Friday, September 21, 2007


A therapist once said to me, "Gender is always part of the equation." He said this in the context of a conversation about moral failure in ministry. He was speaking to the ignorance that he saw among overly-idealistic church leaders who wanted to imagine that they could counsel and care for members of the opposite sex and yet not be snared by emotional or physical attraction (read: play with fire and not get burned).

Pastors, as other caring professionals, are at risk here. A pastor must care for unhealthy people, but in a healthy way. To this end it is important to be self-aware about attraction and limit your involvement with individuals of the opposite sex. The Apostle Paul had some winning ideas here: Older women instructing younger women; older men instructing younger men. That's a pretty proactive, common-sensical approach. You should definitely be developing a ministry team to assist you in a gender-specific way. Another common-sense biblical strategy that Joseph employed (a little bit more reactive) is RUN AS FAST AS YOUR CAN. You might have to be ready to do that as well.

As a pastor it is not possible to avoid conversations and meetings that are cross-gender. But clear boundaries are a must. Here are some ideas:

1. Do not meet alone
• Have someone else around
• Have a window or door open so that work associates can look in or listen in
• Meet in a public space, like an office building or coffee shop (not in a home or a car)
• Consider having someone else in the meeting (spouse, assistant, etc.)
2. Do not meet on their turf
• Stay in control of the environment
• Publicize the meeting place to others (no secret meeting place)
3. Do not meet after hours
• Early morning or late night meetings are a bad idea
4. Do not meet regularly
• Refer to a counselor for ongoing treatment
5. Do not share personal life details
• Stay strictly professional in your conversation
• If you speak of your wife and family only speak positively
6. Do not touch
• Make handshakes brief (do not linger)
• Avoid hugs entirely or else one-armed side hugs
• If any attempt is made to touch you (hold on to your hand, etc.) pull away and end the meeting immediately
7. Do not fantasize
• Discipline your mind toward Philippians 4:8 thoughts
• If you find yourself drowning in the soup talk with your area pastor and get some support

In your relationships with the opposite sex, be honest with yourself if problems are developing between your ears. There are some typically "red flags" that go up when attraction starts to be problematic. Be aware if:

1. You find yourself looking forward to a meeting with someone of the opposite gender.
2. You find yourself trying to figure out a reason to have a phone call or meeting with someone of the opposite gender.
3. You find yourself day-dreaming about someone of the opposite gender.
4. You find yourself speaking differently than you normally would (more charmingly, more sensitively) with someone of the opposite gender.

Remember, we are all made of the same stuff, and sometimes that's not very good stuff. Make others aware of the potential for problems, for you, or others. Tell the people around you to feel free to ask questions if they see something weird going on (someone calling frequently, hanging around after services, etc.). Better to be open and frank about the fact that "Gender is always part of the equation." Obviously, with as many leaders as we've seen "getting burned" it's time to quit playing with fire.


How do you handle physical beauty when you see it? I used to pretend that I didn't. That didn't work very well. I don't know who I was fooling, but I wasn't fooling myself, much less God. Now I have developed "the prayer." The prayer goes like this: "God, that is a beautiful woman. You created her, and you did a good job. But she belongs to you, Lord, not me. I just wanted you to know that I noticed." What does that prayer do for me? It keeps me in reality. It keeps me from objectifying someone. It pricks the bubble of illusion and fantasy. It helps me see that person with spiritual eyes. It keeps me in reality.

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