SEXUAL MISCONDUCT AMONG CHURCH LEADERS – Part 1

Tomorrow I’d like us to talk about a very sensitive and serious subject. Sexual misconduct of a leader in the church. It has to be the most devastating thing that can happen to a church to have one of its leaders (minister, youth minister, elder, pastor) to be get caught in a sexual relationship outside his marriage.

Whether it’s a mega church and a nationally known person like Ted Haggard or a a little church out in the middle of no where … how do we handle it?

  • How do we prevent this?
  • Why do some ministers fall and others do not?
  • What is the churches responsibility to the person caught?
  • What can the church do to heal?

There are more questions that need to be answered. And this is a subject that we “as Christians and as a church” have ignored. Do some thinking today about how to handle this.

For Part Two: Click Here
For More Information on this subject and helpful links: Click Here

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My friend and fellow blogger Monica has written a wonderful post about “learning lessons in life” from her grandparents. It’s a wonderful and powerful love story. If it doesn’t warm your heart … nothing will. Stop by and check it out when you get time.

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Article by Trey Morgan

I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast. Read 1182 articles by
31 Comments Post a Comment
  1. JP Manzi says:

    This should be interesting, especially in light with what my church family just went through.

  2. The Preacher's Household: says:

    This is a significant issue facing the church and ministry. I apprecaite the questions you asked. Maybe another might be what is the responsibility of the person cuaght in the sin, how ever you define caught?

  3. lisa leichner says:

    Is that where you go to church, JP?

    A congregation where I no longer attend faced this issue a couple years ago too (maybe it was last year). I’m not sure how appropriate it is to go into detail … but I thought it was interesting how the elders handled the situation. I wouldn’t have known what to expect. I am really disappointed (to put it rather mildly) that this situation has hit kinda close to home for me twice in the past couple years, whereas I was (blissfully) ignorant of it before that.

  4. Brian Nicklaus says:

    about every two years it happens to someone I know, or at least know of personally. maybe not friends, but more than just a name or a church.

    it hurts every time, one of the most discouraging things a human, christian, or church can deal with.

    how many souls will be in Hell because they got discouraged in their preacher who did something stupid??

  5. Monalea says:

    Good thoughts. I knew a man once that got caught up in this sin. He was a leader in the Church. He has recovered from this travesty, but only because of God’s grace. He has paid a huge price in consequences. He is back to preaching God, but from a different status. Funny how God can forgive but people can’t.

    I remember seeing a cartoon of “Calvin and Hobbs.” Calvin is walking along and trips. It shows several captions of Calvin falling, flaying, dust flying and legs and arms everywhere. The last frame shows Calvin standing and saying, ‘Ta da!’ Only God can take us in our sin as we are falling, flaying, dust flying, arms and legs everywhere and make us stand and say “ta da!” (And yes, it takes a repentant heart on our part).

  6. TREY MORGAN says:

    I think it will be good for us to talk about. I know JP has been dealing with this. It’s just one of those things that need to be addressed somehow.

    I’m like Brian, I hear about it every 6 months or so. It’s a tough and touchy subject.

  7. lisa leichner says:

    JP, I’m really sorry to hear about what your church family is going through. While living in NJ, I had several friends from the Pitman congregation, most of whom have moved on by now I’m sure. I can imagine you are all hurting so much! I hope the Tabernacle congregation has been able to offer some support.

  8. The Preacher's Household: says:

    I also echo the voices saying this is a travesty of Christ. I feel the pain and pray for specific situations you and I know of.

    Monalea, Great though and illustration. Trey, I would like to see us all flush this thought out.

    James

  9. Bobby Cohoon says:

    Trey, this is a great subject that we need to be all the more aware of and be ready to discuss. Thanks for bringing it up.

    Bobby

  10. Marie says:

    I am looking forward to the discussion about this. I have always wondered how it should be handled and whether we (the church) have been handling it right. There was a college professor that I knew of that went through this. The whole situation seemed impossible to even sort through and the response devastated him, his family and the church.

  11. Paula Harrington says:

    You know, I’m not excusing this at all when it happens but we need to be aware that we are in a battle and the Devil will do whatever he can do to win souls. If it means tempting a preacher, elder, youth minister (which by the way, some think these men are perfect and hold them to a higher standard) to get them to sin then that’s exactly what he is going to do. Yes, it’s horrible but it’s no more horrible than when a “regular” church member sins. We may perceive it to be but I believe that’s our error.

    What do you all think?

