduct.  So I have two questions:  #1.  Are they sorry they sinned—or sorry they got caught?  #2.  how does Matthew 5:28 (looking and lusting) apply to reinstatement?  Would you reinstate a pastor caught in adultry?  Thank you for your time and thoughts.

    13. Peter Hamm on Tue, November 02, 2010


      Perhaps the answer to that dilemma is to only go to places where people already live the way we want them to. wink

      Shane writes [For a shepherd that is called to lead both by example and word, neglecting to confess their faults one to another until they have no other option�. doesn�t set a very high standard for conduct.] But of COURSE it gets so bad they have no other option… because there is no safe person for them to talk to! Sad, but true…

    14. CS on Tue, November 02, 2010


      “That�s a debatable point, as some argue about Paul�s thorn in the flesh� however, any attempt to use biblical passages to talk about the right treatment of addiction is, I agree with you (I think), reaching.”

      I just asked because I could not find any difference between the two, and wanted to see if anyone else had any insight.

      The world calls alcoholism a disease and an addiction; the Bible calls it the sin of drunkenness. 

      The world calls pornography a disease and an addiction; the Bible calls it the sin of lust.

      The world calls spending too much time on the computer and focusing on electronic gadgets a disease and an addiction; the Bible calls it idolatry.

      So when we treat sin as a disease instead of a sin, the outcomes differ. 


    15. Rev Eric on Tue, November 02, 2010

      People acquire addictions for no shortage of reasons. We pastors face plenty of temptations to garner our own addictions. That’s not an excuse for behavior. It is a reminder of the world we live in and how increasingly difficult it is to be a pastor.

      I don’t know why this particular pastor had a problem with alcohol. Nevertheless, a person with an addiction is probably not equipped to lead a congregation and should receive treatment and be removed from leadership, temporarily or permanently.

      That particular church’s decision to remove their pastor was their right and they probably made the right one; especially if he had a reputation for calling out the heresy of others. But how is the church following through?

      There’s a difference between removing one from leadership and getting “fired.” Did this pastor lose his health benefits? If so, how will he get treatment? Is the church providing counseling, medical care? Are they trying to meet his needs as he worked to meet the needs of the church?

      There is really too much missing from this story. We don’t know if he is repentant or not. We don’t know the cause of his addiction. (Yes, he is responsible but did his work at the church drive him to drink?) How is the church examining itself? Were their expectations too high? Are there clergy killers in the pews, in leader positions? None of this is to remove blame from personal behavior, but sin is corporate as well as individual.

      There are too many questions and this is a good but tricky question that needs to be considered by both people going into ministry and leaders already in it. The answers will vary from scenario to scenario.

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