The Gospel Coalition

Sadly, we've all heard the stories.

"Pastor disqualifies himself from ministry after having an affair with his secretary."

Recently, the story hit a little too close to home when a good friend of mine did exactly that. With the need for vigilance in this area fresh on my mind, I want to try to redeem this tragedy by offering the following seven practical thoughts in an effort to spare us, our families, and our churches from a similar fate.

1. Don't say it can't happen to you.

We may nod our heads in agreement, but in our hearts we can still live in functional unbelief of this fact. We need to constantly remind ourselves of Paul's warning in 1 Corinthians 10:12: "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."

It can happen to us, so we must be vigilant in this area and all others if we want to go the distance in ministry. The world is broken, the enemy opposes us, and our flesh is weak.

2. Repent of your pride and self-righteousness.

"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).

Every pastor I know who has fallen in sexual sin once believed he never would. Our pride encourages us to "push the envelope" by thinking we are the exception to the rule. The same pride also keeps us from getting he help we need to avoid these kinds of situations in the first place. Statistics show that most affairs don't begin on a whim. The seeds are often sown in soil of an unhappy or tumultuous marriage. Pastors, if there are currently problems in your marriage, please reach out for help and deal with them now so that you don't become a statistic later.

3. Put all the needed safeguards in place--and keep them there.

"The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who guard their ways preserve their lives" (Proverbs 16:17).

All of us know this is true, but are we living as if we truly believe it?

We know that we shouldn't be alone with a member of the opposite sex, but how faithfully do we abide by this principle?

We know we should have active porn filters on our computers, but do we?

We can all agree any of our practices can be cumbersome at times, but situations like this remind us that they are more than worth it.

Please, brothers, for the sake of the gospel and our churches, heed the warning today and employ whatever specific practices you need to keep yourself pure and your ministry intact.

4. Don't just have a plurality of elders in place--have one in practice.

Too many churches have a plurality of elders on paper but, in reality, surround their senior pastor with "yes-men." This kind of unhealthy leadership system only aids in conducting and concealing sexual misconduct.

If you are concerned about a member on your team, even if it is the most senior leader, please have the courage to sound the alarm. Of course, this should be done personally, honorably, and hoping the best for all parties involved. Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions. Too much is on the line for too many for you to stay silent.

5. Make your wife your partner in purity.

This is a tricky issue, and there is legitimate debate over how "in the loop" she needs to be. I believe your wife needs to know enough to be prayerful but not so much that she is paranoid.

Practically, this means that your wife needs to know that emotionally needy women are often attracted to pastors. Those same pastors often don't notice what is happening right before their eyes. Your wife may also periodically check your phone and Facebook page for anything inappropriate. At a minimum, protecting each other's integrity should be a topic of regular conversation. A strong marriage---emotionally, sexually, spiritually---will help you ward off a host of problems.

6. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Most practically, this may mean that you simply don't hire a female assistant. Many brothers do this without incident, but, for many others, this is exactly where everything begins to unravel.

Also, unless there is some kind of extreme circumstance, I avoid traveling alone. In addition to the obvious accountability, it also affords extra mentoring time on the road for my younger pastoral or church planting residents.

7. Never forget that we are in a spiritual battle with real winners and losers.

Though we may try to ignore it, we have three very real enemies (the world, the flesh, and the Devil) who are all more than happy to play their part in helping us flame out in ministry. The kingdom of darkness particularly enjoys seeing a pastor go down for moral failure because, like a grenade, its shrapnel does damage on so many levels at once.

To help me in my own struggle for purity, I often reflect on this painful truth. I picture what would happen to my wife, children, and church if I chose pride and pleasure over Jesus in a moment of weakness. It drives me to the Scriptures, my wife, and my ministry team to help me stay the course.

For all of our sakes, please don't become a statistic. Pray that your brothers in arms don't either. Take the necessary steps to avoid sexual sin and stay in ministry for the long haul for the glory of God and the good of our families, our churches, and the watching world.


PastorFish » Solomon’s stupidity

September 16, 2012 at 02:11 PM

[...] do we guard our hearts to make sure that we don’t turn away from God? Here are 5 ways (thanks to The Gospel Coalition for the [...]