  12. Paula Harrington says:

    You know, I’m not excusing this at all when it happens but we need to be aware that we are in a battle and the Devil will do whatever he can do to win souls. If it means tempting a preacher, elder, youth minister (which by the way, some think these men are perfect and hold them to a higher standard) to get them to sin then that’s exactly what he is going to do. Yes, it’s horrible but it’s no more horrible than when a “regular” church member sins. We may perceive it to be but I believe that’s our error.

    What do you all think?

  13. TREY MORGAN says:

    Paula, I’d have to agree 100%. The sin in God’s eye is no worse. But to the congregation, a minister, elder or teacher is held to a higher standard. Right or wrong, it’s the facts. Even James said, “not many should be teachers, because they will be judged more strictly.”

    Unfortuantely it does happen. And too many times the answer to fixing the problem is fire the preacher and let’s pretend it hasn’t happened.

  14. TREY MORGAN says:

    Just to add a thought. I heard of a young summer “intern” who was struggling with pornography. He confessed it to the minister. They prayed about it and decided that the best thing would be for them to go together to the elders for prayer and healing.

    In the meeting with the elders, the elders did pray for the young man and then fired him. No counseling, no follow up, just fired.

    Something about that doesn’t seem “Christ-like.”

  15. JP Manzi says:

    Yes, this will be an interesting discussion and lisa, yes, I go to the Pitman church where this just happened. Like I’ve told people God can made good come out of any heartache, and he is doing that now. We have all grown over the last few weeks. New relationships forming older ones strengthening.

  16. Neva says:

    Trey,
    I think this is a long overdue discussion–my dad was a minister who committed adultery with a church member, both were disfellowshipped, both divorced, both families destroyed. It took a long, long time of praying and loving him before my dad repented and is once again faithful–single, alone, and still struggling with his guilt and trying to repair some relationships, but faithful and penitent. It is very difficult to know what to do–25 years later, the congregation still hurts and struggles to forgive.
    Should be interesting.
    Peace and prayers for you my brother,
    Neva

  17. Bob Bliss says:

    We live in a society that is awash with sexual content and opportunities to fulfill this deep passion. As Lisa mentioned a good friend of ours (a preacher in PA) had sexual contact (though not intercourse) with a girl 15. He is now serving 4-8 years. He was the last person I would have ever thought would commit such an act. I guess I tend to put people up on a pedestal and don’t realize that but for the grace of God . . .

    Lisa is correct that the elders in our New Jersey congregation handled this situation well. This preacher and family were really close to our congregation and wanted to attend there. The elders talked with the families that knew this preacher, talked with the families that had teenagers, then announced to the congregation what this preacher had done (he came forward and asked for forgiveness), then laid out what conditions they wanted from him and the congregation. The congregation was great. They really embraced the family and helped them through this time and still are. They wife and one daughter drive several hours to visit him in prison.

    I have had four friends now that have committed a sexual sin that ruined their ministries and almost ruined their families. Paula is right that this is no more heinous than some other sins. JP is right that God can always use our sin to bring about good. I pray that the Pitman congregation will stand strong in the Lord’s grace.

  18. TREY MORGAN says:

    Neva & Bob…

    Thanks for sharing with us the struggles you have seen first hand. I’m thankful for the churches like the one in NJ that handled the situation well. I’m saddened that these things happen and I’m praying for the congregation where JP attends and youth minister and the victim and their families.

  19. Marie says:

    There are so many people (ministers and church leaders) out there who struggle with addictions and their actions. As Paula said, we place them on this pedestal and when they slip or fall we are harder on them than we might be on a “regular” member of the congregation. I once read somewhere that God places the people he trusts the most out in the world to preach and teach the Word (ministers, missionaries, ….) and he keeps those that he trusts the least inside the church. Now whether or not that statement is true, it hit me after re-reading this that Satan will go after the ones who have the most influence on others and will also nudge those who are “just in the church” to condemn the ones he made them to think were indestructible (one of his lies). If we can only remember that everyone of us in human and will make mistakes. Although I agree in consequences (just ask my kids), there needs to be an amount of humility in it- showing that we too understand that it could have been us in that situation. Of course all this in an opinion of one who is still learning and defining myself in my own faith. So who knows if I am anywhere close to being “correct”!

  20. lisa leichner says:

    As you know, I have a minister or two in my family, so I can go either way–being easier on them when they fall or being harder on them because of standards set by the ministers I know.
    One thing about having a minister that has committed a sin of this nature (and I think it’d be the same if it was a deacon or elder) is telling your children about it. I don’t know from experience, but I would think this could be very confusing to them … how do you warn your daughters to avoid being alone with this man yet convey to them that we have forgiven him? Maybe I’m not giving children enough credit to sort out the mixed messages on their own. What do you think?

  21. Anonymous says:

    I am somewhat hesitant about joining this discussion, but feel doing so may be beneficial to both myself and others who are visiting this site.

    To make a long story short, I am one who through poor choices had an affair while serving as a minister of the church. I think discussions of this nature are healthy and very eye-opening.

    I am willing to discuss my situation and answer any questions that anyone may have. I will check back daily to see what comments, if any, have been left.

    For now, I will remain anonymous. However, as this discussion progresses and spirits of people are revealed I may decide to become more open with my name and such.

    Thanks.

  22. Marie says:

    Anonymous:
    Thank you for your willingness to answer questions. I cannot imagine how hard it might be to even begin to discuss this with us. I know this might be a broad question, but how did it happen (or how did it get the point where there was no turning back)? For me, I think understanding how things happen allows me to not only deal with these kids of situations, but also how to help keep others out of them. Thanks!

  23. Brian Nicklaus says:

    as a young minister, I would appreciate any advice from anonymous, about things to avoid, (without any personal details) how to be careful, how easy is it to sneak up on you, how much do you think it builds up over time, etc.

    thanks for your openness

  24. Anonymous says:

    I appreciate the questions and the opportunity to share my experience in hopes that my example may help someone avoid the same type of mistake.

    Looking back, I can see that I was very discouraged with preaching. There were several things that contributed to my being discouraged, but the primary reason was that I felt like an overpaid babysitter. It felt like I was being asked to do everything except teach the lost. You know the routine, visit the hospitals, check on the sick, make your rounds to each family of the congregation, keep regular office hours, counsel and so forth. Needless to say, I became discouraged and stressed. I wanted to resign but was informed by my wife that we couldn’t afford for me to. Which, in all honesty, made me feel even more like a high priced babysitter.

    The problem was that there wasn’t anyone I could talk to. As the minister I was supposed to be strong. I was the one everyone came to when they needed help. Weaknesses in me were not permitted. I needed someone to talk to. I needed to talk about anything the job that was frustrating me. I needed to be heard and encouraged. But, I couldn’t find any. So, I began venturing out of the religious chat rooms that I frequented and started talking to just regular people in regular rooms. I needed to talk about anything that wasn’t associated with my job. However, when I informed them that I was a minister each quickly left the conversation. Therefore, I began leaving that part out, because I was needing someone to talk to. Long story short, after about three years of just chatting with different people from different places I met someone who shared so many things in common with me. The more we talked, the more comfortable I felt.

    Next thing I know, we met, spent several hours talking and laughing. I left thinking that she was an incredible person. Soon, I told her that I needed to tell her something, that I was a minister. We met and next thing I know we were having our affair. Looking back, I should have seen it coming. However, I was needing somone to talk to so badly that I didn’t pay attention to anything but our conversations.

    Both marriages were ruined. I lost both my children, she lost her son. Both of us paid dearly for our sins. I left the church, she wasn’t a christian. Five years later, I have been restored, she has become a Christian.

    I will stop here and await your comments and questions.

  25. Marie says:

    I can see how having a support system can help so much. Having someone who you can talk to really does make a difference. I know I fail many times to encourage those that serve me and help me grow in Christ. This has struck a chord in me to make more of an effort to help and encourage more. I may be reading between the lines, but were you unable to talk to your wife? Thank you for being open and letting us get a glimpse of how these things happen and can possibly be prevented!

  26. Anonymous says:

    It is not reading through the lines on your part to ask that question. We had been married for 15 years, and, in the course of that time had spent 10+ years involved in ministry. We were doing good works, but we grew apart. Our communication wasn’t what it should have been.

    But, when it came to discussing my frustrations and desire to resign as a minister and acquire a secular job, there really wasn’t much communication at all as she couldn’t see us being able to make it financially. To her, my quitting wasn’t an option until I could finish my degree and acquire the education I needed to get a higher paying job. Up to that time all my education had been in ministry, which is a good thing, just not useful in the job world.

    Communication is key to maintaining a healthy relationship.

    Ministers are like everyone else – they are human. As such, they are subject to the same temptations, emotions, fears and such. They are weak vessels, maybe more educated in spiritual things and definitely responsible for their actions, but the same as everyone else. And, in that position, probably more of a target for satan than the typical person. After all, if satan can get him to fall, look at his prize – the body reacts in horror, shuns rather than reaches out, and we could go on.

