Boundaries That Promote Sexual Purity in the Pastor's Life

by J. Alan Branch September 26, 2015

As I attend pastors’ conferences, evangelism rallies, and Bible conferences, I continue to hear warnings about sexual immorality in the lives of pastors.  Yet, preachers still leave the ministry because of failure in this area.  Why?  I suggest the problem is not that ministers are unaware of the Biblical admonitions against sexual immorality, but they fail to place healthy boundaries in their life that prevent them from being in a situation where sexual sin is easily accomplished.  In an effort to state the obvious, let me be clear:  Sexual contact of any type between a Christian pastor and anyone besides his spouse is sin. But what are some steps that will lead to success in the character goal of sexual purity?  I’d like to suggest five boundaries.

First, never visit in the home of someone of the opposite sex when they are alone unless they are old enough to be your grandmother!  As a pastor, there were numerous times when I attempted to make an evangelistic call, only to discover the wife was home by herself.  In such cases, I always rescheduled for another time.  Even if a minister's intentions are pure, it is not prudent to place one’s self in such a situation.  Furthermore, you run the risk of starting needless gossip in the community.

Second, maintain complete purity in all counseling.  It is not wise to counsel someone of the opposite sex alone at 8:22 PM in the evening!  As a small church pastor, this posed a challenge to me on several occasions, but I found that members of my church were happy to be “on site” if a woman needed to talk to me.  Furthermore, my congregation’s confidence in me as their pastor increased when they realized my desire not to fail them morally.  One warning sign in this area is if you as a pastor begin eagerly to anticipate counseling opportunities with a particular woman just so you can be near her.  If this is the case, the best strategy is immediately to arrange for her to visit someone else for counseling.  

Third, recognize that sexual contact between clergy and parishioners is particularly profane because it is usually abusive.  By this, I mean pastors operate from a position of an authority figure, thus the church member receiving the sexual advances feels especially pressured to cooperate.  Some pastors caught in sexual scandals actually have claimed that they instigated the sexual relationship as part of “therapy.”  Such distorted moral reasoning is the height of wickedness. 

Fourth, guard carefully the media that you allow in your home and life.  Psalm 101:3 says, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.”  Pornography is obviously off limits for any Christian, but most especially the minister.  If the internet is a snare in this area, then eliminate web access.  Someone might respond, “That seems extreme. I won’t be able to do research online anymore.”  Yes, that’s right, a minister without web access cannot do research online, but a minister who indulges in illicit visits to unholy websites has not been doing research! If a minister has been such a poor steward of his web access that he has used it to gratify sensual desires, then that minister should return to a method of sermon preparation used for the first 2,000 years of church history:  books and prayer.

Speaking to an earlier generation, A. T. Robertson, the noted Greek professor of Southern Seminary, issued a warning about the dangers of impure media which seems quite prophetic today:

The new age in which we live has flooded us all with a surfeit of sex stuff in the name of scientific research and artistic realism.  We get an overdose of it in the daily newspapers, the magazines, the novels, besides the pornographic journals at the news-stands too obscene to pass through the mails.  The Christian must regard all such hidden things of shame as taboo for him.  They besmear all who handle them.  The devil has almost captured the movies with its pictures of immorality and of crime, training a generation of criminals.  He is fighting hard for the radio in order to prove his lordship over the life of the average man.[1]

Robertson’s statements are sobering for two reasons.  First, he made these comments prior to 1934.  Secondly, Robertson said these things in a sermon directed to preachers.  What would he say about the state of movies, radio and print media today, much less the internet?  The media we allow into our lives affect the way we view morality.  Indulging in profane media will skew our concepts of right and wrong.  Obscene media is simply unacceptable in the life of a minister. 

Finally, sexual purity also includes purity in our speech. Paul told Timothy to “set an example for believers in speech” (1 Tim. 4:12).  Unfortunately, I have been in the company of Christian ministers who made jokes of a crude sexual nature when no “laypeople” were around.  The unstated assumption was always, “It’s harmless, but my church people probably wouldn’t understand.”  Our society constantly makes crude sexual humor the center of any movie or TV program.  As ministers, we should set a better example. A pastor who speaks about sex in a crude and vulgar way is preparing his own conscience to accept sinful behavior as acceptable.

While the gospel of Jesus Christ helps us fight the fleshly passions that give rise to sin, these five boundaries promote an attitude of sexual purity and can keep us safely away from situations which could make it easier to commit sexual sin.

[1] A. T. Robertson, “Your Picture of Christ: A Sermon to Preachers,” in Passing on the Torch (New York: Fleming Revell Co., 1934), 86.