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Spring 1989 · Vol. 18 No. 1 · pp. 33–42 

Sexuality and the Ministry

Ed Boschman


We are all sexual beings, and we exist because our parents are sexual beings. The fact is that our lives find their genesis in sexual behavior. And though it was God’s perfect idea from the start, its subsequent besmirchment has enormously complicated sexuality. The sense of intrigue and mystery begins in early childhood. Children are (actively or passively) taught that they ought not to “touch themselves” and that they ought not to “play doctor” with their friends. “Some parts of us are private and only the doctor or we ourselves should touch them.” It’s sound enough advice, but it certainly also begins the mystique. And usually sooner than later, masturbation is discovered in one way or another. Accompanying it, varying degrees of inner turmoil become a real issue. The pleasure is incredible and the privacy is absolute, but what of the accompanying thoughts? The adolescent-teen years serve up a battle ground in the sexual arena which humanly speaking can almost be viewed as unfair. Though it may be arguable, it is plausible to build a case that today’s teens, as inundated as they are by our social media, have been thrown into an arena with the toughest lions in history. Josh McDowell Ministry reports in a {34} “Teen Sex Survey in the Evangelical Church” that three fourths of teens learn little or nothing from their church about sex, but that 43 percent of church youth aged 18 have had sexual relations. (These percentages are barely better than unchurched teens.) McDowell also reports that “the average teen sees 9230 acts of sex on TV per year, 93,000 by age 20.” For some there is the added hell of sexual abuse, and/or the experience of a heart wrenching abortion. For all of us, sexual awakening and adjustment is both exciting and challenging.

. . . we admitted attraction, temptation, struggles with lust . . .

Then we marry. And we find (when we are well informed and well adjusted) that the marriage bed is truly undefiled. Our sexuality is given full freedom for expression in the mutuality and fidelity of a married love commitment. And all is well. And the battle is over. Certainly for the person in Christian ministry it is over. Or is it?


The recent exposition of the sexual sin of several prominent ministry people has reminded us that it is not over. That should not surprise us. One needs only to remember Abraham, Samson, David and Timothy to know that our sexuality travels with us to whatever ministry we are given.

A recent survey (Leadership, Winter 88) reported that twenty three (23) percent of ministers surveyed admitted to doing something that they considered sexually inappropriate with someone. Twelve (12) percent confessed to having had extramarital sexual intercourse. Eighteen (18) percent admitted something less than intercourse, but blatantly sexual had occurred. Some pastors added that their chastity was only by God’s grace and as the result of perennially hard-fought battles. It is of interest to note that a parallel survey showed that the percentages approximately doubled where non-clergy church people were concerned.

In the beginning God created them male and female. And that has not changed. How then does the minister effectively manage his sexuality? At a recent local community seminar on “Pastoral and Leadership Sexual Indiscretions” sponsored by a group of Christian counsellors, a well travelled marriage seminar speaker and ordained minister said, “I doubt that any pastor goes out and looks for extramarital relationships. But it has happened, and it can happen to any of us.” The words were {35} strangely reminiscent of “let him who stands take heed, lest he fall.”

In a recent pastoral staff meeting at our church, we talked about our sexuality. It seemed inconceivable to us to think of having a sexual relationship with anyone other than our wives. But we admitted attraction, temptation, struggles with lust, and ongoing battles to turn off the TV or avoid certain magazine racks. And even amidst our sense of horrification regarding extramarital sex, we were flung back to the truth: it could happen to us. We are, and will be sexual pastors. Scott Peck has written that “spiritual and sexual desires are so closely intertwined that you cannot arouse one without arousing the other” (Carlson, 4). We live in a world with people who are one and all sexual. It is self deceiving to deny it. It is impossible to escape it. It is critical that we manage it.


