When Pastors Fall Into Sexual Sin

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on August 23, 2018

A close friend, a prominent leader in the Evangelical community, keeps a running list of all his seminary friends who have fallen into sexual sin. It’s long. With it he keeps a list of all the things he would destroy should he ever fall into that temptation. You can guess what’s on it: family, friends, and the trust of the thousands of people he has shepherded over the years.

The Bill Hybels tragedy is but the latest of a long line of moral failures among Evangelical leaders. Most readers can name prominent pastors and teachers who have abandoned their commitments to their Savior and their families for the sake of sexual pleasure and ego-driven emotional attachments.

Divorce is also a serious issue among Protestant clergy. Today I learned of a pastor in an old-line denomination who is in the process of his fourth divorce. You read that right — wife number four. This man has no more business pastoring than a mallard duck has trying to fly an airplane. He violates the most fundamental biblical standard of leadership: being “above reproach” (I Timothy 3:2).

A Dangerous Calling

It’s a dangerous calling. Pastors spend a lot of their time alone. They study, write, counsel and pray in quiet, sometimes isolated rooms. When a pastor steps out of his office, often the first person he sees is his secretary. If the secretary attracts him, or he attracts her, he can be tempted, even if an affair was not in either person’s mind when they began working together. And if he’s tempted, without help he might fall to that temptation.

That’s why walls are so important. Pastors should not place themselves in these kinds of situations. They need people around them, daily, whose very presence will prevent the dangerous brew that loneliness and intimacy can concoct.

What can men in spiritual leadership do to prevent these situations, which breed contempt for Christ and those who preach His transforming Gospel? What can any Christian man do?

The Bible gives but one means of dealing with sexual temptation. It isn’t complex. It doesn’t require an advanced theology degree to understand. The means can be summarized in one word:


What the Bible Says

Here are a few passages concerning what to do (emphasis mine):

“[Joseph] went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house,” his master’s wife “caught him by his garment saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.” (Genesis 39:11-12)

“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14)

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Flee sexual immorality. … You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.” (I Corinthians 6:18, 20)

“So, flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord form a pure heart.” (II Timothy 2:22)

How to Flee Temptation

What does this mean in practice? How do you flee temptation? Here are some rules for Christian men, especially those who have been called by God to positions of spiritual leadership:

First, don’t put yourself in situations that could lead to emotional intimacy with a member of the opposite sex to whom you’re not married. A man should only have one close woman friend: his wife.

Second, set up boundaries that will keep you from situations in which you can sin sexually. For example, leave your door cracked open when meeting with a woman, even in a counseling situation. Spend the money to have a window installed by your door so passersby can always see what you’re doing (but not hear what you’re saying in confidence). Never travel alone with a woman who is not your wife.

Third, avoid pornography like the plague it is. Use a program that lets someone else see what you’re looking at on the computer. Have close guy friends who will hold you accountable for what you watch. They should have the liberty to contact you day or night.

Fourth, take whatever precautions you need to avoid sexual sin. Even if others think they’re extreme. You’re not answerable to those whose “maturity” places them in compromising contexts. You’re accountable to the God Who redeemed you and to the people you serve. One way you serve them is by not falling into sexual sin.

Finally, if you’re married, make your marriage and family the center of who you are and what you do. Insist on boundaries that protect your wife and children from losing you to your work. The best defense against sin is a love for your wife you want to protect above everything.

The Centrality of Knowing Christ

Most supremely, sexual sin indicates a failure to know Christ deeply. “The God who calls us to purity is himself the very definition of that purity. Indeed, ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5),” writes theologian Heath Lambert. “When you know this God who is purity and who is light you will want to be like him.”

Flee even any glimmer of sexual temptation and pursue knowing Jesus Christ. And die with the satisfaction of knowing you have been faithful to Him and to the one to whom you pledged your loyalty and honor. Not a bad legacy, that.

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  • Paul

    Great advice!

  • Patmos

    The love of Christ constraineth us (2 Cor. 5:14), and to be clear that’s his love for us. For herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us (1 John 4:10), and Christ is the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24).

  • Nick Stuart

    Wives, want to help your husband?

    Be freely available for marital relations. It will improve the odds of your husband staying on the straight and narrow.

    • Jim Walker

      A friend said this : She is no long my wife, she’s the mother of my kids.

      • Athena771

        a lot of women when they get married and become mothers, they stop being lovers to their husbands. They get all caught up in raising children. It is true i have seen it a lot, though it is still not an excuse to cheat, but men want their wives to be lovers too, not just mothers.

        • JohnYouAreSoCorrect

          You’re right, and it needs to be emphasized:
          Wives should try their best to please their husbands sexually, but even if she refuses, he has no excuse to cheat.

  • David MacKenzie

    While not disagreeing with a single thing stated, here, I’m surprised that an article dealing with this topic, could avoid the most obvious defence known in the New Testament. It is the Holy Spirit which overrules the flesh, crucifies the flesh, and provides the best bulwark against typical human carnality. How could one have an article like this not mention the Holy Spirit even once? My advice would be for all Christian men and women to consistently invite more of the Holy Spirit into their lives, daily— edify yourself by speaking in tongues, or whatever else one needs to do.

    • JohnYouAreSoCorrect

      He did say “pursue knowing Jesus Christ” as well as “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

      • David MacKenzie

        True, by why not get even more explicit?

  • Craig Roberts

    “It’s a dangerous calling. Pastors spend a lot of their time alone. They study, write, counsel and pray in quiet, sometimes isolated rooms.”

    Whao!!! They spend time alone? They should get hazard pay. Let’s all feel sorry for the poor “pastors” that deal with the “dangerous” job of …ugh… stuff like this can even take the fun out of sarcasm.

  • v0xCAB

    This is EXCELLENT advice but honestly you didn’t include a very important and practical guide. If you are married and in leadership, hopefully you have married a godly woman who can counsel other women. The very best counseling situation is men counseling men, women counseling women and couples counseling couples. True, it doesn’t always work out that way but that is both safest, and the very best way to do it from an effectiveness standpoint. Do NOT forget, you can sin with your mind as well. And if you are counseling a woman she may become emotionally attached to you and you might be used to make her sin in heart and mind. The reverse is also true. You as a man, might become emotionally attached as you show tenderness toward her and then you might sin in your mind as well. Same situation should generally counsel same situation where possible. All the more reason that a pastor should be a man with one wife (and only one, and preferably not no wife at all).

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