Pastors have affairs. Too often, we forget that pastors are human and they make poor decisions just like everyone else. This includes the choice to cheat on their spouse. Adultery is destructive, and when pastors break their sacred boundaries and abuse those they are supposed to serve, the reasons can be baffling and the aftermath devastating. For all of us, intimacy has several facets, or doors. In every relationship at home, work or play, we open those doors a certain amount as we build trust with one another. Sometimes, we open them inappropriately. These areas of intimacy include physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual and they are all connected. Here are seven ways pastors unintentionally cheat on their spouses:
Not Putting Safeguards on Interactions
It’s important that pastors put safeguards on their interactions, especially with those of the opposite sex. It’s important that pastors meet with parishioners only a limited number of times before referring them to a counselor. They should avoid working alone with someone of the opposite sex – it is better to have multiple members of a team work together if possible. Having a window on the office door allows greater accountability while still allowing for confidential conversation.
Sharing Emotional Burdens With Members of the Opposite Sex
Emotionally, the minister is often the first person to hear about the concerns and heartaches of his congregation. That requires an unusual amount of emotional investment as part of the job. Furthermore, because of confidentiality, he or she often cannot share those emotional burdens with their spouse. That raises natural but definite barriers at home. The minister may also be emotionally fed and affirmed by people who share intimate details and personal emotional concerns. A pastor may begin to reciprocate that emotional investment. Barriers at home and affirmation on the job present a self-reinforcing danger to pastors. They must be very careful where they invest their emotional energy.
Sometimes, the cheating takes place with those on the church staff. Co-workers begin to confide in each other on a deep level. The conversations between two people who work together becomes ones that should be restricted to the marital relationship. At this point, an emotional affair has already begun. Physical intimacy is usually not far away.
Inappropriate Spiritual Intimacy With Members of the Congregation
Spiritual intimacy happens when we pray together and look to each other’s spiritual needs. Spiritual care for others is at the heart of the minister’s role. Spending time with the spiritually fragile, praying over hurting or frightened parishioners, wresting through hardships or hard questions, these are all part of the job, and all push the doors of intimacy just a bit wider. Spiritual intimacy in the home, praying for and with your family, are valuable ways that spiritual intimacy is built. Yet, a pastor’s spouse often sits alone on Sundays and misses the blessing of shared spiritual practice together. As a result, this intimacy is often being built with members of the congregation which can turn into inappropriate relationships. Building spiritual intimacy in the parsonage takes an intentional effort, especially when it’s your day job.
Neglecting Time in Prayer and Daily Bible Reading
It is so important that we are grounded in the Word of God and the practice of prayer. Without this, we are completely lost without direction. If we forget to remind ourselves daily of the absolute trust, we will start to fall into the world’s untruths. Without the truth, we have no direction – you know no compass to rely on. Simply put, without being grounded in the Word of God, we are on a road of destruction. Pastors may find themselves cheating on their spouses after a period of neglecting time in prayer and daily Bible reading. Prayer and time in the Word are intimacy with God that precludes inappropriate intimacy with someone of the opposite sex.
Frequent Traveling With Members Without Their Spouse
"It began on a trip together…" Often, the cheating between a pastor and a member of the church was a result of spending more intimate time together. When a man and a woman travel to the same destination for a work event, conference, or a convention, safeguards need to be established at the onset. A system of accountability, whether informal or formal, can break down when a man and woman are out of town together. Pastors who travel alone with members the opposite sex without their spouse can put themselves in dangerous territory.
Turning to Members of the Opposite Sex to Boost Confidence
"He (or she) made me feel good about myself…" In marriage, neither party thinks the spouse is perfect’ at least it is rare. The danger happens when one becomes a hero to someone of the opposite sex. The hood feelings that come with accolades or even adoration can become sexual attractions and traps that end in an affair.
No Systems of Accountability in Place
Too often churches have little to no systems of accountability in place. The guidelines are not in place and things go haywire. That does not excuse any of us from making sure that we have such self-imposed guidelines, and that our spouses know them as well. You will often hear that the affair between a pastor and a person other than their spouse began in counseling. Sometimes the word “transference” is used to describe what can happen in counseling. The counselor or counselee becomes the object of attraction instead of one’s spouse. One or both parties see the other as something his or her spouse should be.
Cheating can be one of the most devastating things to a marriage and when pastors cheat on their spouses, it can have even greater repercussions, including putting his or her entire ministry in jeopardy. Facing infidelity in your marriage can feel like an insurmountable hurdle. But with commitment, passion, honesty, counseling, a good support system and trust in God, pastors who have been unfaithful can come through an affair with a marriage stronger than it was before.