Shepherd Links – 6/30 | Pastoralized

June 30, 2012 at 08:33 AM

[...] 7 Steps to Avoid Sexual Sin [...]


June 29, 2012 at 11:25 AM

Why is a 75 year old lady different? Why is a cousin different? Why is a daughter different? Because if we are wise, we have trained our minds not to view these women as sexual objects.

Now, a man who struggles with sexual attraction to children should put safeguards in place to guard the children in his life from his weaknesses. And a man who is tempted to cheat on his wife and is aware of his weaknesses in this area, should also flee - not court - temptation. I'm not against safe guards - but they are not the ultimate protection.

Brothers should seek to treat believing women as sisters, in all purity, and to cultivate thinking about them this way. Hopefully you don't avoid your sister. You may recognize that she is an attractive woman but you don't want to violate her body and soul - she is not yours in these ways. But you hug her, converse with her, want to know how she is doing and what she is thinking, you love her in a way that does not reduce her to how her sexual characteristics can feed your physical desires.

That's how you are to treat all women, as sisters, and mothers, and daughters and fellow pilgrims. Not as enemies and temptations but as fellow image bearers...

A woman is not a bottle of alcohol. She is a person - who like you was made in the image of, and created to glorify God.


June 29, 2012 at 11:14 AM

I share your concern, Anar -

I was grieved reading this list because it very much seemed to be missing something beautiful, good and true about human relationships and human sexuality.

Paul calls on believers to live as "brothers and sisters," in purity. I'm not sure I see any encouragement here to treat your wife as your joint heir, co-laborer and sister, let alone other believing women.

Safeguards are all well and good and can be wise but holding all women at arms length because you view them as temptations doesn't make a man pure, it makes him vulnerable.

The best advice in here is cultivating the humility of knowing it "can happen to you" and choosing to let others - especially your spouse - in on your struggles.

The best antidote to the false intimacy of pornography and adultery though is to see it for the ugly lie it is. Brothers, please seek, above all, as the Holy Spirit renews your mind, to see women as sisters and co-laborers - not sexual objects and not vulnerable creatures that need you to protect and rescue them.


June 29, 2012 at 08:58 AM

Thank you for your reply. I am struggling in this area with Jesus' teaching on remarriage, especially in the case of adultery. How did you reconcile this? Also, what about church discipline and how they viewed repentance? I appreciate your candor and I am asking God to use you to help me move on.

Latest Links | blog of dan

June 29, 2012 at 03:01 AM

[...] 7 Steps to Avoid Sexual Sin and Stay in Ministry [...]

[...] 7 Steps to Avoid Sexual Sin and Stay in Ministry: [...]

Daryl Little

June 28, 2012 at 09:12 AM


I'm sure you didn't intend this, but seriously, it penalizes women that they can't be alone with you?

Remember, Adam was talking about his wife, not all women.

Sexual sin is not one that can be dealt with and then be done, it is one that we are told to flee. Like Joseph.

No married man should be alone with a women he is not blood-related to or married to (OK, a 75 year old lady is different), simply because we are never beyond both temptation and failure.

It also removes the need to judge one woman as more dangerous than the next.
If I am an alcoholic, must I deal with my heart or remove alcohol from the house?
Well both, of course...


June 28, 2012 at 07:32 PM

I agree with you, Hannah, and with Michale above.

Brothers, your sisters in Christ are not the enemy, and it would be awesome if you didn't treat us like enemies. The scriptures do not say, "treat younger women with suspicion and thereby absolute purity," but rather, "as sisters, with absolute purity." That implies a deep familial relationship, not one of suspicion and artificial distance. I think that the more we encourage and promote familial relationships the more we encourage purity.


June 28, 2012 at 05:30 AM

This is not only an issue for pastors but also for elders and men in the church in general. I am the son of a man who was an elder in his church. When he had an affair with the wife of another man in the congregation it tore our family apart. It left me, my sister and my mother all as atheists, due in part to the fact that the church did not act to discipline him as it should have. Instead he was allowed to continue attending church when he should have been "handed over to satan". Now, many years later, I have come to Christ as a broken man and am doing all that I can to encourage my mother and her husband and my sister to see the real Christ that was obscured by an unfaithful man.

