There’s a discernible path of transformation in biblical story of Jacob’s life. His story is a story of conflict and struggle. Isn’t that how God does most of His transforming work in our lives? Through struggle, conflict, pain. Jacob’s struggle actually began in his mother’s womb as, the Bible says, he and his twin brother Esau “jostled” with one another. When they were born, Esau came out first with Jacob right behind, grasping onto Esau’s heel. Jacob- which means, “heel-grabber;” and figuratively; “he deceives.”

That was, of course, just the beginning of Jacob’s struggles with his brother, Esau. You remember how their conflict greatly intensified. Two of the most significant privileges of the firstborn son were the birthright and the blessing of the father. Jacob, in essence, finagled both of those away from Esau. He stole the birthright when he caught Esau in a week moment and he stole the blessing by conspiring with his mother to deceive his father, Isaac. But after his blessing was stolen, Esau was so angry that he swore he would kill Jacob the moment their father died. Momma Rebekah got wind of Esau’s plan and sent Jacob off to live with her brother, Laban- far, far away.

10723794275_b37d150231_zThere’s a lot to the story, but for the 20 years that Jacob is with his Uncle he becomes a wealthy man but ultimately ends up in more conflict and stuggle… this time with his cousins and with Laban himself to the point that Jacob finally decides to run away from there, too, and go back home. However, there’s one big problem with going back home… his brother, Esau, who had sworn to kill him.

This is where the story, as it is told, really slows down. In ch. 32, Jacob learns that Esau is on his way to meet him- and bringing along 400 of his closest friends- an army! Jacob is scared to death. That’s when we hear Jacob pray as he’s never prayed before. “Then Jacob prayed, ‘…O Lord… I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness you have shown to me… please rescue me… I am afraid.’” Genesis 32:9-11 (NLT) What you hear echoed in his prayer is where genuine transformation begins. It’s the starting point for recovery- recovering the image of Christ that has been lost in our sinful hurts, habits, and hangups. Realize I’m not God. I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…(those who realize their need for God)”

137975397_91dbe0341a_zUntil we get to that point in life, transformation will not take place. Jacob is finally realizing as never before that God is God and he is not. There is no way he can deceive his way out of this situation. There is no amount of self-sufficiency with which he can weasel his way out. All his years of conflict and struggle have finally brought him to a place where he is ready to admit- “I am completely powerless here, I really have no control over this, my life is unmanageable right now…”

This is the starting point- to come to God like Jacob, poor in spirit, fully ready to admit, “I cannot solve life on my own, I cannot resolve this struggle on my own, I can’t make this relationship right, I can’t make this marriage right, I can’t make it right at work- I can’t set my life right on my own. God, I desperately need YOU!”

Pastor Hess Hester


I was reading this week that David is cracking up! If you’re looking at anyone named David right now, you’re looking at the wrong David- here’s the one I’m talking about…

This is a PG rated view of the famous statue sculpted by Michelangelo that stands some 18 feet tall and is housed in an art museum in Florence, Italy. There are stress cracks in David’s ankles that have been growing over the years and there is genuine concern that even a reasonably mild earthquake in Florence, could bring it tumbling down.

A recent article in the NY Times recounted the story of this masterpiece. It’s a story that apparently began in 1464 with many mistakes- but not mistakes made by Michelangelo. The huge marble stone block was actually cut out of the mountains 11 years before he was even born! A man named Agostino was originally commissioned to carve the statue but he knew very little about working with marble. The slab that was cut was marred by holes and discolored by veins. The marble block weighed 25,000 lbs. and took 2 ½ years just to get it down the mountain and into the city. It was not a good cut and Agostino compounded the problems by making several mistakes with his initial work on the block. So much so that he was fired!

