How to Affair-Proof Your Pastor

by Jared C. Wilson July 9, 2018

First, let me get the obvious out of the way. Apologies for the "clickbait" title, but there's no real sure-fire way to affair-proof your pastor. A man set on sin will have his way no matter how watchful and loving his support system. To put it another way, and to be even clearer, when a pastor commits adultery, he is at fault. It's not his wife's fault, not his congregation's fault, not "the culture"'s fault. It's not even the devil's fault. Our sin is ours.

And yet, it's very rare for pastors to jump straight into physical adultery from an otherwise healthy place. Lots of ground is given an inch at a time leading up to the fall. So if you're like me, you're weary of seeing man after man fall, seemingly week by week, and you're wondering: Is there anything we can do?

The answer is yes, I think. Again, we can't keep a sinner from sinning, really, but there are practical things we can do that help facilitate the kinds of relationships and ministerial health that are positive investments in our pastors.

1. Invest in his marriage.

At the risk of redundancy, nobody is at fault for a pastor's adultery but the man himself. But we can invest in the marriages and families of our pastors by giving him plenty of time off, respecting his days off and vacation, honoring his wife (and children), including his family in as many invites as we can, etc. We can also pay for the pastor and his wife to go on marriage enrichment retreats, give them gift cards for restaurants, and otherwise encourage date nights. We can refuse to put pressure on his wife to be things she may not be called to be -- children's ministry leader, women's ministry director, etc. Many pastors' wives love these roles; many do not, however, and often feel the pressure to perform for the church in other ways, as well. This can often put a strange stress on the pastor's marriage, and weak men often choose not to upset the church rather than not to alienate his wife. Again, this is his fault for not protecting her and supporting her unique calling. But we can help by not putting them in this position, not leading him/them into temptation, as it were. A stressed marriage is ripe for sinful violations of it.

2. Don't expect him to be Jesus.

Moral failures proliferate among over-busy, over-stressed, over-burdened men. No pastor can be his church's functional messiah. We'd never put it that way, of course, but by not allowing him margin and rest, we can be pushing him toward burnout. Sin thrives among the tired.

Similarly, the pastor needs real friends in the church and out, other men with whom he can be himself, "let down his hair" so to speak, and not feel like he has to have the professional hat on.

Pastors who are idolized often begin to believe their own hype. Pastors around whom an entire church or public ministry is built are vulnerable to power-trips and self-justification. Pride goeth before a fall.

3. Insist on real accountability (and real plurality).

No, not micro-managing or paranoid snooping or legalistic policing and scrutinizing. But if your pastor is not accountable to anybody, you are asking for trouble. If nobody knows where he is or where he goes, that's trouble. It's even more trouble if nobody is authorized to speak into his life, ask about his spiritual health, check his calendar, ask him uncomfortable questions about his disciplines, his temptations, or his marriage. Again, this isn't cause for the whole congregation to become the pastor's babysitter. That's not just dumb; it's sinful and disordered. But if your church has no polity or organizaational structure under which the pastor is accountable and your pastor has no person or persons authorized to require transparency.

Sin also thrives among the alone and overworked. So accountability is not simply about making sure he's "doing his job," but also making sure he takes time to not be doing his job. Reflecting back on #2 above, keep in mind that a pastor who is working longer hours than necessary and doing so largely alone is more susceptible to pushing boundaries, even if inadvertently at first, with female staffers and the like.

Affirming the biblical design of plurality of elders can help in this regard too, where one man isn't charged with bearing the sole pastoral weight of the church and has brothers in arms helping share the load. If your pastor travels a lot, insist (and perhaps pay for) a male traveling companion for support and encouragement.

4. Pray for him.

This is #4 in my list but it's really the first line of defense. Pray for your leaders. They carry weight you can't see. They face temptations the average layperson does not. They're not better than you or more special, but they do often bear burdens and needs to please that are fairly unique and often unseen or misunderstood by those not experienced in ministry. Extraordinary duties requires extraordinary power, the kind only the Holy Spirit can provide. Pray for his physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Don't take for granted that he's spiritual enough to not need as much prayer as others. He likely needs more. Intercede for him, for this is not just the duty of the sheep in caring for the shepherd but also a profound act of love.

5. Remind him of the gospel.

Sexual immorality isn't usually about sex -- at least, not below the surface. Moral failings among pastors are the results of all kinds of idolatrous desires -- the need for validation, satisfaction, approval, even control or power apart from Christ. The more satisfied we are in Christ, the less tempted to find our identity, joy, or fulfillment in anyone or anything else. You probably hate seeing "gospel" used as a verb, but here we go: gospel your pastor.

There's surely more we can do, but this is a good start. To finish where I started, let me repeat that adulterous pastors are found in both healthy and unhealthy congregations. There's no way to keep a pastor bent on sin from sinning. Nevertheless, we're all in this together. One part of the body cannot disregard another. Or, to employ another biblical allusion, we are our brother's keeper. We may not be able to keep our pastor from falling -- only the Lord can do that -- but we can invest in his personal, marital, and ministerial health in such a way that the temptations are lessened.