Sexual lines no pastor should cross

Recently on this blog, we did an article on “7 women pastors need to watch out for.”  Someone who just read it wanted to know why we put the blame on the women when pastors are more likely to be the sexual predator.  “Google that,” she suggested, “and see for yourself.”  My only defense is that in the body of the article, we said, “Sometimes women are the victims; sometimes they are the victimizers.” However, my critic is correct. And thus, what follows….

I’ve known more than one pastor who was a sexual predator.  And, if it makes the reader feel any better, every one of them is out of the ministry now.

My observation however is that no serial adulterer occupying the pastor’s office entered the ministry with such sordid intentions.  He fell into sin and one thing led to another. (Sound familiar? It’s how life works.)

So, what follows is for young ministers in particular who have not been snared in the lust-trap and wish to make sure they don’t. (For your information, I invited my wife Margaret to add her observations.)

Here are 7 lines pastors do not want to cross.

1) Do not use cologne. Women are sensitive to fragrances, my wife says, which is why they wear them in the first place. When a man wears them, he sends out a subtle signal, the type no wise minister needs to be emitting.

2) Do not hug women.  One pastor said he hugs no one between the ages of 6 and 66.

To the minister who argues that “Well, I am a toucher and people need to be hugged,” I reply: a) Granted, but let women hug women and men hug men, if necessary and appropriate. b) In most cases, your “touching” indicates some physical or emotional need in yourself, and is not what healthy ministers do.

Even if your intentions are pure, you make yourself vulnerable to charges of inappropriate touching. And–do not miss this–in the minds of many, to be charged is to be convicted. Best to guard against these dangers.

3) Do not be in your office with a woman alone.

A pastor of a large church told some of us why he does not counsel in his office. “All she has to do is run out of the office screaming and your ministry is over.” When someone catches him following a worship service with “Pastor, could I come by and talk with you about a problem?” he answers, “Let’s sit in a pew right over here and talk now!” Their visit is in public, but far enough removed from people so that no one hears their conversation.

4) Do not be in the church alone with a woman.

This is more difficult for small churches that have no one on staff but the pastor.  In my first post-seminary church, the secretary worked half-days. Often she and I were in the building alone all morning. In those cases, you do the best you can at keeping your distance, making sure the doors are unlocked and drop-ins are welcome, and when possible, have others in the office too.

A pastor I used to serve with would sometimes ask me to remain after hours because he was counseling a woman, and wanted to make sure someone else was in the building.

5) Do not make pastoral visits alone. If you knock on a door and find that a woman is home alone, do not go inside but visit briefly at the door. Many pastors take a deacon or their wife with them on such calls.

6) Do not compliment a young woman on her appearance.  My wife says with women middle-aged and older, you can say, “You’re looking nice today.” But do not compliment a woman on her dress, her figure, tell her that her diet’s really working, and such. You are stepping over an invisible line.

7) Do not fantasize about women.  Most sins of a sexual nature had their beginnings long before as the individual imagined certain situations with some individual. Then, when the opportunity presented itself, he was ready since he had been over that ground a hundred times before.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto Thee, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

The “do nots” clearly have no end. But here are 7 “do’s” which a minister will want to observe to keep  the enemy at bay….

1) When complimented inappropriately, laugh it off and change the subject.

“Oooh, pastor, you look so good today.”  “Mmmm, preacher, I like the way that suit looks on you.” “Have you been working out, Brother Al? You’re looking good.”

The insecure pastor soaks this stuff up like a sponge. But you are not insecure. “You are complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10).

Do not acknowledge the compliment. It will only encourage her. Laugh briefly, then ask about her family or something–anything!–to change the subject.

2) Anticipate situations that may arise during the day and plan appropriately.  That is, if you know a woman is coming for counseling, make sure your secretary or another minister is just outside the door.  Pray always the Lord will guard you and give you wisdom about these things.

3) When you are close to some woman other than your wife, and you begin to sense all the signs of attraction–your temperature rising, your blood pressure elevating–walk away quickly. Make up an excuse, even if it’s only that “I just remembered something; I’ll be right back.”  Then, get to your office or pretend to make a phone call and talk to the Lord. Ask for His divine protection. Just because your chemistry with that person is strong does not make it right. As a mature follower of Jesus Christ, you are beyond running your life by your feelings. (You are, aren’t you?)

4) Center your love, your energies, your everything on the Lord and your wife.  (The Lord does not mind being lumped together with her. He planned it that way. See Ephesians 5:25ff.)

The biggest safeguard against sexual transgressions in the lives of ministers is a good relationship with one’s spouse. After numerous cautions against sexual sin, the writer of Proverbs counseled his son, “Drink water from your own cistern, and fresh water from your own well” (Proverbs 5:15).  In the margin of my Bible, I’ve written: “Focus on your wife, son!” Read on past verse 15 and he gets more explicit that that, with vs. 19 being one you probably won’t read in church, but it definitely communicates!

5) Have an accountability partner or a mentor. Or both.

If you are truly wise, you will have someone–usually an older, mature minister–to whom you can say anything. Such a veteran pastor has seen it all, has the scars to prove it, and has come up a winner.  (The one thing you do not want in such a mentor is someone who has never suffered! Spurgeon said, “God gets His best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.”)

Once you find such a friend, you must meet with him frequently enough to be comfortable in speaking what’s on your mind. He must be a man of prayer who will pray with you and for you later.  There is no way to over-emphasize this.

6) A healthy fear of the Lord is a good thing.

One pastor’s wife said of her husband, “I don’t have to worry about Frank straying. He’s too afraid of God.” He laughed and said, “You’ve got that right!”

Someone asked Andrew Murray the greatest thought that had ever occupied his mind. He answered, “My accountability to God.” Indeed.  It’s enough to strike terror into our hearts and to drive us to repentance and submission. “Knowing the fear of the Lord,” Paul said, “we persuade men” (II Corinthians 5:11).

That said, we also rejoice that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  Nevertheless, even the saved will give account for what they have done in this life. God help us to be found faithful.

7) Encourage younger ministers to be faithful.

If you’ve been in the Lord’s work as long as a decade, you are a veteran compared to those just leaving seminary. You have a lot to offer them.  Reach out to the new ministers coming to churches in your area.  Take them to lunch.  Then, after the first session, both of you bring your wives.  The ministry can be a lonely profession. No church member understands the stresses you and your family have to endure. That’s why no one ministers to pastors better than other ministers.

The goal is to be faithful. Do this and you will find a strength and courage beyond your own. “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (I John 3:21). Yes, and confidence before men, too.

Toward the end of His ministry, our Lord told the disciples, “The prince of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me” (John 14:30).  I like that. Readers may recall I told recently of meeting an old couple in a rural Alabama cafe. The man was in his 90s and the woman wasn’t all that far behind. They had been married four years, I think, and were clearly still in love. With a twinkle in his eye, the old gentleman said, “I have iron in my blood and she has a magnetic personality.”

When the devil waves his magnet over us, let there be nothing inside us that responds to his enticements. May we say, “He has nothing in me.”

And nothing “on” me.