The enormous block was abandoned and left lying there for years. Local residents began referring to it as, “the giant.” In 1501 the city leaders decided to restart the project. They first thought of Leonardo da Vinci but da Vinci apparently had no use for sculpturing, so they gave it to new up and comer in the art world that we know as Michelangelo. But, the huge block had been exposed to the sun and the weather for some 35 years and many people considered it to be unsalvageable. They said it would be impossible to get a proper figure out of the mess that was left. Michelangelo not only salvaged the ruined block, but he turned it into a masterpiece! Art historians called it a miracle.

The story is told that when Michelangelo was asked how he did it, he replied with these words, “I simply cut away everything that was not David.” If I had looked at that original big block of stone, I would have said, “Now that is one big old ugly rock!” That’s all I would’ve seen! But, Michelangelo, the master sculptor, looked at that big ugly rock, and saw within it… the magnificence of “David!” So, “David” became what he already was in the mind of his creator- a masterpiece!

The Bible says, Ephesians 2:10 (NLT), For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus… When God looks at you as someone who has trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior- he sees a masterpiece! He sees Christ in you… and he begins the process of cutting away everything in your life that is not Christ! But, unlike Michelangelo who took about two years to produce the statue of David, God chisels away at us for a lifetime. Stone does nothing to resist the chipping away of the sculptor… but we are not so non-resistant, are we? We have to be willing to humbly submit to God’s chisel. We have to cooperate with God- our Master Sculptor- as he chips away our defects to make us more and more like Christ. But cooperation isn’t always easy because more often than not, that chisel can be painful. And the deeper he has to cut, the more painful it can be.

As a pastor, I’ve found that some of the most painful experiences in ministry have ultimately served as God’s chisel in my life- his labor of love to make me more like Christ. I wish I could say that I have always been quick to recognize what God wanted to do and humbly submitted to the process. But most of the time, it’s been long after the initial cause of the pain has taken place and many angry days later that I finally look back and learn. I wish I wasn’t so slow! How is the Master Sculptor at work in your life these days?

My Testimony (as given to our Celebrate Recovery at Southern Hills Baptist Church, Tulsa, OK)

I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with depression and anger; my name is Hess.

I was blessed in childhood. I was raised in Memphis, TN by good parents- a mother who nurtured me and a father who always gave me his blessing. My parents had me in church early on- in fact, I think the first time I pooped in my diapers was in church. I committed my life to Christ when I was 9 years old during VBS, and by the time I was 11, began to have what were probably my first “leadings” into vocational ministry. I threw an early morning paper route that summer. Walking and riding my bike around those neighborhoods at 4:30 in the morning provided for a lot of quiet time, even for an 11 yr old, to talk and listen to God. It was a good undistracted time- all except the morning I thought I heard something behind me and turned to see a Doberman pincher running at me in a silent charge. THAT was distracting.

Our family was kinda boring- we didn’t have too much dysfunction. I even called one of my sisters before I wrote this to confirm my memory! But one thing I did not learn in our family was how to really open up to those closest to you. I would open up with friends much more easily than I did with family. My mom would TRY to get me to talk. She leveraged my best buddy, John, on several occasions- “John talks to his mother,” she would say, “why don’t you talk to me like John talks to his mother?” But I still didn’t talk. I was a stuffer and a conflict- avoider from early on. From a young age I thought the goal of the Christian life was to please both God and people. And if I got angry, I stuffed it.

My first bout with depression came when I was 20 yrs. old. I was hit with a disease my mother had dealt with from her early teens to her mid-40’s called Ulcerative Colitis. It showed up near the end of my freshman year in college. Painful cramping, bleeding, and, when the disease was on a rampage, uncontrollable diarrhea. That provided for many humbling experiences- to say the least. It was- shall I say- a very crappy time in life. I had to be hospitalized just after Christmas of my Jr. year and could not return to Dallas for that Spring semester of college. It was about the third week in the hospital that depression started settling in while I kept track on a Kleenex box of the number of times I went to the bathroom each day.

