You’ve probably heard similar stories on the news or on the grapevine: A seasoned pastor has an affair; a ministry leader leaves her husband for another man. How do some men and women in ministry end up in adulterous relationships?
While attending the American Association of Christian Counselors conference, I attended an excellent workshop by Dave Carder, a long-time pastor from Fullerton Evangelical Free Church, and author of the book Close Calls: What Adulterers Want You to Know About Protecting Your Marriage. With experience working with many ministry couples recovering from adultery, Dave has analyzed what these folks were going through during their periods of temptation.
One of the things that stood out to me was that relationships which normally would be quite innocent and appropriate carried the risk of becoming adulterous if people were experiencing what Dave refers to as “sustained and unusual stress.” He identifies five areas in which stressors could become overwhelming:
- Legal issues
- Career-threatening experience
- Financial stresses
- Medical and health issues
- Relationship issues
We all know what it’s like to have stress in our lives. Pastors are especially aware of the toll it can take as many factors in their lives converge to create high levels of stress. When we find that stress in one or more of these areas continues to exist over a prolonged period of time without periods of relief, we may find ourselves tempted to do things we would likely never otherwise consider. Many a pastor and Christian leader has fallen to the great surprise of many who considered him or her a pillar. Even the strongest have their breaking point.
What is the immediate lesson in this? In an ideal world, we do what we can to control and manage our stress levels and try not to be overcome by too much at once. Unfortunately, we do not always have control over the things that cause us stress. When we know we are experiencing out-of-the-ordinary stress over a period of time and have little ability to alleviate it, we must recognize that this is when we are most vulnerable. It is the time to take additional time to be still and know that He is God in order to drink in His strength and acknowledge our weakness. It is the time to find a trusted confidante to share deeply and honestly the frustrations and hurts we are experiencing.
If there is no other safe person you can turn to, it may be the time to call Focus on the Family Canada’s Clergy Care Network. But whatever you do, don’t try to ride it out in your own strength. That rarely works – and it has brought down more than a few pastors.
We’re here for you! For free, confidential counselling, call 1.888.5CLERGY.
Wendy Kittlitz is the vice president of counselling and care ministries for Focus on the Family Canada.
This article was originally published under the title "A Resilient Marriage"