The Scriptures warn succinctly about the “lusts of the flesh and the eyes” (1 John 2:16). Given that men are created in such a way as to respond aggressively to visual stimulation, these warnings are dramatic. This matter is complicated by the fact that ministers are called upon to be tender, compassionate, and re-assuring. Whether by design, or as a learned trait, the expression of those in ministry provides a seed bed for intimacy. Ministers are not only freed to have feelings, but encouraged to have them. Now, more than ever, in reaction to the American male stoicism of the last decades, it is increasingly okay for men, especially Christian men to own and express their feelings. In their book entitled Men Have Feelings Too, Brian and Linda Jones list five aspects of our lives which combine to make the whole: “Your spiritual side . . . your emotional side . . . your intellectual side . . . your social side . . . your physical side” (Jones, p.23). They go on to say that the sexual drive is an integral part of our physical side. We are sexual, sensual beings. Of this we must be fully aware and affirming. God intends for us to be both sexual and spiritual at the same time. “One of the real tragedies in Christian history has been the divorce of sexuality from spirituality” (Foster, 91). Howard Hendricks shared in a lecture at a pastors’ conference that a pastor had told him he was sure that the Holy Spirit left the room when he and his wife had sex. Hendricks said, “I {36} laughed in his face.”

It is important also to be informed about the formfulness of sexual behavior. Objectively and philosophically it can be viewed rather simply: Attraction, Arousal, Stimulation, Orgasm. In a kind of ironic way, it seems almost absurd. That’s all there is to it. Another way to view it is this: looking, talking, liking, walking, hand holding, kissing, body holding, fondling, intercourse. Being able to graph this so straightforwardly helps us to think about it objectively before reason has been obliterated by passion. It also points out that lines must be drawn at the onset of attraction to prevent the natural snowball from becoming a devastating avalanche. It is normal to be attracted. There is no sin in this. But the bird which lands in our hair must not be allowed to nest there.

Bob Philips displays the stages of inappropriate sexual involvement in graphic form.

{37} Differentiation between ‘porneia’ (fornication, promiscuity, pornography) and ‘moicheia’ (adultery, double bonding) is also helpful. Though it is likely that porneia is the more pervasive battleground it is equally true that ‘mocheia’ normally lies at the end of the road which began at ‘porneia.’

Though there are many similarities between the sexual temptation of the minister and others, there may be some merit in identifying several susceptibilities which are particularly prominent in ministry. It is normal to view the pastor as an ideal. In teaching and counselling relationships, he becomes an information source, and (hopefully) a model of what is good and right. Unless he is deliberately honest and vulnerable, all other spouses could become an object of comparison. And since clergy have often avoided showing or telling of their humanness and failures, their apparent “perfectionism” coupled with their relational suavity can set them up to be viewed as an ideal “catch.” In the pastoral assignment, the ministry of counselling exposes the pastor to specific temptations. It is here that the pedestal idealogy has the potential of growing feet. The “helper” often, though perhaps unconsciously, transfers hopes and dreams, and even loyalties to the caregiver. In addition, the natural solace of appropriate touching can become an occasion for a fiendish foothold. The subject matter in counselling is often of rather intimate nature and brings with it the side effect of vulnerability and trust, which are foundations for physical intimacy. Even the sharing of purely spiritual struggles, defeats, and victories may create a spiritual and emotional bonding (which though entirely asexual, may have an identifiable feel of intimacy).

But it is not only counselees with whom sexual sin is committed. The previously mentioned Leadership survey indicates that counselees comprise seventeen (17) percent of illicit partners, ministerial staff five (5) percent, church staff eight (8) percent, lay ministers nine (9) percent, members of the congregation thirty (30) percent, and those outside the congregation thirty one (31) percent. This attests to the fact that though sexual temptation for clergy is in some ways unique and intense, it is not entirely different from that experienced by people in general. {38}


Foundational to pro-active preventative measures which will help to ward off stumbling into sexual sin is the theology which the Scriptures present on this matter. Joseph, while serving his master as manager of the household, rejected the seductive advances of Potiphar’s wife. When she persisted and seized his garment, “he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house” (Gen. 39:12). Avoiding compromising circumstances is one way of dealing with sexual temptations. “Flee . . . lust” Paul advises Timothy (1 Tim. 2:22). And he advises the Christians in the sex saturated city of Corinth to “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:15). The occasion of sexual enticement is not a time to “stand” (and see how resistant one can be) but to “run” (knowing how weak one is). This practical counsel is undergirded by the explanation: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:35). “Sexual promiscuity is sin. To understand it as a violation of God’s laws in our bodies gives all the logic we need to abstain from involvement” (Fundamentalist Journal, 32).

