Sex & the Single Minister

By Keith Drury with Paul Kind: There is plenty written about sexual temptation for married ministers but far less is focused on sex and the single minister.... [MORE]


Anonymous said...

"If you want a spouse seek one. Put yourself in the place where you might find one."

Is this like putting yourself back in the stream of grace?? Sounds familiar guys... :) What other streams can you wade in? Politics? Theologies? Hmm...

matthew said...

I was surprised to see point #3. I disagree that it is unethical. It is quite often unwise, but hardly unethical in my opinion. You compare it to therapists dating their clients, but that's only a fair comparison if the gap between the clergy and laity has grown far too large.

Of course, the way you worded it "single ministers don't date people in their church" reveals such a gap wherein the clergy consider the church 'theirs'

In a laid back country church where (or any church) where all the Christians view themselves as ministers, dating each other is hardly out of bounds.

So I reject the 'unethical' point in some/many cases. But I submit that it is often 'unwise'. Most relationships don't work out, and having an 'ex' in the congregation could prove problematic.

I say all that as a single pastor

litigator said...

Matthew, a fair warning: make sure you check the liability insurance your church and denomination holds before dating people in your church... and get your response in writing--that way you could perhaps be cleared from the significant financial liability that one court case after another has slammed the church with. The people in the church are not a good guide for determining legal matters. Just get your insurance carrier to give you that permission in writing and you will be off the hook (But don't hold your breath).

The AJ Thomas said...

While dating someone in your church could be problematic imagine dating someone else on staff. I would work for free in a church where that was happening just to watch all the drama as it fell apart. It would be like a soap opera (with all those feelings) and a reality show (you know someone is going to be leaving the island) and a dark comedy all at the same time. It would probably do some significant damage to the church and alot of the staff, myself included, might lose their jobs but what do I care - I was working for free!!!

Aaron said...

Good stuff ... is there a class on this that I missed someplace??

One quick question. If you are dating someone, at one point do you want them to attend your congregation eventually? At that point are you dating a parishoner?

matthew said...

litigator, thanks for the concern and advice, haha. Personally, I am not dating or on the verge of dating anyone in the church i work with. That being said, I wouldn't 'check with my insurance company' before I did so. Call me foolish! Call me 'fired'! But unless the insurance company is owned by the father of the girl, I'm not checking in with him.

litigator said...

If a single minister (or a married one) decides to date parishioners make sure your Bishop approves it or (in my denomination) you will find yourself in a new profession sooner than the bishop can say "liability!"

As is many legal matters if the offended person chooses not to file a suit, you could fly away freely. BUT if a soured romance turns into a suit and the person claims you used your "trust and position differential” to your advantage in dating (which is an easy claim for a minister) an average litigator can get likely get a tidy settlement from your church and denomination without even going to court. If you decide to tiptoe through the tulips of parishioner dating just walk vary carefully. The best plan for a minister under denominational authority (and a requirement for any sensible denomination) is to ask the denominational authority for a policy--always getting the response in writing of course). (Though such a written response will be a wonderful exhibit for the women or man offended)

Kevin K. Wright said...

I think that the rules are fair and helpful in delineating guidelines that will help ministers defend their integrity in a world where the clergy are under a cloud of suspicion. It is perhaps best for clergy to refrain from dating people within their churches for the stability of their own community. A breakup or mishap could lead to fractions in the local congregation, which would not only be detrimental to the pastor but to the parishioners as well. I worry about ministers that flippantly dismiss these wise words because it betrays an ostensible selfishness that shows a disregard for the community's health in lieu of personal satiation. A pastor, like any other Christian, has a charge to love their neighbor, which includes not needlessly jeopardizing the stability of their neighbor's life and participation in the Body of Christ.

ap said...

Hi Kevin,

You write: "I worry about ministers that flippantly dismiss these wise words because it betrays an ostensible selfishness that shows a disregard for the community's health in lieu of personal satiation." Have you seen that flippancy in this discussion? Do you really think that dating betrays "ostensible selfishness"?

Of course, there is quite a bit of wiggle room on what 'dating' includes in this discussion. A male or female pastor out on 'dates' with different people from their church as a regular occurrence could lead to the factions you mention. I do not see that as much a possibility for two people exploring a deeper friendship. If such factions pose a danger after a break-up where maturity and appropriate behaviour have been employed the whole time, then the choice of who one was dating would have been the issue, but not the act itself.

As a general rule, I think it appropriate. But, like most general rules, specific situations sometimes leave more room for lee-way. But, I'll agree with the spirit of litigator that checking with one's immediate superiors is the best course of action.

Full Disclosure: I am currently in a dating relationship with a parishioner. So...my objectivity is out the window! ;)

matthew said...

"I worry about ministers that flippantly dismiss these wise words because it betrays an ostensible selfishness that shows a disregard for the community's health in lieu of personal satiation."

I would suppose that EVERYONE disagrees with a minister who 'flippantly' dismiss's such thoughts! I doubt anyone that reads Keith Drury regularly flippantly dismisses anything that he writes!

Nor can I imagine any good minister making a decision to date someone in the local church congregation without considering the effect it may have on the church.

That being said, it seems to me ridiculous to make an absolute rule about whether or not its allowable to date someone in the same congregation. It could end up being a great and happy thing for the congregation. As is usually the case, it depends on the quality of the people involved.

Even if the couple ended up breaking up, it could be good! How? Because 2 people with high integrity can even 'break-up' well. And that is respected, I know.

So, I see too much of a 'clergy vs laity' mentality in this article. Too much of a 'fear based decision making' process involved. Too much of a 'big church policy applies to all churches' mindset. One need only look at positive examples that exist to eliminate the idea of an absolute rule in regards to dating within the congregation.

Anonymous said...

Considering the fact that christian clergy have crossed the line into illegal behavior and pushing parishoners around, one would do well to heed the advice regarding abuse of power and authority.

Servant of God means nothing in the realm of christianity any longer, especially in arrogant conservative circles.

In fact you are correct, leadership has moved ministry into an "us/them" struggle.

Whether one wants to believe it or not, the terrorists did change America in many of the ways they intended. Christian taliban is not a far-fetched concept. It is indeed a reality.

Keith.Drury said...

What additional tips would you readers add to this column by a young single minister (Paul Kind) and an old married man (me)?

Let's remember these are not denominational membership "rules" to debate or rebel against -- they are merely a collection of advice to single ministers to help them build a fence of protection sexually--there are a growing number of young single ministers who have been left to themselves in this area---can you help them by offering any additional helpful advice? Let's write to these single ministers with help based on what you did/do or advise.

Matt Guthrie said...

Nothing new to add in terms of protecting oneself as a single minister. I'd would like to emphasize one facet however.

Matthew, you say there is too much "clergy vs. laity" mentality in this discussion. Like or not, there is a great difference between being a pastor and a guy in the pew. The ground is level beneath the cross and we all believe in egalitarianinsm, but there is also a great distinction between being the person God has called to lead a congregation and being a person God may have called to participate in a congregation.

The responsibility and level of power you wield is great. I'm hesitant to say this because I do not want to sound condescending, but here I go. Maybe you haven't experienced that yet because of your age or maybe because "he's just a youth pastor" or perhaps your church is still in the "wait and see if this guy can earn our respect" stage. When you do, you will appreciate all the safe guards you put in place. I'm in my third pastorate and for the first time, I think I truly understand the "power" I have as leader and it is because I am clergy.

And like it or not, we all want our relationships to be characterized by maturity, even in the break ups. But reality is that we live in a fallen world. Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

Anonymous said...

Single young ministers should seek the counsel of their superiors in this endevor, and they should choose who they date wisely, and they should not consider dating anyone within the congregation at all if they have not personally proved to be trustworthy and earned the general goodwill of the church community.

It is ironic to me that those who appear most open-minded and critical of these dogged statements graduated from our denomination's (allegedly) most conservative, and non-critical party-line touting college. Oh the irony.

Also, it seems that the "hardliners" and "dogged rule keepers" are already engaged or married. Interesting, I wonder how different their song would be if they were not?

Further, I am a former member of a large church where in one of the pastors dated a parishioner, and it was all flowery, people supported it, and then they ended up breaking up. But guess what? People supported the break up too...the congregants were mature to realize that it is so Jr. High to stir up dissention about a relationship not working out. Not all relationships do.

Both the pastor and the parishoner continued to attend the church and participated as fully as before in community, and they each had the integrity not to disclose the reasons for their break up to those who would possibly twist the info and gossip about it.

The common thread? Discernment, discression, discipline, and being vigilient about what would possibly ignite dissention.

It worked out. They were extra careful, and extra mature. I think that is what is needed.

Pastor Karl said...

We have to keep in mind that the "rules" of society (and the actual legal environment) keep changing in these areas. Thirty years ago there was nothing whatsoever wrong with a single minister dating someone in his church--in fact it was encouraged (mainly because singleness was considered defective and something to "get over" quickly). However 30 years ago a youth pastor could go skinny dipping with the teen age boys in the quarry. Today that behavior will get a guy locked up.

The mores on these matters are changing now. Ironically the more conservative areas of the church are slower to catch on to these changes and thus end up being at greater risk. Parents still beat their children with a belt and youth pastors 19 year old girls in their church. Both are dangerous things to do in today's world.

