When the Pastor Has an Affair

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.

Posted on February 6, 2017

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 *


  • Please I will like an article that will enlighten Church leaders & workers on ‘how to prevent affairs’ and ‘Signs that an affair is looming”; Something proactive to save the church from the devastating effect of affairs or better called adultery. Many times, the lure to adultery and fornication among church leaders and workers is subtle, and hardly planned.

  • A study was done on the harmful effects clients face when having sex with a therapist. How much more damaging it is when it is clergy.

  • SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) explains why it is not an affair, but an abuse of power, whenever clergy have sex with a congregant.

  • Here is a great explanation of why pastors should not return to leadership after having sex with another woman.

  • It is truly amazing how self absorbed the US churches are today. Celebrity Pastors, mega churches, affairs, endless courses on a better life in Christ, etc. According to reliable sources over 100,000 Christians were martyred for their faith in 2016, in North Korea alone their are 100,000 Christians imprisoned for their faith, and we are consumed with our churches, our lives, our marriages, our children, our blessings, our sins, it is sad and pathetic. Woe, to the USA and the church

    • Exactly. On my own time twice a week, I go to the large homeless camps in my city at night and help where I can. I am a certified first-aid instructor as well, so I do basic medical ‘first-aid’ work there as well. Changing dressings……..stuff like that……

      So one night, I crawl up under an overpass because I noticed three men there. Two were noticeably beat up. One covered and smeared with human excrement. Evidently, these homeless men were ‘ex-communicated’ from the larger homeless camps. Why? They were convicted sex offenders that;s why. I don’t know the charges or what they did but they were convicted sex offenders……..the ‘homeless street justice’ even set these folks apart from the rest of the homeless………….they were not even allowed to live with the rest of the homeless.

      I help treat the two’s wounds, bruises. I get water and help was the excrement off the other. I didn’t ask “what they did exactly” or “how long ago”

      My own disgust rose in me thinking about what these men did to children, teenagers, or some other horrid situation.

      Yet, here they are now. It’s the past. A bad choice, a terrible choice and they live with this sin forever in this world. Doesn’t matter if Jesus forgives……..the rest of this life they have the consequence of this sin. The world, court, and society will never forget nor forgive. Even if they became the ‘holiest’ and ‘set apart’ of men.

      Understandable? Perhaps so, but that still does not and did not stop me from Christ’s perfect love of serving them. Giving them a moment of dignity. All of claimed that they had become Christian, and repented. There were Bibles in their small camp that were ear marked, dog eaten and you could tell were being read.

      Asking them if they were attending church would have been insulting and stupid on my part. Of course they were not. Their stipulations require them to not be around children……so that rules out church…..and frankly, even if they kept “secret” and came……..who would accept filthy men in rags who can’t get a job anywhere now, can’t use a bus, be near a school, or library, or any place that may have children nearby.

      Many will say “good” they deserve to live like that, and be shunned like that. Perhaps so, but that does not excuse Christians from at least attending to them where they are. What of the “lepers” of Christ’s day? The ones who no one wanted to be near out of fear, or viewing their leprosy as something “they must have done to be cursed by God this way”

      What happens when persecution comes to us? How many of us professing Believers may indeed be FORCED to live in situations like this in the near future? How many Christians around the world live this for much lesser societal crimes?

      I say this to not bring glory to myself. I say this to not strike sympathy for this terrible sin. I say it for the fact that OUTSIDE your church walls of tele-screens, nice teeth, arms outstretched in praise, heating / air conditioning……..there is a world of pure evil that needs us. We would rather speak on trite topics, talk about committees, go on and on and on about something not being “fair” in our churches. Would rather discuss a ‘severance package’ for a pastor who has committed adultry………..victims rights, entitlement…………really useless stuff. Thanks Daniel for bringing the light back to earth to us, if not for a moment

    • Daniel,
      Eternal lives are at stake when clergy have sex with congregants. Because we aren’t being killed for being people of faith does not lessen the damage done to countless souls who are being abused by their spiritual leaders. I’m not understanding your point here. Are you wanting us to ignore clergy sexual abuse because people are being martyred in other countries?
      God cares about clergy sexual abuse. God cares about pastors who are abusing their power to meet their own needs. God cares about those who are severely damaged by their spiritual leaders. God cares when His church is not seeking justice and righteousness.
      God calls us to seek justice, to defend the powerless, the vulnerable, the wounded.
      Woe to us when we don’t help the hurting, especially those who are hurt by the church.

  • We are reconciled to God only if we repent. I am concerned that pushing reconciliation obscures the priority of repentance first. It feeds into an unhealthy and ungodly, IMO, message that divorce is more problematic to God than adultery. In other words, I am of the opinion of talking about supporting reconciliation of the marriage without reference to requiring evidence of repentance from the cheating party is putting the cart before the horse.

  • I assume we are defining the word “affair” as a physical, sexual relationship or one-time act with someone other than your spouse.