I prayed daily, many times a day, asking God for healing. But the healing never came. I was only beginning to learn what the apostle Paul meant when HE prayed for healing that did not come. 1 Cor. 12:9 (NLT) Each time (God) said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” As a 20 year old, I was coming to vividly understand key aspects of CR Principle 1; that I am not God and I am powerless- period! Jesus said, “God blesses those who… realize their need for Him.” I clearly experienced what unmanageable meant. That hospital stay lasted for just over 6wks. I had several blood transfusions and lost 30lbs before I stabilized enough to finally get out. I honestly didn’t realize how weak my body had gotten until shortly after being dismissed from the hospital I walked out onto a basketball court and attempted a free throw and watched it fall a good three ft short of the rim!

With all my best friends away at college, I was afraid it would be a lonely time back in Memphis. But, as it turned out, I discovered that another old friend had decided to stay home and go to Memphis State that semester. His name was Dean. Friendship was something I had always deeply valued in my life and Dean’s friendship was a blessing from God that helped lift me out of depression in spite of not being healed. And, when we went cruising around and I said, “I need to find a bathroom,” he understood that I meant, NOW!

By that June, I made the decision to have surgery. With UC, when the colon is removed, the disease is gone- you’re healed. It’s called an ileostomy. My mother had opted to have the same surgery in her mid-40s so she was a big help in making the decision. Some fear that it will be a life-debilitating surgery, but for me it was incredibly life-giving. In fact, six weeks later I was water skiing.

Before I finished college I essentially made a conscious decision to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control and pursue full time ministry and go to seminary for training. I finished seminary in 1980 and moved to Little Rock, AR to be the Youth Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. I met some interesting people that next year. On my second Sunday there I talked with a very friendly tall curly headed guy in his mid-30’s who told me he had just started visiting the church. I didn’t catch his name but shortly after the conversation was told that I had been talking with the Governor. I asked, “Governor of what?” They said, “of Arkansas!” It was Bill Clinton.

He was interesting, but the MOST interesting person I met was later on at a SS training event where I was asked to work with adult lay volunteers who were teaching teenagers at their churches. There was a very attractive young lady in my session who was teaching Jr. High girls at her church. I didn’t catch her name either. But, I put my seminary education to good use and told the group that I wanted to be faithful to follow up and provide important youth ministry information to them in the months to come. So I passed around a sheet of paper and asked them to write down their name, address, and telephone numbers. Needless to say, I only followed up with one person on that list- and her name was Julie. About 18 mos later she became my wife. (So- contrary to the rumor, she was NOT in my youth group- but she still was too young to know better!)

Julie and I have been married for 32 years. And, marriage has been a good challenge for us! She has courageously shared her testimony with you. We are opposites in some positive ways but too much alike in some not-so-positive ways. Neither one of us is good at managing finances, which became a major source of conflict. Our natural communication styles didn’t help either. Remember, the people I always found it hardest to share with were those closest to me, and I carried that right into marriage. We were also both conflict avoiders. Whereas I would get angry and very passive aggressively stuff it, she grew up learning to just sweep everything under the rug and pretend it wasn’t there. Well, I stuffed and she swept… for a long, long time.

Almost 11 years ago Julie’s oldest brother (14 yrs. older than she), who had been as much a father to her as a big brother, was tragically killed in a car wreck. After that happened, Julie went into what could be described as a fog of grief- a grief which was compounded by the loss of her father and her mother in the couple of years that followed. The lone remaining member of her immediate family was a very troubled brother who had always remained very distant. So she suddenly felt like an adult orphan in a way. She found some solace in her work but isolated otherwise.

Our marriage also got stuck in that fog. And, I’m embarrassed to admit, instead of moving toward her, which she so very much needed me to do and which is clearly what Christ would have done, I moved away from her in anger. I reacted to the “fog” by withdrawing and stuffing. I was not practicing what I was preaching. And actually, I avoided preaching on marriage as much as I could and just hoped that no one would ask why. And no one did. And we both kept our masks firmly fixed in place.

