I recently read a statistic that made my mouth fall open. That doesn’t happen very often.
This time it did.
In a Christianity Today article on navigating the waters of leadership misconduct, the author made mention of a 2005-2006 study by the Francis Schaeffer Institute which found that more than 30 percent of all pastors have admitted to having either an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner during their tenure.
Two words instantly came into my mind: sexual fences.
Ministry leaders must, I repeat must, build sexual fences around their life. If you build a fence, you will inevitably bump against it and know you’ve gone too far. But at least the fence kept you from going over the cliff. If you didn’t have the fence, you would have never known it was time to turn back.
So here are three to start constructing immediately:
First, monitor and control your thought life. That's where sexual sin begins. Things like adultery, in all its forms, don't just happen - they begin. We're in bed with someone mentally and emotionally long before we are in bed with them physically.
Ready to get real?
One of the most damaging fantasy worlds we can allow ourselves to enter doesn’t even involve someone we may work with, or minister to.
It’s an image on a computer.
When it comes to porn, the question facing many men is simple: is it really wrong? Is it really that big of a deal? I mean, it’s just an image on a screen. It’s not someone I know (so it’s not lust, right?), or someone I’m having an actual affair with, so I’m still faithful to my wife. It’s just sexual release, like masturbation, and we all know that masturbation is not condemned in the Bible. It’s not even mentioned. And isn’t sex a good thing, so what’s wrong in watching it happen? I’m just admiring beauty. And besides, I’m single, so what do you expect me to do with all this pent-up sexual energy? It seems like a safe release until I am married.
I’ve heard all of this, and more.
So is it really that big of a deal?
It is sexual sin, addictive, degrading to women, leads to other sins, harms your relationship with your current (or future) spouse, desensitizes your soul and distorts sex.
A second fence to erect is to be sure and avoid vulnerable or compromising situations.
Watch out for how and when you are alone with someone of the opposite sex.
Watch how you touch people - be careful with your hugs and lingering touches.
Watch out how you interact with people - don't visit someone alone, at home, of the opposite sex.
Watch out for that long lunch alone together, or staying late and working together on the project.
This is just common sense, isn’t it?
I think some people in ministry go further with this than may be necessary. They won’t close doors in public office space, they won’t have lunch in public areas with someone, they won’t get in a car with someone of the opposite sex. I’m not about to argue over how high the fence should be; the greater danger is not having any fences at all. The point is being aware of circumstances that you know put you in a compromising situation.
And let’s state the really obvious – erect particularly high fences when you know you are already attracted to someone, because the temptation will be to take them down. If there is someone that you think about a lot, or someone that you catch yourself comparing to your spouse in an uncomplimentary way, or you are finding excuses to be with them (or be alone with them), or you catch yourself having sexual fantasies about them, be extraordinarily careful.
Finally, use your God-given brain to think long-term, which is where we started this discussion. Left to themselves, your sexual urges will press you to seek immediate gratification, as if there are no long-term repercussions. If you don’t engage your brain, you will endanger your marriage, undermine your values, risk your health, and trade away long-term happiness for short-term satisfaction.
In short, you will lose the life you now have. Your family, your ministry, your reputation.
That’s a sex-drive without a driver.
Have you ever heard of the idea known as 10-10-10? It’s not particularly original with anyone, though some have written formally about it.
It stands for 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years, and it speaks to using your brain to address your life in a simple, but life-changing way: What are the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes, in 10 months, and in 10 years?
That’s what your sexual impulses need. Left to themselves, they will only engage the first 10 minutes. But it’s the ten months, and the ten years, that matter most.
It’ll Never Happen to Me
One of my favorite shows on ESPN is “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” featuring Mike Greene and Mike Golic. It’s a joint radio and television broadcast about sports. “Greenie,” as he is affectionately known, was formerly a sports reporter, and Golic played college football for Notre Dame and in the NFL for Houston, Philadelphia and Miami.
One morning, as they discussed one more celebrity athlete’s misconduct off-the-field – after a season of stories from Michael Vick’s dog fighting to Tiger Woods’ infidelity – Greenie asked Golic what it is that athletes say to each other in the locker room when such news breaks about a fellow player. Golic said, “They say the same thing every time. They say, ‘It’ll never happen to me.’”
But it can.
It is in our character. Every person can be tempted. Every person can succumb to that temptation. In fact, if you think you can’t be tempted in this area, you are the most vulnerable of all.
Because you are not humble enough to put up your guard.
So take out the hammer and nails and start building,
James Emery White
Dorothy Greco, “Pastoring Your Church through a Leader’s Misconduct,” Christianity Today, May 4, 2015, read online.
James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You In Seminary (Baker).
Suzy Welch, 10-10-10.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.