I recently became aware of a rather tragic story of a pastor who (apparently) recently took his own life after a moral falling several years back. Whether the two are connected I do not know.
According to the news article the brother started a church which became a megachurch and he lost his way by having conversations with other women. According to the article, the elders are on record as saying that he had “inappropriate meetings, conversations and phone calls with two women (I Tim. 3.2).” These conversations were part of his downfall that led to his firing and being under church discipline.
The fact that he ended up apparently taking his life is a tragedy. Hopefully he did not take his life as a result of being overcome with grief and shame as that is certainly not what God’s heart or will is.
However there are a few things that I do want to discuss, which I think reflect well on him and the church he founded.
Reflecting Well on the Church
I think it speaks very highly of the church that they were willing to discipline one of their own pastors, much less a founding pastor. Rather than using their large size as a way to crush those who dissent and protect their pastors with PR campaigns and the denigrating of the counterparties, they did the right thing in firing him.
It also speaks very highly of the church that they recognized that sexual sins are not the only violations a man can have towards another woman that is not his wife. That is: being emotionally involved with other women and developing relationships with them is a grave sin, and his role of being a pastor did not give him the right to “lord over” other women and count them as his own, as accountable to him. (“Hey, I’m a pastor and thus you [woman] are accountable to me. Let’s talk about things because I’m a pastor.”)
To this church’s great credit they recognized the sharp line that God has created from God to Christ to the man to the woman (see 1 Corinthians 11:3 and that no church can change that line, not even temporarily, and no pastor should violate it.
This dovetails interestingly with another article on this website about predatory pastors, and I will be the first to say that I am not accusing this dear man of being predatory; what I am saying is that the church, and he himself, recognized that the path he was on was a bad one - and they judged it for what it is. They recognized that seeking to influence another woman and seeking a relationship with her is inappropriate, even if sex was not involved.
Reflecting well on the man
Though I do not know the man, it is deeply affecting to see a man be so humbled and yet seek to persevere. To start a church which then becomes a “megachurch” is quite a feat and for this man to then submit to the discipline and not divide the church (“Hey it’s my church, I started this thing”) is a real testament to his desire to do things righteously, regardless of leverage and status he could wield. I imagine that it would be easy in those situations for the man to create a faction and to minimize his sins - but he did not do that and that is to his credit. It’s also to his credit that he submitted himself to massive amounts of counseling.
Reflecting well on the women
Though the story does not focus on the women, they were certainly a counterparty to his overtures - and they accepted those overtures - but yet it seems they also repented and sought healing.
The nature of “conversations”
Now obviously these conversations and interactions between this man and the other women were not casual conversations such as you would have at the grocery store. Those types of conversations are not forbidden between the sexes (Jesus talked to a woman in the public eye at the well in John 4).
Which raises the question: why are these conversations wrong? Can’t a male pastor talk with women?
Without commenting on the case directly, because I know nothing about it, what we can say to be universally true is that conversations would be wrong when they happen between a male pastor and another man’s wife when they go beyond grocery store talk and instead have the effect of -
· Establishing a relationship between the two, or
· Seeking to create a wedge between the woman and her husband
o This can be done by pastors through various ways, such as by denigrating the husband or seeking to put him in bad light. Keep in mind, with insidious men like this they are never going to come out swinging hard. Unless the wife is 100% calloused against her husband, she would almost certainly reject such overtures outright. However, he comes in smoothly and in the context of “There’s something I just want to share about your husband”, or “I just want to help you understand more about your husband, “Or, here are some wisdom points to consider with respect to how your husband treats you” etc.
o In larger churches this can be done not just by the pastor directly in one-on-one situations, but also by his proxies or in conjunction with others in the church who don’t have the power or wisdom to stand up to this insidious man.
o These conversations are nonetheless attempts by the pastor to shelter and nurture his relationship with the woman through the sharing of private information or the denigration of the husband
o Either way, these conversations should be off limits to male pastors with other women, especially other men’s’ wives – whether they happen directly or through / with the pastor’s proxies.
So I think we can say it’s not just “conversations” that are wrong, but rather it is attempts by a male pastor to create a wedge and thus enter / break the family bond, even amongst children with their father as explored in that article on this website.
And it should be noted that conversations are wrong because of the effect they have on the woman and her marriage, and male pastors at large churches can affect damage on a woman and her marriage through more than just direct conversations; he can do that through influencing her counseling, by influencing the messages the woman receives about her husband; and it can even be done by the pastor orchestrating the excommunication of the husband.
And it should be noted that this type of behavior by pastors is by no means scarce, unfortunately. My wife has a book on a coffee table called “God’s high calling for women” by John MacArthur. I just happened to notice it and decided to pick it up a week or two ago and when I opened it up at random, literally the first or second page that I came to said this:
“….That is an overt example [a woman propositioning him at church], but there are many more subtle solicitations that go on in the church. Anyone who doesn’t realize this has his or her head in the sand. Look at the many pastors who fall prey to sexual sin and the many churches that have to deal with immorality and the results of pornography. That is one of the reasons for Paul’s strong words in 1 Timothy 2:9 – 10.” (Page 17)
Notice how MacArthur, who I believe has been in ministry all of his life and is not a young man, says that you have your head in the sand if you don’t think there are “subtle” solicitations going on in the church. Notice how he used the word “subtle” because rarely will pastors and others do overt, in-your-face solicitations (remember emotional violations are genuine violations just as sexual ones are). These men can observe women in the congregation and devise reasons to orchestrate a connection.
When God accuses Israel of being adulterers and adulteresses in their relationship with him, he was not accusing them of having intimate relations with other gods other than him. No, that’s absurd. What he was pointing to is their obedience, devotion and loyalty to other gods other than him. And he called that adultery. Emotional deviations are serious. I remember when I was younger, a well taught man in the brethren group I was in, who’s name was C. Hendricks, said that physical adultery is so sinful in God’s sight because it’s a picture of the more serious adultery, and that is religious adultery. (See Isaiah 57:3 and Matthew 12:39).
And when speaking to Christians in the New Testament James says this:
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? James 4:4 - 5
Here James accuses us of being adulterers if we are “FRIENDS” of the world, because that connection creates an envious tension.
I think we can clearly see that these non-sexual intrusions into another man’s marriage are serious and while direct conversations are easier to detect, there are multiple ways that insidious men can accomplish the same evil effect without direct, traceable conversations (MacArthur refers to “subtle” things). Accordingly, diligent church leadership should be responsive to concerns and be willing to investigate complaints not just about direct conversations but they should also be willing to investigate any attempts to influence a woman and her marriage
· in any venue
· by any pastor
· at any time
There should be a zero-tolerance policy.
Here’s a direct link to the article to read for yourself: