How pastors can keep from falling into sin. (The rest of us too!)

….considering yourself lest you also be tempted.  Galatians 6:1

A young pastor was shot to death by the cops in a drug crackdown. From all reports, he was not buying or selling the stuff. So how did he get involved and how in the world did it lead to his death?

Everyone wonders; every pastor needs to know, and we all need to learn from this guy’s mistakes.

Undercover cops had been monitoring the behavior of a few suspicious characters who were dealing dope in that neighborhood. When they spotted a young man with a woman in his car, recognizing her as a druggie, they approached the car with guns drawn. Now, bear in mind, these law enforcement officers were not wearing uniforms. Undercover cops often look like the very criminals they are shadowing. So, in a panic, the car speeds away and almost hits one of the narcs. The law enforcers interpret that as assault with a deadly weapon, we are told. In a sense, it’s like handing them a license to kill. So, they did. They shot the young man who turned out to be a pastor. He died in the hospital later.

No drugs were found with the man of God or in his system. The woman in his car tested positive.

The pastor’s sister was quick to defend him. “He would never ever touch drugs or alcohol. He had to have been there to try to save that woman’s soul. I’ll believe that to my dying day.”

Personally, with no information to say otherwise, I have no trouble accepting that. What I do have trouble with, however, is this: what in the sam hill was he doing there with a woman in his car in the first place?

Haddon Robinson, teacher of young preachers par excellence, raised a similar question in a sermon titled Don’t Doubt God’s Goodness: A Case Study in Temptation ( “Best Sermons,” vol. 1, ed. by James Cox).

Robinson received a letter from an inmate in a Texas prison asking for a book not available inside. The prisoner had been a star pupil of Robinson’s in seminary years earlier.

“When he left the seminary, he left with great gifts and great vision. He pastored two different churches, and both of them, humanly speaking, were successful congregations. In the second church, which I knew better, he demonstrated the gift of evangelism–many of the people in that church were led to Christ as a result of his witness. He was a careful student of the scriptures. There were those in the congregation who testified that again and again as he stood to speak they could sense the power and the presence of God. He had a discipling ministry; he left his thumbprint upon the people in that congregation.”

Now, what Dr. Robinson is doing is blocking off an avenue some of us want to take in this discussion: “Such a pastor must have not been saved in the first place.” Or, “He must have been mama-called and daddy-sent into the ministry.” As though the flaw was in his salvation or his calling.

Robinson maintains that young man was solidly saved,  surely called, and signally blessed. Even so, he fell into great trouble.

How does it happen?

How does it happen that a fine, gifted, effective man of God gets into trouble so seriously that he loses everything he had and aborts the ministry to which God called him?

Robinson said, “I realized as I was asking those questions that I was not simply asking about him, but about myself. I was asking about men and women who have graduated from seminary who, in some act of disobedience, have destroyed the ministry to which they have given themselves. What is it that causes someone to mortgage his ministry to pay the high price of sin? What is it that lures us to destruction?”

Robinson directs his readers to the Genesis 3 story of the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. The serpent’s lies about God seduced the naive young woman–and through her Adam, too– from their high standing before the Lord into sin and expulsion from Eden. The story mirrors what too many others have seen happen in their lives since.

Satan comes in disguise, Robinson says. He does not show up with the roar of a lion or waving a red flag or with the wail of a siren. He “slides into your life.”

He disguises his person, he disguises his purposes, and he disguises his plan.

He undermines the Word of God, misinterprets the promises of God, and slanders the character of God.

“When you poison the well, all the water is contaminated. If you question God’s Word because you doubt God’s goodness, then Satan has done his work.”

Not long ago, I had a personal glimpse of how easily this sort of thing may ensnare a minister, of how quickly and effortlessly sin may pull him into its maelstrom and destroy him before he knows what’s happening.

In the huge store, I headed to the shortest checkout line. The woman in front of me was the fantasy of every man, one “to die for,” as the saying goes. She was a tall brunette, perhaps in her late 20s, lovely in every way, and wearing those high heels which my wife says women don in order to make their calves more beautiful (but which she calls suicidal and stupid!).

Now, I’m the kind of person who talks to strangers in waiting rooms and elevators, and I spoke to her. I’m old enough to be her grandfather and I’m just making conversation, so in no way did I feel this was out of line.

What I said was, “So, what kind of work do you do that allows you to wear 3 inch heels all day?” (Caveat No. 1: Pastor, beginning a conversation with a beautiful stranger by discussing her appearance is not a good idea. Very stupid.)

