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I never thought it would happen to me

I never thought it would happen to me.

We love doing preventative care. We know, sadly, there will always be a need for crisis care and we are more than willing to do it. We have seen the same sad story too many times to count. Did I say “sad”? Sad is the wrong word – gut wrenching and soul crushing are more like it – particularly when the sexual sin of a pastor or ministry leader is at ground zero of the devastating explosion. You see the blast waves move through spouse, family, leadership, church family, and community. The effects are the spiritual and relational equivalent of a terrorist blast.

And, encountering it terrifies me about me. If David, a man after God’s own heart…

We are always in danger. Am I contributing, collaborating with the danger? There are patterns, warning signs we see over and over. Let’s evaluate our danger. Let me recommend you don’t evaluate your danger in isolation. Before we rationalize (another word for lie) to others, we do it to ourselves. We rarely heed the early warning signs. Guess the most common statement we hear in the ruins of the blast…“I never thought it would happen to me.” So, let’s do a rigorous inventory. Thom Rainer compiled the following early warning signs that resonate with what we see:

  1. “I neglected my family.” Church work can become a deceitful mistress (I struggle to find the male equivalent of the word). We become so consumed with our ministry that we neglect our families. But 1 Timothy 3:5 is clear that our families are our first ministries.
  2. “I had no system of accountability.” Unfortunately, most churches do not have clear guidelines for accountability. That does not excuse any of us from making sure that we have such self-imposed guidelines, and that our spouses know about them as well (I would add to this, “I had no network of relationships where I was truly honest and deeply known” – many men have fallen while regularly attending an accountability group).
  3. “It began in counseling.” Sometimes the word “transference” is used to describe what can happen in counseling. The counselor or counselee becomes the object of attraction instead of one’s spouse. One or both of the parties see the other as something his or her spouse should be.
  4. “My co-worker (team member, etc.) and I began to confide in one another on a deep level.”  The conversations between two people who work together become ones that should be restricted to the marital relationship. At this point, an emotional affair has already begun. Physical intimacy is usually not far away.
  5. “I began neglecting my time in prayer and daily Bible reading.” I am reticent to make a blanket statement, but I have never met a person who was praying and reading his or her Bible daily that became involved in an affair. Prayer and time in the Word are intimacy with God that precludes inappropriate intimacy with someone of the opposite gender. (I would add – regular time that resulted in intimacy with God, not just preparation or ticking off a list)
  6. “He or she made me feel so good about myself.” In marriage, neither party thinks the spouse is perfect; at least it is rare. The danger happens when one becomes a hero to someone of the opposite gender. The good feelings that come with accolades or even adulation can become sexual attractions and traps that end in an affair.
  7. “It began on a trip together.” When a man and woman travel to the same destination for a work event, conference, or a convention, safeguards need to be established at the onset. A system of accountability, whether informal or formal, can break down when a man and woman are out of town together. Call me old fashioned, but I won’t ever travel in the car alone with a woman other than my wife (even at my old age).

Here are some additional warning signs to Thom’s excellent list compiled by our staff over the years:

  1. “I carried a secret.” You are carrying a secret that causes you to live in fear. Your waking thought is, “I wonder if today is the day I am found out”. Boundaries crossed in secret are easier crossed the next time. Resistance to other boundaries is lowered. These patterns fan the flames of fear and destroy the holy boldness needed to deal with secrets (Proverbs 28:1; Romans 6:16; James 1:13-16).
  2. “I liked being referred to as incredible.” You allow people – who don’t really know you – to refer to you as amazing, wonderful, incredible, etc. – and you don’t correct them. You feed the perception that you are this awesome – 24/7. Remember, most people see you for little more than one hour each week. Don’t allow them to project you being this way at all times. A pastor I highly admire said from his pulpit, “ If you knew the thoughts that go through my mind on a daily basis you wouldn’t want to come hear me preach.” He was just acknowledging the reality of our universal Romans 7: 17-25 struggle. Do we point worshipers in the right direction (I Timothy 1:12-15)?
  3. I get to see ________ today.” You have a little more anticipation, excitement and eagerness, as you get ready for your day or trip. You take extra care and time to dress and prepare when you know a certain person will cross your path. Even worse, you have begun to seek out or manufacture opportunities. Again, James 1:13-16.
  4. “I deserve better.” I deserve better: church, colleges, kids, reputation, house, spouse, compensation, you name it. Harbor thoughts that you deserve more and better and odds are you will grasp for what isn’t yours (Genesis 3:1-7).

Thom Ranier is the author of more than two dozen books, including Breakout ChurchesAutopsy of a Deceased ChurchSimple LifeSimple ChurchRaising DadThe Millennials, and Essential Church.