Not long after the fog arrived, another storm was brewing at the office. Frankly, this is another reason I have hesitated to share, but I can only tell the story as it effected my life. Several issues had developed with our church staff at that time but the biggest storm brewing was, in essence, a mutiny. A couple of years earlier one of the staff started disappearing from the office every Wed afternoon without telling anyone what he was doing- only to find out he was playing golf. That was in addition to taking a full day off on Fridays. Obviously, I had to confront him about it. Well, I was unaware of it for a long time, but, as I later confirmed in conversation with him, from that day forward he began to subtly work to undermine my leadership. He particularly influenced another member of the staff and their talk was eventually open enough that two of our younger staff members finally came to me one day to tell me about lunch conversations and other stuff that had been going on and wanted me to know that they were not a part of it.

Personnel problems like this are challenging in any workplace, but they can be very delicate in a church setting our size where church members are glad-handed in the hallways but are often totally unaware of the level or quality of work actually being done. Things steadily grew worse- to the point that I dreaded staff meetings and even going into the office. It was during this period that I became very depressed- clinically depressed. I had taken anti-depressants off and on, but they were not helping much at this point. I started spiraling. I felt like I was being sucked down into a deathly dark vortex and was completely helpless to do anything about.

I called a man in our church who over the years I had considered to be MY pastor, Dr. Milt Olsen, and asked if I could come and talk. I did- I talked and cried and talked and cried. James 5:14-15, Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Milt listened and offered his wisdom and then- as my elder- annointed me with oil and prayed for me. Within about 3 days, the spiraling had stopped. God, I believe, healed me. Whereas I’ve struggled with bouts of depression since that time, I have never spiraled like that again. I’m deeply grateful, to say the least.

In the meantime, the office storm continued until we ultimately discovered that the two staff members in cahoots with each other had been having secret meetings with church members whom they had been recruiting for the purpose of breaking away and starting their own church. In church life, that is extremely unethical, to say the least. We had brought both individuals onto our staff out of settings where we had given them an opportunity they would likely have never had otherwise. So, it felt like a huge personal betrayal- a deep stab in the back. Worst of all, it damaged our church. Looking back, I honestly don’t know what the best recourse would have been, but we chose to take a very high road in dealing with it and, essentially, sent them out to start their church along with an extremely generous love offering to boot.

You remember the movie or the book, The Perfect Storm? Three bad storm systems all converged to form one huge system in the North Atlantic they called the perfect storm- it was perfectly bad. The fog in our marriage and the problems on staff that had spilled over into the church all formed my own perfect storm. I was in a very bad place and on the verge of complete burnout. Depression was constantly at my doorstep and the anger that I was stuffing by this time was enormous.

For the previous 4 years or so at this point, I had been witness to so many people finding help, hope, and healing through CR. But, when we started this ministry I had no idea that one day one of the people who would need it most… would be me. I longed for that same help and healing that I’d seen take place in the lives of so many others. I knew that I needed to get into a CR 12 step study. But given the staff and church issues in particular at that time, I just did not feel safe doing so with one of our step studies. As I’ve shared at the summits, how do you sit around in your group and say, “I’ve got a huge hangup, and it’s you!?”

So, I invited a group of local pastors to join me and we began to walk through the steps together. That group became a lifeline for me in the midst of the storm. It was an immediate encouragement and the healing process began; especially- ala Principle 4– as I openly examined and confessed my faults not only to God but to my fellow pastors as we struggled and shared together.