She turned and smiled and said, “The kind where I sit at a desk all day long.”

The checkout line was going nowhere, so I idly said, “And have you ever been walking down the sidewalk and got the heels caught in a metal grating?”

“Actually I have,” she said, and told how she managed to twist her foot out.

I made a comment on the flowers she was buying, and she said something about how they dress up the house. I said, “I’ve been married nearly 48 years and I still bring my wife flowers.” She said my wife is lucky.

Then, after a couple more exchanges, she was through paying for her stuff and was gone. She said, “Nice chatting with you,” and I said, “Good-bye.” That was that.

Next day, thinking about that young preacher who was in the wrong place and paid for his mistake with his life, I began  asking myself…

What if that young woman in the store yesterday had said, “You’re a minister? Could I talk with you about something?”

Okay. I do that a lot. Sure.

And suppose she had said, “Can you come over and sit in my car?”

Would I have done that? That’s one place where the invisible line is drawn clearly. Nope. Must not do that. Not in a hundred years.  (Caveat No. 2:  Do the Billy Graham thing, pastor, and be very public.  Sit among people.)

But let’s suppose I had. Suppose I had tried to justify it by her need or my age or the chance opportunity that had presented itself.

I didn’t. But we’re just supposing here.

So, I’m sitting in her car, but I don’t know her. Any number of things could happen which could have destroyed my ministry or even ended my life.

–Her jealous boyfriend drives by in a rage, sees her sitting with a man in her car, and pulls out his .357 Magnum. I’m dead. And my family is left to wonder what in the world their dad and grandfather was doing in that situation. The news reports it as a preacher gone wrong.

–She turns out to be a seductress. Only the strongest of the strong could resist temptation once he had crossed the invisible line, which I had the moment I entered her car.

–Or, the cops bust her for drugs in her vehicle. And what if she speeds away with me as a passenger.

Okay, we could do this all day, but let’s don’t.

Let’s agree the time to draw the line is now before the temptation arrives.

Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then can I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1)

That’s the idea. Make the covenant with yourself now while it’s easy, when the path is clear, and when your emotions and your raging heartbeat are not factors.

As for me and this business of chatting up strangers, I’ll say two things: one, I’m no respect of persons; I talk to everyone. And two, I’m constantly asking God to help me be a faithful Son to Him, a loyal husband to my wife, an approachable friend to others, and a constant witness to all.

Let’s end with this from Haddon Robinson:

When Satan approaches us he never comes dragging the chains that will enslave us. He comes bringing a crown that will ennoble us. He comes offering us pleasure, expansiveness, money, popularity, freedom, enjoyment. In fact, he never hints about the consequences, he only promises we will fill all the desires of our hearts. That is how we are destroyed.

Repeat after me, young (and not so young) pastor:

“I am saved by the precious blood of Christ.”

“I am called by God to declare His glorious message.”

“I have this treasure in an earthen vessel.”

“In a moment of weakness, my foolishness or my headstrongness or my sheer stupidity can destroy the ministry Christ has given me.”

“I must depend on the Lord not only every day, but every moment, and stay close to Him.”

“I absolutely must decide in advance where the lines of what is moral, ethical, and biblical exist so I will not cross them.”

“Help me, Lord.”

5 thoughts on “How pastors can keep from falling into sin. (The rest of us too!)

  1. Joe, Thanks again for a great article and reminder. I sat under Dr. Robinson’s teaching at DTS and have an idea of who this man was. So very sad. May God bless you, your wife and wonderful family and continue to give you good health and many more years of productive ministry. Many of us benefit greatly from your insights and words of wisdom.

  2. I’ve been quite surprised lately as to how the Billy Graham Rule has fallen into disfavor. Many women find it offensive, I’ve learned. I was asked, “So you think all women are so evil you can’t be alone with them?” When I tried to explain that it was the opposite—that I was trying to respect women and protect them, the question (accusation) was, “So men are animals and can’t be trusted to be alone with a woman?” This was all online, and several women piled on to tell me what a misogynistic pig I am. I ended up blocking them because they wouldn’t stop, and they wouldn’t discuss the matter in a reasonable manner. I’ve since learned that this is a growing perspective among many women. Nevertheless, I still practice the proven rule.

  3. Better safe than sorry….too many horror stories (true) exist about good men who let one lapse of judgement ruin their ministry and very often their lives. Thank you for this article, and the sound admonitions. The most used phrase by Satan is “oh, this is different, it wouldn’t happen to YOU.” Never say Never.

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