Growing up in an Adventist Christian home, I had godly parents who showed me by example what a Christian home should look like. They influenced me to integrate in my own personal life the principles and values that I still hold today.
Yet as I reminisce on my childhood, I don’t recall my parents ever talking to me about sexuality. There was never a condemnation on the subject, nor a proactive awareness. My siblings and I had questions on this matter that went unanswered. We were subjected to the opinions of others, especially our peers, who shared their limited knowledge with warped theories and concepts.
The lack of proficiency on this subject from a godly perspective has impacted my life, as well as the lives of many others I know. Society has twisted the very core values and principles that God designed for us. This perverted misconception of sexuality is destroying our marriages, families, and churches.
What is so significant about sexuality and ministry? I believe healthy sexuality is a complete expression of love, commitment, devotion, and exclusiveness to that person to whom we say “I do.” This is what God intended it to be. Healthy sexuality affirms the Scriptures when it says, “And God saw that it was good.”
God created sexuality. It was part of His plan for us, as married couples, to enjoy this beautiful gift. However, sexual problems are present for a large number of couples today.
We should never assume that couples in ministry are immune to these issues. They are subjected to sexual challenges just like any human beings, and if the pastor is experiencing struggles in this area, it will inevitably impact his marriage, his family, and ultimately his church.
This area of sexuality in ministry varies from person to person, taking into account their ethnicity, upbringing, social background, personality, experiences, and connection with God. But regardless of the story behind each of us, there is one very important characteristic that all Christians should possess. It is called integrity.
I believe that integrity plays a vital role in our lives. It is an attribute highly esteemed by our Creator. “People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will be exposed” (Proverbs 10:9, NLT). Integrity expresses the innermost part of our soul. It is an expression of the heart. Integrity reflects the commitment to our core values, beliefs, moral principles, and honesty; it is integrated in the very fabric of our blueprint.
It is important for every ministry couple to be aware of risk factors related to sexuality—not only for themselves but for those in their congregation. Here are seven:
1. Lonely and often friendless: Many pastors and their spouses would agree that in this line of work, even though people constantly surround them, they have a very lonely journey. Deep sharing with people in the church is often unwise and unhelpful for a pastor, so he keeps it to himself. He promotes and teaches how to reach out to those in the community, but often he does not experience “community” within his own personal circle. This isolation can lead to discouragement, anxiety, and high levels of stress.
Failing to connect well on a personal level, with either our spouse or a trusted friend, leaves us vulnerable to loneliness and exposes us to compromising our personal integrity. Often this isolation is conducive to a longing desire to be heard on an intimate level.
2. Position of power: Our spouses who are pastors are by default placed in a position that will make them vulnerable to sexual temptations. Being the leader of the church, someone who possesses authority and inspires respect right from the pulpit, enables pastors to have a great influence on the congregation. They are public figures, exposed to all the elements of church and ministry life.
This risk factor applies to all people who find themselves in positions of authority—teachers, CEOs, coaches, executives, Pathfinder leaders, and others. Their power can easily be misused or manipulated. If they are not careful, they can find themselves unsheltered and vulnerable to the enticement of others, especially those of the opposite gender.
3. The need for approval: Words of affirmation do wonders to the soul. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as we don’t allow compliments to get to our heads and become the motive behind what we do and how we do our job. When we find ourselves craving this affirmation and validation of our work outside the “safe range,” we could be opening a door for an emotional attachment to someone other than our spouse.
4. Childhood trauma: This is a very sensitive area and has to be managed with professional care. Many times, these traumas can lead to vulnerability, exposing our inner pain and leaving us unprotected and at risk. Special attention and professional care should be given.
5. Bitterness and resentment: We will all experience disappointments and discouragement, which can leave us with unresolved resentments. When resentment and bitterness in ministry are met with marriage disputes and unresolved anger, the results can be disastrous. We can find ourselves in a risky position for sexual promiscuity. We might be left unguarded to a kind, affirmative, polite, and understanding church member who will not let an opportunity pass by. Resentment can also lead us to question our Christian calling.
6. Lack of accountability: Pastoral work is, by default, an isolated job. Pastors are their own bosses; they make their own appointments, and they structure their schedules to suit their work’s demands. Usually, these tasks are carried out alone. It is here that they can easily confront circumstances that will test their integrity.
It is very important for all of us to have an accountability partner with whom we can share the highs and lows of life and ministry. It may be another nonjudgmental pastoral colleague, or even our own spouse. It is important to maintain open communication with honest transparency when confronted with issues of the heart.
7. Absence of boundaries: Physical boundaries provide us with fences that will ensure our safety. They give us an indication of how close we are getting to a prohibited area. The same thing happens when the pastor builds a mental and emotional safeguard or boundary around his ministry life. These boundaries will alert him when he is overstepping the line of safety, or when someone is conveying the wrong message. Boundaries will also bring balance to his personal life, his family, and his work environment.
A person who has well-established boundaries will identify more readily the signs of danger. These boundaries include time management, social time, taking time out, family time, connecting and checking in with spouse and colleagues, etc.
It is very clear that unfaithfulness to the marriage vows is an indication of sexual dysfunction, and yet how can we prevent this from happening? I can only repeat and claim the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8-13: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. . . . For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (NLT).