Ministers Guilty of Sexual Sin: Advice from a Minister

crying-preacher.jpgExcellent advice from Vince Antonucci, a Las Vegas church planter and author of I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.

There has been a lot of talk and blogging about a well-known pastor who confessed to an affair yesterday. Because he’s a friend of mine I’ve e-mailed him. But I won’t comment on it here, because I think it’s none of my business.

What I will say is that we all need to be on guard. A lot of people have been saying that today: “Don’t let this happen to you!” but I don’t think that helps much. Here’s my practical advice for all of us:

  1. Love God. I mean really love Him, stay close to Him.
  2. Fear God. Be afraid of the consequences of sin and of God Himself.
  3. Have Authentic Accountability. Be totally transparent with a few trusted people about your temptations.
  4. Have Wide Boundaries. Set up your boundaries so even if you didn’t keep them, you’d still be far, far from sin.

Personally, I think the keys are #2 and #4. I’ve had several friends who have had affairs. Just about all of them would say that they (at least) felt like they loved God deeply. And many of them had accountability in their lives. (They just lied to their accountability partners.)

But I think virtually none of them would say that they feared God, but the Bible teaches us that we should. And I think if we fear Him, and the consequences of our sin, it would save us from having to suffer a lot of those consequences.

And … I think just about none of them would say they had good boundaries. I feel confident I’ll never screw up like this, and one of the biggest reasons is that I don’t see how I could. My wife ALWAYS knows where I am, and I am NEVER alone with a female. I take that to extremes. If there’s only one person in the office and it’s a female, I stay in my car until someone else shows up. I never drive alone with a female no matter what the situation.

So, if I’m right and those are four keys to affair-proof yourself — which of those four do you need to improve?

So very, very true. Do preachers lie to their accountability partners? Yes. Do they fear God? Not so much. Do they keep wide boundaries? Not the ones who get in trouble.

If your preacher, youth minister, intern — whoever — doesn’t follow the rules, especially rule 4, fire him. It should not be optional or up for debate. You can’t tell whether he’s being truthful with his accountability group. You can’t tell about his relationship with God. You can tell whether he is ever alone with a girl. No exceptions. No excuses. You see, by being strict, you may just save his marriage.

I don’t know the numbers. Only God does. But I’d bet the rate for Church of Christ ministers who get caught having had illicit sex is better than 20% — and that’s for the ones who get caught. And how many ministers went years in sexual sin before being discovered? Indeed, based on limited experience, my observation is that ministers who are guilty of sexual sin are generally repeat offenders — it’s not normally a one-night stand. It’s a series of one-night stands, because whatever drove them to sin in the first place — pride, resentment against their wives, a desire to prove their manhood to themselves — doesn’t get better with just one sin. And so they destroy not only their lives, they take many others down with them. Therefore, the boundaries should not be a suggestion. They should be a requirement for continued employment.

For a more detailed plan on how to help your ministers stay true to God, their families, their churches, and themselves, click here.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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9 Responses to Ministers Guilty of Sexual Sin: Advice from a Minister

  1. jbevans says:

    I think the 4 rules are very useful and will help keep a man free of this terrible temptation. The idea of wide boundaries is especially wise.

    You have twice used the 20% figure of ministers who have been involved in illicit sexual sin. I'm curious if you could explain exactly what you mean and especially where the 20% number comes from.

    Thanks

  2. JdB says:

    Jay…as a man who is blessed to know a lot of ministers, I, too, would like to know where the 20% figure comes from. Thanks.

  3. Grizz says:

    It amazes me sometimes that we are all for accountability until someone observes that this is not something reserved for ministers and religious professionals. And it also amazes me that we write as though we think that the Essenes had it right when they tried to withdraw from worldly influences by the use of boundaries around their lives.

    Shepherds are supposed to be intimately aware of the lives and personalities of their sheep – or so I have been told. Why not talk as well about the ways we can all help the shepherds among us to know the flock they watch over better – so that they can do their job? Is it only ministers and ministry leaders that need to be transparent with us and with one another?