Principle 6 was huge for me as well: Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others. Forgiveness, I discovered more than ever before, is a process. But the process has to begin somewhere. For me, it began as I took a week away that summer during my step study and drove to Colorado alone for a study break and personal retreat. Driving thru the majesty of God’s creation one morning, His Spirit broke through to me where I think it truly sank in for the first time in my life just how much God had forgiven ME in Christ. I truly realized that no matter what he would ever ask me to forgive someone else of, it could never come close to all that God has forgiven me for. How could I ever choose to withold from anyone else what He had so freely given to me? Eph. 4:32, Be kind and tender to one another. Forgive each other, just as God forgave you because of what Christ has done. And, I also figured out- the more I forgive, the less the anger and depression. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

But, what about our marriage? About 4 years ago, Julie completed a CR 12 step study and God used that to change her life and heal her grief- and the fog finally lifted. Up to that point, I am embarrassed to say, I had, for the most part, stubbornly refused to work the recovery principles in our marriage and remained withdrawn. Finally, the day came that I made amends to Julie and not long after, she with me. We’ve still had our bumps and bruises along the way, but gratefully, our relationship is better today than ever before- primarily because of God’s work through CR. Next to my salvation, Julie is God’s greatest gift in my life. As I say to couples that I marry, our marriage, when I am fully submitted to Christ, has been His most effective instrument to reproduce His character in my life.

Finally, I’m so grateful for you. Seeing God’s work in YOUR lives- again- is what convinced me of my personal need for a CR 12 step study. And, what a privilege it has been to share in all God is doing through this ministry. As many of you know, that very first pastor’s 12 step study ultimately evolved into a subsidiary ministry of CR called, CPR- Celebrate Pastors in Recovery. Over 120 pastors as well as spouses in the Tulsa area have been through the 12 steps now and today, there are CPR groups in many places around the US and in Canada. So, please pray for CPR- the need on the part of pastors and spouses all over the world is huge.

Thank you for making this church a place of healing grace where lives are transformed in Christ. Thank you for being a safe church where I as your pastor have the freedom to stand before you and tell you what a jerk I can be. Thank you… for letting me share.

An Invitation for all in FLORIDA

Dear Fellow Sr. and Staff Pastors,

Ministry can be uniquely fulfilling. But, it can also be uniquely difficult. Far too many pastors are out in the trenches of church life feeling very, very lonely as they try to “fight the good fight” while carrying the enormous weight of personal hurts and struggles. I can say that with confidence because I’ve been there and done that.

About eight years ago I entered my own “perfect storm.” The storms of staff conflict, congregational issues, and personal issues all converged at the same time in my life and I was going under quickly. After seeing God bring help and healing to hundreds of individuals through our church’s Celebrate Recovery ministry, I decided it was time to get into a group myself. Not feeling safe with members of my own congregation, I pulled together a group of ten other pastors and we started walking through a twelve-step study together. That group became a lifeline during that storm. And, it was the beginning of what is now called, Celebrate Pastors Recovery, or, CPR!

Yes, there is hope for safe help and healing for pastors. Come, learn more, and get a preview at WALKING AND LIVING IN VICTORY, Friday, October 17th at The First Alliance Church of Port Charlotte, FL; 9am-4:30pm. [See more details below!]

I hope that you will set aside this day on your calendar as a day set aside for looking after your own soul. It took me several years before I realized how important that is not only for my own health, but for the health of my ministry as well. You and your time are highly valued so we look forward to making the very most of that day together.

I look forward to meeting you!


Hess Hester

CPR, National Director

Sr. Pastor, Southern Hills Baptist Church, Tulsa, OK

Meeting Details

Meeting Location: First Alliance Church, Port Charlotte, Florida 941.625.7435

Date: October 17th

Time: 9:00 AM-4:30 PM

Lodging: Many hotels in the Port Charlotte and surrounding areas

Dress: casual or business casual

Registration $25.00 single, $35.00 couple (includes lunch)

Reservations : (in search window type: Celebrate Pastors


[This is by Mark Croston. Mark was a pastor for 26 years in Virginia. In January 2014, he became the national director for Black Church Partnerships at LifeWay. This was posted 07-03-14 at]

Serving as a Pastor for 26 years was wonderful. It was an awesome responsibility to be the Chief Theologian in Residence, Gospel Preacher, Christian Educator, Spiritual Guide, Life Coach, Team Motivator, Business Manager, Organizational Leader, Confidential Counselor and Personal Caregiver for the lives and eternal souls of a congregation. It would seem to me that the persons under our care would always want to listen and things would always go smoothly, but this is not the case.

