Maintaining Sexual Integrity
In recent years, America has been stung by leaders who have
fallen into sexual impropriety. The Bible clearly defines the
boundaries: abstinence in singleness and fidelity in marriage.
Each act of ministerial indiscretion marks a violation of the
Christian message and its credibility. The good news is that
even though sexual temptation abounds, there are practical things
we can do to lessen the likelihood of falling. While it may take
some intentional effort and discipline on our part, those who
have fallen testify that the pain of self-discipline is far easier
than the pain of regret. Consider the following techniques for
maintaining sexual integrity.
Recognize Your Vulnerability
temptation is no respecter of persons, denominational labels
or leadership positions. Marriage and counseling professor Archibald
Hart advises, “It’s absolutely critical that we assume
we all can fall… Given the right circumstances, each of
us is capable of succumbing. None of us is beyond the reach of
temptation.”1 What pride to believe that sexual sin could
overtake Samson, David, Solomon and a host of modern Christian
leaders, but that we are immune! First Corinthians 10:12 warns, “If
you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t
fall!” (NIV) Ministers who recognize the powerful force
against which they minister, live with the frightening but motivating
knowledge that they are not immune to sexual temptation, and
take appropriate precautions.
No one prepares for a battle of
which they are unaware, and no one wins a battle for which they
do not prepare.
Guard Your Heart
“Above all else, guard
your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23).
Often those who fall into sexual sin can point to lapses in their
practice of the spiritual disciplines and the healthy self-examination
the disciplines foster. Most ministers know this, but in the
busyness of giving out, they can easily neglect the replenishing
of their spiritual reservoirs. Regular, honest heart “checkups” can
prevent this from happening.
Guard Your Mind
A battering ram may
hit a fortress gate a thousand times, and no one time seems
to have an effect, yet, finally, the gate caves in. Likewise,
immorality is the cumulative product of small mental indulgences
and miniscule compromises; the immediate consequences of which
were, at the time, indiscernible. As Romans 12:2 reminds us,
we are “transformed by the renewing” of our minds.
This can be called the principle of displacement. When an impure
thought thrusts itself into our consciousness, we can choose
to replace it with something good or just. “We take captive
every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Without a doubt, being in love with one’s
mate provides the best defense against sexual misconduct. Unfortunately,
many Christian leaders minister in such a way that unless they
make a concerted effort to invest in their marriages, it simply
does not happen. You must intentionally engage in activities
that will build your marriage, consistently working to maintain
spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical closeness with
your spouse. Show how important your family is to you by surrounding
your work environment with reminders of your spouse and children—pictures,
drawings and mementos. Loyalty to your spouse is very important;
try to speak only highly of your spouse in public, and never
downgrade your spouse in front of others.
Guard Your Monitor
to 2001 Justice Department statistics, pornography is a bigger
business than professional football, basketball and major league
baseball combined.2 Sex is the number one reason American adults
use the internet. Conservative estimates claim that a third of
all visits are to sexually oriented websites, chat rooms and
news groups.3 Sadly, the statistics are not much different for
ministers. In recent surveys by Christianity
Today and the Leadership
Journal, 33% of clergy responded to having visited a sexually
explicit website, and 18% of these admitted they visit sexually
explicit sites between a few times a month and more than once
a week.4 internet pornography is a definite reality, and it exists
on both sides of the church’s doors…and pulpits.
Pornography is a dehumanized, synthetic version of sex that
eliminates love, honor, dignity, true intimacy and commitment.
The use of pornography is simply self-gratification at the expense
of others; it is a self-centered, consuming experience that disconnects
the person from God, from his or her spouse and family, and
from his or her own feelings.
One excellent avenue of accountability
is web-based programs that combine personal and virtual accountability
These programs remove the secrecy and privacy of using the
internetby automatically emailing to your chosen accountability
partners a regular log of all of the sites you visited, including
the web addresses and amount of time you were on the internet
Guard Your Ministry
Ministries should put accountability measures
in place and regularly adhere to them. This includes human and
virtual accountability, as well as organizational structures
and guidelines designed to protect yourself and those in your
ministry. For example: run regular checks of all computers to
monitor internet use; or, make it a personal policy not to do
long-term counseling with a person of the opposite sex. Ministers
need to take the initiative and responsibility for establishing
and maintaining boundaries. A clergy code of ethics, properly
developed, clearly written and appropriately enforced, can strengthen
Guard Your Health
(physical and emotional
Western society places heavy expectations on its leaders,
and ministers are no exception. They feel the pressure to be
successful, to fulfill all their goals and work nending hours
for the Kingdom. Over time, the high expectations exact a toll.
Ministers must recognize when they are the most vulnerable. They
can adhere to the Alcoholics Anonymous slogan and HALT when Hungry,
Angry, Lonely or Tired. Ministers need to take time regularly
for themselves and their families—not always easy but always
Recognize and Address the Warning Signs
Know yourself and know the risk factors and warning signs. The
instant you recognize signals from a member of the opposite sex,
or inappropriate thoughts within, you should call it for what
it is and consciously put preventive measures in place. A relationship
can be headed in the wrong direction long before it becomes sexual.
One of the most important responses to these subtle warning signs
is to back off early. If you are concerned that a relationship
may be becoming inappropriate, review the questions in “Is
this relationship appropriate?” on the next page. An affirmative
answer to any of these could be a warning sign.