Based upon these cardinal truths, we suggest a series of principles by which to shore up defenses against a fall into sexual sin.

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of the enemy. The devil is still a ravenous lion on the prowl. And he does have pleasures (though temporary) in his arsenal. It may be worthwhile to review Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. Our sexual struggles, though they package themselves as physical, are really not flesh and blood battles.
  2. Maintain a close walk with the Lord. The professionalism of ministry in the 20th Century has the capacity to make ministers practitioners rather than disciples making disciples. Being a pastor does not exempt me from being a Christian. The purity of character is measured in the inner heart not in the spotlight.
  3. Don’t allow romance and your sex life to deteriorate (assuming marriage). The scriptures warn against abstinence excepting by mutual consent, for an agreed upon period of time, and {39} for the purpose of spiritual pursuit (1 Cor. 7:5).
  4. Cultivate an intimate relationship with your spouse. Marital fidelity is not only measured by whether or not one is physically faithful. The covenant also includes emotional psychological and spiritual solidarity all of which are dependent upon honest and regular communication. The bonding of marriage is protected from invasion when intimacy pervades all these dimensions of marriage.
  5. Be forearmed to deal with temptation. We need to be ready to run and clarify (as did Joseph) on the way out: “How can I sin against God” or against my own body, or my own spouse, or the other, or their spouse, or the families, or . . .
  6. Avoid the “Minister on the Pedestal” syndrome. Leadership from honest weakness is more powerful than leadership from pretended strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). Vulnerability in ministry will mitigate against a good bit of heroism and also against the false confidence of an illusionary ivory tower.
  7. Avoid absolute privacy because it affords absolute intimacy. There are some common sense precautions which can be taken. Counsel can be confidential without inviting temptation. Some situations allow for visual (window) accountability. Others can leave a crack in the door. Certainly, a minister should not meet in the privacy of a home in a one on one opposite sex counselling setting. Any flirtation or “come ons” ought to be immediately confronted and then the helpee referred. *(An addendum on principles for touching follows.)
  8. Be accountable to at least someone. Ideally, one’s spouse ought to he able to hear of how temptation and/or attraction is faced. An alternative might be accountability to a trusted fellow Christian or two. The solidarity of trust and mutual confidence provides a good opportunity to admit attractions (not sin) in order to properly prevent sin from occurring.
  9. Consider the predictable outcome of sexual sin or even its fantasy. The truth is that the cost for a few minutes of illicit sexual pleasure is often one’s family, ministry, and personal health and well being.
  10. Discipline thoughts to positive and God blessed ends (Phil. 4:8). It is here where the battle generally begins and ends. Lust {40} entertained will become lust fulfilled.
  11. Maintain a healthy balance in life. Those who have fallen into sexual sin, without excusing it often testify that emotional and physical weariness had lowered their resolve and resistance. It is God’s plan that his ministers work hard and honorably, but that they also get sufficient rest and exercise and that they eat the proper amount of nutritious food.
  12. Remember that the battle is never over. Plan to be alert to Satan’s attacks for the duration. Thinking “sexual temptation is behind me,” could be fatal.


The question is not who among us has sinned, but rather how we each have sinned. No honest minister will be able to say he has escaped entirely the lust of the flesh. Yet many will be able to praise God that His grace has enabled them to maintain marital fidelity. Few would be able to say that they have never viewed a magazine or movie or a live scene at the beach with the result of an increased heart rate. But many will be able to say that God has by and large given them victory and they are not obsessed with or addicted to sexual stimulation or pleasure.

It is this writer’s opinion that marital infidelity, whether it be of the spiritual, emotional, psychological or physical variety is intolerable and unacceptable in the life of the minister. The minister must be a “one-woman man” (1 Tim. 3/Titus 1). We think, too, that pornography in all its forms, represents a challenge to marital fidelity and is a sin against God, and that it is not acceptable for the minister.

