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The Ministry Addiction: Why Preachers Can’t Give it Up

fat preacher

Have you noticed that when many big-name, megachurch pastors and not-so-big name pastors get themselves in trouble that they often resign, disappear for a while, and then show up in a new town, claiming that “God” is leading them to start a new church? Or sometimes, they squirrel themselves away for a year or so, and then the next thing you read is that they are the new pastor of such-and-such church. No matter what the crime or misbehavior, “fallen” pastors almost always find a path back to the ministry.

The main reason, of course, is that these men tend to be charismatic, winsome leaders who easily attract followers, followers who are willing to let the past be the past, followers who are willing to grant them redemption and forgiveness, followers who are far more interested in the “man” than they are his behavior. (Please see The Evangelical Cult of Personality.) Big-name preachers, in particular, become demigods. People flock to them, hanging on every word, regardless of who they might have had an affair with or sexually molested in the past. Sadly, way too many Evangelicals are stupid and gullible, willing to sacrifice reason and moral decency for the attention of a soiled big-name preacher.

In virtually every other setting, you commit a crime or have an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, and your career is over. Not so for “fallen” Evangelical preachers. No matter what a preacher does, there is nothing that stands in his way if he wants to go to a new city and start a church. The Internet has changed this dynamic somewhat, but before the Internet, it wasn’t uncommon to hear of preachers who “fell” (or ran) into sin, resigned, and then moved a few thousand miles away to start a new church. (Please see How to Start an Independent Baptist Church.) Anyone can start a new church. If I were so inclined, I could start a new church by Sunday. Why, if all my children and their spouses and my grandchildren showed up, I would have more than twenty-five people in attendance for the first service at First Church of Bruce Almighty. By default, First Church would be tax-exempt, and attendance-wise would be larger than several “real” churches nearby. There’s no secular or religious authority that could stop me from doing so. That’s the beauty (and the danger) of the separation of church and state. Pastor so-and-so can fuck his way through the congregation, get caught and resign, and then pack up, move five states away, and start a new church. Felon Jack Schaap, the disgraced pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, will be out of federal prison in a couple of years. Does anyone doubt that once out of jail, Schaap will try to return to the ministry? Remember all the bad shit Jim Bakker did? After he got out of prison, he wrote a book titled, I Was Wrong. Not too wrong, however. Bakker is back on TV, preaching the “gospel” and fleecing anyone and everyone who comes his way. Ted Haggard? Jimmy Swaggart? Perry Noble? Mark Driscoll? The list goes on and on. All of these men made a mockery of their calling, and in some instances committed crimes. Yet, today all of them are still in the ministry. Granted, they haven’t reached the levels of notoriety they once had, but thousands of people have flocked to their new churches, seemingly oblivious to their past sins, “indiscretions,” failures, and crimes.

Why don’t these “fallen” preachers move on to other jobs or careers? Why do they return to the ministry, drawn to it like a moth to the light? With few exceptions, every disgraced preacher I know later reentered the ministry. Sure, some of them labor in obscurity, often doing little more than preaching at nursing homes or jails. However, most of them find a path back to the ministry, often in the same capacity as before. Yesterday, I posted a story about Pastor Donald Foose. Foose confessed to and was convicted of sexually molesting a teenage girl. After serving nine months of a two-year prison sentence, Foose moved down the road to a new church. After several years at this church, he became its pastor. The former pastor and other church leaders knew about Foose’s criminal past, yet they uncritically believed him when he said, “I didn’t do it.” Worse yet, several men who should have been some sort of check and balance chose, instead, to give Foose a pass, believing that everyone deserves redemption and a new start. I wonder if these men would be as understanding if it were their daughters whom Foose sexually assaulted? I doubt it.

Why can’t these preachers move on to new jobs, employment that’s not connected to their religious past? One pastor I know quite well had an affair with his secretary. While there were extenuating circumstances — his wife was a lesbian who hadn’t had sex with him in 20 years — he left the ministry and started working a secular job. He never pastored a church again. Why is it so many disgraced pastors don’t do the same? Oh, they will get a secular job for a year or two until the heat dies down and people move on, but more often than not, back to the ministry they go.

