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Leadership reflections: Make it hard to have an affair

Leadership Reflections 016

Over the last few years we have all heard and processed news of leaders who have fallen short of the high standards that are laid out in the Bible. For many of us these instances have been upsetting, painful and heartbreaking. We share those feelings of pain at the abuse, ill treatment and hurt that has been experienced around the Church.

It’s caused Debby and me to reflect again, with some of our team, on the leadership lessons we can learn in this moment; lessons for our own churches and those across the wider Vineyard family here in the UK and Ireland. 

This series of Leadership Reflections contains some teaching and lessons which we have shared with Vineyard Senior Pastors over the last few years.  As we continue to listen and learn from this season, we wanted to open these resources up to anyone who would find them helpful by publishing them publicly.

Our prayer is that you might find these helpful and by the grace of God, together we can create churches that are safe, Kingdom-centred communities for us all to call home.    

John & Debby Wright

National Directors

Vineyard Churches UK & Ireland


Obviously single leaders have a lot of freedom when it comes to relationships with other single people, so what I am talking about here is, whether you are personally single or married, be very careful in any relationship where one of you is married.

Many years ago I jotted down a list of over 25 friends and acquaintances of mine who had blown themselves out of ministry, almost all of them through sexual misconduct. And since then that number has continued to grow. 

Leaders are not immune to sexual temptation 

None of us is immune to messing up, and if we think we are, we may be more at risk still! Pastors and leaders are not immune from having affairs. Male and female alike. The enemy loves to put sexual temptation in the path of those leading in the church, and in some ways there are inherent dangers in pastoral ministry.

Leadership is attractive

By its nature, a leader draws followers. People are drawn to leaders and look to them as they lead and teach and minister, sometimes with rose tinted spectacles.

A Pastor, it seems, can seem more attractive than they might be if they were not a Pastor. There is a potential intimacy in being there for people in life’s hard and vulnerable moments. People open up about their struggles, people trust you with information they have never told anyone else. All those things are fine in themselves, but we need to be careful.  

You might be familiar with ‘The Billy Graham Rule’ which suggests restrictions for married Pastors regarding spending time with another woman alone. It has been criticised for a range of valid reasons, not least that it assumes the Pastor is male, which of course is not necessarily the case. And it may restrict career advancement opportunities for women and so on.

My own view is that whether you are male or female, there is wisdom in taking the principles seriously.

If you are working in a secular job, some of the things I am about to suggest may be unavoidable, but take the best of what I’ll say here as helpful guidelines for pastoral ministry. 

Some tips on affair proofing your marriage

These are some helpful tips, whether you are male or female, or if you are married, or if the other person is married:

  • never counsel a member of the opposite sex or have other intimate conversations.
  • never go out for coffee or a meal with someone of the opposite sex alone.
  • if you need to meet alone perhaps because you work together, do so in a public accountable place.
  • Rarely travel alone with a member of the opposite sex, and if you have to, let someone know in advance.
  • Live so accountably that it’s almost impossible to begin an illicit relationship.

It may seem overly restrictive, and there is the risk of looking ridiculous or being perceived as insulting: ‘What? You’re going to be tempted sexually by your colleague, and be powerless to resist?! You think I can’t be trusted?’ 

Here’s a thought though: of the people you know who have had an affair, if they had carefully stuck to these guidelines, isn’t it the case that that affair would likely not have happened?

Create obstacles to an affair 

In hindsight I suggest that given that question ‘don’t you trust me to spend time alone with the person they had the affair with?,’ the answer would be no. Evidently they couldn’t be trusted to not cross those boundaries. In hindsight, they realise they shouldn’t have trusted themselves.

They didn’t intend for the affair to happen, it was facilitated by a lack of boundaries.

Put every obstacle you can in the way of an illicit relationship developing.

Be accountable 

I love the app called ‘Find My’ which works with my iPhone. There are similar apps available for other types of phone. It enables people like your spouse and family to see where you are (at least where your phone is) at any given moment. 

I think having that or a similar app is a great protection. It would be very hard to get into an inappropriate relationship, visit a person’s home, or a restaurant or anywhere else you shouldn’t be. Whenever I leave the house, I let Debby know where I’m going, and often remind her “you can always know where I am, just click on your Find My app.”

The grass isn’t greener 

In marriage, a good thing to remember is that if the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, it is probably astroturf!

The grass is greener where you water it. If you are married, invest in your relationship. There will always be pressure to work harder, to be at another meeting, to serve another person. Prioritise your spouse, schedule in regular time together, go on a date night, make sure you book all your annual leave together. 

Treasure and love your spouse if you have one, in ways that are meaningful to them.

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