There are some things maybe only a fellow elder, a fellow pastor can understand. This is not our chosen profession. This a profession for which we were chosen. My chosen profession was computer engineer, but God chose me—chose us, for this task.

According to CNN, the occupation of "pastor" is among the worst-paying, high-stress jobs. The median pay is reported as $43,000 and 71% report a high stress level. We who serve have all been called of God to this ministry. None of our calls are exactly alike.

The trials of the pastorate may cause you to want to settle for being less than God called you to be or even sometimes to quit, but don’t. Hang in there! When no one has a kind word to say; when the pressure is high and your spirits are low, remember your call. Remember why you started out on this journey in the first place. Remember that the witness is in you!

One of the amazing things about the pastorate is that work is never done. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a pastor for 50 minutes or 50 years,the task is before you.

This is illustrated in this passage through a look at the composition of the church.

· The people are sheep. They are sheep when they are alone. Some following, some wandering, often like sheep without a shepherd.

· The church is a flock. It is a group of sheep together. The shepherd must remind the flock that there are more that need to be in the fold. Jesus said, "But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also…". John 10:16 (HCSB). The shepherd must be reminded that neither sheep nor shepherds are perfect. "We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way…" Isaiah 53:6 (HCSB). If either were perfect they would not need the other.

· The pastors are shepherds. The Pastor seeks lost sheep, feeds the lambs by hand, shows the older where to find pasture, and protects the flock.

Anxiety comes because you have sheep that don’t want to be in a flock, flocks that don’t want to follow a shepherd, or shepherds who don’t want to love, lead, and feed.

When I sat behind my desk for the first time as a new pastor 26 years ago, I thought this might be easy. Everything was already moving is a good direction and there was very little that I saw I needed to do. Twenty-six years later there are still sermons to be prepared, budgets to be met, plans to be made, souls to be saved, people to be led and tears to be shed. If your ministry doesn’t grow it’s a challenge, and if your church grows you exchange small church challenges for big church challenges. The task is before you!

Don’t get too anxious in the process or you may focus too much on the privilege, power or pride. This is not all there is. Don’t lose your passion in the process, you may yet be mistreated, abused and misused, but God has something better for you. The glory awaits you.

As pastors, we are shepherds working under the authority of another. Don’t measure your ministry by the money you make, the size of your membership, or the popularity of your message. All of these are wonderful, but they are not the glory.

Don’t get bought off by this cheap stuff, they are not the glory. These things are temporal, the glory is eternal. These things are inferior, the glory is superior.

God never called us to be big, popular or happy. God called us, in good times and bad, to be faithful.


A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to meet Duck Commander, Phil and wife, Kay Robertson, as well as renew acquaintance with their oldest son and newest cast member, Alan and his wife, Lisa. They are good folk, down-to-earth, and seem genuinely humbled not only by their popularity but by the platform it has provided to share Christ. I confess, when I met Alan and Lisa in another context almost 3 years ago I had no idea what Duck Dynasty was. And, when someone else at the table asked him a question about it, I didn’t have to play dumb, I was dumb! I’d never heard of it at that point and even after that conversation still had no idea of the “dynasty” proportion it was even than and certainly is now.

It’s always a blessing to see someone like that using God’s unexpected blessing in their lives to share His Good News.

