For the last few months the news has been full of horrific stories of sexual harrasment and even sex crimes against women, men and, in some cases, children. Prominent men, from senators to actors to Hollywood producers, have been exposed as sexual predators.
Sadly, in the church world, it’s not that much different. I’ve heard it far too many times over the last 30 years of ministry, “So and so was just accused of a sexual crime”…or…”a moral failure” or something to that effect.
Mostly it’s been pastors or youth leaders I didn’t know well, if at all. But there have been a handful of times it’s been men I did know. The closer the connection, the harder it is to believe and the more difficult it is to process.
Over the last three decades I even had a ministry friendship with a few leaders who ended up being arrested on sex crime charges. My heart dropped and stomach sickened when I heard the shocking news of their arrests.
One of the most devastating phone calls I’ve ever received was from a wife whose youth pastor husband had cheated on her with a teenaged girl who was staying in their house. Her husband was a friend of mine and someone I had been pouring into personally and on a ministry level. I looked at him as a next level leader in the making. I saw in him the potential to be a key leader in the Gospel Advancing movement.
But all of that came crashing down with that dreaded, painful phone call. And, worse than that, he left a devastated wife, disillusioned kids and a destroyed youth group in the wake of his sinful choices.
It’s really weird when “they” (the perpetrators and perverts you read about in the news) turn out to be someone you know…and like. It’s hard to reconcile the person you thought you knew with the headline you just read about them in the news.
When the news came out about Matt Lauer’s firing over sexual misconduct, his co-host, Savannah Guthrie, was visibly shaken as she shared the news on the NBC Today Show, “We just learned this moments ago, just this morning. As you can imagine we are devastated and still processing all this.”
That’s how I felt when I heard the news about my ministry friends who fell. Scars were made for a lifetime by the selfish, sexual crimes of these men.
I know there can be forgiveness for the perpetrators and healing for the sexual abuse victims through Jesus Christ. But, both the reception of this forgiveness and true acceptance of God’s healing can often be a painfully long road.
So how do we as ministry leaders protect ourselves from being caught up in a moral failure? The easy answer is “safeguards” but, as the story I’ll close with will demonstrate, safeguards are not nearly enough.
I’ll never forget when I was a young pastor at a church in Denver and running, what was then, a brand new ministry Dare 2 Share. Somebody paid for me to go to a small pastor’s conference in Colorado Springs. Little did I know that God would use this conference, and the man speaking at it, to impact my life in a big way.
The speaker was an expert at counseling struggling pastors. He had shepherded hundreds of spiritual shepherds from all across America, many of whom had fallen into sexual immorality of some sort or another. He was at this conference to help us pastors fight against the insidious enemy called “lust” and to perserve the integrity of our lives and the pulpits we preach from on a weekly basis.
After he was introduced he took the podium and asked the question, “How many of you pastors have some sort of boundaries when it comes to counseling members of the opposite sex? For instance, you won’t counsel a woman alone or with the door of your office shut or something like that?”