In a changing world we in ministry have to be constantly on the lookout for shifts that label what we used to do every day normally as inappropriate or even illegal. Thanks for raising this matter.

Dewing said...

I think your advice is right on the money—but you may have missed a dimension.

I was well-prepared by my family, my church, my community, and my circle of friends who held me accountable to avoid extra-marital sex (UNmarried sexual activity)—BUT I had almost no forewarning of the pitfalls of PREmarital sex.

Once I was betrothed I had to (quickly) learn my boundaries all over again. I knew all about the dangers of inappropriate sex, but I was unprepared for sex suddenly becoming almost-legitimate.

This probably isn’t something that reasonably moral non-Evangelical twenty-somethings struggle with. They, after all, have been looking for the “right person” with whom to be intimate along. We “Christian kids” are taught to draw a big black line in front of anything like sex and stay away from it. When I was a teenager I often thought of sex, just as I occasionally fantasized about what it would be like to fall off a tall building—but I could no more consider actually doing one than the other. I knew to stay off the ledge!

…but suddenly a committed, monogamous, God-ordained relationship involving sex actually seemed like a reality! I imagine a lot of Christian kids who aren’t as stubborn as I am don’t weather the “temptation” of true pre-marital sex well. I was able to figure it out largely because I was also taught during my childhood nurturing that you NEVER open Christmas presents early.

Inappropriate sexual activity of any kind can harm your witness, damage your relationship, and derail your career of ministry. After you’ve weathered the pitfalls of pornography and lewd behavior you still need to be committed to plain old-fashioned WAITING.

I fear that our moral instruction puts too much emphasis on the former to the detriment on the latter. Or, more properly, our instruction to young people on sex involves the avoidance of insidious immorality—instead of portraying godly loving relationships.

I think it’s worth considering.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what kind of perverted church you came from but naked youth pastors skinny dipping with their charges was not considered ok 30 years ago by decent people inside or outside of the church.

Does anyone wonder why the church is in the state in is in???

Kevin K. Wright said...

In order to answer Drury's original question regarding other rules to be implemented, I think we have to first consider whether or not the pastor's role is a "professional" role. In "The Democratiziation of American Christianity," Nathan Hatch writes that by the early 19th century, the role of the clergy was on its way to being de-professionalized due in part to the rise of Thomsonian medicine. Untrained and unschooled people mounted pulpits and began preaching. The clerical job was about as professional as the person who throws bread to the pigeons in the park.

If the clergy are no longer a professional class, their actions need not follow professional standards. Unfortunately, we don't always get to decide this answer. The US government does not agree with history's unfolding. Ministers are treated like other members of the professional class (doctors, lawyers, etc.). As a result, ministers enjoy "attorney-client" priviledge. However, ministers are also "employees" of their denomination or churches and thus those "businesses" are liable for their laborers' actions.

So if you insist on dating people in your congregation, you should abide by a set of professional standards. First see what the company policy is. If the policy is ambiguous or prohibitive towards your actions, go talk to the boss. If you are a solo or lead pastor, talk to your D.S., Bishop, board of trustees, etc). If you do not think that dating a parishioner is unethical, then surely you must agree that going behind your overseer's back is. Finally, don't be surprised if your actions are the coversation topic at the water cooler. People in your congregation are going to talk about it when they find out, even if you keep it private to the point of an engagement. Some people will agree, some will disagree. Either way, you brought it on yourself.

Anonymous said...

Additional tips:

Nowhere did I see mentioned the sexual HISTORY of single ministers, mostly just their present situation (which amounts to "keep it cool, boys"). Premarital sex, pornography, the culture's sexual brain-washing have taken a toll on all young males these days, and the stats seem to show that the churched are little, if any, better.

Are churches doing anything to offer counseling? Should ministers be honest with youth about their past struggles (like your dad saying, "don't worry, I smoked pot in high school too.")? What if they had a deep-set addiction that they have only recently "overcame", whether on cyberspace or in real-life? We'd be naive to thing that sexual temptation begins with a ministry job.

matthew said...

Good discussion everyone :)

Keith- Thanks for reminding me that the intention of the article is wise advice and not absolute rules. I totally agree that it is usually WISE for a minister not to date someone in the same congregation.

There are, of course, notable exceptions, as have been mentioned. As I said before, I am a single minister, but am not dating anyone in my congregation.

But let's say I decided I wanted to date within the congregation. What factors might make it fine in my case?

1) I've worked in my home church for my first 4 years of ministry. Thus, as a 25 year old, I've been here for 25 years. I know all the families and all the girls quite well. Trust is well established. Perhaps this eliminates the 'age' factor mentioned by matt g above.

