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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, 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 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, if you commit a crime or have an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, 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, resign, and then pack up, move five states away, and start a new church. Felon Jack Schaap, the disgraced IFB pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana — now out of federal prison — is free to pastor a church again. 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? David Hyles? 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. Several years ago, 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 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 receive 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.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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    I lurk on The Wartburg Watch blog. The blogger remains solidly fundy whilst regularly exposing the (usually sexual) misdeeds of x-tian leaders, ones we read about here too. How she remains within her faith, having to wade through so much depravity week in, week out is beyond me. I quote from a post she wrote about one pastor:
    ‘Generally, most disgraced preacher types take a minimum of six months before reappearing on the scene; having repented, rebranded, and ready to spread their version of the gospel, having heard directly from the Lord Almighty that His Kingdom cannot prevail without their unique ministry. But Armstrong is apparently so vital to the growth of the Kingdom that after a mere three weeks since his forced resignation from the Chapel the Lord has opened the door to a new ministry.’
    Says perfectly what you’re saying Bruce, doncha think?

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    Apologies for commenting twice……just read on another blog that the pastor who defrauded sheeple in a cryptocurrency scam netting $3.2million…….makes the excuse in an interview that maybe he ‘…..misheard the Lord’s voice….’ which had me ROTFL at my breakfast!!!! Reminds me of small daughters who liked to chat to our 87yo neighbour over the fence. She had a jar of sweets and daughters one and two obediently took the ‘Just one,’ she suggested. Third small daughter admitted to me that one day, she ‘took 3 by mistake.’

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    Kathy Hughes

    These ministers don’t want to give up whatever power they think they have. They also think the Lord has forgiven them, now it’s time to let bygones be bygones. What they don’t really show is any sort of overt repentance or humility. One would think that if they were truly humble or repentant, they would find another line of work. I predict the IFB will eventually let Jack Schaap back into the fold as a pastor of an IFB church and rehabilitate him just like they did with his former brother in law David Hyles. I know Cindy Hyles Schaap divorced Jack after he went to prison.

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    I watched the Hillsong documentary recently that focused initially on Carl Lentz, fallen pastor of Hillsong NY (he was ousted after having an affair and may have sexually abused a woman in church). He actually agreed to be interviewed, and he seemed loke a small, sad, lost shell of the charismatic pastor he had once been. Some company in FL hired him in their marketing department, and he seemed like he had no clue what was going on. I guess the documentary gave him a platform again – I am sure he missed that – but he really didn’t get the flattering representation that he probably wanted.

    The documentary shifted focus to Brian Houston, arguably the founder of Hillsong who turned his disgraced dad’s ministry into Hillsong (dad was accused of sexually abusing minors, and Brian was charged and acquitted of covering it up). The documentary discussed how megachurch organizations are opaque in their practices with no oversight and are rofe environments for abuse to flourish. It was discussed how scandal-ridden pastors are shuttled around quietly so as not to sully the name of the organization – Lentz was unique in that he was literally ousted.

    I coukd see how intoxicating it must be to be the center of attention, adored, respected, looked at as special -” chosen by god”. That would be difficult to give up.

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    Jeff Bishop

    Thank you for this piece. As someone not actively involved in the church, you just confirmed my personal opinion as to the “draw” of the ministry.

    It’s a “Power Trip”. It’s a legal method of “control”. You mention the word “cult” to describe Christianity in numerous of your articles, and I 100% agree. For me nothing defines Christianity better than the word “Cult”. Heavens Gate and all that Rot. Lets go drink poison and catch a ride on Gods comet.

    Jim Jones, David Koresh and numerous others are examples of men in the ministry “Completely out of Control”.
    I do not think you are direct enough in this article however, men in the Ministry, once they become completely absorbed in their own “self worth”, are not getting off “serving the lord”, no sir, IMO these types, by confessions with their own mouth, say, they ARE the DIRECT CONDUIT to the lord, and by implication are faultless, no matter their actions. Gods will, I prayed and “he told me so”, and all that garbage. In other words THEY ARE THE GODS.

    I REFUSE to have some self appointed charlatan dictate to me, and use as his reference, a historically and archeologically INCORRECT collection of writings and documents that not only DON’T agree with each other, but the various cults that use the information can’t even agree with each other about what is right and what is wrong,
    what should be included, and what should not be.

    Living as an evolved hominid, replete with the everyday struggles of life, is difficult enough without having to negotiate the minefield of religous bigotry, intolerance, stupidity and control.

    It’s mind boggling that, right now, the evil men that run the SBC and every other religous cult, are working tirelessly to take away citizens fundamental rights, destroy secular education, and to shepard their flocks to their own twisted
    vision of how society “ought to be – according to me!”.

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    I was thinking the pastor-congregation euphoria is a two way street. I’m sure pastors who fall from grace miss that feeling, but the ability to work a crowd isn’t ubiquitous–the congregation wants them back too. It takes charisma and at least a bit of narcissism. They work their way back because of that skill set. In addition that can be their ONLY skill set. (See Ted Haggard HBO series to see how an ex-pastor’s skill set is quite limited) It reminds me of women who become strippers to “pay for college” and then stay in the biz until they age out because whatever they were studying in college has a lot more hours and a lot less pay.

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    I think Obstacle Chick touched on something that makes pastorship (Is that a word?) uniquely addictive. Politicians, CEOs and others in high positions relish their power and authority. But what makes pastorship unique is that, in the eyes of congregants, the pastor is the putative representative of God.

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    Jee-zus H. Christ, how could anybody have the nuts to stay in the ministry after such defrockings.

    Shameless bastards. Makes me wonder if the interstellar reptilian aliens really do walk among us.

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    Brocken At one time in the mid 2000(2000-2010) there was an associate pastor by the name of Duane Bonner at Calvary Baptist Church in Normal, Illinois. He left Calvary Baptist to be the head pastor of a church in Michigan. Eventually Duane Bonner moved to Ohio where he and his first wife got divorced. He remarried and he gave a sermon at his former church back in 2022.The title of the sermon Duane Bonner gave was ” Hope in the Hardships”. While he is no longer a pastor, Duane Bonner is now involved in the church insurance business. This Duane Bonner is now affiliated with SouthSide Community Church in Orrville, Ohio.

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