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Leadership JournalWinter 2006

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Restoring Fallen Pastors
The road back to ministry after a moral lapse—whether physical or virtua—is long and difficult. How can the restoration process be improved?



For Russ it's a little slice of heaven—a small church in a stagnant, rust-bucket town, landlocked, with a cramped creaky building, perennial money woes, and trust issues, and with no staff other than himself.

It's nothing like his last church, Woodland—the plum assignment in his region—a thriving suburban congregation near a bustling urban center, with several paid staff, gifted leaders, superior musicians, and strong sense of its mission. And, to his family's delight, good schools, loving friends, and a really nice parsonage.

This church has little of that. But for Russ, it's heaven—because he almost lost everything. Russ got hooked on internet pornography. Russ's addiction led to an emotional attachment outside his marriage and eventually a physical encounter. That's when he confessed to his wife and his denominational supervisor.

And life, as he knew it and loved it, ended.

Russ is not the only pastor whose story goes like this. No one knows how many of the 19,200 pastors required to leave ministry each year do so because of a moral lapse. In our surveys over the years, up to 12 percent of pastors confess inappropriate physical involvement outside of marriage. Churches knew how to handle adulterers—"kick 'em out" being the leading response. But the internet makes pornography readily available, and denominational law, in most cases, doesn't adequately address this new category of moral lapse.

In one poll, Leadership found 38 percent of pastors said internet pornography was a temptation to them. That temptation only grows as technology delivers porn to the pastor's study, and the best protective devices systems can be eluded.

"I installed a filter that includes two accountability partners who receive ...



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