Category Archives: adultery

Restoring Pastors to Ministry After Affairs? Possible or Impossible?

In recent weeks there have been sad and public accounts of pastors removed from their positions after being caught having sex with someone not their spouse. These pastors (mostly men) are gifted speakers, writers, and leaders. They are good at what they do. It seems is a shame that they no longer use those gifts to lead God’s people. It is also a shame that God’s good name and the spouse/kids are dragged through the mud.

But can there be redemption? Could the pastor who loses integrity regain it and with it regain a pastoral position again? After all, we are all sinners and no pastor ever is without sin. Indeed, it seems God uses those who are moral and ethical disasters to lead his church. There’s David the rapist and murderer, S/Paul the terrorist, Abraham the liar, and Peter the wishy-washy, self-protective and impulsive “rock” of the church. Certainly, if God uses these people to write huge portions of Scripture and to build the church then why can’t a pastor who strays also be used by God?

No reason…any some possible reasons at the same time.

First, let’s call “affairs” with congregants what they are–pastoral sexual abuse. Now, not all sexual activity between a pastor and a congregant are the same. Having sex with a person you are counseling is not the same as developing a relationship with someone who is a bit more your equal. And yet, both would still not be an affair but an abuse of the position of pastor since the pastor has the obligation and moral responsibility to protect the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep.

Reason 1: The greater the misuse of power, the less likely a power holder should get that power back. An accountant who steals money is less able to return to being an accountant than a painter is returning to another painting job who happened upon some money on a desk and took it.

Stories of redemption in the Bible aren’t road maps for what should happen today. They tell us much about the amazing grace God bestows on sinners, but they don’t tell us what we should do when we encounter a fallen pastor. In fact, if we want to stack up the restored leaders in the Bible against the cursed leaders, I think our few positive examples of restoration would be vastly outnumbered by the stories of permanent removal. And on top of stories, we have some very serious warnings about bad shepherds (Jer 23, Ezek 34, 44, Matthew 23). The Ezekiel 44 passage denies false shepherds from ever speaking for God ever again but does show kindness in allowing them to help out with the sacrifices.

Reason 2: Human gifting does not necessarily lead to spiritual authority and leadership. Value to the kingdom continues even if “ministry” is only that of behind the scenes support services.

Finally, desire for the position is not always evidence of readiness. Recall in Acts 8 that there was a magician name Simon who wanted the ability to cast out demons like the apostles. He must already have had some capacity as he was famous. But he wanted more. He wanted the position of power. When confronted he begs for mercy and help.

Reason 3: Tears, passion, vision, and drive are not enough of a reason to place someone back into public ministry.

Now, none of these reasons are enough to always say no to return to pulpits after sexual infidelity. While a return may not be probable, it can be possible. Every situation is unique. That said, unless the disgraced pastor has evidenced many of the signs of repentance (taking full ownership, accepting consequences, giving up control over recovery process/submitting to the work of therapy, seeking accountability, pursuing utter transparency, and not placing demands to return to the position) for a long season, it is doubtful that a return to leadership is right. Frankly, one of the best signs of repentance is not being so worried about reputation and not seeking a return to a previous level of ministry.


Filed under adultery, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, pastors and pastoring, Uncategorized

The duty to confront your friends

You’ve probably read about the recent resignation of David Petraeus as Director of the CIA. While we could chalk this up to another episode of “be sure your sins will find you out” and explore the features of his downfall from squeaky clean (by appearance) to cheater, there is another angle you might consider. In the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer, the paper included a sidebar to the story telling of several colleagues and friends who recognized a problem long before it came out. They saw some things that didn’t look right, that didn’t fit with his character. They saw him being too chummy and spending too much time with “the other woman.”

The big question: did they bother to confront him? The story doesn’t tell us this, but it surely is the question we ought to be asking, not only of them, but also of ourselves. When we see friends acting in ways that appear out of line, do we love them enough to tell them so? Do we love them enough to risk losing the relationship should they become angry with us? I, for one, have been guilty of not saying something when I saw a friend spending more time with a colleague than is wise. I have no idea if my friend engaged in inappropriate behavior. But even when someone doesn’t engage in sexual activity with someone other than their spouse, this does not mean the person isn’t putting their life, their marriage, their soul in grave danger. Emotional affairs have torn apart marriages just as physical affairs do.

We have a duty to not let our fear of man get in the way when we see things that signal to us a problem. We don’t need to become accusatory, but a few loving questions (and more than just one!) are in order.