    It seems to me that we are framing this discussion in ways that have been followed and which have brought us to the current situation – no matter what the percentage of the sexually unfaithful among us may be. So if it not working, then why keep doing it?

    I pray for the day when we can actually find loving and protecting fellowship, true koinonia, in every local congregation. We won't have to fire preachers or youth ministers for not following some man-made rules that seem helpful. We will be too busy heading folks off who are headed towards trouble, and not just dealing with the aftermath. And we will be working together for the health and strength of ALL the saints, and not just those who have been appointed to a specific task among us.

    Sorry to be so blunt, Jay, but the idea of firing someone who won't toe some line we draw in the sand reminds me of how good we are at shooting our wounded. Jesus drew enough lines. And He was more inclusive than most of us would comfortably be. Even so, I'd rather be uncomfortable and stand with Jesus.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    jbevans and JdB,

    The 20% figure comes from experience. The figure is supported by research.

    A survey of 1,000 pastors and 1,000 subscribers to Christian magazines found that 12 percent of pastors had been involved in adultery while in the ministry, and 23 percent had acted in sexually inappropriate ways, Singleton said.

    http://www.baptistpress.com/bpnews.asp?id=16366

    In a book named "Men's Secret Wars" written by Patrick Means, an anonymous survey was done of Clergy and church lay leaders which said that 64% of the men struggled regularly with sexual issues and 24% of men had an affair after they had become a Christian!!

    http://www.canterburybaptist.org/david_chats/2008

    Present research indicates the incidence of sexual abuse by clergy has reached “horrific proportions.” Two seminal studies in 1984 reported 12 and 12.7 percent of ministers had engaged in sexual intercourse with members, and 37 and 39 percent had acknowledged sexually inappropriate behavior. More recent surveys by religious journals and research institutes support these figures. The disturbing aspect of all research is that the rate of incidence for clergy exceeds the client-professional rate for both physicians and psychologists.[xii] Often the clergy sexual offender is guilty of multiple transgressions. In one case reported by Newsweek, while seducing one woman her minister boasted of having slept with thirty others.[xiii]

    http://www.christianethicstoday.com/Issue/030/The

    Given that (a) "sexually in appropriate behavior" would be anything short of intercourse, and given that pastors aren't inclined to tell the truth on surveys when the truth could cost them their jobs, I think my 20% is fair.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    My suggestions are not holy writ. But holy writ isn't greatly different —

    (Mat 5:28-30) But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

    Our preacher interpreted this yesterday — correctly, I think — as saying that we should give up anything that tempts us to sin. If being alone with a woman not your wife might tempt you, don't be alone with a woman not your wife.

    Jesus also said,

    (Mat 10:16) "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."

    In other words, be smart and don't get close to sinning.

    Finally, Paul wrote Timothy,

    (1 Tim 4:12) Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

    How will an evangelist set an example of purity if he's put himself in a position to be accused of adultery where he can't defend himself? Or when he routinely puts himself in situations that could lead to adultery?

    Now, I'm aware of a church that split because a preacher spent too much time alone with a pretty woman not his wife. He said he was counseling her on her recent divorce. He may not have committed adultery, but he was an idiot — and so idiotic he allowed his naivete (or worse) to split a congregation.

    As an elder, the case I dread is an accusation of adultery against a minister who denies it but can't defend himself because he put himself in a compromising situation. Do we take his word for it and so , perhaps, allow him to continue to seduce women? Or do we fire him and, perhaps, ruin the career of a good but foolish man? My preference is that he never, ever put himself, his wife, his children, his church, or me in that position. And given a choice, I'd far rather fire a minister for violating church policy than for sleeping with a half dozen women in my church.

    I'm open to better solutions, but only if they solve the problems that elderships face with ministers who put themselves in a position where they can't defend themselves from accusations of adultery. What's a better solution?

    And I'm not convinced by the suggestion that the elders should be closer to the ministers so they'll know if they're sleeping around. I've recently spoken with an elder who was a very close friend of a minister who carried on a lengthy affair, was accused, lied to the elders about it, and was only later proven to have lied. The elder and the minister were very close friends and saw each other socially and worked together in ministry. The minister met with close friends weekly for an accountability group. He lied very effectively. But, of course, all adulterers are liars.

