There are no easy or surefire ways to prevent moral failure, but some steps will help — as well as looking into one’s own heart.
By Ronald E. Keener
My wife and I were in church services the other week and the pastor was into a spellbinding message about spiritual warfare. Just at the time when the congregation is doing great missions work, breaking ground for a building program, reaching many more families in the community — Satan would be stalking the church trying to bring it down, he said.
I wasn’t prepared for the concluding point he was leading up to: His “close friend,” the worship pastor — who wasn’t leading worship that day — had been unfaithful to his marriage vows.
Unhappily, the same congregation went through a similar incident about six years ago with a worship pastor then. And a sister church in the same community learned its worship pastor violated his marriage vows — with the wife of the associate pastor (since reconciled with her husband and the congregation).
Stick in the eye
Unfaithfulness in a marriage happens all too often with clergy. It just allows detractors of religion to poke another stick in the eye of believers.
Coincidentally, the blog, Monday Morning Insight, recently brought together comments by three pastors over moral failure by clergy. Craig Groeschel of LifeChurch.tv of Oklahoma City and other points wrote: “A wise pastor sets up safeguards to keep from failing fatally. Here are a few things we do:
- I never travel overnight alone.
- All my Internet activity is monitored.
- We block television stations with bad shows.
- We have the highest governing standards for financial accountability.
- I am never alone with a woman.
“It is not that I am afraid of failing big. It is just that I want to make certain I never even have the opportunity to fail fatally.”
Groeschel’s comments set off some 70-plus blog responses. “Joe” wrote: “I can remember the pain seeing my pastor fall to moral failure. I was recently married, got my first ministry job as youth pastor and then the bomb dropped. I can remember feeling betrayed, angry and hurt. However, God showed me first hand the devastating effects of moral failure. The church still has not recovered and that was about 11 years ago.”
Writers spoke of Internet safeguards (Covenant Eyes, xxxchurch.com, xwatch) and their own safeguards. “I’d rather risk offending someone because of my accountability policy than damaging their reputation and my credibility,” one male pastor writes. As Groeschel says: “No pastor is a small target.”
But the question came up as to a policy of not meeting alone with a woman. Doesn’t that mean, asks one woman, that the pastor “has demoted every woman in his congregation to second-rate status, unworthy of a conversation with her pastor, and evaluating her more on her capacity to tempt, or on others’ capacity to talk about her, than on any other quality?”
Writes another woman: “I am 42 years old and I have never met men so fearful of women as I have in the church.”
Lead Pastor Shaun King, 29, of The Courageous Church in downtown Atlanta, who commented that “several times a week I receive devastating emails and phone calls from people suffering the grave fallout from some type of scandal. Moral failure leaves behind a certain residue that is just really hard for most folk to overcome and should be avoided like the plague.”
Knowing that he is a role model of how to be a husband, parent and leader with integrity, “I have been able to avoid moral failure in my marriage by going the extra mile to do what many others might find ridiculous” — among them he says his “wife has access to every cell phone, laptop, bank account, email account, voicemail, social network, text message, etc., that I have or use. “
Finally, Perry Noble, senior pastor of NewSpring Church in South Carolina, said in the blog that there are four main reasons pastors (people) have moral failures: No personal boundaries; they think that temptation will never overcome them; they stop pursuing Jesus, and stress.
Of the third one, Noble says, “One of the things I know is true about everyone of us is that we cannot pursue Jesus and sin at the same time — and if a pastor is trying to get in the pants of a woman who is not his wife, then he cannot claim that his eyes are on Jesus!”
It remains important that pastors and church leaders live lives beyond reproach.