Accountable to Others
“Accountability is the mark of maturity
in discipleship. It is not optional, nor a mere by-product. It
is essential, central, and definitive of life in the community
of the Spirit.”5 Accountability among ministers is critically
important, yet most fail to seek it. It is imperative that ministers
find others, whether staff, laity or other ministers, who will
love them as they are and regularly hold them accountable
Regularly Rehearse the Consequences
Ministers would do well to
write their own lists of specific consequences that would
result from sexual immorality. As they consider the consequences,
they may want to visualize themselves standing in front of their
spouses, children or churches, confessing what they did, in order
to feel the anxiety, shame and regret. In times of temptation,
they can read through the list. In a tangible and personal way,
it brings home God’s inviolate law of choice and consequence.
Biblically Based Teaching on Sexuality
The Church needs to be
talking about sex. The schools do, people on the street do
and the media do; but the majority of ministers do not. Christian
leaders have a crucial role to play in leading the Church
toward living in accordance with God’s understanding of
human sexuality. We are called to serve our people by providing
a healthy affirmation of the biblical view of sex and sexuality,
so needed in a day of infidelity and promiscuity.
will face sexual temptation, but if we safeguard our lives
in these important areas, we can be less vulnerable. I challenge
you, as Christian leaders, to put in place these proven practices.
- Archibald Hart, Louis McBurney, Burdette Palmberg,
and David Seamands. “Private Sins of Public Ministry,” Leadership:
A Practical Journal for Church Leaders 9, no. 1 (winter
- Frank Rich, “Naked Capitalists: There’s No Business
Like Porn Business,” New York Times Magazine, May
2001; quoted in William F. Buckley Jr., “Porn,Pervasive
Review, 19 November, 2001; available from http://www.nationalreview.com/19nov01/buckley111901.shtml;
internet; accessed 15 July 2002.
- Jane E. Brody, “Cybersex
Leads to Psychological Disorder,” New York Times News Service,
22 May 2000. Data based on a 1998 survey of 9,265 adults by Dr.
Alvin Cooper; quoted in the Prodigals International website, “Stats & Facts”;
available from http://www.iprodigals.com/dox/prg_stats.htm;
internet; accessed 13 July 2002.
- Christine Gardner, “Tangled in
the Worst of the Web,” Christianity Today,
- March 2001,
44-45 and Erik Reed, “Hooked,” Leadership:
A Practical Journal for Church Leaders 22, no. 1 (2001):
89.5 David Augsburger, “The
Private Lives of Public Leaders,” Christianity
Today vol. 31, no. 17 (November 20, 1987): 24
the Warning Signs
Most ministers who have fallen can look back and see
identifiable early warning signs that should have been
a red flag, especially when the signs appeared in clusters.
By becoming more aware of crucial warning signs, ministers
are more apt to avoid falling into sexual misconduct.
External Warning Signs: Things Ministers Should
Watch for Around Them
- A breakdown in your marriage intimacy
- A breakdown
in your marriage communication
- A breakdown in your
physical and emotional well-being
- A dangerous relational
progression while counseling/ working with someone
(increasing amount of time together, personal nature
of conversation, emotional dependency and eventually
- Your spouse begins to feel uncomfortable
with the person/situation
Internal Warning Signs: Things Ministers Should
Watch for Within Themselves
- Being consumed with your own self-interests
- Compartmentalizing your behavior
- Rationalizing and justifying your behavior
- Allowing yourself to indulge in pornography or
- A dangerous relational progression while counseling/
working with someone
Struggling with Sexual Temptation
Many people don’t realize that the bondage cycle
follows a predictable pattern. Ask yourself the following
questions to understand your personal temptation habits.
Once people understand the triggers and rituals that
have developed, they begin to notice that the details
of their lives actually have become arranged to support
the very bondage from which they want to become free.
- What day(s) of the week am I most challenged?
What time of the day am I most challenged?
Where am I tempted most?
- Early evening
- Late evening
What specific stressor is likely to lead me into
the bondage sequence once again?
How do I feel when I am battling temptation?
What mind games and/or rationalizations do I tend
to play so I will feel entitled to act out sexually?
What does the sexual sin give me that I feel I need?
- In the community
- Away from home
*Adapted from Pure Desire by Ted Roberts, Ventura, CA: Regal
Books, 1999, 118-121.
To determine if you’re in a questionable relationship,
ask yourself the following kinds of questions:*
- Do you think about this person a lot?
- Do you take more care with your appearance when
you expect to see this person?
- Do you find excuses to be around this person?
- Do you set up appointments with the person that
is outside the normal routine with other parishioners?
- Would you be uncomfortable if others knew about
- Are you much more aware of yourself sexually? Do
you feel as if you were dating in high school all over
* Randy C. Alcorn, “Strategies to Keep from Falling,” Leadership:
A Practical Journal for Church Leaders 42, no.
3 (1996): 49.
on the Biblical and Theological Significance of Sexual
Integrity in Ministry
- Gaddy, C. Welton. Adultery
and Grace: The Ultimate Scandal. (Eerdmans, 1996).
Stanley J. Sexual Ethics: A Biblical Perspective.
Stanley J., and Roy D. Bell. Betrayal of Trust:
Confronting and Preventing Clergy Sexual Misconduct, 2d ed.
(Baker Books, 2001).
Willard F., Jr. His Needs, Her Needs. (Fleming
H. Revell, 1994).
Stephen, and Fred Stoeker. Every Man’s Battle:
Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual
Temptation. (WaterBrook Press, 2002). Companion workbook
available for personal or small group study.)
Steve. Safe and Sound: Protecting Personal and Ministry
Relationships. (Broadman & Holman
- Laaser, Mark R. Faithful and True:
Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World. (Zondervan,
Several websites provide helpful resources to assist
ministers in understanding and addressing the problem of