I left the home yesterday afternoon of one of a member of our congregation named Roger. Roger had died the night before after battling with cancer for 31months. Cancer had to be surprised by the fight he put up because he lasted 20-27 months longer than the doctors had predicted. Roger is one for whom life had reached bottom back in the oil bust of the early ‘80’s and was surprised by God’s unexpected blessing in his life when a former employee of his shared Christ with him at his lowest point. Roger made the decision to follow Jesus as His Savior on that day and never looked back. He went on from there to use his platform as a successful insurance salesman to impact hundreds of lives for Christ. People walked into his office to talk about insurance and hundreds walked out as changed people!

I’m convinced that God has given every one of us a platform of some kind for sharing Christ. Whether you are a reality TV star, a successful insurance salesman, or a checker at WalMart, you have a platform.

How does God want to use your life to make an impact upon others for Christ?


I stepped into a hospital room not long ago for a visit where a sign was posted for attending nurses that read, “FALL PRECAUTIONS!” That’s the essence of this terrific blog by James Emery White entitled, Church and Culture (Vol. 9, No. 39). I encourage you to subscribe- all the info you need is at the end. Dr. White hits the nail on the head with great insight and wisdom while speaking out of his own practical life application. Enjoy and… heed! The only thing missing from his recommendations of precautions is… DO CPR! (only because he is not aware of it, I’m sure- J)


Three senior pastors of megachurches.

And in just a six month period, three moral failures.

Believe it or not, it just happened in Orlando, Florida.

Isaac Hunter, lead pastor of Summit church, resigned in December after admitting to an affair with a staff member. Sam Hinn, pastor of The Gathering Place Worship Center, stepped down in January after admitting to a relationship with a member of the congregation. Then, just a few weeks ago, David Loveless resigned from Discovery Church after admitting to having an affair.

Three megachurch pastors in a single city all resign within a six-month period for extramarital affairs.

Sorry, but “wow.”

The inevitable question? “Why do so many senior leaders give in to sexual temptation?” Because it’s not just these three but many more like them in cities around the country and around the world.

Here are three reasons that come to this fellow pastor’s mind:

1. Emotional Depletion

Many pastors are running on empty emotional tanks. You might have thought I would say “spiritual” tanks, but it’s the emotional fuel gauge that gets us.

A few years ago, my wife Susan and I were part of a mentoring retreat with about a dozen couples, all well-known leaders of large and thriving churches. We started off with an open-ended question: “What are your key issues right now?”

As we went around the room, the recurring answer in each of their lives was “emotional survival.” We shared our stories about the hits and hurts that come our way in ministry as occupational hazards, and how they tear away at our souls, sapping our enthusiasm, our creativity and our missional stamina. We were open about how they leave us creating dreams of finding ourselves on a beach with a parasol in our drink – permanently.

The emotional hits and hurts that come from ministry are legion: failed expectations, hard work, continual output in terms of teaching and leadership, always “on display” as a public figure, the stress of finances – both personally and in the church – the unexpected departure of staff, the pain of letters/emails that criticize your ministry, the pressure of people who want to redefine the vision, mission, or orientation of the church, the relentless torrent of expectations, and the agony of making mistakes.

But the heart of the drain is also our passion: people. We are shepherds, and to push the metaphor, sheep are messy. Unruly. Cantankerous. Smelly. They can be a chore to care for. And they can hurt you more than you could imagine. In particular, through the relational defections of those you trusted, and the crushing crises from those who throw you into crisis mode.

Why does this matter?

When you hurt, if you don’t find something God-honoring to fill your tanks with, you’ll find something that isn’t God-honoring. Or at the very least, you’ll be vulnerable to something that isn’t. I am convinced it’s why pastors struggle with not only pornography, but enter into affairs.

They are emotionally depleted, and therefore, vulnerable.

2. The Lack of Sexual Fences

A second reason why so many give in to temptation is because few leaders build the sexual fences around their life that are necessary for protection.

