I recently read and reviewed a book by a former pastor who left his wife, kids, and congregation to jump headfirst into a relationship with another woman. Though some may think that his story is a bit voyeuristic his openness of sharing his thoughts through this fling (and his return back home again) is both fascinating and revealing. If we are to understand why many religious leaders have taken this same jump, we may need to look past our hypersensitive emotions towards the fallen individuals and stop judging for a few moments in order to do some real investigation and soul searching.
Though hardly scientific, I’ll dare to suggest a few reasons that have come up in conversations with others, observations, and personal reflection. My goal is simply to get others thinking and hopefully dialoging, moving us closer to freedom.
- David Trotter, the author I mentioned above, suggests that his affair became a possibility in his life due to the burnout he suffered in his church ministry roles. When our pastors work endless hours and are drained spiritually and emotionally, when they are so headstrong about storing up treasure in Heaven that their own souls begin to rust down here, then they are more easily at risk to falling into emotional and physical affairs. (Author Ed Cyzewski delves into this particular reason on his blog, In.A.Mirror.Dimly)
- Lana Staheli, in her book, Affair-Proof Your Marriage, suggests that one of the reasons religious leaders seem to be more susceptible to having an affair is because of opportunity. As pastors usually don’t have the same time limitations or location restrictions as with most people’s jobs, they have freedom that someone working behind the counter at McDonald’s doesn’t. When you combine the ingredients of opportunity with hormones, and the power/control/mystique that a spiritual leader can sway over another person, it can lead to a recipe of infidelity.
- In 1998 Leadership Journal did an article on “How Common is Pastoral Indiscretion?” It has some interesting statistics, but one that stood out to me is that for those pastors who admitted that they had participated in sexually inappropriate behavior only 4 percent said their churches found out. 31 percent said they suffered no consequences from the actions at all. Apparently another reason pastors have affairs, and flirt around with other sexual indiscretions, is that they can get away with it.
- It was also suggested to me (indirectly from a denominational church leader) that the reason some pastors in his denomination were having affairs, and thus exploding their ministries, was that it was the only way they knew how to get out. How scarily inconceivable is that? If this is truly a reason, our denominations must invest some serious resources towards their pastors’ emotional health.
- I’d like to suggest that another huge reason for infidelity in the pastorate is a sense of entitlement. When a man feels that he is sacrificing so much for God and other people; that the difference he is making in the world is so significant, it’s easy to justify taking care of one’s own needs—sexually, monetarily, by controlling others, etc. I see this problem etched into the stories of many of our famous, fallen, religious leaders—and it is easy for me to pick out because entitlement is one of my life’s biggest struggles.
- Finally, I’d like to expound on what David Trotter began to share about ministry and burnout. As I look back on the many years I spent in the pastorate I would suggest that many of my fellow ministers and I perceived our relationship with our churches as godly, when in fact they could easily be described as adulterous. When we put our jobs over our wives, our kids, our relationships with others, and our promises—at the same time deluding ourselves that it is God’s ‘calling’ on our lives—it is an affair. We can talk good counsel to other men about their lives and their priorities but we think we have a ‘get out of jail free’ card when it comes to our own. It’s time we face up to the facts—if we are going to have full time ministry jobs, we’d better have some honest-to-God, realistic boundaries with them. It will go a whole lot further of keeping us from affairs than leaving the door cracked open when we are in counseling sessions with the opposite gender.
What do you think? Let’s dialog. Let’s move towards freedom.