Filed under adultery, Relationships

Healing, recovery, restoration and other words for “getting better”

Recovered. Healed. Better. Restored. Resolved. Whole. What words do you use when describing positive change regarding traumatic events like abuse, the pain of adultery, or other like experiences? And more importantly, what do those words convey to yourself and others?

Why am I thinking about this? Soon, I will begin teaching an on-line summer class called “Healing Trauma in International Settings.” To be honest, I’m a little uncomfortable with the title I chose. Words matter and “Healing” conveys a message. Imagine replacing “healing trauma” with

Trauma treatment

Trauma recovery

Trauma care

Now, maybe I’m being overly sensitive but consider some of these other kinds of problems we face

  • You break your tibia during an aggressive move on the basketball court. Your leg heals and you go back to your basketball playing. Here we use healing to denote that you regained your former capacity to play sports. You are back to normal or near normal.
  • You cut your finger while slicing vegetables. You go to the hospital to get stitches. While you have a scar, your finger heals and you use it again. In time you have only a slight scar to remind you of that day.
  • Your house sustains a fire. You lose belongings. Your insurance company restores your house and replaces your possessions.
  • Your car is stolen. The police recover it and return it to you (with fuzzy dice attached)
  • You have a protracted conflict with a family member. At some point, you have a heart to heart and resolve your differences.

My examples all convey a resolution of a problem where the problem recedes, maybe even disappears. But what about trauma? Is there a form of resolution and healing of rape or sexual abuse or domestic violence where the memories disappear? Should there be? Wouldn’t forgetting these experiences place the person in danger of living in unreality and, in some cases, at risk of re-injury? Here are some important questions:

  • What does healing from an affair look like? How do you know you have “recovered”? What symptoms or experiences would remain?
  • What does healing from a rape look like? What would be expected if you “pretty well recovered”? What is to be expected to not change?

As a counselor I do not want to under or over-sell the recovery process. Victims do find tremendous healing but to assume all vestiges of a traumatic experience go away would be false. Unfortunately, we who have not been traumatized sometimes expect the kind of recovery where victims go back to a way of life and thinking as if the trauma never happened.

If we are honest, we wish to live in a world without lasting consequences from sin and suffering.

We want people to “get over” their pain and go back to a way of life as if it never happened. It would be like asking a person who lost a leg to hope they will run exactly like they did before losing the leg. Indeed, they may run again. But never as fast and never as easy. There will be a stump to care for, a hip to learn new motion, phantom pains to re-interpret, and limits to accept.

This world of limits is one God wants us to live in and one we detest. Our first parents saw the limits of their wisdom and desired to get wisdom on their own. We too love the happily ever after story where humans obtain health and healing apart from limitations. We tell the stories of miraculous healing as if we no longer live in a broken world.

Let us endeavor to tell true stories of healing that glorify God and remind us that we depend upon him for every breath.


Filed under Abuse, adultery, biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Uncategorized

Being the warden

I was sent a new book to review (which I am not planning to do). Since it has to do with pastoral ministry to couples involved in a particular sexual crisis I thought I’d give it the 5 minute skim. In doing so I got a great image: The warden in the relationship. This is the person who was wronged in some terrible way and is now the warden who determines the accountability of the offending party.

When one has broken trust and is now trying to regain that trust, they must become entirely transparent. Their can be no hint of deceit, no unaccountability in any area of life. Not only must the person allow for accountability but they must show evidence they actually desire it and do not chafe at their limitations in life. But what of the other partner? The author says this:

It is not OK for one, considered to be the initial perpetrator, to live totally accountable in his life of genuine repentance, while the other partner never moves off being the warden of the relationship.

How does one fall into this position? The author says “just going with the flow of feelings about the injustice and harmfulness of things is all that is necessary to become the warden, and to never really forgive.” This, I must say, is in the larger context where he also says forgiveness does not require trusting the other or repatriating the other.

In much of Christian counseling, wardens get a raw deal. It is so obvious that they are demanding of a standard of perfectionism, judgmental, unwilling to be vulnerable, etc. It is easy to see this and to go after the hardness of heart that is evident in the warden while accepting the “repentance” of the offender at face value.

It is true that the warden must relinquish the position of judge if the relationship is going to survive long-term in any healthy manner. This does not mean the person stops taking stock of the offender’s actions and attitudes. Nor does it mean that they can forego self-examination.