For example, fences around their thought life in relation to such things as pornography through accountability software or computer placement. Then there are the fences needed in terms of raw interaction with people, such as the need to:

Watch out how and when you are alone with someone of the opposite sex;

…watch how you touch people – being careful with your hugs and lingering touches;

…watch out how you interact with people – not visiting someone alone, at home, of the opposite sex;

…watch out for that long lunch alone together, or staying late and working together on the project.

This is just common sense, but very few build common-sense fences.

And here’s the last 5 percent: even those with fences are tempted to rationalize taking them down when they find themselves attracted to someone. Or their spouse does something (or doesn’t) that they can point to that they feel justifies them looking around at those that might act differently. Suddenly we start looking at fences as for the weak, the immature, the unjustified; we tell ourselves we can handle it, or even deserve it.

It’s often the last moment before the fall.

3. Spiritual Deception

The third reason so many pastors, particularly of large churches, fall prey to affairs is a deep infection of spiritual deception.

Why is our immune system so weak?

Let me tell you something that you may have never heard before: Ministry is spiritually hazardous to your soul. If you haven’t found that out by now, you will.

First, it is because you are constantly doing “spiritual” things, and it is easy to confuse those things with actually being spiritual. For example, you are constantly in the Bible, studying it, in order to prepare a talk. It’s easy to confuse this with reading and studying the Bible devotionally for your own soul.

You’re not.

You are praying – in services, during meetings, at pot lucks – and it is easy to think you are leading a life of personal, private prayer.

You’re not.

You are planning worship, leading worship, attending worship, and it is easy to believe you, yourself, are actually worshipping.

Chances are, you’re not.

When you are in ministry, it is easy to confuse doing things for God with spending time with God; to confuse activity with intimacy; to mistake the trappings of spirituality for being spiritual.

Another reason why ministry is hazardous to your soul is because you are constantly being put on a spiritual pedestal and treated as if you are the fourth member of the Trinity. In truth, they have no idea whether you have spent any time alone with God in reflection and prayer over the last six weeks; they do not know what you are viewing online; they do not know whether you treat your wife with tenderness and dignity.

They just afford you a high level of spirituality.

Here’s where it gets really toxic: you can begin to bask in this spiritual adulation and start to believe your own press reports. Soon the estimation of others about your spiritual life becomes your own.

This is why most train-wrecks in ministry are not as sudden and “out of the blue” as they seem. Most leaders who end up in a moral ditch were veering off of the road for some time. Their empty spiritual life simply became manifest, or caught up with them, or took its toll.

You can only run on empty for so long.

I had a defining moment on this in my life when I was around thirty-years old. A well-known leader fell; one who had been a role model for my life. I was devastated. But more than that, I was scared. If it could happen to him, then I was a pushover.

It didn’t help my anxieties that I was in a spiritual state exactly as I have described: confusing doing things for God and time with God; accepting other’s estimation of my spiritual life in a way that made it easy to bypass a true assessment of where I stood; I was like a cut-flower that looked good on the outside, but would, in time, wilt dreadfully.

I remember so clearly the awareness that I could fall; that no one would ever own my spiritual life but me; and that I needed to realize that the public side of my life was meaningless – only the private side mattered. This was not flowing from a position of strength; it was flowing from a deep awareness of weakness.

So the gun went off.

I began to rise early in the morning for prayer and to read the Bible. I began to take monthly retreats to a bed-and-breakfast in the mountains for a more lengthy immersion in order to read devotional works, pray, experience silence and solitude, and to journal. I entered into a two-year, intense mentoring relationship with a man who had many more years on me in terms of age, marriage and ministry. There was more, but you get the idea: I was going to be a public and private worshiper; I was going to be a student of the Bible for my talks and for my soul; I was going to pray for others to hear, and for an audience of one.

I hope you hear my heart on this. It’s not to boast, it’s to confess. I have to do these to survive.

Maybe you do, too.

Or maybe…you need to start.

James Emery White


“Discovery Church pastor resigns after admitting to affair,” Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel, May 6, 2013, read online.

James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You In Seminary (Baker).

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.