I wrote this in the Spring of 2019 for an scenario assignment in a pastoral counseling class. I haven’t change or added anything in it except blue and red color, and italic to text.
People see pastors as representatives of Christ/God in the church and in the community. They should be able to respect and trust them inside and outside the church (1 Timothy 3:7, New International Version). Also, pastors are responsible for leading the spiritual health within their church (John 21:15-17). In addition, the Bible list some qualifications for church leaders in 1st Timothy 3 list. They must be above reproach, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, etc. (v. 2). According to this list, pastors or any leader within the church who is in an immoral relationship no longer qualifies to lead in a church by God standards. Lambert (2016, p. 304) states, “By the plan of God, every issue in Christian doctrine requires the church to uphold it. It is not enough to know the truth or even to value the truth. The truth must take root in the church.”
A pastor has served a local church for 10 years. However, he developed an immoral relationship with the young lady serving as his administrative assistant. The associate pastor of the church learns of this affair and struggles with what to do.
- The associate pastor comes to you for counsel.
- As you studied the topics discussed in the doctrine of the church, what issues are involved?
- What counsel do you provide the associate pastor?
The dilemma for the associate pastor in the counseling scenario is that his superior, the senior pastor, is sinning and needs to repent. Also, the associate pastor knows the senior pastor no longer qualifies to lead in the church. The senior pastor is no longer above reproach, he has broken trust, he no longer has the respect of the associate pastor, and he lacks self-control. He has caused another person to stumble into sin which has consequences (Matthew 18:6-9). The question is what is the associate pastor going to do about it?
There are several biblical principles to consider. First, the greatest commandment love God, love people (Matthew 22:36-40). Most people do not understand that part of loving God and loving people means not ignoring or hiding sin, and letting a person think it is okay to continue to live in sin. It means to try to bring the person to repentance (2 Timothy 3:16). This should be done by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Matthew 18:15-17 tells us we are to go to the individual and point out their fault. Included in the scriptures is what a person and church should do if an individual does not repent. Most Christians and churches fear and avoid conflict in relationships. Furthermore, they hope to avoid conflict within the church by not speaking about sin. Membership numbers become more important then the spiritual health of a person or the church.
The associate pastor is likely heartbroken. He is going to have to deal with the possibility of conflict. He has a duty to go to the senior pastor and try to bring him to repentance along with confession to the other leaders of the church. If the senior pastor refuses to repent and confess, then the associate pastor needs to go to his superiors with what he knows. As the associate pastor’s counselor, I will need to be straight up with him about the possible consequences and conflicts that will likely happen. He is risking his position and standing in the church if the leaders do not believe him. He is jeopardizing his relationship with the senior pastor. His heart, his ethics, his mind, and his will, may be in a battle with each other over these issues. He will need to remember that The Church does not belong to the pastor, the leaders, or its members. It belongs to Jesus (Ephesians 4:9-16, Colossians 1:18). Sometimes it is not easy following God’s teachings, and it can be relationally costly, but the cost of lost souls is higher.
On a side note, church leaders and counselors need to be aware of the legal issues involved with sexual misconduct within the church. In some states, a pastor or any person in an authoritative position in the church (Elders, deacons, counselors, teachers) can be charged with sexual abuse even if the relationship is between two consenting adults (“It’s A Crime, Not an Affair,” n.d.). For the benefit and liability of the church, policies should be in place for the conduct expected of the leaders.
“It’s A Crime, Not an Affair.” (n.d.). The silent majority: Adult victims of sexual exploitation by clergy. Retrieve from: http://www.adultsabusedbyclergy.org/statelaws.html
Lambert, H. (2016). A theology of biblical counseling: The doctrinal foundations of counseling ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan
John 21:15-17—Pastor/leaders responsible for leading the spiritual health of a church.
15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
Matthew 18:6-9 Causing to Stumble
6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
Ephesians 4:9-16— The Church belonging to Christ/ Christ is the Head of the Church
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions[a]? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Colossians 1:18 New
18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.