Seven Warning Signs of Affairs for Pastors and Other Church Staff

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.

Posted on January 29, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Mercy Winfrey says on

    Hi my pastor is acting strange it has been two years. He first sent a message ” I miss this Woman” this was before I joined his church , I did not respond. This was two months after I had attended the school of ministry at his church. I started attending this church last year for some other reason and had completely forgotten about the message. It was all good and he called me to see him after church. This is done in the church hall where everyone is there waiting to talk to him. When it was my turn he said I must move my chair closer. He asked what I wanted God to do for I told him and he asked if thats all I want, I nodded. He then said there is something in his heart and he will send me a message after praying, he never did. I moved on and earlier this year he was praying for me and he said in his prayer ” Lord open her heart to accept what you are about to tell her”. I don’t know what this is I did not ask. What he does is avoid me when I ask him about my dreams or if I need advice. Why would he do this?

  • Anthony Conway says on

    Thank you for your spiritual insight, it is profoundly on point exposure to these insights will educate pastors and if followed it can save not only marriages but ministries and churches world wide. Thank you again.

  • Just a girl. says on

    About 6 months ago things got carried away between my pastor and I. I tried to say no but gave in. We stopped but it’s been extremely hard to carry on with normal church activities. I’ve prayed and tried to do what’s right from there. But I’m so broken and confused I don’t know where to go from here. Please help. I’m single with 2 kids heavily involved in the church. I don’t want to be there now but they love it. I need advice please

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Please contact someone who is familiar with sex abuse in the church and let them know of your situation. The situation you described is classic sex abuse by your pastor. I am praying for you right now.

  • what to do when you know your own pastor having sexual affair with older woman/ single woman / married woman with all church members. And you cant say anything about it to anyone. Messing with all woman. yet can stand in pulpit to pray for others and give communion. does he has fear of God?

    • You should leave a letter with one of the elders or senior members (anonymously)
      If you fear God yourself then the pastor and the women should be held accountable or stop what they are doing.
      Or you could speak to your pastor directly and tell him you know what he is doing.

1 6 7 8