Pastors. Affairs. Power. Ethics.

It all unravels eventually. Whether it’s getting tired of hiding the indiscretion, telling a lie, living a lie. Or, getting caught red-handed.

Another pastor admits an emotional and physical affair. It’s wrong and there are tons of consequences. I think in the information age, with the openness of the Internet, more bad news is known and spreads faster. shattered livesMoral failures have been around before, easier to hide in some sense, though just as devastating. This past weekend, another pastor falls, even more in the public eye because of social media. And the online chatter perculating.

Scott Williams lists 4 Reasons Leaders FAIL, i.e. fake, attitude, integrity, lacking. Geoff Surratt warns pastors of how they’re already toast if they think they aren’t vulnerable. Ron Edmondson adds his thoughts and Todd Rhoades adds his prayer for another fallen servant.

To reiterate, from Why Pastors Fall Into Affairs: “What is it with pastors and affairs? I did a brief search through Google and found all kinds of stories about pastors having affairs with secretaries, the wives of other ministers, and who knows who else. … Curiously, many pastors fall into affairs when their ministries grow. Success has a way of turning on its master. … Of course we’re not big fans of learning from our mistakes. … I know if I started pastoring a church tomorrow I’d say to myself, “Those other guys fell, but not me. I’m going to be fine.”

Pastors know what they’re supposed to do. They teach it and preach it. And the inevitable stresses of ministry will come (or never goes away, in many cases). Pastoring the most stressful job I can think of. Sometimes the church is overly successful. The stresses of marriage and family life will show up too — nobody has a perfectly easy marriage. And there’s always someone of the opposite sex who is more attractive to the average red-blooded male. I’m one, so I know what I’m talking about (tongue in cheek.) Plus there’s the spiritual realm too. Pastors have a red bulls-eye on their back, constantly in the cross-hairs of Satan’s destructive schemes.

My own thinking is that keeping precautions and rules won’t guarantee moral & marital purity. Rules don’t change the heart. From my vantage point, I’m of the opinion that high-capacity leaders tend to be task-oriented, and not as relationally-oriented. Task-orientation is what makes them that much more effective, but it’s also is the achilles’ heel, because there’s going to be the tendency of not spending enough time in close relationships with a few trusted others — especially in transparent vulnerable friendships where they are fully known. If friends knew the struggles and temptations in the heart & soul of a leader, especially in this area of temptation, then a leader doesn’t have to bear it all by himself. It’s true that leadership is lonely at the top, and the higher you go, the lonelier it gets. No one will understand what the leader is going thru. Partly true. Others don’t have to understand, but others can know. At least get a professional counselor to relieve the stress that mere rest and sports will not.

In other words, a pastor’s moral failure via an extra-marital affair (or other immoral addictions) is not only breaking the rules and bad decisions and lack of self-control. It’s a failure in relationship. It’s a broken relationship with self, with the spouse, with the accomplice, with the congregation, and with God. All of the above.

It’s even worse than that. It’s unethical. It’s clergy abuse. It’s a power play. Rules alone won’t do it. Maybe counting the cost and seeing the ugliness of pastoral affairs will shock us to be desparate for support and help. Men and women, we need all the help we can get! spells it out bluntly in Emotional Affairs with Pastors: Forgiveness is Not a Neat Little Package: “There is always an element of spiritual abuse when a pastor is involved and on behalf of any kind of pastor I apologize. If you have been in any type of affair this will be a good read but especially good for those of you involved with clergy.”

The Hope of Survivors, a support ministry for victims of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct, provides sobering realities and resources for victims and pastors. The article, Careful Observations, describes the power relationship dynamics that factor into sexual abuse between clergy and congregants:

Illicit relationships that form between male pastors and their female victims are often mislabeled “affairs.” Such language immediately sanitizes the situation. It is easier to talk about affairs than it is adultery or abuse. Adultery sounds so… sinful. Abuse sounds so violent. … Victims of pastoral sexual abuse are exactly that—victims. They are not generally partners in an affair. That is not to say the relationship is violent or forced, it is to say that the balance of power in the adultery is decidedly in favor of the pastor.

The pastor is frequently known as a good man, who cares, who expresses himself well, who often treats her with dignity and respect, who takes the time to listen and has a heart to understand her. … Thus by virtue of the initially legitimate relationship between pastor and counselee, she is often unintentionally set up for victimization as the relationship continues. That is if the emotionally protective lines get fuzzy and ultimately crossed.

When you add to the above situation a pastor, who is not watching his boundaries, explosionwho may be denying the possibility of personal wrong doing, who is not taking care to keep his “home fires” burning, and who is taking his own walk with God for granted, who enjoys the power of his position a little too much, you have the fuel for an explosive situation.

Even more disturbing —‘s “The Affair-Proof Pastorate” cites the Pastoral “Opportunity” ::

Opportunities for pastors abound, opportunities which offer remarkable potential for pastors and other Christian leaders, especially when their emotional and/or physical needs are not met. Such opportunities abound and are seized with striking regularity. A 1988 survey in Leadership magazine reported

  • Nearly one in four pastors admitted doing something “sexually inappropriate” with someone who was not their spouse;
  • One in five pastors confessed to sexual misconduct of some kind;
  • One in eight admitting adultery; and
  • Only 4 in 100 were found out by their local church.

This and other data is more startling when the potential for multiple affairs is considered. Staheli indicates “people who have affairs are likely to have more than one, especially men…About 25% of men and 15% of women who have affairs have four or more [affairs].”

