The Bill Hybels sexual misconduct allegations and subsequent falling dominos at Willow Creek Community Church have spawned a number of articles, including some I’ve written! Today, I’ve seen a couple posts on Christian blogs about pastoral conduct and it has spurred me to put down my own thoughts on the matter. So, if you dare, follow me through a tour of my mind as I address the difficulties of men and women relationships in the work place and especially in the ministry.
While there is an entire genre of psychology devote to the biology of human attraction, let me start by make some broad-brush comments that will apply to most in what I call the “Bell Curve” model, meaning it will apply to most but not all.
First, men and women are attracted to each other. That’s a no-brainer. But, they are not just attracted to each other when they are single; they are attracted to each other when they are in a committed relationship as well.
Second, men are visual and women are emotional. What I mean by this is men first notice a women’s looks while women first notice how they connect emotionally with a man.
Third, not all relationships are physical. Many relationships are emotional in nature where two people can be very close emotionally without the sexual innuendo.
Fourth, men can be very attracted to women who respect them and give them affirmation regarding their leadership, authority, work ethic, and skills. Women can be very attracted to men who give them affirmation, self-confidence, support, and leadership.
As someone who has been in leadership positions in both the secular and faith worlds for more than 35 years, I learned that men-women relationships can be a very dangerous thing even in the most innocent of circumstances.
I am truly blessed to be married to a woman who partners with me in the ministry! We do EVERYTHING together except the preaching I do at a transitional housing facility for male parolees. All the counseling, teaching, preaching, speaking, mentoring, giving, and worshipping we do we do together.
And this is my first rule and piece of advice to any man in the ministry: Include you wife in everything you do!
I made the point the other day to my own pastor that you see Kay Warren with Rick Warren at Saddleback; you see Lisa Chan with Francis Chan in his ministry. Andy Stanley is always talking about his wife and family. Craig Groeschel’s wife is constantly by his side. But you never really saw Lynne Hybels with Bill in any of his presentations, videos, books or ministry. That should have been a red flag but sometimes we just trust things are okay and perhaps his wife doesn’t like the spot light.
Being a pastor’s or preacher’s wife is not easy. But it is absolutely necessary for her to be directly involved in your ministry for two reasons.
First, your spouse is your “ezer” which is translated “helpmate” but better translated “strength” or “power.” She is the one by your side, fighting the fight with you! She is not subservient nor is she unnecessary. God made her and gave her to you to give you the strength and power you need to do what He created you to do! She must be by your side!
Second, however, is a completely different reason. As a leader – someone others share their most intimate secrets, hurts, pain, and emotions – you are vulnerable! As weird as this may sound, other women will see you as desirable and they will act out those desires even in a church setting! You need your wife there playing the role in a third definition of ezer – to rescue you! To save you! She need to protect you from these outside forces that seem innocent enough but really are not.
Keep your spouse close to you. Share EVERYTHING with her. You are a team and not just because I said so. God gave you an ezer in a covenant relationship for this very purpose! The men in ministry who have screwed up all kept their spouse out of their ministry work. Don’t fall for Satan’s lies that she cannot be involved due to confidentiality or other excuses. Your spouse is vital to your ministry so if she’s not involved bring her in! And if she doesn’t want to be involved, explain her role as ezer and let her know how badly you need her involvement.
My second rule and piece of advice actually comes from Billy Graham. Rev. Graham had a rule that he would never meet with a woman alone who was not his wife. This seems extreme, but is it?
I never actually worried about this in my secular life before getting into the ministry. I went out for drinks with women, had private, closed-door meetings with women, and honestly enjoyed the company of my women friends more than I ever enjoyed my male friends. However, when I came back to church after a 25-year absence, I decided that I would severely limit those interactions. I did everything I could not to be alone with a woman who was not my wife.
And it was hard!
I had to say no to female church members who didn’t have transportation and just wanted a ride somewhere. I also had to say no to meeting privately with females who needed counsel or advice. It seemed as if I was taking the idea to an unnecessary extreme. So, I did adjust it a bit. I still do everything I can not to drive or meet women alone. But if I do have to talk with a woman I do so in a very public place. I also tell my wife about every single meeting, who I am meeting, when I am meeting them, where we are meeting, and about what we are meeting. If you are in the ministry, it is very difficult not to meet with people; God has given you gifts you are to share including the gift of counsel. But do so wisely! And understand clearly that people you counsel can become attracted to you and vice versa which is why we employ both rule number one (include your wife) and rule number two (don’t meet privately) to protect ourselves and others.