    However, what about Pastors who are struggling with pornography or something like online anonymous chat rooms?

    This may be a whole different discussion, but do the same principles apply?

    I believe all sins carry the same eternal consequence, but different earthly consequences. So are internet-based “affairs” (no physical involvement) treated the same or differently?

    I also would say they may be handled with more grace if the Pastor confesses proactively before being found out.


    • I believe the context of this article is addressing misconduct with an actual person.

      You bring up an excellent point, that I hope Thom might address in a separate blog post? Pastors and those in ministry get ensnared with pornography and it usually doesn’t stop there – it progresses to acting out. All you have to do is watch To Catch a Predator or a similar TV show to see how slippery a slope it is. Like I noted in a previous post, a lot of pastors are not required to account for their time like a regular employee, and the boredom and/or stress of ministry can be a catalyst for seeking out pornography.

      If you are a pastor reading this comment and you are caught up in pornography, get help. Don’t think you can keep it a secret. It will leak out into your life in many ways and it will be noticed. There is a ministry called New Life that runs a workshop every month called Every Man’s Battle – for those who struggle with sexual purity. Pastors can go for FREE! They take this so seriously that they want to help pastors break free and live lives of character and purity. Don’t ruin your testimony over dirty pictures – don’t destroy your wife’s self esteem and her trust. Get help. http://newlife.com/workshops/every-mans-battle/

  • My husband has been a Southern Baptist Worship Pastor for 30+ years, we’ve been married for 27+ years. After multiple affairs, and found out, in 2008 he confessed to me, our family and our church. Our Senior Pastor and church choose to restore him back to ministry after much time of healing. Our Pastor said to my husband, “If you cannot be restored then there is no hope for the rest of us.” I realize that all situations are different, but having walked through Biblical restoration along side of my husband I saw for the first time in our ministerial lives, restoration walked out the right way and it works! I hope and pray that more churches would choose restoration for their staff. What does it say to a lost world, as they usher their Pastor/staff person out the door upon finding out that they have sinned? The easy road is to usher him out the door. The hard road is to spend time with him and his family and allowing him to be restored back to ministry. We really need to re-think this process as a church at large. It’s a beautiful thing for the spouse to forgive, the church to forgive and for it to be properly done. It caused revival in our church. The loving kindness of Christ will lead them to repentance. (Romans 2:4) I have seen this first hand. There is a better way. I applaud you for bringing an awareness to the family and to the hurting congregation. Keeping the Truth out in the open is a wise move. The truth is painful but it is very necessary for the church body to heal. I encourage our churches to chose the higher road of restoration.

    • Yvette – I agree and disagree with some things that you said, only because in the context of your story, your husband was the worship pastor, and not the lead pastor. I Timothy 3:1-7 says that if anyone who seeks to be an overseer (leader) of the church, he seeks a noble task. Along with that task comes GREAT responsibility. Along with that responsibility, comes a GREAT accountability. When an overseer (pastor) is no longer above reproach – which means he is no longer without accusation & his testimony is compromised, he is no longer fit to lead. A pastor who commits adultery, which in most cases is abuse because the relationship was with a congregant, he has forfeited his right to lead. It’s harsh – yes – because God takes very seriously the office of overseer and the qualifications are higher than any other position in ministry. If the church treasurer stole thousands of dollars from the church, would you reinstate that person in the same position, even after a period of ‘restoration’? Of course not! That person has broken trust in such a way that they can never be restored to the position of treasurer. If we as a church would take so harsh a stance in this case, why would we take a more relaxed stance when the pastor breaks a SACRED trust? The same would apply if someone was convicted of child molestation. While that person could seek restoration through repentance & specialized therapy, he/she would never be allowed to interact with children ever again. In laymans terms, the punishment must fit the crime. Our own secular justice system imposes degrees of punishment depending on the crime. In God’s economy, the punishment and consequence of a lead pastor falling is that he is no longer fit to lead and must be removed from leadership. I encourage you to scroll up the comments to Jim, who posted on 2/8 – he is a pastor who spoke the truth boldly in regards to fallen pastors.

  • First Satan knows the Pastor’s weaknesses. When tested, the Pastor will learn if he is cut out for the job. If he can walk away from that temptation, he is worthy of his calling. If he fails, he should resign and find a less tempting profession. As has been so clearly stated, that moral failure will leave victims and pain. Adultery happens when a person finds love outside of marriage, but it’s not love because there is no commitment., no sacrificial love, it’s lust and a false imitation of love. Lust uses and love gives.

