Some time ago, a good friend of mine disqualified himself from ministry due to an inappropriate relationship with a woman in his church.
I want to try to redeem this tragedy by offering the following seven 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.
While most of us readily nod our heads in agreement, in our hearts we can still live in functional unbelief of this fact. We need to constantly remind ourselves of Paul’s warning to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 10:12:
Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
That means it can and could happen to us, and we must be vigilant in this area and all others. The world is broken, our enemy is against us and our flesh is weak.
2. Repent of your pride and self-righteousness in this area.
The Bible clearly teaches:
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov. 16:18).
Every pastor I’ve ever known who has fallen into sexual sin was one who at one point believed he never would.
So often, it is our pride that allows us to “push the envelope” and think we are the exception to the rule. It is also pride that can keep us from getting the help we need so we could have avoided this particular fall in the first place.
Most affairs don’t begin on a whim. The seeds are sown in the soil of an unhappy or tumultuous marriage.
Brothers, if there are currently problems in your marriage, please reach out to someone and deal with them now so 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 it is true?
We know we shouldn’t be alone with a member of the opposite sex, but do we keep our rule faithfully?
We know we should have working porn filters on our computers, but do we?
We can all agree that 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 in place—have one in practice.
Far too many churches have a plurality of elders on paper, but, in reality, have a senior pastor surrounded by “yes-men.” This kind of unhealthy leadership system only aids in the conducting and concealing of 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, but silence is often exactly what allows deeds done in secret to remain in secret for so long.
Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. Too much is on the line.
On a similar note, this means we also have to practically “have the backs” of our teammates in ministry.
I saw this in action a few years ago when our church was still meeting at a local high school. After our gathering, I got “cornered” by a single girl who had questions about our church. Seeing what was unfolding, one of my elders came and stood (conspicuously) next to me until our conversation was finished. He protected us all that day, and I am thankful for his friendship.
5. Make your wife your partner in purity.
This is a tricky issue, and there is some legitimate debate over how “in the loop” she needs to be. My perspective is:
Your wife needs to know enough to be prayerful, but not so much that she is paranoid.
Practically, this means your wife needs to know that emotionally needy women are often attracted to pastors, and those pastors don’t notice what is happening right before their eyes. It also means she needs to know that regular intimacy with her is a helpful practice that can keep you from looking for it elsewhere.
It may also mean she may periodically check out your phone or Facebook page for anything inappropriate. At a minimum, protecting each other’s integrity should be a topic of regular conversation.
How are you and your wife partnering together for the sake of each other’s purity?
6. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
Most practically, this may mean you simply don’t hire a female assistant.
Some guys do it and things are fine, but plenty of guys do it and that is exactly where everything begins to unravel. For most lead pastors, their assistant works more closely with them than nearly anyone else in their lives and, in my view, that role being held by a member of the opposite sex is a risky endeavor. I do not recommend it.
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 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 of ministry.
In my experience, it also seems that the kingdom of darkness is particularly benefited when a pastor goes down because of moral failure because, like a grenade, it does damage on so many levels at once.
To help me in my own struggle for purity, I reflect on this painful truth often. 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.
When is the last time you stopped to remind yourself of the battle we are fighting?
Brothers, time and time again, the Scriptures are clear: Sexual sin is both damaging and deadly to all it affects—especially pastors.
For the sake of all of us, please don’t become a statistic.
Please pray for me and those closest to you that we don’t become statistics. Please take the steps necessary to walk in integrity, and let’s cross the finish line strong together for the glory of God and the good of our families, churches and the world around us.
By Pastor Dustin Neeley