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The Seven "Deadly" Sins Of Pastors

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 158

1. Need To Control
 
Control is a distortion of Paul's exhortation to "bear one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2). Pastors fall short because they mistakenly believe that they are responsible for other's individual behaviors. Out of this mistaken sense of "responsibility" pastors try to improve, protect, shelter, intervene, and otherwise enmesh themselves in the lives of families with an dazzling performance of "playing God." 
 
Controlling others is not simply a dictatorial exercise. It's how the controlling pastor keeps the spigots of approval open. Turn off the spigots and the controlling pastor's self-esteem is bone dry.  The degree to which they control others is simply the degree to which pastors are dependent on external validation to maintain their self worth.
 
In order to maintain and exert control, the controller will use any--or all--of the four types of control: interrogation, intimidation, poor me, or aloof. The preferred style (or styles) used will be that which maximizes approval and external validation.
 
2. Repressed Feelings
 
Used to cover up the pain of self-revelation, repressed feelings make us unaware of what we really feel. It also puts us out of touch with who we really are.
 
Unfortunately, repressed anger refuses to go through the pain of forgiveness. It shuns the process of spiritual transformation. It flees from the opportunity of the joyful transparency which follows forgiveness. The final result is that it freezes emotions and anger. It prevents the presentation of self.
 
3. Externally-Based Self Esteem
 
The size of a church, the success it experiences and comparative data relating to the pastors ministry betray an externally-based self esteem. Instead of focusing on their own values, preferences and accomplishments, externally-based pastors are almost exclusively other-directed. Almost unbridled sacrificial behaviors.
 
This sin is most obvious is those pastors who don't have a life or identity apart from their church or ministry. Externally-based self esteem not only causes havoc in the parsonage, but reinforces a sense of loneliness and isolation which requires more and more "church" to fill the void.
 
Externally-based pastors are especially sensitive to criticism and conflict since they base their self-esteem on the validation of others. When this validation is removed, the pastor experiences an Eliotian "Hollow Man" phenomenon. Like Eliot's "Hollow Men," the pastor has no feelings, no emotions, no spirituality, no sense of value to himself or God.
 
4. Confused And Enmeshed Identity
 
Enmeshment has to do with eliminating the boundaries which mark one's own identity and absorbing others into one's own sense of self. When this occurs one does not know where they stop and someone else begins.
 
The most obvious result of this sin is that pastors develop expectations for others, their behaviors, and their goals. When they behave contrary to the pastor's wishes, the pastor may become resentful and hostile. Instead of realizing that their own high expectations of others may be inappropriate, those violating this commandment feel they need to forgive others of their shortcomings.
 
How can this behavioral pattern be altered? Not easily. But it would certainly start with a fearless and objective inventory of one's dysfunctional behaviors. Perhaps the best strategy is to ask them to list questions related to their own preferences, goals, ambitions, and dreams. Then, on the basis of this list, develop strategies to work toward accomplishing them.
 
5. Undeserving Of Worth
 
Since they are so control and perfection-based, pastors guilty of this sin struggle with low self-esteem. Concerned about how they look, what they accomplish, preoccupation with what others think, wondering if we are caring enough are some indicators of the fall into this "deadly" sin.
 
Another indicator is a judgmentalism which elevates one's own achievements while ruthlessly judging, ridiculing, or otherwise lessening the achievements of others.
 
At the root, however, is a fear of being out of control, of being imperfect. The results?
 
Low-self esteem which leads to the inevitable conclusion that they are worthy of nothing. Without this basic self-worth, they do not understand that it is important for them to give and receive forgiveness. Indeed, they do not understand that relationships are imperfect. Each day there is a "give-and-take" of forgiveness for both little and large offenses.
 
6. Inappropriate Care-taking
 
There are several examples of this sin. Care-taking which is done for others what they cannot do for themselves is one. Preventing others from maturing because of our "help"  and one-sided care-taking are others. As long as the relationship is "one-up" and "one-down," the needy one will be unable to break free of the control of the caregiver. Indeed, if the needy one leaves, the caretaker will misinterpret this action as rejection...not as a move toward healthy, normal growth.
 
7. Perfectionism
 
One Day at a Time in Al-Anon indicates that the greatest problem with perfectionism is that "it makes big problems out of little ones, increase our despair when things don't work out as we hope they will and hampers us in coming to terms with life as it is."
 
Perfectionism leads to a long list of sins of commission. It also leads to guilt. Perfectionists have long lists of offenses which have been committed by them and against them. These offenses become the fuel for self-torture and other-torture, respectively.
 
Perfectionism also shelters a long list of sins of omission. Perfectionists don't forgive, don't confront, don't work things out and don't build intimate, long-standing friendships. Why? Fear of confrontation and discovering they may be wrong is certainly one.
 
Perfectionists also fail to forgive so as to remind themselves of other's failures to block awareness of their own failures. Hanging on to the hurts also gives a long-term sense of control over others who have hurt them in the past, especially those motivated by guilt..
 
Can perfectionists change? It is very difficult. It requires all the power of God's grace and renewal. It also requires that they learn to forgive, to change their view of the world, and to discover that they are God's children because of His love, not their perfection.
 
Thomas F. Fischer
For more on this topic see Beattie, Don't Talk, Don't Trust, Don't Feel, p. 127-137

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:06 PM