Why Do Ministers Fall?

2nd Timothy 4:10 (NET) For Demas deserted me, since he loved the present age, and he went to Thessalonica.

Demas has been on my mind for the last few days because Demas worked so closely with the apostle Paul and yet betrayed him in his time of need. He was respected in the Church. He had one of the best mentors the Christian faith has ever had. So what went wrong?

First, in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which was likely his first letter written from imprisonment, Paul included Demas alongside Luke as witnesses to his epistle. And he is mentioned as Paul’s “fellow-worker” to Philemon. So there was a time when Demas ministered to Paul in his time of need and helped him advance the Kingdom of God.

So what was the cause of Demas’ betrayal? And why do faithful ministers today still fall away?

Paul associated the cause of his falling away with his love for this present age. His desire to be loved. Or his affections for the luxuries of this age. His attachments to the comforts of this world. Or his intolerance for the isolation of the cross that sometimes requires Christ’s disciples to traverse the way of the cross alone and entirely forsaken by those they love most in this world. Any of these could have been the the concerns that choked Demas’ faith.

Jesus deals with this problem in his parable of the sower:

Luke 8:4-8 (NIV) – 4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

Luke 8:11-15 (NIV) – 11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

One of the reasons even Christian leaders fall away from Christ is because the love for this present age chokes their love for Christ so much so that in their hearts they count Christ as lost so that they may obtain the world. When the most challenge times come, the worries of life weigh their faith down until their faith suffers shipwreck. Their desire for riches, or their insatiable desire for the various pleasures of this world to kill their love for Christ.

What should strike us all is that this very same love for the world is still waging war against our souls today:

Galatians 5:16-18 (NIV) – 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Too many Christians do not realize that they are daily making decisions to cultivate either their love for Christ or their love for this world. We daily worship either Christ or the idols of this present age. So we must be careful if we observe that all we labor for in this life are the things that will perish because our lust for pleasure can only satisfied by the pleasures of this world. And we should pause and contemplate with sober minds why the eternal wages of heaven do not seem to satiate our souls anymore! We must understand that the reason we are no longer satisfied with Christ is because we are so satisfied with this world.

Christian leaders do not fall away over night. What we see when scandals become public knowledge is the end result of many decisions to cultivate love for this present age over and above their love for Christ.

James 1:14-15 (NIV) – 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

I suspect that Demas was in mind when the Holy Spirit moved on Paul to provide us our template for eschatological apostasy:

2nd Timothy 3:1-5 (NET) – 3:1 But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 3:2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3:3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, 3:4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. 3:5 They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these.

2 Replies to “Why Do Ministers Fall?”

  1. I don’t know of any preachers, personally, who have actually fallen away. I know of a handful (around 5) who either left the ministry, left the Church of Christ for an independent church or adjusted the definition of their ministry to something that is not based in the local congregation. Demas’ agapeao for the world suggests he found his work with Paul to be too demanding against his other personal or career commitments. He was not faithful to his ministry. I am not convinced that he feql away. Some people are not cut out for ministry.

    Probably the biggest contributor to failure in ministry is immaturity as a Christian. Most people decide to be a preacher when they are 18 and go to college and major in Bible. They are 5 to 8 years old as Christians. When they get their first preaching jobs, they are at best 12.

    Experience is not a magic cloak either. If you really want to help, you will teach some things people may be surprised to hear or may not want to hear. Elderships will censor the teaching or the teacher in the interest of keeping everybody comfortable. That kind of stuff drives preachers out of the Church of Christ.

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    1. Thanks for the response. Unfortunately, I have known ministers who turned away from their faith altogether. And, as one can imagine, the fallout from that kind of thing is heart-wrenching to observe. And at the broader level, we all have in mind various scandals surrounding different pastors or ministers throughout history, which I’m including in my loosely-employed question “why do ministers fall?” The point isn’t necessarily that Demas fell away from the faith in the sense of renouncing the name of Christ, but that he stumbled because of his love for the world. And in the same manner, ministers today must be careful because it is their love for the world that poses the greatest threat to their ministry and spiritual life.

      I think it’s also worth noting that I don’t write from the denominational mindset. So, while I currently serve in the churches of Christ, which places me within their faith tradition, I am writing from a much broader perspective that includes all God’s people (including those outside my current realm of experience). I don’t share the view that has unfortunately sometimes characterized churches of Christ, which sees the “churches of Christ” as “the only true Church”. My last ten years have been spent abroad serving as a missionary in hostile conditions, and the church we planted was very diverse. I would be best characterized as a “restorationist”, my co-minister was “southern baptist”, and we had charismatics, Calvinists, and some members who don’t fit well into Western theological boxes. What I believe is that “you will know the tree by its fruit”, and those who bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit by faith in Christ that is expressed through love belong to him. I’m well aware that this sometimes causes me to catch flak within my own brotherhood, but it is the position that I believe is Biblical. So I do not have in mind ministers within the churches of Christ that leave to serve in other denominations. There are some churches of Christ that I wouldn’t serve in because I believe they have denied the faith in their practice. What matters most to me is being faithful to Christ and the faith that has been once and for all handed down to his people.

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