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.
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  • Michele says on

    What do you recommend when the pastor is having an open (not trying to hide at all) emotional affair, has been approached by deacons and leaders and denies the relationship and won’t stop the behavior? I

  • Gynnie De Jesus says on

    This is a good guide. This servant of God; imperfect, though blessed with reaching a level of clinical mental health counselor, on the last leg of graduate degree internship, and by the grace of God, working that internship in a professional counseling setting of a mega church here in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. Given such a case, and decided to seek some spirituality guidance and reached your Church Answers tread. Great, I will use each point as a guide post to assure that the client is given every opportunity to address as to resolve and or manage this awful occurrence, she must face at each level of human behavior, community life, and leadership; the role as a mother and in such a predicament. Trusting that the Lord is in this mix and again, thank you.

  • 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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