A nationwide survey taken almost a decade ago by the Barna Research Group indicated that Americans were redefining what it means to do the right thing. If you look around our nation and our world today, you can clearly see that the survey was spot on. The decline in what we used to call morality is shocking! From the lack of ethics and integrity in the highest levels of government this past decade … to the values and “truth” being taught in classrooms … to the morals being depicted on TV and in movies … to the vitriolic actions of the mobs in the street … to the thoughts and actions of people we all know personally, what God calls sin seems to be more irrelevant today than at any period in our lifetimes.
Barna’s researchers asked adults which, if any, of eight behaviors with moral overtones they had engaged in during a given week. The behaviors included exposure to pornography, using profanity in public, gambling, gossiping, engaging in sexual intercourse with someone to whom they were not married, retaliating against someone, getting drunk, and lying.
While there’s no room to go into details here, according to George Barna, who directed the survey, the results reflected a significant shift in American life. “We are witnessing the development and acceptance of a new moral code in America. The consistent deterioration of the Bible as the source of moral truth has led to a nation where people have become independent judges of right and wrong, basing their choices on feelings and circumstances. It is not likely that America will return to a more traditional moral code until the nation experiences significant pain from its moral choices.”
Pastor, these are the people to whom you minister, the people in your community. I encourage you to look both within and beyond the doors of your church to the masses who are perishing. I encourage you to think about how you can best minister to people who have lost their moral direction, who don’t believe in absolute truth, who only do what is right in their own eyes.
“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4). Yep.
My colleague, have you ever carefully and thoughtfully pondered the passage in Titus that says, “In everything, set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity; seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). When was the last time you took that verse to heart? My interpretation might be a bit faulty, but it reminds me that we are to live our lives so that, at the end of our ministries, there will be no asterisks. The Message says, “We don’t want anyone looking down on God’s Message because of [our] behavior” (Titus 2:5). Does your own example demonstrate your understanding of and compliance with God’s expectations?
It does make a difference how you live before others, especially as His personally called representative. You have a greater accountability and, in the end, His opinion will be the one that matters most.
“Judge me, 0 LORD, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, 0 Most High” (Psalm 7:8).
Dr. Roy Woodruff, former head of the Association of Pastoral Counselors, once noted, “A majority of sexual scandals in the Protestant church involve male pastors and female parishioners.” He estimated then that about 15 percent of Protestant pastors had either violated or were currently violating sexual ethical boundaries. The result of such abuses is normally devastating for all parties — especially the victim.
Woodruff suggested that all pastors should take steps to avoid temptation by: (1) having accountability partners and (2) setting limits on counseling females. (I would add males, too.) Great advice!
A ChristianityToday.com article from that time stated, “Evangelicals cannot afford to pretend that we are immune to sexual sin by clergy.” In my opinion, youth leaders and workers are especially at risk.
My advice: take every precaution. Do not find all of your validation in counseling. Do not counsel in private. Do not expose your weaknesses to your client. Do not think for a moment that you can change anyone. Do not forget the consequences of your actions. Do not forget you are an expression of Christ. That should save you a great deal of pain. Be very careful!
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Once, when I was in an airport, the wife of a disgraced clergyman recognized me and began to talk about her husband’s indiscretion — an indiscretion that cost him his ministry and his family. I myself am the son of a father who, because of moral failure, caused our family great pain. In over 30 years of ministering to the clergy, I have too often heard from a pastor or spouse who is heartbroken over the choices made by someone they love.
Why? What causes us to struggle with morality? What causes us to set a horrible example to God’s people, whom we have been called to serve?
There are no easy answers. One could just blame it on sin and let it go at that, but there is always more to the story.
For one thing, men especially have the ability to compartmentalize their actions. For some reason, they can live one lifestyle in sin and another related to the church.
Another reason is unresolved conflict at home. Rather than address issues that arise with their spouse, they let them fester. Soon the couple is married in name only.
One other reason I hear colleagues talk about is a kind of rationalization. We set our own rules, live by a different standard, and resist any kind of accountability.
Among other ministers, the reason for moral failure is emptiness. So many do not see a lot of progress in their day, and there is a need to fill it with counterfeits like pornography or other addictions.
But the explanation that scares me the most is what I call a lack of Godly intimacy — one day we find ourselves separated from God and morally unprotected. Brother, sister, guard you heart!
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).