The title of this post represents a list I received that I will never forget. A seasoned pastor passed it on to a group of us many years ago. In the room sat about two dozen pastors, all of us engaged in various roles of responsibility at different local churches. We had invited this wise servant of God to address the perils facing our church leaders. He didn’t beat around the bush. Throwing diplomacy to the wind, he looked us squarely in the eyes and warned us against those four “occupational hazards” that can easily bring down people who serve the public as God’s representatives.
Go back and read the list again. See if you don’t agree. Those are the four most common battlegrounds of those in ministry. Trace the reasons great men and women have fallen . . . search for the common threads in the tapestry of tragedies. You will find most often a breakdown in the realm of personal morality.
I realize that we may be fed up and frustrated with hearing about moral failure. If you’re like me, you are even wondering what more can (or should) be said about it. But, like cancer, if it is continuing to take such a drastic toll on so many individuals, ignoring it isn’t the answer. An epidemic dare not be tolerated.
It’s important for us to remember that a moral breakdown never occurs suddenly. It comes about slowly, almost imperceptibly, like a slow leak in one of your tires. Some things are tolerated that were once not allowed. We lose the edge . . . we begin to slip . . . we shrug it off and smile instead of facing the truth. Time passes. By and by, sneaky acts of disobedience slip in, but because they are hidden and rationalized, we deny how far we’ve drifted.
I want you to put yourself in the picture of moral erosion and frame it with your particular set of circumstances. I want you to personalize the problem—bring it painfully close to home—don’t analyze it from a theological distance. Otherwise, you will never (and I mean never) come to terms with your own need for a renewal of moral purity.
Some time back I came across an excellent list of questions a small group of men regularly asked one another. Read the questions slowly. I think you’ll agree that they are on target.
- Have you been with a person of the opposite sex this week in an inappropriate way?
- Have you been completely above reproach in all your financial dealings this week?
- Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material this week?
- Have you spent time daily in prayer and in the Scriptures this week?
- Have you fulfilled the mandate of your calling this week?
- Have you taken time off to be with your family this week?
- Have you just lied to me?
I’d call that an exacting checklist! Before you pass over it too quickly, go back and answer each one for yourself. If you do it often, it will help you avoid the four pitfalls. All of them—Silver . . . Sloth . . . Self . . . Sex—are addressed in those questions.
Let me go one step further. If you don’t already have a group to whom you’re accountable, I urge you to start one. Make that phone call today. Please. Refuse to be an unaccountable pastor.
I shiver when I realize how quickly any one of us could get caught in a moral undertow and be swept into an ocean of tragic consequences.