“I wish my husband was more like you.” — This is the most dangerous sentence I have heard (in one form or another) multiple times throughout my ministry. Sometimes it is worded differently because it comes from a single woman who “would love to meet someone like you.” Sometimes the scary sentence is actually made up of a series of compliments over weeks or months—“Your sermons mean so much,” with a gentle touch on the shoulder. Rarely, the statements come in the form of a full-out assault from a young woman who looks for opportunities to compliment you and hug you in front of your wife (but yes, we actually experienced that one time).
Now, I know that as I write this some hear me saying that women are evil manipulators, but that is not my intention at all. In fact, I would say that most of the women who have ever put me into awkward situations with their compliments or actions have done so without ill intention. Often they are hurting women in troubled marriages that perceive the preacher on a stage as the embodiment of much that they are missing. Regardless of the intention on the part of those expressing gushing compliments, a man can find himself in the middle of a conundrum.
As men, we enjoy having our egos stroked. As leaders, we are encouraged when people respond well to our leadership. As a result, we must be aware that the weaknesses that our biology and our positions leave us with make us vulnerable to temptation from those who look up to us. Our flesh is often weak even when our spirit is willing.
There are steps that every minister should take to protect himself and those around him from moral failure. They include accountability in counseling, never being alone with people of the opposite sex in a room without a window, etc. However, I’ve found a few steps that are important in situations where boundary lines have potentially been crossed (intentionally or unintentionally).
How to Respond to the Most Dangerous Sentence in Ministry
1. Tell your wife.
When I counsel with women, I share with them that I plan to share their situation with my wife. I trust her counsel for the lives of others and I trust her to hold me accountable. (Of course, my wife also keeps me humble by reminding me in these situations that I am not God’s gift to women.)
2. The moment that a woman utters a version of the terrifying sentence written above, I immediately look for an exit.
If it is a counseling session, I look for a way to bring it to a close. If it is in a hallway in the church building, I bring the conversation to an immediate end. In these situations I no longer offer individual counseling, I will offer to counsel with a married couple, with my wife present, or with another member of our church staff.
3. Seek out accountability.
Share your concerns with a trusted leader in your church or another staff member who can help ensure you are never alone—even in a hallway—with a person who has made any kind of advance.
4. Seek the welfare of the other person.
A person who is hurting needs help. Remember that you are not the only person who can offer help to the hurting. Pass them along to another woman or a different counselor for help and ministry.
This is not an exhaustive list, and I’m sure that some may have other suggestions. The most important thing to remember is not which list to follow, but simply to have a plan in place before the need arises. As a professor used to tell me, “In the middle of the storm is no time to stake the tent.”