Seven Warning Signs of Affairs for Pastors and Other Church Staff

January 29, 2014

The conversation is always sad, always tragic. The pastor who left his church after a two-year affair with another church member. The student pastor who has been out of vocational ministry since he had a brief sexual encounter with his assistant.

I have spoken with countless numbers of these men and women. And each time I am reminded of how much I need to love God with all my heart, and to be totally devoted to my wife.

Though the conversations are both sad and tragic, I do learn from them. And after dozens, perhaps a few hundred, of these conversations, I see patterns. These patterns become warning signs for any of us, lest we be so naïve to think we have no vulnerabilities.

Because the conversations were informal, I cannot say for certain which among them were the most frequent warning signs. So I provide them in no particular order.

  1. “I neglected my family.” Church work can become a deceitful mistress (I struggle to find the male equivalent of the word). We become so consumed with our ministry that we neglect our families. But 1 Timothy 3:5 is clear that our families are our first ministries.
  2.  “I had no system of accountability.” Unfortunately, most churches do not have clear guidelines for accountability. That does not excuse any of us from making sure that we have such self-imposed guidelines, and that our spouses know about them as well.
  3. “It 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 of the parties see the other as something his or her spouse should be.
  4. “My co-worker and I began to confide in one another on a deep level.”  The conversations between two people who work together become 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.
  5. “I began neglecting my time in prayer and daily Bible reading.” I am reticent to make a blanket statement, but I have never met a person who was praying and reading his or her Bible daily that became involved in an affair. Prayer and time in the Word are intimacy with God that precludes inappropriate intimacy with someone of the opposite gender.
  6. “He or she made me feel so 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 gender. The good feelings that come with accolades or even adulation can become sexual attractions and traps that end in an affair.
  7. “It began on a trip together.” When a man and 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. Call me old fashioned, but I won’t ever travel in the car alone with a woman other than my wife (even at my old age). 

The conversation is always sad, always tragic. And do you know what the most common theme I’ve heard in all of these conversations?

“I never thought this would happen to me.”

Sobering indeed.

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191 Comments

  • I am worried because my pastor is having a child with someone’s wife and he is still cheating at his ministry
    What shall we do to avoid that at church

  • Betty Lyapa says on

    This is very refreshin

  • Mike Laughlin says on

    I agree with others here in that sexual contact between a church leader and anyone else in the congregation regardless of age is sexual abuse. We are led to believe that its only sexual abuse involving a minor or mentally handicapped person. Otherwise its “consenting”. When there is a sexual relationship between a leader and anyone else it is first and foremost an abuse of the leader’s power. It can never be “consenting”.

    I reported suspected abuse between an associate pastor and college age students under his care. It did not go well for me. I was ostracised, told it couldn’t have happened, told “we will look into it” (they didn’t). I was dealing with a church of 5000 members and a very popular minister. They took what I had to report as a threat to the leadership. I became a lightning rod. All I did was go to elders and pastors to get leaders to listen. After more frustration at the district level I went to the national level of the denomination (Presbyterian) and that put pressure on the church to deal with it. In the end the perp and senior leadership left within a couple years. A sexual abuse policy was instituted. What did I gain? I lost every friend I had there. My wife lost her ministry. We were told to leave. I had to go in for counseling for loss of sleep and anxiety . It was very very difficult. That all said don’t be surprised if your reporting isn’t taken seriously or comes back at you. To keep pushing for accountability may cost you dearly. But it will speak into your life at the same time as you could be stripped of everything you hold dear in your church. It is costly, but for me it was carrying the cross and worth it in the end. It was a victory that no one shared with me. I had to walk away and find a another church (and friends). Had I not confronted this, the abuse would have continued and I couldn’t have lived with that.

  • Good questions. And with so many unfaithful women these days it is very risky for many of us men that were very faithful to get married all over again. Been there myself.

  • Good questions. And with so many unfaithful women these days it is very risky for many of us men that were very faithful to get married all over again. Been there myself.

  • Jim Bigg says on

    The pastor of my church admitted to me that he is having an emotional affair with another church staff member. It has been going on for 18 months.

    Has he disqualified himself for ministry? Do I tell the leadership? Do I tell the congregation? Do I tell his wife?

    • NO woman are not valued as Christ would have them. They are told they are secondary. If a wife and husband pastor together it is better. Yet we are told we can’t pastor or be elders . I use to believe that until Christ showed me I am a completely new creature. I am not secondary in ministry or anything to men.God purposely picked women to announce the resurrection proving this point.It is complicated to explain. Men get caught up in the boys club woman end up serving man and they become distant. They then find another woman to confide in. Someone that feels equal in the work. If this stupid notion of woman were addressed adultery would drop however it would never completely go away because foolish men and woman fall for this all the time. I personally agree with the Four Square Church were woman are equal to men. Pastors and their wives should work together if they want. If not then the men should not commit adultery or have the courage to divorce their wives and leave the ministry. But lets be real People stink we all stink because we lie to ourselves. The more self righteous we are the farther we fall. I hate how sin snips at our heals. But it does. God forgives. Women are to blame to. We fall for this role of the submissive dutiful wife and forfiet our relationship with our husbands for a fake “Halmark” life. I have seen it over and over. A phony life versus an open Christian life.