Here’s my questions:

  1. How do you know the line between careful evaluation of the fact and warden mentality?
  2. What helps might be most helpful to let go of the warden mentality?
  3. How could the church be more supportive of the warden?


Filed under adultery, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, counseling skills

How to fail after hitting it big

Had an interesting talk with my boys about how money and fame does not protect from one’s sins being found out–whether in this life or the next. We were talking about faithfulness and keeping promises and how it feels when someone violates that covenant, and how much more it hurts when that violation goes public.

Right after that, my friend Doug forwarded me a Christianity Today article on the recipe for failing. It is written by Gordon McDonald and is directed at church leaders, especially those who lead big churches. But, you could apply it to your own life. Read the story here, but in short, here is recipe:

1. “Hubris, born of success.” It is interesting how we allow success to lead to pride. Moses told the Israelites that when they got into the promised land and received houses and gardens they didn’t build, they should not become arrogant and say, “look at what I have” and thus forget the Lord.

2. “Undisciplined pursuit of more.” Whether we have little or lots, we always want more. And we find all sorts of creative ways to make our pursuit right and good.

3. “Denial of risk and peril.” The more we succeed the more temptation to give in to brazenness.

4. “Grasping for salvation.” I think this works for successful people as well as those who feel desperate to succeed (after all, you can never rest on your laurels). We look for the silver bullet, the hail Mary, the lotto ticket to the next level of fame.

5. “Capitulation to irrelevance or death.” Once you go too far, you know you can’t recover so you just keep going. Why is it that we find it so hard to repent, to admit, to acknowledge our sins? Because we cannot give up our pride. We sometimes choose character death rather than admit, to stop. I think this is also why people commit hid and runs. We know we will get caught but we keep trying to run because admitting seems like death (when it often contains redemption possibilities).

Notice that the real recipe needs only one ingredient–deception of self and other.

Lord, save us from our prideful, self-deceiving selves.

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Filed under adultery, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, deception, Repentance, self-deception

Just don’t blow it

Having spoken last week on the topics of trauma and pastoral sexual abuse (and the resulting conversations with attendees at both sessions), I keep thinking this thought: Just don’t blow it.

Let me explain. Both sessions are filled with examples of Christian leaders abusing vulnerable people. It is common that attendees want to come up and chat with me about something similar that has happened to them or a loved one. During my trauma session, an individual commented to the whole group about a recent serious (and very public) allegation about a camp counselor and a decade of abuse to young boys. What would I tell these boys who were (allegedly) abused by someone they should have trusted?

Even when the problem is not abuse but moral failings, I note the massive, rippling fallout (fear, anger, anxiety, crushing heartbreak) in those in the know.

After the second session I got to go have a wonderful dinner with my wife. During it I was having double consciousness. I was with her and enjoying her company but having intruding thoughts about my own capacity to fail her, my kids, my parents, my colleagues, my students, etc. These vignettes I heard of “blowing it” can’t be all stupid of course. They too must have known how much destruction their choices would bring. I cannot rest on the fact that since I’m in the know, it won’t happen to me. Why? Because we are all prone to forget.

So, I spoke to myself, Just don’t blow it Phil. Remember that glowing face of your wife in the dinner light.

I’ll need a bit more than that I suppose…regular reminders and lots of prayer! It is easy to be ensnared and deceived by desires for comfort, glory, etc.

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Filed under Abuse, adultery, christian counseling, Christianity, self-deception

Inside adulterous love: “It’s all about me!”

There’s no denying that forbidden love lust generates massive pleasure–even if it leads to equally massive despair, guilt, and/or destruction. If it didn’t, few would allow an affair to develop and continue risking all that is dear to them (respect, trust, family, friends, even job). Like heroin, the pleasure within adultery screams to be experienced again. Often those caught up in this kind of pleasure feel they have found their soul mate, their completion as a person. But let’s take a look at this “love” for a moment and the lies told.

1. “You complete me.” Sounds like it is a compliment to the other, right? Nope. It is all about how the speaker feels. That is the focus. Very self-indulgent.

2. “I can’t wait to be with you again.” Again, the focus is on what you do to me.

3. “You get me.” Ditto #1 and 2.

The funny thing is, if you were to remove the “love” phrases being bantied back and forth in an affair from their context, you see how self-focused the expressions of pleasure and satisfaction are despite the pretense of care for the other. But both parties delude themselves that it is real love as long as the “drug” lasts. As long as both feel that the other exists to bring them pleasure it feels like mutual love.


Filed under adultery, deception, love, Relationships, self-deception, Sex