Unfortunately, many of us know pastors who have succumbed to the temptation of an affair. Often, a pastor’s/minister’s/Christian counselor’s affair destroys his marriage, his family, his career, his ministry, his reputation, his power in the kingdom of God and sometimes completely tears apart his entire church. Many times – these kinds of things can even make the news and cast a horrible, ungodly light on the entire church and on Jesus Christ, Himself. 🙁
This can happen even if there are merely false accusations – even if nothing sinful ever actually happened.
Rumors can be as destructive sometimes as if an affair really did occur.
The stakes are very high. The enemy wants to take down anyone he can who is in a position of godly leadership. Sadly, the way we often approach things in our churches makes it EASY for affairs to happen.
There is often little accountability and there are MANY opportunities to fall.
One thing I greatly admire about Billy Graham was the way he was SO careful not to be alone with a woman. That way, there could be no rumors about even “the appearance of evil.”
I think that his conviction could be something for the rest of us to prayerfully consider. I am not saying it must be a rule for everyone in every single circumstance 100% of the time. I am saying – let’s apply wisdom and discretion to our behavior and seek to honor Christ and obey His voice in everything – including how we approach ministers and pastors as women when we are in need of godly counseling.
- Men need respect.
- Leaders need respect.
- Women tend to respect their pastors/ministers greatly.
- When a woman respects a man in authority – there can be romantic temptation on either side of the equation
It is VERY EASY for a troubled wife to come to her pastor and to idolize him as spiritually “so much more mature” than her husband for whom she has no or little respect at home. It is effortless for her to feel respect for his ideas, his biblical knowledge and his wise counsel. She is amazed at being able to talk with a man who will willingly and voluntarily pray with her – unlike her husband back at home. It is EASY for her to begin to admire this man’s spirituality and for her to begin to trust him deeply and look up to him spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. It is easy for her to feel safe with him. This can be dangerous territory!
Pastors are human. They are sinners saved by grace – just like all of us. There are plenty of pastors and ministers who have their own wives at home and feel like failures with their own wives. Pastors’ wives and marriages have unique pressures, high visibility, scheduling challenges and spiritual challenges that can make unity in marriage much more difficult for those in ministry.
A pastor’s wife:
- may resent the long hours he puts into his work.
- may be angry because it seems like everyone at church gets more of his time and concern than his own wife and family receive.
- probably doesn’t get to pray with her husband, even if she wants to, but he likely prays with “everyone else.”
- may be angry or contentious and not supportive of his leadership at home OR at church.
- Or – maybe she is a respectful, biblically submissive, godly woman who supports him, loves him and treats him very well at home. But he is still not completely immune from the respect and admiration of a beautiful woman.
A pastor/youth minister/music minister/associate pastor may begin to enjoy seeing a woman from his congregation come to him for knowledge and wisdom and to see that light of admiration for him in her eyes. That can be pretty intoxicating to a man.
It is EASY for affairs to start this way.
If one or both parties are not guarding their hearts and marriages – it is a slippery slope.
IF YOU GO TO A PASTOR FOR COUNSELING:
It is WAY more important to be sensitive and obedient to God’s Spirit than to focus on any list that I ever type up. God’s Spirit is infinitely more important than anything I say. What I am about to share is not meant to be a list of “rules” but some ideas to think about and to take before God and maybe before our husbands so that we can each develop our own ways of protecting our marriages and guarding our hearts in accordance with scripture that will honor Christ and our husbands.
If your pastor does not have a policy against being alone with women during counseling sessions, then, here are some things to prayerfully consider:
- I believe it is wise for you to say, “I need for another person to be present while you are counseling me, please.” Especially if you will be going more than a time or two for counseling. It would need to be someone you and he both trust, who would not share any information that you share with the pastor. His wife. His secretary. A deacon, elder or well-respected teacher in the church.
- You could ask for the door to be left open so that the secretary can see into the room, if there is no one trustworthy to sit in on the session.
- You could ask for counseling by phone if you don’t want to be physically alone with the pastor – but – it could be wise to have his wife on the line, or another trusted person on the line, too. Especially if you plan to talk with him more than once or twice.
- You could ask for counseling by email and copy someone else who is trustworthy on the email for the sake of accountability.
Some other ideas I believe would be wise to prayerfully consider…
- Be careful about sending private text messages, emails, FB messages in private to ANY man – including a pastor – especially LOTS of private messages. When a man and woman have prolonged private conversations – it is easy for us to form an emotional or spiritual attachment. And then, when things are not going well in our marriage, it is easy for us to turn to that pastor for comfort. I would like to see wives always copy their husbands on any electronic messages to men if at all possible. If your husband is far from God, maybe there is a godly, mentoring wife in the church you can copy the messages to, or the pastor’s wife herself, if possible. Of course, it would have to be someone absolutely trustworthy.
