Christian leaders shouldn't pretend that they are not susceptible to moral failure, particularly sexual impropriety, one pastor has warned.
In fact, being in Christian leadership "actually increases the likelihood that you're going to be struggling with these things," said Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.
Pastors, church staff, lay leaders and volunteers often work long hours, dealing with heart matters and working on visions that they're passionate about and on "change the world kind of things," Hamilton explained. Mixed in with that is the fact that human beings are involved.
"We're wired for reproduction," he reminded Christians. "We're wired with a deep desire for intimacy and companionship."
Last summer, Hamilton discovered that two of the pastors at his church were involved in an extramarital affair with one another. At the time, he was away speaking at conferences when he got the call from one of the church staff. He returned to Leawood almost immediately to deal with what he felt was a huge crisis.
He had high hopes for the two pastors. He had envisioned one of them taking his place at the church.
But this wasn't the first time he witnessed church leaders fall.
One of his best friends from seminary who was serving in campus ministry became addicted to porn and was eventually jailed for touching a minor.
A 2005-2006 survey among evangelical pastors revealed that 37 percent admitted to sexual impropriety in ministry, Hamilton cited.
Even more distressing, however, is a statistic he heard from his professor during his senior year in seminary. The professor shared that in the last 50 years in The United Methodist Church, of the 40 pastors who began serving churches of 1,000 or more attendees before the age of 35, 39 of them burned out, experienced a moral failure or left ministry. One of them was still serving in ministry at the time but was arrested six months later when he was linked as the lead suspect in strangling his wife. He was also having an affair with his psychiatrist.
"A week doesn't go by when a leader experiences moral failure," stated Hamilton, who is more cautious about giving hugs and holding hands during prayer. "This is a real serious issue and none of us are immune."
Hamilton gives a "sex talk" twice a year for all of his church staff. After the scandal last year, he has found that they no longer roll their eyes during the talks.
"What's unsettling for many people is, 'that could be me,'" he said.
"You have to be aware of your vulnerability and not pretend like "I'm a Christian, I'm a leader, I'd never do this.' That's the danger place," he cautioned.
The Leawood pastor gave the disturbing talk to tens of thousands of Christian leaders at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit earlier this month and during a follow-up webinar last week.
He lamented that many churches pretend that the struggle with sexual temptations does not exist.
"We fail to talk about the reality of the human condition. This is part of how we are. We can't just pretend it's not," he said. "I have a sex drive. You have a sex drive. This is part of how we're wired."
"We don't all have perfect marriages," he added. "Every pastor, every lay leader, every volunteer in the youth ministry doesn't have a perfect spiritual life."
In addition to helping church leaders recognize the vulnerabilities every person has, Hamilton offered ways a church could handle moral failures.
When he had to deal with sexual misconduct at his church, he talked with the involved parties, met with staff, communicated with the affected families, and sent out an e-mail to the congregation before rumors spread.
"I decided we have to get ahead of this and not behind it," he said.
Though there isn't a "one-size-fits-all" option, Hamilton has found that approaching such crises with transparency, honesty and compassion is the best way to go rather than hiding it from the congregation, being evasive or taking a scarlet letter approach by condemning.
He stressed the importance of first meeting the needs of the flock.
"I think sometimes we tend to put the people and their families first and forget that our primary obligation is to tend the flock that God has given us so in the process of trying to help the families we actually end up hurting the congregation," he explained.
Members of Church of the Resurrection were able to recover from the crisis last year within a month, he noted. He credited the transparency and grace approach for the quick recovery.
"In how we deal with situations like this, [the] world is watching and this is going to be a real testament of the character of the church and what you believe about the Gospels," he cautioned.
"The final word of the church must not be a word of judgment but of grace," he advised. "We serve a Lord who was a friend of drunkards, prostitutes, [and] sinners.
"No one is beyond redemption."