Dealing with Elders who fall

If you google “affair proof your marriage”, you will find many have written on this subject, from Dr Phil, Oprah, fallen pastors, casual bloggers and dozens of psychologists.

When it comes to pastors, let me categorise affairs into two groups:

  • Firstly, those who have affairs with strangers, one night stands, motivated by lust and an inability to control their sexual urges.
  • Secondly, those who have affairs with someone they spend time with, a neighbour, a colleague, a friend or a person they are counselling. This category is by far the most common among pastors and is more complex to diagnose.

Myths around this subject

“A person is likely to have an affair with someone more attractive than their partner.” This is not true. Very often the affair is with a less attractive individual.

The pastor who falls is a “faulty character”, one who it was “bound to happen to”. This is not always true. Most “fallen pastors”, who reflect on an affair, had never dreamed it would happen to them.

Most often when this subject is handled it centres on adultery and wisdom to prevent or run from such. The classic texts in Scripture on this subject concern David and Bathsheba or Solomon. The traditional wisdom to remain pure centres on boundaries that are to be put in place, signals to cause one to flee or accountability structures to pre-empt the collapse.

While these are all necessary and healthy in their context, they are able to lure one into a false sense of safety, and thereby increase your vulnerability.

It’s God who keeps you safe

God sanctifies us, sustains us and is our hope. Grace teaches us to say NO (Titus 2:12) and God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4)

Considering, that it is God who keeps you safe:

1) You want him on your side.

I once asked a veteran of 40 years of ministry, if he could explain why good men fall in ministry. His answer was surprising. He said, “when pride creeps into the heart, God opposes the proud. Even the strongest man, without God on his side, can fall.”

One sure way to get God to lift his hand from you is to get proud.

James 4: 6 “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

I went to help a church the other day, where the elder and the lead elder were having a bitter dispute. The church finances were under strain, the lead guy was demoralised and the church was full of people, but in trouble. My counsel was that both men humble themselves, which they did. That very evening the largest single tithe in that church’s history landed in the bank account.

Church history is littered with examples of pride filled pastors who have wound up falling

An unchecked competitive spirit has it’s root in pride. I have watched men leave movements and churches, some well and others in a very dishonouring way. Dishonour of parents has its roots in pride. Those who dishonour their fathers, generally wind up finding that they lose the blessing that comes with the first commandment with a promise “that it may go well with you” (Eph. 6v2).

Detecting pride:

  • Comparison
  • Boasting, telling stories
  • Wanting to be seen
  • Judging, critical attitude
  • Shyness
  • Unteachable
  • Dismissiveness
  • Taking offence

You do not want God to oppose you. One sure way to make yourself vulnerable to falling morally is to become proud, whether it be pride in your ability, in your doctrine, in your reputation or any other area.

2) You want to trust Him.

The number of times I have seen people put their trust in laws, only to be let down. A classic mistake young people make is to set a whole bunch of rules for their dating, rules like:

  • Don’t touch inappropriate places
  • Don’t kiss, and if you do, keep your tongue in your mouth
  • Be interruptible, i.e by keep doors open
  • Stay out of each others’ bedrooms
  • Don’t hug “front on”
  • Have someone, other than your date, that you are accountable to

Similarly, ministerial ethics advise a set of rules to protect the pastor such as, never counsel a woman alone. Don’t drive with a woman alone in the car etc.

These rules sound good, they seem logical. In themselves they are not bad, but they are not going to keep you holy, they are not going to sustain you. You should NOT put your trust in them, you should not rely on them.

Col 2: 20: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations-

Col 2: 21: “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”: We are quick to write laws, it’s the way of the world. The world runs on laws.

Col 2: 22: (referring to things that all perish as they are used)-“according to human precepts and teachings?”: Paul is saying that your rules will disintegrate before you, they are not eternal, they are “of human origin and are flawed”
Col 2: 23: “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body…”

  • They look so good
  • They pass the test of human wisdom
  • They presume that “Law works”
  • They presume we can be restrained by laws

“… but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”: Fleshly indulgence is not restrained by rules and laws, in fact the very opposite is true.

Let us look at the nature of the Law.

The nature of law

Rom 7:5 “For a while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.”

  • The law wakes sin in you
  • The law provokes sin in you
  • Law stirs up the carnal part of you, it interests it with possibilities of expression
  • The fruit of this awaking of sin is death
  • Law then brings death
  • The laws designed to bring purity, in fact bring death to purity

Rom 7: 7-8: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet. But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.”

  • Law is not bad, it’s just the springboard of sin
  • Law is not bad, it simply gives sin the gap it’s looking for
  • It shines a spotlight on sin, wakes her up

Rom 7: 9-11: “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”

  • Those who trust in rules are left very disappointed
  • Those who thought they were so wise with their laws and boundaries, are left shakingtheir heads
  • Those who thought they were safe behind a wall of accountability and regulations were exposed

So what’s the solution? If God restrains you, if God sustains you then trust in Him.

Romans 8: 13-15: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Gal 5: 16. “… but I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

So accountability partners and the practice of running from stupid situations, and dangerous environments is good practice, but it is not where your confidence should lie. You should not put your hope, your faith, your trust in them. They may be your practice but you only hope of safety is God Himself. Run to him.

Because God keeps you safe…

3) Let Him into your emotions

There are many theories as to why pastors fall. There are many symptoms that experts look at to predict moral failure. However the consistent theme seems to indicate a trace back to the emotional centre of a person.

“Focus on the family” published an article describing vulnerability to adultery, listing the following indicators:

  • Under a lot of stress
  • Grieving major loss
  •  Feeling insecure and looking for affirmation
  •  Feeling rejected and looking for validation
  • Going through a burnout
  •  Experiencing boredom and looking for fun and excitement
  •  Not aware of his/her personal weaknesses, e.g. boundary issues with persons of the ” opposite sex, such as, often wants to save or rescue someone.

Gary Lamb, a well known “fallen pastor”, lists his reasons why pastors fall:

  • Most pastors struggle with some sort of insecurity
  • Most pastors have no accountability
  • Most pastors live their lives serving everyone except their wife
  • The church has made pastors into rock stars rather than regular men called by God

If emotional vulnerability is dangerous, we should let God into our emotional world.

Some ways this is worked out practically:

  1. Let your spouse and close friend audit your: fatigue, insecurity, and happiness
  2. Audit your own insecurity by listening to what you say
  3. Allow the Holy Spirit access to your emotions
  4. Learn what fills your emotional tank, and get replenished
  5. Detect signs of emotional vulnerability
  6. Make your emotional health an object of prayer
  7. Take strong governmental decisions to protect you and your spouse in moments of weakness


I have a friend who’s marriage and ministry recovered from his extramarital affair. He paid an enormous price for more than a decade as he worked on his private world outside of the pressures of ministry. He is presently back in ministry and has a fantastic marriage. He says “if life is like a car journey, ministry is the one profession that you need a passenger in the passenger seat. She doesn’t need to drive, preach, be in the limelight, but she does need to be in the passenger seat. And if she is not, it’s too easy for someone else to sit there. Then you are in trouble.”

Marriage is not just you and God trying to stick to your spouse. No, marriage is you, your spouse and God.

He sustains you, He holds you, He protects you: let Him into your marriage.


  • Keep Him on your side (stay humble)
  • Trust Him
  • Let Him into your emotions
  • Bring Him into your marriage