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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
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The Seven "Deadly" Sins Of Pastors
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Thomas F. Fischer
- For more on this topic see Beattie, Don't Talk, Don't Trust, Don't Feel,
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:06 PM