Fact: Some kids like to play "near the edge," and some kids don't. I always did! Whether the "edge" was rock jumping into a cool mountain lake or "bumper jumping" moving cars to slide along an icy winter street, the potential of peril invigorated me.
But "when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Cor. 13:11). I was a pastor and in seminary when the moral failures of the late '80's hit the news. In addition to the big names, I heard a shocking number of similar tragedies from my own circle of pastor/friends.
One Sunday night in 1987 I remember crying all the way to church. I was terrified. I asked over and over, "How does this happen? Could this happen to me? How can I protect myself, my family, and my ministry from the devastation a moral failure would cause? How can I keep myself pure when men better than me are falling like flies?"
As I prayed it through, I figured that those who fell morally must have disregarded the warning signs. They didn't go from Spirit-led to stepping off the cliff in one day. They must have crashed some social barriers before their slippage became sexual.
Where is that line? I wondered, And how can I make sure I never cross it? I knew I had to make my decisions early and my standards public so that others would know when I was "playing near the edge." I was determined that, by God's grace, I would not take the plunge. So I set some boundaries of behavior.
I remembered an incident back in Bible college when the college president would not give my (young, beautiful) fiancee a ride to our church almost two hours away when he came to speak. At first that seemed odd; now I was beginning to understand why.
Sexual temptation is
where we are held least
accountable and where
we can fall fastest.
I began to form my list of moral fences:
1. I will not, under any circumstances, ride alone in a car with a female other than my wife or an immediate family member. No lifts home for a church secretary, no baby sitters driven home late at night, no rides for teen girls in my student ministry, more recently no personal pickups for my daughter's girlfriends, no exceptions.
Recently while speaking out of town, I had to explain to my pastor friend why it would not work out for his wife to meet me and drive me over there. It has been awkward at times, but it's a beneficial discipline.
2. I do not counsel a woman in a closed room or more than once. No matter what the issue, counseling is an intimate activity, and when the subject matter itself becomes intimate, counseling the opposite sex is like playing with fire.
When our church was smaller, keeping this standard meant that some women had to seek counsel elsewhere and two or three left our church over my "fence." I was hurt at first, but it blessed my wife.
My time was better spent training a team of men and women to do the lighter counseling and then referring those with more complex issues to biblical counseling centers outside our church.
When I cannot avoid a second session with a woman in our church, I have my wife or another pastor join us. Pretty hard to commit adultery with someone you never spend time alone with.
3. I do not stay alone in a hotel overnight. I did my doctoral thesis on increasing the incidents of self-disclosure of sin among men. I have heard more confessions of addiction to various forms of sexual sin than any one pastor should have to hear, and it has changed me. It has left me deeply persuaded that "there but for the grace of God (and some moral fences), go I." I know myself too well.