    • Exactly, Jo. If you cannot stand up under sexual temptation, you are NOT qualified. Also, if you are insecure, you are not qualified. Abusive pastors continually compare themselves to David, as did my pastor as well. They said, “David didn’t step down, why should I?” First of all, David was not a pastor, but a king. Secondly, David’s heart was after God’s own heart. He truly repented. Clergy who have sex with congregants are not repenting. My own abuser blamed everyone and everything but himself. The reason was, he did have have the character of David, but had the character traits of Saul. He was insecure. He was unable to complement other ministries and constantly built up himself and his children. He held a narcissistic tone, which includes insecurity. That is a very big common trait among predator pastors. Third, David’s life was filled with death and bloodshed after he abused Bathsheba. If you want to compare yourself to David, then accept the consequences, one being removed from the pulpit, because the damage caused was so extensive, eternal lives are at stake.

    • By shifting blame to demons, you allow room for predators to operate. Just so you know. Demons aren’t responsible for all these sexual scandals and abuses coming to light. Demons don’t make men “fall” into affairs or tempt people into doing wrong. If that were so, then surely Christians would, above all people, be far more trustworthy than anyone else–for they claim to be filled with the spirit of a truly moral, loving, grace-filled god. When I was Christian, I openly scoffed at people who were scared to death of curses and the nonstop claims of demons going around at the time (the Satanic Panic). I knew that if Jesus were with me, then nobody could stand against me.

      Turns out I was just raised right. Who’d’a thunk that stops demons so cold in their tracks?

  • Promise my last comment. I would also look at your hiring and interviewing processes. Let me explain because probably not what you think. For churches where elders and pastors are only men ( not the issue I’m discussing so please don’t comment on that issue) they run the risk or ignoring signs and behaviour women would notice in a moment. Unfortunately men are sometimes impressed with credentials power and success but lack the deep intensity of sensing the inconsistencies. I am an executive in an international healthcare company and we also have mixed panels of men and women, young and older leaders on major hiring decisions. I have an extremely high trust factor when someone says they are uncomfortable with a candidate but not quite sure why.
    I have seen elder board being a candidate that they are thrilled with and I watch their wives faces who are struggling to be charitable about a candidate they have a strong distaste for in their souls.
    Maybe your all male board makes the final decision but you ignore the wisdom of Your fellow female leaders at your own peril.

  • “[I]f anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”

    “Above reproach” – John Calvin said this regarding “blamelessness”, “he (the elder) must not be marked by any infamy that would lessen his authority.” Once the criminal act is done, his authority is crushed.

    Let’s not make excuses for our sinful behavior pastors. If we have had a moral failing, we must fire ourselves from our current and future duties as minister’s of the Gospel. Don’t wait to be found out. Don’t wait for the leadership to fire us. Do it ourselves. Write our own termination papers and leave, never to set foot in another pulpit. All trust that we have gained over the years is lost instantly; never to be regathered.

    The bigger we are, the harder we fall, but we don’t fall in some remote setting. We fall on those we have personally abused in the affair, and on the congregation, and our wives, our children, our parents, our friends, and also on the next pastor whom the people will view as a future, potential failure not to be fully trusted.

    We leave a path of destruction that lasts a lifetime for those whom we have hurt.

    Find a job in the secular world. Join a local church body. Serve in that church and keep your mind and body and soul on Christ.

    • Jim your post is outstanding and you so pointedly appealed to the fallen pastor to step down, as he should. I applaud you for taking this stance (and stand) in regards to this issue. Thank you

      • I echo Anna’s comment! It is rare to hear such truth on a site such as this one, where the majority of love and support is geared toward the one who abused his position of great power, ignoring the one most hurt.

        If you want to be a spiritual leader, you should be humble and aware that if you abuse your power, you disqualified yourself. God does not need you that much that you are able to return to the role you betrayed. If you think God needs you, that is a huge red flag and every congregation should be aware of this mindset.

        True repentance will cause an abuser to stay away from the pulpit where he will hurt another child of God’s.

    • MourningManyofThesePosts says on

      I read your post and found the Scriptures to be beautiful. But it appears that the application of those Scriptures to be merciless.

      You quoted… “Above reproach” – John Calvin said this regarding “blamelessness”, “he (the elder) must not be marked by any infamy that would lessen his authority.” Once the criminal act is done, his authority is crushed..

      John Calvin is not Christ!

      Can God not resurrect someone from the ash heap of their own sin? Yes! He resurrects all who He elects. He has chosen fallen people to be preachers and prophets – Moses a murderer. Noah a drunkard. Sampson a promiscuous man. Hosea – the husband of a prostitute/promiscuous woman. Abraham – a liar. Jacob – a thief and a liar. Judah – slept with what he thought was a prostitute (Tamar). King and Prophet David – adultery with Bathsheba and killing Uriah. Peter – denied he ever knew Jesus. The other 10 disciples ran for their lives! Peter would later side with the Jews and move back toward the LAW and not towards salvation by grace through faith and Paul told Peter, “You are a condemned man.” Saul – a killer of Christians and imprisoner of the same.

      Thanks be to God who can unscramble eggs and can work good out of everything!

      Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11

      Praise be to God!