Frank Gantz

June 28, 2012 at 05:13 PM

I did remarry a few years after the divorce and live in a different state. I really don't have a relationship with my former wife. We see each other at kids' and grandkids' things and are cordial. I have lived for most of the past 6-7 years in another state so we don't come across each other that often. Before the kids finished high school and moved out on their own, we were around each other more often and worked together on the parenting.

Both of us have great relations with the kids. It took awhile to build back with the kids, but I couldn't be happier with how close we have become.


June 28, 2012 at 03:41 PM


Do you have a relationship with your former wife and children now? Did you remarry?


June 28, 2012 at 02:48 PM


Did your father return to God, wooed by the grace shown by the church? Jesus didn't turn the woman caught in adultery "over to Satan". He loved her, forgave her, and told her to go and sin no more.

[...] addition to the common-sensical parameters I’ve mentioned above here is an article that shares some great wisdom on avoiding sexual sin and staying in the ministry.  Enjoy and [...]

Frank Gantz

June 27, 2012 at 11:11 AM

As a former pastor who disqualified himself, I can attest that repentance does bring reconciliation and healing. But it doesn't bring back the pastorate. I love being a part of my church, but I do so apart from the role in which I once served.


June 27, 2012 at 10:21 AM

LL, with all due respect, David wasn’t a minister but it was a “minister”, Nathan, who called him out and towards repentance. David also suffered severe tragedy as a result of his sin. Scripture is quite explicit that pastors are disqualified on the basis of sexual immorality. Repentance may bring reconciliation and healing, but it does not bring back legitimacy to their ministries as pastors. Sure, they can still minister, but it is no longer a ministry to shepherd a congregation of believers.


June 27, 2012 at 02:56 PM

Hi James, I see what you're saying. I'm just trying to take a few steps back and consider why we do what we do as a young learner. I'm not in any way trying to say to be slack in terms of sexual sin. All I'm saying is that David, a man far greater than any of us, had those types of sins. He may not have been a "minister" but he certainly was a shepherd of many many people and in this sense had many people under his care. I don't deny that there are consequences as there surely are. But consider that a man pays the consequences and repents (and I mean real genuine legitimate repentance), can he not serve once more as a shepherd? I only ask because David did and God loved him and had many positive words for him. Or maybe a better question is how does one reconcile the life of David with passages like 1 Timothy 3?


June 26, 2012 at 12:07 PM

AMEN, AMEN, AND AMEN on Point 5 - keeping your wife in the loop. I know some women are extremely insecure in this area and to know the facts may be excruciating to them. But as bros and sisters in Christ, we are to encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today! Husbands NEED the accountability that only their wife can provide! Who does their husband care about more than them? For me, the fact that my wife knows and has the "OK" to ask me anything at anytime is one of the main deterrents in this area.


June 26, 2012 at 11:42 PM

Dustin... it's a very good and wise post. Don't let the naysayers or critics get you down. Of course, every situation has its own particulars, but wisdom is wisdom, and all men are fallen... so your words hit home. Press on my brother.


June 26, 2012 at 11:06 AM

I kind of agree with Anar.....I always struggle with "steps" being involved with any Christian discipline or practice. It seems to take focus off of gazing at the gospel and "simple and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Cor 11:3).

I know that is never the intention of the author of a post/article like this, but its always how it hits me.

...but on the flip side, I fully acknowledge that "bufetting my body and making it my slave" is never "fun" and requires the kind of discipline the author speaks of, so that "I might not become disqualified" (I Cor 9).

rc sproul jr

June 26, 2012 at 11:01 AM

Excellent article, excellent points. My tiny beef is with the title. If our goal is to stay in ministry our marriage is likely already in deep trouble. Why not "7 Steps to Avoid Sexual Sin and Keep Your Sacred Vow to God and Your Wife"? The problem isn't pastors leaving the ministry, but pastors (and everyone else, of course) betraying their wives and their Lord.


