Religious culture has a hard time with pastors and pastor’s families who have flaws. Of course, the healthiest congregations do not expect their pastors to walk on water, do not put their pastors on pedestals. But in my experience, such congregations are not the norm.
Thousands of pastors serve congregations that, despite rhetoric to the contrary, expect their leaders to maintain (at least for public viewing) near-perfect marriages, near-perfect families, and near-perfect lives.
While it may be fine that their pastor forgets to take out the trash, is hyper-addicted to football, burns the toast, or consistently forgets his wife’s birthday (all endearing foibles that make good fodder for sermon jokes), he’d better not have any serious bouts of depression, credit issues, children who get caught selling ecstasy, or a wife with a drinking problem.
That quote from this article in Christianity Today really caught my eye for several reasons. 1) I am a pastor, who was raised in a pastor’s home. And as a family we experienced our own share of struggles and trials; 2) I am in a summer school intensive class on Addictions at Fuller Seminary for my MFT program. These two things have me thinking more and more about addictive behavior within the church. For example, what is acceptable and unacceptable addictive behavior. Where alcohol use and sexual sin are most often preached about, other addictive behaviors such as overeating, gambling, pride, greed, etc. are constantly looked over…or as seen as more acceptable in Chrisitianity. What about co-dependency? That’s a pretty acceptable addictive behavior in Christian churches as one of my classmates pointed out this morning.
As someone who was raised in a church and have always been a pastor’s kid, I understand the pressure that pastors and their families feel to put on the “right face” in church. That’s what congregations expect, and that ultimately can drive a pastor or his or her family into withdrawal from real issues that need to be openly faced or discussed. What becomes even more dangerous in when pastor’s eventually reach a place where their addictive behavior becomes unaccountable to anyone, because they have reached such a powerful iconic status in their church, that nothing they do or say is confronted. Too many pastors and churches have hit the rocks because of that.
As I am sitting in my class listening about the in and outs of cocaine and heroine use; sexual and alcohol addiction; prescription drug use; eating disorders, etc……I either have the option to ignore it as not being appropriate talk for Christians, which often happens in many circles. Or I can pull my head out of the sand and realize that addictive behavior is not exclusive to any people group…it affects everyone, and it’s about time that we in the church spend appropriate time addressing difficult issues related to online pornography and its addictive nature that is affecting a huge generation of mostly males…addressing alcohol abuse which affects way more in a congregation than I think many want to believe….what about gambling…it has become an acceptable church activity at many men’s events, but do we realize that that addictive behavior is destroying many lives in our congregations.
Anyways…I’m ranting right now. But no one is exempt from being overtaken by addictions and we as a Christian community need to start addressing these things more openly, and be a part of the help and transformation process.
This is also an interesting topic in light of some of the big conversation on line related to alcohol use. Brent Thomas has a great post on the SBC’s position on alcohol use. I happen to be someone who likes beer and wine, so I appreciate Brent’s post. But as I have visited some AA groups for class this week, I am beginning to think about the challenge we have in the church to teach moderation and responsibility regarding some behaviors that can become addictive….and then how do we also protect the vulnerable. It’s a tough challenge, but one I think the church community is up for.