When the Pastor Has an Affair

February 6, 2017

It happens too frequently.

It can be the lead pastor or any church staff member.

And too many churches do not handle such tragedy well.

But many churches do. Allow me to share some of the best responses I have heard from churches that have gone through this tragic time.

  1. Terminate with compassion. Almost without exception, the pastor is terminated. But termination does not have to be without compassion. The pastor’s family will need financial provisions; thus many churches provide compassionate severances. And though pastors have full responsibility for their sins, they are hurting as well. Tough love and compassionate love are in order here.
  2. Don’t forget the pastor’s family. They have felt the greatest amount of betrayal. They are humiliated and hurt. This person they likely held in high esteem has fallen hard. The family needs compassion, love, attention, and counseling. Many church members do not know what to say, so they say nothing. I know one church member who sent the spouse and the children a simple handwritten note: “I have not forgotten you. I am here for you. I am praying for you.” It made all the difference in the world.
  3. Be forthright with the congregation. The rumors are often worse than reality. You don’t have to give the sordid details. But the church needs to know the pastor was terminated because of moral failure. Speak to the congregation succinctly, honestly, and compassionately.
  4. Provide resources for reconciliation. God’s ideal plan is for the couple to stay together—to make it through this terrible ordeal. The church can be an instrument of that process back to reconciliation. The church can provide the resources so that the couple can get strong Christian counseling. The process should also be one that seeks restoration for the pastor. That restoration may not mean that pastors are restored to their former office; it does mean the path should include a way to be restored to the congregation.
  5. Don’t forget the pain of the congregation. Many of them feel betrayed. Most of them feel hurt. Find ways to minister to the members for the next several months as they deal with this issue.
  6. Begin a ministry of prayer for this situation. I have been so encouraged to see some churches actually deal with this issue through a specific prayer ministry. One church offered a prayer and reconciliation time after every service. It only lasted a few minutes, and attendance was totally voluntary. But the responses were incredible, both in numbers attending and in the way people were impacted. The church began this ministry with a stated goal of continuing it for three months. It made a huge difference in the healing impact on the church.

When the pastor has an affair, it is a tragedy of huge proportions. But the church can respond biblically, redemptively, and compassionately.

It the midst of this awful situation, the church has the opportunity truly to be the body of Christ.

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127 Comments

  • Always amazes me that nothing is said about the family of the other cheater. nothing about supporting them or the other spouse. They are left out seen as some disease or defect.

  • Leonard says on

    First and foremost, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 should not be called “qualifications”, a better term might be “characteristics”. The fact of the matter is when it comes to adultery SBC churches (and other denominations) often flip out, but do not even consider the rest of the passage such as not violent, not quarrelsome and children in submission with reverence. None of us are above reproach without God’s grace – period! We see this in the Word. Peter denied even knowing the Lord Jesus not once but three times. One could argue that’s worse than an affair. Peter was not only restored to fellowship but to ministry and not just ministry but leadership (cf. John 21:15-19; Acts 2:14-46).

    I’m not saying every pastor who has a moral failure should immediately go back into a leadership role but to say a person is disqualified because of a moral failure is inconsistent with Scripture. People who feel that way should perhaps examine themselves – pride is what led sin entering the world in the first place. You not I are EVER above reproach without God’s daily and continuous dose of grace (cf. Isaiah 64:6).

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