  • I am a member of United state marine corps (USMC) due to my busy schedule I noticed my wife had been using this opportunity to cheat on me but anytime I ask her she will deny and get furious at me until I decided to take my chances to know, knowing is much better than self doubts and its exactly what happened when I requested for the service of (cyberhack005 @gmailcom) to help me check her phone I was able to see all that comes in her phone without touching her phone. I found out she had been visiting her ex boyfriend they meet when she was in college. She was shocked when I revealed the details to her she never believed I could go that far. Thanks cyber hack you are indeed an expert

  • For over 25 years I have served my pastor and church as an assistant pastor holding many duties including being a principal of the church’s Christian school. Recently, I went out to lunch and saw my pastor’s truck in a home improvement parking lot. This was not surprising as he owns a rental property he repairs himself and is regularly flipping houses for additional income. This “side job” takes more of his time than his job at the church. Please keep in mind that he earns over twice as much as the next highest staff member at our church/school. I went into the parking lot and sat in my car eating my lunch waiting for him to come out of the home improvement store. While waiting in my car, he pulls up in another car. The car was driven by a woman (not his wife) that he plays racquetball with three mornings a week. They see me and he drops down in his seat and she drives out of the parking lot. They drive back into the lot about 5 minutes later. He is not visible in the car. She drives behind the home improvement store and later drives back out from behind the store and leaves. 10 minutes later he comes out of the store with a few sheets of drywall and leaves. I confront him about being in the car, and he tells me they are good friends from playing racquetball together and he met her to give her counsel. I am at a loss of what to do. I am quite certain based on this and other evidence that he is having an affair. Proving it to others is much more difficult. I don’t want to hurt the church or his family. Looking for opinions and advise?

    • Danny and Susan says on

      First of all he is NOT having an affair. He is abusing his power and he is abusing this lady. He needs to be reported to the personal committee and removed IMMEDIATELY from his duties. Secondly, the lady being abused needs to be
      Connected with a trained counselor in dealing with Clergy Sexual Misconduct and she needs have a clear understanding of what has happened. The church needs to contact either FaithTrustInstitute.com or healthychurches.com for further guidance on how to deal with this issue. Also Baylor University and the Diana Garland School of Social Work is an excellent resource for further information and research that you and your church and the victim will need while facing this issue. How do know these things. It happened to me! My husband and I are available for any guidance we can provide in helping during this time.

      • David and Susan,
        Thank you for responding. I made the decision to resign and move on. It was the hardest decision I ever met. With, at the time, being the only witness; I decided to leave quietly. Several weeks before we left, another man came forward who had also seen the Pastor alone with this same women. He went to the deacons of the church and then they came to me. I told them everything I knew. They met alone with the Pastor, and he told them he was just trying to help her. They believed him and the discrediting of myself began. God is good. My wife and I found suitable employment, and the Lord reopened the door for us to return to ministry. The Lord is healing our hearts and minds. We are grateful. One thing for sure. Keep your eyes on the Lord, He never fails!

  • So many hurting people. When will the church wake up and hear their cries? When will their voices be heard? When will the Bride of Christ open her eyes to the abuse of her children? When will those who abuse her children be held accountable? Jesus is still weeping.

  • Danny and Susan says on

    Really not very shocking that you chose NOT to post my response to your blog. I am truly dissappointed, as my response really had some quite pointed and educational information, which the SBC clearly and tragically cannot come to terms with or decide ethically how best to address “Predatorial” behavior hidden behind the ordination certificates. I can assure you that my husband and I both intend to fight for True Autonomy in every SBC church rather than the antiquated assumed thought that the church has autonomy, for if the church were truly autonomous, then the local church would have the authority to resend the ordination of an ordained minister who Morally and Spiritually betrays the trust of the people they are called to serve and who takes it upon themselves to Sexually abuse the members of the very “Bride of Christ.” We will also fight for all the women who are needlessly blamed and mocked as the “vixen” and “adultrous” and shunned from the very church that is supposed to love and support her after such an agregious abuse of power. We will further fight for a better reporting mechanism within the SBC and better tracking system of ministers and stricter ethical standards as outlined by the very God we are called to serve.

  • As an author of three books on this topic, also the wife of a retired pastor, I’ve specialized in this work of binding wounds and educating those who are open to being educated, using my skills as a highly-experienced community mental health nurse for years. I invite you to please go deeper into these issues, to look at this not as an affair, but as professional malpractice that continues to occur because others in the profession, as well as members, often collude, not realizing that these so-called “affairs” closely parallel child sexual abuse in many ways. In fact, the victims (often considered “partners”) are often women who were victims of severe childhood trauma, including sexual abuse, in childhood. They are easy prey and often do not have the personal skills to understand boundary crossing. However, no professional belongs in any profession who does not have these skills. That’s the bottom line–be it minister or anyone else.

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