  6. Grizz says:

    Jay,

    I truly do appreciate your response, mostly because it serves as great advice on one level. The problem is that I think we are still being protective of reputations in ways that Jesus would not.

    Why was Jesus eating with tax collectors and publicans so much that He was questioned and accused? Why was He accused regarding the woman who washed His feet with her tears at the Pharisee's home? Why did He let her do that when it could raise such questions?

    When we address these questions, we will be closer to getting at what I think Jesus taught as the more important aspects of how we relate to others – especially others who are outcasts b/c of their sinful ways. Here's the thing: when I am modeling as a man of God the behaviors God desires, how do I show concern for people whose weaknesses may cause them to act inappropriately when we are together? Do I meet with them in private and add fuel to their issues? Or do I seek ways to serve them in groups where they are not judged, but rather helped to come to grips with ways to defeat temptation? (This may seem only a subtle difference in approach, but it is an important difference, for the support it gives to those seeking to help others.)

    When we do anything out of suspicion, the judgmentalism is obvious. When we seek solutions that allow ministry opportunities to be fulfilled and support such efforts, that, too, is obvious. The real issue here is WHY we do whatever we do, because this dictates HOW we will go about doing what we are called to do.

    The point being: we ARE called to minister to the pretty women and the less attractive ones; we are called to minister to folks caught up in sin; we are called to go where others will misunderstand our motives – but in ways that will silence the criticisms of those who go there with us.

    If you are concerned about how your preacher or minister or elder or any other member is conducting themselves, then go along with them. Support their ministry by being there with them. Instead of giving them roadblocks to ministry opportunities, seek to pave the way for a good detour that will allow the ministry and still be transparent to the community and the congregation, at least in ways that allow for accountability and not miss the opportunities to serve.

    We like to hire preachers and others to DO ministry and Teach ministry – so let's go with them and LEARN ministry. Let's seek to be as available as we are asking them to be. Perhaps then our appreciation for them will improve as well as our support being the kind that both promotes ministry and preserves purity. Let's stop asking the preacher or others to do what we are not willing or prepared to do. Let's be true partners – and get the training or work schedules or whatever is needed to go and be with them in ministry – sharing the tag-along duties with others who can and will make both the time and the effort needed to truly serve.

    And if the preacher or other ministry leader asks for an accomodation I have missed, listen carefully and prayerfully and look for ways to serve that will maximize love and minimize judgmental commentary from the lips of those who will not or cannot go with them into ministry.

    Is that too much to ask?

  7. JdB says:

    Grizz…I'd like to take this one on. The very nature of being sexually inappropriate is secrecy. I'd love to think that elders can know everyone well enough to provide the correct form of shepherding at the correct time. However, that is naive of me. Shepherds are good men, but they are not all-knowing. Staff, who know that their very livelihood is on the line, are not apt to tell the shepherds, "Hey, guys, I'm having an affair with sis. soandso, and I'd really like for you guys to pray for me to overcome this inappropriate conduct." So, the are secretive. Now, if the evidence is there and they turn a blind eye…that's a different matter all together.

  8. JdB says:

    Grizz….if you don't mind, I'd like to comment on your latest post. You have brought up some good and thought provoking ideas.

    As someone who has been in ministry for awhile it has come to my attention that a reputation is a whole lot easier to defend than it is to get back. The examples you stated were good ones and they have Jesus publically meeting with people that were deemed as having a lower reputation. Even today there would be some who would question a minister in meeting with someone in a public setting…that is something they will have to deal with because it was/is above board. I like the idea of meeting with someone in a public place. It avoids the temptation and if someone questions it, I can site the examples you listed. The danger, to me, comes in the private meetings as there is no "firewall" and temptation can quickly become sin.

    Again, I think you are on to something when we are talking about public meetings in public areas.

  9. JdB says:

    Jay…I answered this in another post but wanted to make sure you saw it. Thank you for the documentation. While I still have a hard time with the 20% figure, I think the figure would be astronomical if you threw in things like, "How many have fallen to pornography, etc."

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