I am convinced that many of these men are addicted to the ministry. They spent years being the center of attention. People looked up to them, fawned over them, and treated them as if they were gods. I left the ministry in 2005. I miss the constant adulation and praise of others. I miss being the hub around which everything turned. I miss having the respect of others. I miss, to put it bluntly, being DA MAN! Pastors who read this blog know what I am talking about. The close connection preachers have with congregants is fulfilling and satisfying. It is almost impossible to find similar feelings in the “world.” Much like drug addicts craving hits of methamphetamine, preachers crave the attention, flattery, and admiration they received from congregants. Live off this high long enough, and you can’t imagine not having it. That’s why many pastors with crimes/indiscretions in their pasts end up rebooting their ministries somewhere else. These “men of God” are much like King David as he looked over the rooftops and saw Bathsheba naked, taking a bath. “I have got to have her,” David thought. And have her, he did. So it is with the preachers I have talked about in this post. Their Bathsheba is the ministry.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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17 Comments

  1. Avatar
    DJ

    Here in my very town…just less than 5 minutes from my home! I, myself, once went to “his” church! He went to prison for molesting the daughter of one of his congregants. He didn’t want people to think he was guilty so his sentence wasn’t reduced from 7 months. He is slowly building “his” church as I write. Oh yeah…he married that congregant after she divorced her husband. She got her pastor license to run the church while he was in prison.

    Oh & your “charismatic, winsome leader” description…sounds just like Trump! (…easily attract followers, followers who are willing to let the past be the past, followers who are willing to grant them redemption and forgiveness, followers who are far more interested in the “man” than they are his behavior…become demigods. People flock to them, hanging on every word, regardless of who they might have had an affair with or sexually molested in the past. Sadly, way too many Evangelicals are stupid and gullible, willing to sacrifice reason and moral decency for the attention of a soiled big-name….) Just sayin’ 🙂

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      DJ said, “…Sadly, way too many Evangelicals are stupid and gullible, willing to sacrifice reason and moral decency for the attention of a soiled big-name….”

      I think the use of the word, ‘stupid’ here needs to be clear. It is simply a mistake to suggest that people who are clearly gullible and willing to sacrifice etc. are stupid unless that is the kind of stupid used in a colloquial sense, meaning that they lack common sense in this particular area of life. People with highly functional brain matter will succumb to trigger cues proffered by the preacher not because they are low functioning but because they have been primed by life to embrace delusional ideas within certain parameters such as within the place with stained glass windows. The ol’ time religion is passed down from generation to generation and though some very wisely run from the belief house like it was on fire, most families seem to hang there and take it all in just as their relatives have. In my family, two kids out of six got away, a pretty good percentage!
      As time goes on and Science flourishes, we will begin to better understand what happens to the brain to allow it such lapses as is evidenced by evangelical faith. Perhaps one day youngsters will not be submitted to sick ideas about their evil hearts and fallen natures… Mystics and remarkable people will be honored as strong examples of human possibility, not magic Gods. Not today though… The grand delusion has played a Trump card and left us reeling in misery and loss. But one day, one day we will learn to love ourselves and then perhaps even others.

      • Avatar
        DJ

        Brian, Oops…I forgot the quotes needed in my own reply because it was Bruce who said that in his article. I just copied & pasted it.

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    The comeback of Jim Bakker is the most shocking – he has always been an obvious phony and swindler.

    I have always wondered what happened to a former pastor we had when I was a teen. He was fired, and from what I can put together because my mom and grandparents wouldn’t tell me was that he was an alcoholic who was calling congregants while drunk, and that he may have had a DUI. He probably turned up at a small rural church somewhere. Actually I hope he got help and that he hadn’t sexually harassed anyone.

    I can imagine that it’s hard for an ex-pastor to change vocations in general. Where does that training and skill set translate without one needing to go back to school?

  3. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    “The comeback of Jim Bakker is the most shocking – he has always been an obvious phony and swindler.”

    I only watch tv when I travel and must use hotels. Recently, I saw Jimmy eating some goop from a five gallon pail and telling people to buy this stuff for the end days or somthing. I wondered if I was having an LSD flashback from 1970’s experimentation! I just go wide-eyed and silent in wonder, in horror and wonder. Takes alllllll kinds.

  4. Avatar
    Darcy Walker

    I agree with Brian, “People with highly functional brain matter will succumb to trigger cues proffered by the preacher not because they are low functioning but because they have been primed by life to embrace delusional ideas within certain parameters such as within the place with stained glass windows.” These otherwise intelligent people seem to have a switch that affects some parts of the brain. I hope I don’t have a similar switch in my brain for “lack of critical thinking” or blind dogma about something else.

  5. Avatar
    Troy

    Here’s another angle. First let me say that being a Pastor isn’t a rare talent, but it is a talent. To be “da man” requires a certain amount of charisma and oratory skills. It reminds me of the HBO series about Ted Haggard. The guy was defrocked from his church for a certain period of time. Without a secular education or skills he really had zero employment prospects. Ironically, people are more skeptical about buying insurance (which Haggard was trying to sell but had zero interest) than buying heaven.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Fortunately, for me, I worked a number of jobs outside of the church, everything from delivering newspapers to auto mechanic and grant manager to restaurant manager. Sold insurance, pumped gas, and worked in more factories than I ever care to remember. ? Not having a secular education has hurt me post-Jesus. I’d really love to teach school, teach at the community college, or be a social worker — maybe a stripper too. ? Not having proper educational credentials, of course, puts a kibosh on these jobs. I tried to go back to college once at the local community college. I found the classes to largely be a waste of time. Quite boring, about as intellectually stimulating as talking to our cat. ? Definitely, not for me.

