They fell asleep at the wheel and by the time they woke up, they were already tumbling down the cliff. There’s been no shortage of pastors falling off the cliff lately. It seems as though the numbers are increasing, but what’s most likely the case is that this isn’t new and we simply hear about it more. Still, it’s happening and each time it happens again, it’s another tragic experience for that pastor, his family, and the congregation.
So how can you avoid from falling off the proverbial moral cliff? Enter: pastoral guardrails. Every pastor, no matter their position, needs pastoral guardrails in place that will keep them from tumbling to moral failure. Just like with real guardrails, though, these are not failproof. You can still push past them if you so desire. And hitting against them can and, most likely, will hurt. But they are for our own good.
5 Pastoral Guardrails to Keep You From Falling Off the Cliff
1. Elders Who Aren’t Afraid to Ask You Tough Questions And Do So Often
The pastoral guardrail of a group of elders who will often ask you tough questions is vital for your protection. Elders should be in tune with what is going on in the lives of the pastors who serve the church. They should be willing to step in and have the tough conversations when there is a sense that this is necessary.
They should also be willing to step in and ask, how are you really doing on a regular basis. Too often in the Church, we settle for reactive leadership when proactive leadership would have helped avoid the cause of the reaction.
If your elders aren’t asking you tough questions often, then do yourself a favor (and your entire church) and ask them to begin to do so.
2. Weekly and Transparent Accountability With 1 or 2 Others
The pastoral guardrail of weekly and transparent accountability is a powerful one. I wouldn’t make this group be bigger than you and two others. This will allow you and them to have the opportunity for transparency, vulnerability, and real accountability.
In order for this to work, though, each person must be willing to ask how the other is really doing and then follow-up with them when necessary. The content shared in this environment is confidential unless otherwise said.
If you don’t have weekly accountability setup, then make the change immediately. If you’re the only pastor on staff, begin meeting with an elder or deacon. At The Crossing, every person in our staff has accountability setup and I highly recommend your church do the same with its leadership.
3. Read the Bible With A Receptive Heart
It’s one thing to read the Bible, it’s another thing to read it with a receptive heart. In other words, when you read the Bible, whether that be in your personal devotion time or preparing to preach or teach, receive the words for you before you ever try to share them with someone else. Your heart needs to be in the position of receiving the truth of the Bible.
When the Bible becomes the tool you use to simply do your job, a fall is coming. When you are never confronted with your sinfulness when reading the Bible, a fall is coming.
So to avoid this, pay attention to see what God is saying to you through His word. And then as James would say, be a doer of the word, not just a hearer of it (James 1:22).
4. Pray With An Open Heart
A pastoral guardrail you can’t miss is going to God in prayer with all of you on the table. Just like Adam and Eve hid from God after they sinned, we too do the same thing when we sin. We have a tendency to skip our prayer time and get busy with ministry all the while failing to allow God to minister to us. Let us not fall into that trap, for it’s a rut that leads straight to the cliff.
Regular prayer that is authentic, transparent, and raw is vital for the health of your walk with God as well as your sustainability as a leader.
Lay it all out there to God. He already knows what’s in the depths of your soul. You might as well open your heart and put it in the light.
5. Willingness to Hit the Reset Button
Pastor, you will sin at some point. You will flirt with old habits that are destructive. The key in this is to hit the reset button of repentance and make the correction. See, the guardrail is in place to help you avoid the cliff. It will hurt on impact, though. That’s the thing with repentance. It can hurt. When we sin, it hurts.
And if you give yourself to the first four guardrails, when it comes time to hit the reset button, you’ll have the people around you and the relationship with God that will propel you to getting back on the road.
If you are flirting with sin right now, stop it and repent. Go to your elders and confess. Get accountability in your life. Read God’s word and let Him convict your heart. And pray to Him daily, confessing your sin and laying out all your struggles with the confidence that the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in you!
Dive in Deeper
For another take on this subject, read Carey Nieuwhof’s article, 5 Reasons Pastors Fail Morally (And What To Watch For in Your Own Life).
If there has been a moral failure, listen to Thom Rainer’s podcast, Surviving a Moral Failure on Church Staff.
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