That article explains the sobering reality of our human-ness and how we’re prone to wander:

… Pastors have affairs for many of the same reasons non-pastors do. They have needs, drives, and opportunities.
… Affairs come in all types and varieties.
… women have affairs because, like men, they have needs, drives, and opportunities. According to Staheli, “Women are every bit as willing as men to have an affair!”

One more piece of advice to men for avoiding affairs: “Guys, we’re always attracted to what’s missing in our lives. And the thing we miss most will sometimes show up in the form of a woman.”

I think this is the key question: do you know your needs? Are you humble enough to admit you’re needy? You will either consciously meet those needs in good legitimate ways, or you will subconsciously meet those needs in other scheming ways. Come to your senses. Stop pretending. Stop hiding. You can’t do it alone.

And if the statistics above are any indicator, there are pastors and people out there who have failed or currently in an affair. Come to your senses. Come clean now and get on the path towards recovery, restoration, and healing. Cut your losses. You can have less shame now or more shame later. You don’t have to stay on the losing streak.

God help us all.

[photo credit: sallypics, theblackcanvas]

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30 Responses

  1. Steve says:

    Initially, the Leadership survey is disturbing, but then upon reconsideration I have to say it's encouraging. It proves to me that when a given group of people devote themselves to sexual purity, they succeed famously compared to society as whole.

    Maybe our post-modern phobia of rules is not entirely logical?

  2. colinwong says:

    Great article! Good find on the stats from

  3. Run, Flee, Stop…

  4. Jason Curlee says:

    Great post and wisdom DJ. Love the part where you said “we are always attracted to what is missing in our lives”

    That is so why husbands and wives should spend a lot of energy on chasing after each other…especially in ministry.

  5. charles hill says:

    great work brutha!

    thanks for a well thought-out and timely article…that was amazing.

  6. Tim Archer says:

    Great article!

    On the stressful nature of ministry: my mom had a cousin who left the ministry because it was too stressful. He became an air traffic controller. [true story]

  7. djchuang says:

    Steve, thanks for your comment.

    While a phobia of roles or even relationships is not entirely logical, BOTH are needed to keep us on the road of sexual purity. It's not an easy road for us as sexual beings with sex drives, and less easy in the sex-saturated society of the Western world.

  8. djchuang says:

    Thanks, all, for the comments and retweets!

    I know that we know what we're supposed to do, what the Bible says, how we want to be serious about our faith, how we have to take precautions. And the examples of those who have fallen before us should be a wake-up call. And, of course, this topic applies for pastors and non-pastors alike, men and women alike.

    But with all of that freely available and we're conscious of, what doesn't get voiced enough is:

    (1) LEADERS who acknowledge their own frailty and WEAKNESS while they are in that leadership role, granted not share it every Sunday from the pulpit but share it often and regularly with a trusted few,

    (2) showing how to CONFESS for those who are in the midst of an affair and feel like they're stuck and choose to keep trying to hide it and get away with it, if the survey stats are any indicator of those who are living a double life.

    Warning each other to stop, to take precautions, to have accountability is good, and yet I wonder if that's becoming a familiarity that breeds contempt. If this blog post can stop one affair that's about to happen, and gets a person who is in the middle of an affair to stop and confess, then it'll all be worth it.

  9. DJ–Thanks for tackling this tough topic. We surveyed Christian women leaders last year, asking about interactions with pastors and men in ministry. It seems the problem of sexual misconduct in churches exists, although I wouldn't characterize it as rampant. But it certainly opened my eyes:

  10. MDSF says:

    I might gently suggest on the basis of my limited experience with pastors who ruin their ministry through sexual sin that pastors who are otherwise spiritually healthy and slip into sexual sin are the exception rather than the rule; they're typically unaccountable generally, either pathological personalities or “Moses model” types who genuinely believe that a pastor shouldn't be accountable to anyone for anything.

    Any sort of sexual sin is just an easily identifiable transgression and much less a matter of opinion than e.g. greed, joylessness, or contempt for fellow believers; as a result churches tend to let their pastor off the hook for these other sins, and treat him as “other” or “special” until he commits a sin that is an easily identifiable event with an identifiable victim.

  11. Sam says:

    Hey Guys, I think this is one of those mission critical conversations we need to continue to have!! Dave, thanks for bringing it up bro! Personally, I don't have enough fingers even if I'm counting with both of my hands when it comes to cases of moral failures of our brothers in ministry that was brought to my attention personally or indirectly in recent memory. And ironically if not all, most times I seen most Asian American churches ( and non-Asian) enforce no disciplinary actions whatsoever! The worse that the leadership does is fire a Pastor quietly ( Or most of the time simply deny it or completely ignore it!) Then these pastors get hired by another Church because Asian churches for some odd reasons do not check any references from previous churches for some odd reason!!!!!???? ( still scratching my head with that one!). Here's the punch-line folks: We must return to true “Biblical” spiritual maturity and value integrity and character over Talent and Spiritual gifting! The truth is we might not verbalize it, but the church today is not that much different from Professional Sports or Hollywood: We simply value gifts over integrity and the results have been detrimental to our churches. The church is really sick and honestly it's up to us as pastors to a create a system that promotes confession and accountability among us. This is one of the conversations we're going to have in the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape-town South Africa in 2010 called by Billy Graham.; how the church has drastically failed in discipleship and what we need to do to change that. Lastly, I leave you guys with a thought i had for a while…. Every time I go to the bathroom in a public eater, I'm convicted by the Spirit by a short sign and try my best to apply it my own life: “All employees must wash their hands before going back to work”. I wonder what would happen to our churches if we all took that assertion seriously and lived a confessed life with one another?! ( Maybe Revival, I dream!)