  6. Avatar
    dale m.

    Hit the nail on the proverbial head again. I grew up with a close friend who was a stage actor. Always wanted to B a Hollywood actor. Didn’t make it. So became a minister 4 an Anglican Church. Very low knowledge of the “world” and science in particular. His girlfriend whom he married hated science (the devils tool). He’s in the pulpit, on stage once again, with a captive audience. They R very happy. But don’t think this doesn’t affect secular people either (look at Lenin, Mao and others). It’s Human Nature. If someone were to rise up, defeating religious demigods in one State after another by literally restricting the practice of religion through Constitutional amendments, U only have 2 ask yourself ….. “would I support this charismatic individual who seems to sweep religion out of my State and brings back a sense of normalcy?” Your button, deep in your psyche has yet 2 B pushed. That’s when you’ll really know about these matters personally. U will find ….. we’re not really all that different after all.

  7. Avatar
    Matilda

    I don’t know the psychology of it, but I do wonder if some men -and women – who go into the ministry, like the idea of being their own boss, accountable to no one. They aren’t team players, their personality is such that they would find taking orders from a (secular) boss unpalatable. They crave status and respect, as you say, that they wouldn’t get from a secular job, so have a ‘calling to the ministry.’ My vicar relative in the UK says being a priest is an anachronism, akin to being lord of the manor, you can be as lazy or as hardworking as you wish with very little that can unseat you from the job. She works hard, but I’m sure some vicars I’ve known have it down to a fine art ‘work expands to fit the time available.’ They convince themselves taking 2 services on a Sunday is a full day’s work so couldn’t possibly pop in on that very sick parishoner, he’ll have to wait till Tuesday, Monday is the vicar’s day off after an exhausting Sunday…pardon my cynicism but my husband was a pastor, like you Bruce, holding down a demanding job but still able to lead a growing church. He managed his time well and I think, achieved more because he was in the real world all week with a difficult boss to contend with. He had empathy with real people in the real world because he was in it too from 9-5 daily!

  8. Avatar
    davey crockett

    Good thoughts in many different ways. But a biggy for me has not been mentioned and it has been talked about many times with Bruce’s blogs. Real christians never quit. That concept has been drilled zillions of times into children and adults from the moment one begins attending any church that one finds most anywhere. If you are the real deal you keep on keeping on. To stop is to become a traitor, a low life, scum bag, backsliding reprobate. Making a mockery of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. If I recall correctly, Bruce once said christianity has these tenacles that have a way of engulfing a person if one is not careful. From personal experience there is a family member that proves his devotion by reminding us of what xmas is all about and how we should be so thankful that God does not destroy us for we are nothing more than worms in his sight (sigh)….. I’m thankful he lives far away. I wonder if these types just can’t stop trying to prove themselves.

  9. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Greetings davey crockett, For those of us raised through the fire and brimstone love of fundagelical religion, your reminder rings very true. Once you get free of the gulag, the wreckage of your Life-in-Christ©, it becomes so crystal clear that the whole design underpinning ‘being saved’ is actually the opposite of life-saving. One has been lost in Jesus, not found, not saved at all.
    The bait is the promise of glory, the removal of promised doom, a life of less painful meaning. The switch comes soon after being saved and was really there all along, had we not been preoccupied with our intense feelings of conviction, our springs wound tight and released by the preacher saviour, by loving, sharing Christians with their free gift of Christ. Boing!
    Oh, the clang of irony: I gave my life to Christ as a child. My gulag shone suddenly with the smiles of approval among the adults running the show. I was found and stamped with approval. I was a worm but Jesus would see that I Iived forever along streets of gold. He didn’t deserve what I did to him on the Cross but even full of evil as I was, Christ loved that worm of a child, that me.
    Count me among the traitors to Christ. Count me angry if you like and your measly Christian faith reveals that I feel something you can target with your shame. Blame me for never really getting it after all that effort from the womb onward! Blame the big bad wolf and the fallen angel.
    Yes indeed, blame the ‘me’ all over again as you have been brainwashed to do! Blame the worm!
    It is deeply sad to see one’s relatives suck the breast of mother church and talk the talk of delusion, faith in the great Promise, the Nothing, the Absence. Oh dear Lord, more more more of you and less less less of me:

    (Thank-you, davey crockett, for reminding us of the active abuse inherent in evangelical belief.)
    -Brian the traitor, a low life, scum bag, backsliding reprobate!

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