“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” (Proverbs 27:6)
Perhaps the most dangerous place on the church campus is the pastor’s counseling office.
When the minister is shut up in a tight space with a vulnerable female who confides in him the most personal things of her life, often the two people do something completely natural and end up bonding emotionally.
The bonding process is simple: she opens up to him, he sympathizes with her, she reaches out to him, and there it goes.
Many a ministry and a great many marriages have been destroyed in the counseling room.
Can we talk about this?
Rick Warren says if any of his staff even flirt with temptation, he’s coming at them with a baseball bat. And he wants them to do the same for him.
Every pastor needs a baseball-bat wielding friend.
Sometimes we need a buddy to beat some sense into our heads. To speak the uncomfortable truth to us. To risk the relationship in order to save a marriage, a reputation, a ministry.
Let’s talk about ministers and sexual temptation.
The rest of you may leave the room.
Remember the Ashley Madison foolishness? What were otherwise normal, healthy people thinking when they enrolled in a program which offered confidential adultery? Is that ever an oxymoron!
Even pastors fell for that come-on. And that is one of the saddest things I know.
Most illicit affairs, however, did not start on the internet, but with innocent, harmless connecting. Perhaps it was flirting, sharing a fun experience, playing on the same team. The two people worked on a project in close proximity or sat together in a small room discussing personal things. They, for want of a better word, “connected.”
Flirt with temptation and although I’m neither a prophet nor the son of one, I can predict with a high degree of accuracy what’s going to happen.
Someone is going to get burned.
Flee youthful lusts says 2 Timothy 2:22. The recommended treatment for sexual temptation is simple and clear. Run! Get out of there as fast as you can!
Do not argue with the temptation or the tempter. Do not analyze it, reason with it, explain it, justify it, or try to convert it. Just get out of there.
Flee! Run. Leave. Now.
First, an uncomfortable truth: In my opinion, there are any number of people in this world whom you could easily fall in love with. Stated another way, there are numerous individuals–there’s no way to know how many–with whom you could connect deeply and probably have a wonderful marriage with.
So, get that notion out of your head, friend, that says: “I’ve found the one and only love of my life in this new person.”
You are fooling yourself and playing with fire.
No. You. Have. Not.
You may have found one of the fifty or a hundred or five hundred individuals with whom you could bond and fall in love and have a successful marriage. Big deal.
Now, let’s go on.
I’m going to assume that you did not intentionally put yourself in a position where you would be assaulted by temptation. You were doing your job, as you saw it, going about your pastoral ministries when suddenly you looked up one day and realized you were snared in the tangled net of full-blown sexual temptation.
It felt both wonderful and frightening. “What have I gotten myself into?” you asked yourself again and again.
A typical situation….
You are a pastor. She has asked you for an appointment. She belongs to another church in the community, but feels she cannot discuss such personal things with her pastor. In your office, she opens up and tells you private things. She speaks of her husband’s failings and how needy she is. Perhaps she confesses to having “a thing” for you, or gets the same point across in some other way. Everything inside you is responding. You know full well what is happening here. You are human enough to want what she is offering free of charge and smart enough to know the cost of such a dalliance is beyond anything you’d ever want to pay.
She tells you–or you tell yourself!–that this won’t hurt anyone, that you deserve it. She admires you so much and thinks you are the greatest man she has ever met.
I’m not blaming her. I’m not even blaming you. I’m simply saying this is how these things get started.
You are not stupid. You know you’re playing with fire. But surely the Lord understands, doesn’t He?
Or, another variation: She does nothing to “come on” to you. She doesn’t need to. You are the one overdosing on hormones when she is near. The problem is all from you, not from her.
You find yourself wanting to reach out and touch her.
“Youthful lust,” Paul calls this. He nailed it. Adolescence rages within you.
You are considering doing the dumbest thing in the history of the world. What you are contemplating will make Esau trading his birthright for a “mess of greens” look like the champion day-trader of all time.
You are now considering swapping your home, the love of your wife and the respect of your children, your entire ministry, and the influence for Jesus Christ built by decades of faithful service for…what?
Her. For an hour with her? For an unknown future?
Are you out of your cotton-picking mind?
It’s time to run. Get away.
How to leave
Once you determine that you are developing feelings for the woman–whether by something she did or your own weaknesses–you should find a way to get out of Dodge immediately. Make up an excuse. Create an emergency. Prevaricate if you must.
If this is a counseling situation, thank her, tell her something has come up so that you have to end the session, give her the name of a more qualified counselor, and offer a short prayer for God’s blessings upon her. If she does not take the hint and leave, you get up and walk out of the office. Tell your secretary on the way out to deal with the lady, gently and firmly.
What if she gets angry or acts hurt or offended? Answer: I can almost guarantee that she will. But at the moment, you are “on guard for yourself” (Acts 20:28) and cannot take responsibility for her.
Here are a few observations for what they are worth on matters which pastors should consider….
1) Few pastors are qualified to be pastoral counselors.
Those pastors who see their primarily calling as counselors rather than as pastors should consider going full-time into a ministry of pastoral counseling. For some reasons beyond me, the rules seem to change and vocational counselors seem to be more immune to this kind of temptation than pastors.
2) Pastors should have readily available information on “approved” counselors in the area. When people inquire about counselors, hand them the brochure or a list of therapists you recommend.
3) Large churches frequently have on staff an entire corps of counselors. Other pastors in the area will find them a welcome resource.
As a young pastor in a small city without the first professional counselor, I found my schedule literally filled with people from other churches wanting an hour of my time. (I look back and remember some days scheduling six appointments like this. I was to find out years later that the professionals consider 20 hours of counseling a full week.) These days, that same city has a half-dozen counselors who are available and eager to help people. No pastor in that city needs to spend his time in counseling.
4) At the most, a typical pastor should confine himself to one session with the individual, just long enough to determine the problem and decide to whom to refer him/her.
5) The quickest way to destroy a pastor’s ministry is for someone to run out of his office accusing him of something inappropriate. No matter how innocent he is, the charge will follow him forever and many will choose to believe the accuser.
Not every pastor accused of immorality is guilty. But the rumor is there and will follow him forever. A wise pastor will take steps to safeguard himself against this before it occurs.
6) Ministers can be the most naïve people in the room. They tend to trust everyone, take people at face value, and “are just sure” this could not happen to them. But it can and it has.
Let the pastor beware. Let him be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
7) A wise pastor will work with everyone on his staff to head this kind of business off long before it starts. Bring them together, discuss it, bring in a professional counselor to discuss it. Or, ask your denominational office to send a qualified teacher to lead your ministers to set up safeguards. You help one another to stay safe.
And while you’re at it, give everyone there a baseball bat. (I’m serious.) Put their names on theirs.
Tell them what to do with it and when.
Find an old football dummy and set it up outside the church. Then, lead your team outside and take turns hitting “the dummy” upside the head with the baseball bat. Practice beating some sense into its head.
Repeat the lesson as often as necessary. Never assume your staff is immune to temptation. To do so is playing with fire.