"Something terrible has happened." The tense voice was my friend's, calling from across the country. "Yesterday our pastor left his wife and ran off with another woman."
I was sad, but not shocked or even surprised. Fifteen years ago I would have been shocked. Ten years ago I would have been surprised. But I've heard the same story too many times now to ever be surprised again.
I recently spoke on sexual purity at a Bible college. During that week, many students came for counseling, including three I'll call Rachel, Barb, and Pam.
Rachel got right to the point: "My parents sent me to one of our pastors for counseling, and I ended up sleeping with him." Later the same day, Barb, a church leader's daughter, told me through tears, "My dad has had sex with me for years, and now he's starting on my sisters." The next evening I met with Pam. Her story? "I came to Bible college to get away from an affair with my pastor."
For every well-known Christian television personality or author whose impropriety is widely publicized, there are any number of lesser-known pastors, Bible teachers, and parachurch workers who quietly resign or are fired for sexual immorality. Most of us can name several. The myth that ministers are morally invulnerable dies slowly, however, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. But there never has been a mystical antibody that makes us immune to sexual sin. Even those of us who haven't fallen know how fierce is the struggle with temptation.
Furthermore, ministry brings with it serious built-in hazards, moral land mines that can destroy us, our families, and our churches. Among them: our position of influence and that strange blend of ego-feeding flattery and debilitating criticism, which can fill us with either pride or despair. As a result, our perspective can be warped, our resistance to temptation diminished. In addition, our endless tasks and the consequent disorienting fatigue can make us oblivious to what's really happening to us.
I recall with embarrassment my naivet as a young pastor. Every time I heard the stories of Christian leaders falling into sexual sin, I thought, It could never happen to me.
What level of pride is required to believe that sexual sin could overtake Samson, David ("a man after God's own heart"), Solomon, and a host of modern Christian leaders, but not me? Paul's warning in 1 Corinthians 10 deserves a prominent place on our dashboards, desks, or Day-Timers: "If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall."
Fortunately, I wised up. The person who believes he will never be burglarized leaves his doors and windows open, and cash on the top of his dresser. Likewise, the one who thinks the danger isn't real invariably takes risks that wind up proving costly. I now live with the frightening but powerfully motivating knowledge that I could commit sexual immorality. I started taking precautions to keep it from happening to me.
Practical Guidelines for Sexual Purity
Monitoring my spiritual pulse. Often those who fall into sexual sin can point back to lapses in their practices of meditation, worship, prayer, and the healthy self-examination such disciplines foster. All of us know this, but in the busyness of giving out, we can easily neglect the replenishing of our spiritual reservoirs.
Daily disciplines are important, of course, but I've found that for me they're not enough. God gave Israel not merely one hour a day but one day a week, several weeks a year, and even one year every seven to break the pattern of life long enough to worship and reflect and take stock.