It is clear from recent months that God has ways of removing the impure from the context of his blessed ministries. It is also evident that God can and does restore the repentant in his own way and time. Both repentance and restoration are, by God’s design to be managed in the context of spiritual leaders within the body of Christ. This is well illustrated by Don Baker’s testimony about Greg, his “fallen” associate staff pastor: “He has undergone his discipline admirably. He has completed nine months of psychological counselling. He has proven his repentance and has completely forsaken his sin. He has assumed the spiritual leadership of his home and family. {41} He and Joanne’s relationship is stronger than it has ever been. He is displaying himself as a man of God. In fact, I think Greg is better equipped to serve Christ today than most of us who have never been through the terrible painful process of discipline and restoration” (Baker, p. 96).

The minister is a part of the flock, but he is also an undershepherd. In order for the minister to lead the flock of God with integrity, he is called to exercise his sexuality within the confines of the plan and blessing of God. And though this may be a big ticket item for the 20th Century man of God, it is not out of reach. With God, nothing is!


Touching should be governed by the following principles:

First, it is imperative that we touch. Perhaps not always, or in every situation, but our own need for touch, and the help that touching is, make it an essential ingredient in caregiving. “We’re almost afraid to do anything anymore because we can’t do it perfectly” (Buscaglia, p. 39). The intricacies and even the dangers of touching must not immobilize us. We are created to touch and be touched. We must understand that, commit to it, and do it.

Second, we must be personally prepared. The issue at hand here is our purpose or motivation for touching. Fletcher suggests inner preparedness is the result of praying, “How can I best express encouragement and reassurance without being misunderstood?” (Fletcher, p. 74). Hidden in that prayer is the matter of whether the touching is for me or for the other. Helping touches are for the other.

A third matter is readiness of others. It is hardly right or helpful to bear-hug another who is not ready to accept or receive a message of care in that form. A gentle move of the hand, arm, or shoulders toward the possibility of a touch can normally allow the other to withdraw or receive. It should be the helpee’s choice.

Fourthly, a ministry of touch should be something practiced wisely, not habitually or ritually performed. The meaning of touch must be apparent and sincere. An observant and sensitive carer can keep track of the hard day for bereaved, or notice the “down” day of a family member, co-worker, or friend. Touch, as the outgrowth of sensitivity and caring is {41} effective.

Fifth, the touch must be discretionary and appropriate. A warm hand accompanied by a “touch” of the eyes is virtually always effective. A hand on the arm or shoulder can often be fine. A shoulder hug is not the same as a frontal body hug, and where opposite sex caring is happening, the former can often be helpful, while the latter would not be. For men, bear hugs of upper body are often appreciated; for women, shoulder hugs seem more acceptable and appropriate.

It is generally inappropriate to touch opposite sex helpees except on the hands, arms or shoulders. There may be exceptions when anointing and prayer are involved.

Discretion is also often served by avoiding private meetings, but that may not always be expedient or possible. Sixth, appropriate words may be helpful. In most cases the touch will be brief, and will not be accompanied by many words. Sometimes, brief phrases like, “I care,” or “I’m sorry,” or “I love you in the Lord,” may be advisable.


  • Baker, Don. Beyond Forgiveness. Portland: Multnomah Press, 1954.
  • Buscaglia, Leo. Love. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.
  • Carlson, Robert. “Battling Sexual Indiscretion.” Ministry. January, 1987.
  • Fletcher, William. The Second Greatest Commandment. NavPress, 1953.
  • Foster, Richard. Money, Sex and Power. San Francisco: Harper and Row publishers, 1985.
  • Hendricks, Howard. “The Private Life of Your Morality.” Unpublished lecture, October 14, 1988.
  • Jones, Brian and Linda. Men Have Feelings Too. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1988.
  • Leadership Journal, Christianity Today, Winter, 1988.
  • Leadership Journal, Christianity Today, Fall, 1982.
  • MacArthur, John. “Lessons to Learn from the Fall of Jimmy Swaggart.” Unpublished lecture from Master’s College, 1988.
  • McDowell, Josh. “A Teen Sex Survey in the Evangelical Church.”
  • Narramore, Clyde. Why a Christian Leader May Fall. Wechester, IL: Good News Publishers, 1988.
Ed Boschman was the former senior pastor of Laurelglen Bible Church, Bakersfield, California.

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