June 26, 2012 at 10:39 AM

All of these steps are good to follow, but whenever I see lists like this they always seem to focus on the negative, avoidance and setting up barriers. I think that can sometimes feed a problem. What I would like to see more of is a focus on the positive. What is a pure, truly fulfilling, and freeing sex life? How is sexual purity an escape from bondage? Why is that much more beautiful than other options? I think beauty needs to be much more central. Women and men created in God's image are beautiful. Pornography and infidelity are ugly. A greater focus on what is beautiful, living a life learning about and seeking beauty, and accepting this gift from God is a means of grace. Song of Solomon is one of the most beautiful Biblical books. I wish we would hear about it more often.

(I guess my comment is a bit negative and therefore hypocritical. I too seek God's grace. There are some excellent points in the article, e.g. "A strong marriage---emotionally, sexually, spiritually---will help you ward off a host of problems.")

a minor loss of fidelity? « Robin's blog

June 26, 2012 at 10:29 AM

[...] Now usually, I appreciate and agree with The Gospel Coalition, an online resource of helpful articles and reflections on all kinds of things from the latest movies to theological interpretations of mimes. (Actually I have no idea if anyone has discussed mimes.) But today’s post got me thinking… [...]

Sanctity of marriage | littlebluebottle

June 26, 2012 at 10:27 PM

[...] I guess there is an especial danger for those in ministry, and if you are, this article is one of the best I’ve seen on the topic with good practical [...]

Pastor Gadiel Rios

June 26, 2012 at 10:12 AM

Needed and very helpful post! Thanks for this piece! We need a profound level of honesty and conviction to really deal with this danger on a day-to-day basis. I'm a 43 years-old senior pastor of a 7-years-old church plant, who is confronted daily with all the warning signs you are discussing here. It is a continuous struggle with our lust, pride, legalism, and downright dumbness. God bless, and keep doing the right thing!


June 26, 2012 at 09:49 AM

Anon, I am a pastor and I'm so very sorry. You are asking questions, questions like the Psalmist asks (your post screams Psalm 73 to me) and those are hard questions to ask. I admire your courage. You must trust God to ask those kinds of questions.

Many of your questions (the ones you ask, the ones that are inferred, the ones that are unasked due to space or propriety)--the answers to those are risky, with one direction giving a sense of security or stability, but losing something else of value. Those demand wisdom. And in a multitude of counselors, there is much wisdom.

Now is the time to trust the leadership in the church and any denominational leaders you have. Tell them your situation and ask them to advise you as to your next steps, keeping the glory of God and the good of your family and your church in mind. Pray that they will balance the risk and reward. Don't let anyone sell you on panic or drama as a solution. Pray that they give your husband the grace of church discipline so that his soul may be reclaimed from this habitual sin that has destroyed his marriage and ministry.

If you'd like to talk to a wise woman outside of your situation, I'd be honored to connect you with my wife, who has a background in counseling and has helped me remain out of danger in this area for many years.

Let us all pray for this dear sister in Christ.


June 26, 2012 at 09:47 PM

How then are we supposed to make sense of people like David? He fell into a gross sexual sin, yet he remained in the "ministry" and was still one of the most highly regarded men of the Bible. This is just to say does a fall immediately disqualify someone? Of course if there is no repentance there is no issue about keeping a man around, but if a man repents and has shown that such an occurence is at least not a habitual thing?

Frank Gantz

June 26, 2012 at 09:40 AM

My heart breaks after reading the words of "anonomys" above. I was a pastor who put my wife, family and church through that kind of pain.
Although I lost my pastoral role and eventually my marriage, please don't try to "protect" him. It has been a long journey filled with pain (brought on by myself), but know that I would not be walking with the Lord in awe of his grace had I continued on like I was.


June 26, 2012 at 09:20 AM

I'm the wife of a pastor whom, for the last 10 years that I know off, have been having an affair. I've always forgave and forgot and continued with our lives. I also protected him throughout, but now, 2 weeks ago, founded out that they are having contact again. And again I'm the one at fault here - according to him. I always thought we had an excellent marraige untill I found out the first time. Ever since then I was always, prayerfully, looking for pointers to where I might be wrong. But I'm tired. I've been carrying our congregation the last 7 years while he still works full time. I have no income, no place to go, nothing. What do you do? I've been praying and praying and praying, but God is quiet.


June 26, 2012 at 08:36 AM

Very good article, and some good tips. Throwing a filter on the internet is paramount. K9 is free, and just set it up so that SOMEONE ELSE knows the password, not you, for obvious reasons...

