How do pastors guard against abusing their power? Evangelical leaders weigh in

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To guard against the temptations and abuses that come with positions of power and influence in the church, pastors must cultivate a life of prayer marked by honesty and vulnerability, two evangelical leaders have said.

In a recent video posted on the Gospel Coalition website, Kyle Strobel, professor of spiritual theology and formation at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California, and Jamin Goggin, a pastor at Mission Hills Church in San Marcos, California, warned that every pastor will, at some point, be tempted by worldly power in ministry.

“Just because you’re doing ministry doesn’t mean somehow you’re not going to be tempted to employ worldly power for the sake of it,” said Strobel.

One way to combat this temptation, Strobel said, is to cultivate a life of prayer “where honesty is at its core.” He encouraged pastors to consider the areas in their lives where they might be tempted toward power, from getting more people to download sermons to filling church pews.

“We need to be open to all these areas in our hearts where we're actually trying to use God,” he said. “We're actually trying to come up with ways where we can employ ourselves and wield them to try to further His Kingdom. All of these things are temptations toward power.”

“As I see myself being tempted by these things, now I have to come and say, ‘Lord, look at this,’” Strobel continued. "'I hear your message. I hear that without you, I can do nothing. I look at my life. I know how much you've done for me. I know everything I have is because you are a gracious Father, and yet I consistently look for ways where I can wield worldly power.'"

The Formed for the Glory of Godauthor pointed out that far too often, pastors read Scripture to preach and explain it, but they don’t take time to truly feel the weight of the words.

“We have to cultivate this openness of heart so that we can really sit with and see the truth of ourselves in the very presence of God,” Strobel said.

Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel offer insight on how can pastors can resist the temptation to abuse power.

Goggin, co-author of Beloved Dust, added that according to Scripture, the pastoral office is a position of power, vested with authority by Christ.

“The question is not, are we in a position of power, but ... what kind of power are we embracing in those moments,” he explained. “Is it worldly power or Kingdom power? Is it power and strength for the sake of control? Or is it power known in our weakness for the sake of love and dependence upon Christ?”

“Prayer is incredibly important in this conversation, that what we’re cultivating in our prayer life is an ongoing dialogue with God about the very real temptations we face in these moments of preaching and pastoral care and all the areas of leadership and life of churches,” he continued.

Goggin added that friendships marked by “genuine reciprocity,” vulnerability, and honesty help combat the temptations that come along with ministry.

“I think we need a variety of kinds of friendships that can help us guard against temptations and power,” Goggin said, adding that pastors need to be friends not just with church leadership, but with congregation members, too.

“When I was a young pastor, I was often told, I think implicitly and sometimes explicitly, that I couldn't really be friends with people in my church, and I've come to just believe this is a false reality,” he said. “Of course, there are proper boundaries we need to hold and wisdom and discernment in this regard. But we need to have real relationships with people in the life of our church, where we’re known ... and where vulnerability is a part of our relationships.”

Goggin also encouraged pastors to be friends with those outside of the church who are “thoroughly unimpressed with the fact that we're pastors.”

“These are really important relationships to have,” he said. “[They see us] as people and value us, but don't find our position or authority in the life of the church as anything noteworthy or impressive. It's these kinds of relationships that can actually be really grounding for us and provide a helpful mirror of humility in our vocation.”

In recent years, a number of scandals involving the abuse of authority by leaders in churches have made headlines. In 2014, Mark Driscoll, the former pastor of the now-defunct Seattle megachurch Mars Hill, was forced to resign from his position following accusations of bullying and fostering an abusive work environment.

Previously, Jimmy Evans, senior pastor of Gateway Church, a multicampus church in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, told The Christian Post that the problem often begins when pastors isolate themselves — from others, from accountability, and ultimately, from the truth.

"We're all human beings, and I believe pastors who fall put themselves in a position of secrecy," he explained. "I've never met a pastor that didn't have the same basic temptations as the other guy. The difference is how we deal with it."

Isolation, Evans contended, is one of Satan's greatest weapons.

"The devil works in the darkness," he said. "As pastors, we need to not put ourselves in a position of living a private life away from the eyes of others. That's why pastors fall, and it can happen to any pastor. It's the way we carry ourselves, the way we relate to people around us, whether we're honest or dishonest."

Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church of Northwest Arkansas, told CP that pastors, just like everyone else, are not exempt from spiritual warfare, and Satan loves to attack those who lead God's church.

He encouraged church members to "gather together and pray for your pastor, that there will be a shield of protection around him, and that he will be able to discern when something isn't right and flee from it like Joseph (in Genesis) did."

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