    Enough said for the moment. Thanks for your question.

  27. Laymond says:

    Paula, when a man gets up before a group and declares he is a leader, he should be held to a higher standard, and I believe GOD does just that, If you read your bible we are told when we claim leadership we are not only accountable for our own sins but for the souls we lead into distruction. I know we all should be an example, but when leaders lead right or wrong some people will follow. If your actions dishearted some you are responsible.

  28. Anonymous says:

    laymond,

    I don’t think anyone has stated that those who commit such sins are not accountable or responsible for their sins. Everyone will give account for their sins unless those sins are covered by the blood of Christ.

    I do have one question for you. You stated that God holds leaders to a higher standard than he does those who are not leaders. And, according to James, I would agree with this statement. BUT, do you think God makes forgiveness for leaders more difficult to obtain than he does for non leaders? Do you believe in levels of forgiveness?

    The problem, in my opinion, is that humans tend to classify sins in different categories. We determine our acceptance of people, and even our level of forgiveness extended toward people, based on the type of sin they have committed. This is a very sad and non-biblical practice that needs to stop.

    The problem in Christianity today is that too many of us are playing our stained-glass masquerade rather than living our faith.

    I appreciate your comments, I just question your application.

  29. Anonymous says:

    one more comment,

    I think that the thing that frustrates people the most is that it doesn’t seem fair that a leader who commits such sins can be forgiven and then seem to be blessed at the same time if he continues in some leadership capacity.

    Forgiveness isn’t about what is fair, it is about grace extended from a loving Father through a sacrifice we could have never offered on our own, and definitely don’t deserve.

    If it makes anyone feel any better, I struggled with the thought that God would forgive me for my sins. Intellectually I knew it was available, emotionally I couldn’t bring myself to believe his grace was for me, it seemed to good to be true. And, in all honesty, it is! I sinned, I don’t deserve and never will deserve forgiveness. Fortunately, God longs to forgive sinners and welcome home prodigals.

    As our minister states, “God is more concerned about your future than He is with your past, and so are we.” He may have borrowed that from someone, but nevertheless, it is a great statement.

  30. Diane says:

    As one who was abused sexually at the age of 17 by a youth pastor, I have to ask what about helping the victim? With abuse and the shame that follows it, years of therapy are needed, but who can afford years of therapy? $175 a session for 52 weeks adds up quickly. And that is just one year. I have been in therapy for 6 years and still occasionally deal with the effects of the abuse. Fortunately for me, I returned to college and received 5 years of intense therapy for the cost of my semester student fees. It is a long and arduous journey growing free of the abuse’s effect.

    Yes, God is a God of grace and I do not wish harm to befall my purpetrator, however a teacher would have her license revoked. Why should a pastor receive any different consequence. There is too much at stake for another chance without a great deal of evidence and support for reinstalling the pastor. Inpatient therapy is a good start followed by outpatient therapy for years to come.

    For the pastor asking for suggestions, keep a good healthy life separate from your ministry. And perhaps most important of all, do not become an emotional island. Find friends outside of your church – other pastors. Those who can meet your emotional needs. An emotionally healthy, rested, and listened to person finds it much easier to keep boundaires where they belong. Plan how you are going to respond when someone flirts with you. Be prepared to remain kind but have firm boundaries. And if you know you have an internal problem get therapy before it becomes external. Even if you don’t think you have a problem – getting a well checkup can’t hurt. Sometimes we have holes in our armour that we can’t see.

  31. TREY MORGAN says:

    Diane,

    Thank you so much for the comments about the struggles you had. I pray God has blessed you during your tough times. My heart hurts for you.

    I also pray that the church was able to minister to you, love you and bless you. That was the point of the post, that the church not turn their backs on any of those involved in this.

    Blessings

About Me

Trey Morgan Here are my thoughts about marriage, family, raising children, humor, faith and the life God intended for us all. I am a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. My wife Lea and I have been married for 25 years. We are doing our best to raise our 4 boys, who are all growing up way too fast.

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Trey Morgan
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Husband, father and cancer survivor & Senior Minister for the Childress Church of Christ. Tweets about life, marriage, Texas Rangers and randomness.
  • good list. Don't forget Nickelback, OJ, ISIS and beer-throwing Blue Jay fans.
  • He was pretty tough to listen to as well.
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  • Please remember that some Christmas music is incredibly offensive to people with grandmothers who actually were run over by reindeer.
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