Sadly, we’ve all heard the stories.
“Pastor disqualifies himself from ministry after having an affair with his secretary.”
The story hit a little too close to home when a good friend of mine did exactly that. I want to try to redeem this tragedy by offering the following seven practical thoughts in an effort to spare us, our families and our churches from a similar fate.
1. Don’t say it can’t happen to you.
We may nod our heads in agreement, but in our hearts we can still live in functional unbelief of this fact. We need to constantly remind ourselves of Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
It can happen to us, so we must be vigilant in this area and all others if we want to go the distance in ministry. The world is broken, the enemy opposes us and our flesh is weak.
2. Repent of your pride and self-righteousness.
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).
Every pastor I know who has fallen into sexual sin once believed he never would. Our pride encourages us to “push the envelope” by thinking we are the exception to the rule. The same pride also keeps us from getting the help we need to avoid these kinds of situations in the first place. Statistics show that most affairs don’t begin on a whim. The seeds are often sown in the soil of an unhappy or tumultuous marriage. Pastors, if there are currently problems in your marriage, please reach out for help and deal with them now so that you don’t become a statistic later.
3. Put all the needed safeguards in place—and keep them there.
“The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who guard their ways preserve their lives” (Prov. 16:17).
All of us know this is true, but are we living as if we truly believe it?
We know that we shouldn’t be alone with a member of the opposite sex, but how faithfully do we abide by this principle?
We know we should have active porn filters on our computers, but do we?
We can all agree any of our practices can be cumbersome at times, but situations like this remind us that they are more than worth it.
Please, brothers, for the sake of the gospel and our churches, heed the warning today and employ whatever specific practices you need to keep yourself pure and your ministry intact.
4. Don’t just have a plurality of elders in place—have them in practice.
Too many churches have a plurality of elders on paper but, in reality, surround their senior pastor with “yes-men.” This kind of unhealthy leadership system only aids in conducting and concealing sexual misconduct.
If you are concerned about a member on your team, even if it is the most senior leader, please have the courage to sound the alarm. Of course, this should be done personally, honorably and hoping the best for all parties involved. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. Too much is on the line for too many for you to stay silent.
5. Make your wife your partner in purity.
This is a tricky issue, and there is legitimate debate over how “in the loop” she needs to be. I believe your wife needs to know enough to be prayerful but not so much that she is paranoid.
Practically, this means that your wife needs to know that emotionally needy women are often attracted to pastors. Those same pastors often don’t notice what is happening right before their eyes. Your wife may also periodically check your phone and Facebook page for anything inappropriate. At a minimum, protecting each other’s integrity should be a topic of regular conversation. A strong marriage—emotionally, sexually, spiritually—will help you ward off a host of problems.
6. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
Most practically, this may mean that you simply don’t hire a female assistant. Many brothers do this without incident, but for many others this is exactly where everything begins to unravel.
Also, unless there is some kind of extreme circumstance, I avoid traveling alone. In addition to the obvious accountability, it also affords extra mentoring time on the road for my younger pastoral or church planting residents.
7. Never forget that we are in a spiritual battle with real winners and losers.
Though we may try to ignore it, we have three very real enemies (the world, the flesh and the Devil) who are all more than happy to play their part in helping us flame out in ministry. The kingdom of darkness particularly enjoys seeing a pastor go down for moral failure because, like a grenade, its shrapnel does damage on so many levels at once.
To help me in my own struggle for purity, I often reflect on this painful truth. I picture what would happen to my wife, children and church if I chose pride and pleasure over Jesus in a moment of weakness. It drives me to the Scriptures, my wife and my ministry team to help me stay the course.
For all of our sakes, please don’t become a statistic. Pray that your brothers-in-arms don’t either. Take the necessary steps to avoid sexual sin and stay in ministry for the long haul for the glory of God and the good of our families, our churches and the watching world.
Dustin Neeley is planting pastor at Refuge church in Franklin, Tennessee.