2) It's a small town. That makes a difference in my opinion.

3) I wouldn't date just any girl in the congregation. In fact, I agree that it wouldn't be wise to date 95% of them! But I do believe there are a few girls in our church that I could date which the congregation would view very positively. The most important factor is the personality of the pastor and the date. Are either of them immature? If so, it's too big a risk to take.

4) Other factors...

Keith asked for additional advice for single ministers. For those wanting to be married, I wholly endorse getting back in touch with people from the past. It is easier to get back in touch than ever before with blogs, myspace, facebook, etc.

And I think people should stop feeling 'weird' about using internet stuff like eharmony or whatnot. Face it, there are few opportunities for a single minister to meet a Christian 'date'.

I'll share a decision I made regarding being single. I stopped looking for a solo job. Why? Because I know pastoral ministry can sometimes be a lonely job and if I were going to be a solo pastor somewhere I think I'd be at a higher risk of depression or temptation in certain areas. While I'm single, I intend to remain on staff.

matthew said...

By the way, I also agree with those who have said a single minister thinking of dating someone in the local congregation should check with the authority first. At one point, I was considering such a thing. I talked with my senior pastor and a couple other people I trust as authorities. I received a few areas of caution and a green light at my discretion based on the criteria they gave me.

As months went by, and circumstances changed, I knew it wasn't the best situation to continue to consider, so I ended my interest.

Perhaps that is my advice to add on to #3. If a minister does decide to date someone in the congregation, take a lot of time to think about it before you start and after you've talked to a few mentors.

JustKara said...

This column is where I live--as a single women in ministry. It reflects the general advice I received in seminary and practice every day.

One item you ought to speak tois how same-sex relationships can also come under suspicion, especially when the minister is not visibly dating the opposite sex. The current alarm in the church about "gay marriage" has made the church apprehensive about even same-sex friendships. I have little to advise on this, but I know this it is a serious issue for some of us older singles.

Jeanine Long said...

As a professional counselor, not a minister, I would also caution a single minister not to counsel members of the opposite sex in an office alone. This truly is an age of litigation. When it comes down to “he said – she said” in a court, the jury will often believe “she said.” If not, a great deal of legal expenses is involved and a reputation can be permanently damaged even when absolutely nothing happened. My advice; refer to someone else to do the counseling or insist that a third person is in an adjacent room (your choice of person, i.e. secretary, ministerial staff member, etc.) and leave the door ajar. Even the appearance, rumor or idea of sex with a parishioner can destroy a reputation. It’s not worth it

bitty said...

Wow guys, this is so thought provoking. Interestingly enough, Wesley himself struggled with this very issue. Unfortunately, he did not show a lot of sense in the women he pursued, refused communion to, and married. Maybe we can learn some old lessons all over again:
COMMUNICATE. To friends. Accountability partners. And especially your significant other. I'll be very frank (cause, you know, that's new?!?): most of you know, those of you from the midwest like to forget it: women are not asexual or passive, so let's forget the illusion that it's only men that struggle. Time and again I have conversations with young women who are trying to maintain sexual ethics but for a variety of reasons find it difficult. So dating couples, if something, even if it's not a big deal, proves too much for you - you've got to be dating someone who will help protect that and share the same values.
COMMUNICATE - "same values" covers a lot of area. You may think you're on the same page. But not talking about what specific standards and values to uphold...
COMMUNICATE - talk to God about your struggles and frustrations. God is not holding out on you, like Eve was tempted to believe. I am becoming more convinced that sexual purity is closely tied to faith. No - the substantive kind of faith that trusts that there is something in the future that we are holding out for, that's worth it, more than here. Sex and eschatology? Yes. The more eternally you think, the better frame or big picture. Speaking of which -
sex as a symbol or means of grace? Dennis Kinlaw has a rich theology of sex and marriage that always links it to Christ, as a picture of Christ and the church, the eschaton, the natural, original pattern. Pretty sacred stuff, huh?
Ladies, please - YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE - I have heard so many discussions from women who are never addressed in chapel talks on sex or books on sex. Please don't ignore your gift of sexuality because only by acknowledging it will you be able to give it as a gift to God first and foremost.

Anonymous said...

Where was this advice when i was in college? I needed it then.

Beverly said...

Does anyone know of any ministries or support groups that focus on single ministers?

Beverly said...

As a minister and attorney, I appreciate the dialogue which I came upon while searching to see if there are support groups for single ministers. What I find interesting about the communications is that they shifted to the warnings and potential pitfall issues, which are true and valuable. What I am looking for is the positive - that is groups, ministries, etc. that create opportunities to bring together single ministers whether on the web or in person.