One of the things that stunned me about Hybels as he was denying doing anything wrong was a report that he had exchanged 3,500 text messages with one of the women with whom he is accused of having an improper relationship. 3,500 TEXTS!!
This leads me to my next rule: Allow your wife access to all your social media, texts and phone calls. This one is simple: Don’t keep secrets from your wife! I have an excel spreadsheet that contains every password I have to every account I’ve created. My wife can access that spreadsheet at anytime and look at anything I’m doing, including my Facebook messages, my LinkedIn account, my various emails and more. She also has the code to my phone so she can check that out as well to see all my texts. I have nothing to hide from her and in fact, if I have had a text conversation with a woman I tell her right away about the interaction and what was discussed – mostly church stuff, honestly. If my wife is my ezer, then I need to her know everything I know in order to do the job God has given her to do in my life. Transparency is vital to any marriage and especially crucial to a marriage that is engaged in ministry.
Rule #4 – and this is a hard one, but be like Job and make a covenant with your eyes!
All of us men know that we are visual creatures – we very much enjoy the way God made the women’s form. It is so difficult on us today because women dress in ways that spark that visual trigger – which by the way is just as much biological as it is psychological. Yoga pants, sports bras, short-shorts, and all the rest trigger our brains. There is this fascinating article in Scientific America that explains that both men and women see women based on their body parts while they see men as whole. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/our-brains-see-men-as-whole-women-as-parts/) The reason: Probably decades of advertising conditioning our brains to objectify women. But I believe it’s more biological than even that. Job – the oldest book in the Bible – states that a covenant must be made with the eyes, clearly indicating the problem is as old as man himself. Both the Old Testament and New Testament repeatedly talk about how men see women, or more to the point, how they shouldn’t look at women!
Whether you believe it’s biological, behavioral, psychological or the media’s fault, the Bible makes clear that we men are responsible for controlling our roving eyes! Jesus even told us to pluck it out if it causes us to sin!! So, what do we do? We admit we have the problem. We don’t take that second look – you know you took the first one! You don’t dwell on what you saw. You fill your mind with what Paul calls “excellent things” in his letter to the Philippians. You just say no. You rebuke Satan who is trying to get you to look, and you pray that the Holy Spirit gives you strength. Avoidance is the best policy!
Last rule for this blog: Do not get involved in emotional relationships; keep your boundaries.
People like to be around a strong leader. It’s actually natural for us to follow someone we trust, who is dynamic, who is charismatic, who is decisive, and who is self-confident. But some of the people who find our leadership attractive do so inappropriately and try to develop emotional relationships with us to replace less fulfilling relationships in their own life. This is dangerous!
I’ve seen pastors who have a really strong boundary here – they make sure they’re really not friends with anyone in their congregation; just close acquaintances. I don’t like that and I don’t think it is Biblical. Paul certainly had close relationships and friendships with the various people in Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Rome and elsewhere. I think it is more than appropriate to make friends in the ministry among the sheep you are called to shepherd.
But, there is an appropriate boundary. You must keep watch for a few things, including:
- Someone coming to you for advice/counsel when they should be going to their spouse
- Someone comparing how well you do things versus how badly their spouse does it
- Someone constantly seeking your attention even when you are with someone else
- Someone who is inappropriately texting, calling, messaging you multiple times a day
- Someone who seemingly is always getting in your space or touching you when you are near them
- Someone who always seems to be following you around the church or ministry
There is more but you get the idea. It’s not stalking, but can be close! The same red flags above apply to you treating someone like that! As ministry leaders we cannot engage in such behavior and, again, rules 1 and 2 will keep you out of trouble.
Men and women relationships are tricky. There’s a line in the movie When Harry Met Sally where the two characters are disagreeing as to whether men and women can be friends. One of the characters (I forget which) says, no, because sex always gets in the way. I’m not sure I’d go that far – I think men and woman can be friends – but the biological, psychological, and behavioral conditioning we all go through does make it complicated and sometimes dangerous. Unfortunately, too many of our ministry leaders nationally and locally are finding that out the hard way.
So, just a little advice about avoiding one of Satan’s traps. Know that Satan hates your ministry and would do anything to kill it, including using a “honey trap” as your downfall. Foretold is forewarned.