I'd also add that a great way to avoid sins of the eyes is to turn off the television. Cancel cable, cancel netflix, and stay away from anything from Hollywood. If youre honest with yourself, you know that it's nothing but a soul-corruption (as much as Gospel Coalition-posters might like to periodically acclaim programs like 'Mad Men'...)

Jonathan Orcel

June 26, 2012 at 08:29 AM

Excellent article

Andrew Scott Wills

June 26, 2012 at 07:20 AM

I have seen this situation several times in numerous congregations I've been a member of...there are few things that can knock the wind out of a ministry's sails like sexual sins because they are so highly connected to trust and when your leader messes up its disorienting.

Thank you, Dustin, for this very straight-forward checklist that is not only applicable to pastoral positions but also any line of work that can present these situations.


June 26, 2012 at 06:10 PM

I agree with some of the concern about approaching this issue this way. Instead of prohibitions perhaps we need to re-evaluate how we fundamentally view each other--wasn't Paul's advice to Timothy to see members of the opposite sex as brothers and sisters? While not flawless, this kind of perspective helps men and women maintain healthy relationships without becoming paranoid about inappropriate closeness. Brothers and sisters SHOULD be close, but you'd never kiss your brother...

Still I'm not naive and I believe sexual temptations are very subtle. Which is also why (as a wife) I affirm the need to enlist your spouse as your closest ally. One thing did bother me a bit though, are women truly prone to being "paranoid" about their husband's struggles? are we that weak? or perhaps you would affirm that men would respond the same way if their wives opened up about their stugggles? Something about the phrasing just hit me the wrong way and seemed ever so slightly patronizing. Still all in all, very good point.


June 26, 2012 at 04:39 PM

Your husband has disqualified himself from the ministry and should not be a pastor anymore. He needs to repent publicly and find another line of work. Hiding his sin, especially this, will bring God's wrath down on him and any who help him to hide it.

God, you and the church can forgive him when he repents, but that does not mean he gets to keep his seat as pastor. Paul tells us to expel the immoral brother in Corinthians.

Above Reproach « A Bold Joy

June 26, 2012 at 02:22 PM

[...] This week Dustin Neeley, who blogs at Church Planting For The Rest Of Us wrote a great little piece featured at The Gospel Coalition entitled 7 Steps to Avoid Sexual Sin and Stay in Ministry. [...]


June 26, 2012 at 01:39 PM

Regardless of your perceptions, God is with his people and with his child. This is the underlying theme of the Gospel--"Christ died that he might bring us to God" (1Pr.3:18).

There are many reasons that we cannot feel God presence at all times. Some good and some bad. But he is always with us. So be encouraged--if the flower of the grass and the lily of the field are clothed in greater beauty than Solomon, he will care for you--"Cast all your cares on him for he cares for you" (Peter) and "I hold my own [child] and no man can take her out or my hand" (Jesus).


June 26, 2012 at 01:33 PM

The article reads, "We know that we shouldn't be alone with a member of the opposite sex, but how faithfully do we abide by this principle?"

Who is the enemy that I face? The women in my life or myself. It seems odd that women, or a woman, have such power to destroy me. It seems more likely that, like James stated, I sin because I want to. Women, or even a woman, is not the problem, I am. I need to face this first and foremost. Jesus spent time alone with women, even a woman on numerous occasions, and yet he was without sin. I would do well to blame myself and not penalize women, or a woman, for being the creature that God created. I do not have to live under that part of Adam's curse--"it's that woman that you created".

[...] 7 Steps to Avoid Sexual Sin and Stay in Ministry Autor: Dustin Neeley Fonte: The Gospel Coalition Seven practical thoughts in an effort to spare us, [...]

[...] for those in the ministry. We need to be willing to do whatever it takes to stay pure. Here are 7 helpful steps to avoid sexual [...]

Check out | HeadHeartHand Blog

July 2, 2012 at 11:49 AM

[...] 7 Steps to Avoid Sexual Sin and Stay in Ministry  [...]

Solomon’s stupidity | PastorFish

July 17, 2012 at 04:37 AM

[...] do we guard our hearts to make sure that we don’t turn away from God? Here are 5 ways (thanks to The Gospel Coalition for the [...]