Pastoral Pitfalls: 6 Guidelines for Relationships with Women
“Except for the grace of God . . .”
These are the words that come to my heart and mind when I hear the story of a minister failing morally. The world seems to rejoice when this happens, while it is certain that the Christian world should grieve. The story is too often repeated; a gifted minister gets wrapped up in an immoral relationship, deals unethically with money, or gets caught in spoken lies and other types of dishonesty. I really believe very few actually begin their ministries with these types of moral flaws, but over the course of time they grow stale in their love for the Savior and begin to make small compromises that lead to life-altering mistakes. I plan to present a series of posts covering some of the more common pitfalls that ministers face. Some are obvious, like today’s post, and others are much less obvious but in many ways just as dangerous. The two most obvious pitfalls that ministers must avoid are inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex and mishandling their money.
“I have one simple piece of advice when it comes to women and money: Never touch anybody’s but your own!”
I say it this way to get people’s attention and maybe draw a laugh, but I am completely serious as well. How a minister relates to the opposite sex is pivotal. The following are certain rules that I strive to always follow in guarding my relationships with women for the sake of my witness, the health of my marriage, and for the protection of the people and institutions for which I am an ambassador.
As you read these guidelines, some of you might argue that I am too uptight. That’s fine, but I tell pastors if somebody does not think you are too uptight in this area than you are not guarded enough. If everybody thinks you are uptight in this area than you are probably just uptight.
- Never be alone with a woman other than your wife: Not in your office, not in a restaurant, not at the coffee shop, not in an automobile, not in a home, I try not to even get on the elevator alone with a woman. I am convinced that if I am never alone with another woman, I will never have a physical affair.
- Guard against emotional bonding by you or others to you: We must be careful in how we answer phone calls, email, social media, texts and so forth. It is not proper for you to have extended communication with a woman other than your wife through any of these mediums. Your wife should have unfettered access to all of them. If she does not, what are you hiding? (The issue of pornography and other electronic temptations will be covered in a future post.)
- Be very careful with outward affection: Learn the “side hug” technique. There is no one on the planet that gets a voluntary full-frontal hug from me except for my wife! There certainly is a place for physical contact; however we must always remain above reproach. Your wife is a great gift in this area. Many times I have prayed over a lady with a hand on her shoulder while my wife embraces her.
- Do not discuss your marital issues with a woman: Do pastors ever have marital issues that they may need to discuss with someone? Certainly, but seek out the godly counsel of a brother in Christ. It is unfathomable to me that someone would not see the problem with sharing such intimate detail with another woman, and yet I hear of this happening even amongst pastors.
- Guard against the adulterous woman: Some may find what I am about to write offensive, but I believe it to be absolutely true. I believe most every church has a woman that, given opportunity, would cause the pastor to fail morally. Proverbs is clear, we must guard against the adulterous woman, and many times she is not outside the church fellowship but inside.
- Never be alone with a woman other than your wife: I know I already said this, but it bears repeating. Guard yourself; the moment you think that you are invincible to these types of temptations, you are probably in the most danger.
One final word: trust your wife’s instincts on these issues. I do not claim to understand it, but ladies have a radar about these things. If your wife warns you to be on guard concerning a certain woman, you would be wise to heed her advice and foolish and without excuse if you do not. Over our 10 years of marriage I remember two very clear warnings from my wife, and both of these women were exposed in an extramarital affair within a year of my wife’s warning concerning them. TRUST YOUR WIFE’S INSTINCTS!
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Ephesians 5:3
Tommy Kiker serves as assistant professor of pastoral theology, James T. Draper Jr. Chair of Pastoral Ministry, and chair of the pastoral ministry department at Southwestern Seminary. He writes regularly at www.tommykiker.com. Follow him on Twitter @tommykiker.