- Be VERY careful about what information you share about your husband with anyone – including a pastor (or even a godly wife mentor). God commands us to respect our husbands and honor their leadership – be sure that you are not using a “counseling session” with a pastor to bash your husband to try to make him look bad and to try to make yourself look good. If you want to paint your husband as the enemy and make yourself look like a total victim – your motives for seeing the pastor may be questionable, in my view. If you are there to figure out what YOU need to change – AWESOME. But if you are hiding all of your sin and denying any fault of your own and bad-mouthing your husband – that is unproductive and it is dishonoring to your husband, your marriage and your faith in Christ. Even when we pray, our attitude should be one of respect for our husband’s God-given leadership. If you pray in a disrespectful way about your husband to God – your prayers are not going to be heard. I have been there and done that! God uses those He has placed in authority over us to lead, guide and direct us. We cannot go around our husbands’ authority to complain to God. We must be respectful of God’s authority and our husband’s authority and have the right motives for God to hear.
The only motives that count are “I want to please and obey Christ and I want to bless my husband.”
- Many times, it may best to receive godly counsel about marriage issues from a godly, older mentoring wife or a godly, Christian female counselor than from a man. (Titus 2:3-5 It is the older wives who are to instruct the younger wives how to affectionately love their husbands and children…)
- I also believe it is wise to monitor our daughter’ and sons’ messaging/emailing/texting with youth leaders and youth ministers (and others). It is much easier to prevent something from starting than it is to fix it once things have gone horribly wrong.
IF WE REALIZE WE HAVE FEELINGS FOR A PASTOR, OR THE PASTOR/MINISTER HAS FEELINGS FOR US – a few of my suggestions:
- Flee from sexual immorality (I Corinthians 6).
- Minimize contact with the man immediately.
- No need to go into a long explanation about why you can’t talk with him – that breeds even more opportunity for temptation, in my view.
- Talk to your husband if possible or a female accountability partner/godly mentoring wife about your feelings – getting things out in the open with someone to whom you are accountable is often wise. Secrets make this issue worse, in my view.
- Focus on Christ – repent of any sinful thoughts.
- Remove yourself from that church if necessary.
- Don’t allow yourself to be alone with this man.
Am I saying it is NEVER ok to privately email a pastor on occasion or to privately discuss something with him every once in awhile? No – not necessarily. But I am saying we ought to use caution, discretion and wisdom.
All of us are called upon by God to PRAY for our church leaders and to treat them with honor and respect. Part of our prayers for them need to be for protection from temptation. All people in God-given leadership positions need our prayers, encouragement, godly love and support.
FROM “YOUNG PASTOR”
As a young pastor, it is fascinating how people react to the office of a pastor, particularly women. Often, women who do not know the minister in any meaningful way worship the idol they’ve constructed of the pastor. He is so smart. He is so godly. He is in a leadership position and possesses leadership qualities. All of this makes him more respectable than the shmuck that was dragging his feet out of the door that morning or the guy you got in an argument with last night.
When you talk to the pastor, even if it is just in passing, he seems so loving. If you divulge your frustrations he listens to you and shows concern. All of this can cause resentment to build for her husband that does not show the leadership or sensitivity of this pastor.
But women need to realize that part of the pastor’s job is to love the flock. It doesn’t detract from the pastor’s sincerity, but you must realize that the pastor views his role in the church and before God as being a loving shepherd. And if your pastor is gifted and a good shepherd, it is easy to see why women would be attracted to him. But this is the public persona.
Let me tell you what every pastor’s wife knows about their husband. As much as the public persona may coincide with the pastors gifts and sincere heart, the pastor is not going to air his dirty laundry (nor should he, within reason) to the public. Pastors struggle with all sorts of sin: pornography, dishonesty, greed, insecurity, selfishness, depression, anger, etc, etc., The wife of the pastor sees these things in her husband because she knows the man behind the public face. She sees him on Saturday when he is stressed and angry because his sermon isn’t coming together. She sees him working himself so hard because of his insecurities that he ignores her and their children.
And this is where the recipe for an affair comes in. The pastors own insecurities and feelings of disrespect from his wife (whether they are legitimate or not) make him crave respect and attention. When he sees a congregant showing him the sort of respect he craves it can spark the romantic flames for him too.
What church members in general and disgruntled wives in particular need to realize is that the leadership/ministry gifts of your pastor are for the purpose of ministering the Gospel. When you perceive your pastor as something more than broken vessel carrying the Water that will never make you thirst again, you are being idolatrous. You should love your pastor and you should respect him. But you should see him as a man gifted & called for the purpose of giving you what you need most: the Gospel.
Disgruntled spouses don’t need a better spouse (as much as it may help) they need the love that is found only in God’s love for us on the cross. When you realize that you won’t be driven to the pastor, you’ll be driven to the wonderful cross and you’ll be strengthened to bear up the burdens of your marriage and endure them through the Holy Spirit.
David Platt’s sermon about Family, Marriage, Sex and the Gospel – he addresses pornography, human trafficking, affairs, (40% of pastors admit to having had an affair in the course of their ministry today)