Ed and Lisa Young, authors of the New York Times bestseller Sexperiment, have seen many churches and marriages devastated by church leaders who think that sexual sin and infidelity can't happen to them. As a wake-up call to church leaders, the couple recently gave a lecture warning leaders of pitfalls leading up to an affair and how to overcome those temptations.
According to the Youngs, there are four steps that occur before an affair takes place. The first is denial.
"Here's how you mess up as a Christian leader...I think we have to convince ourselves--we have to lie to ourselves that it cannot happen to me," said Ed during a webinar on sexual purity earlier this week. The talk was part of a series of webinars by C3 Global, a relational network for pastors spearheaded by Ed.
Ed and Lisa, who have been married for 30 years and have four kids together, first pointed out that one's personal history can make them susceptible to infidelity. For example, the person may have a family with a history of infidelity, may have come from a single or blended family, or may have been sexually abused.
There are also certain phases in life when a married person can become more susceptible to seeking a relationship outside of marriage, according to Ed.
"During a time of transition, after pregnancy for example, during a time of loss, maybe you just moved somewhere, we are susceptible. Marital drift can happen, apathy, laziness," he said.
"The proverbial thing where you have duel resignation. You get married, crank out a couple of kids, the wife chases the kids and the career and the husband chases the career. Then all of a sudden, you revolve your life around the kids and you put romance on the back burner and then you throw in an attractive person and there you have it."
Secondly, affairs happen because church leaders cultivate a relationship with someone other than their spouse, sharing common interests, time and emotions with another person.
Lisa observed that extramarital relationships among ministry leaders are often based on "mutual passions."
Ed acknowledged that two people who share common interests in ministry may experience attraction but compared that kind of attraction to homosexual attraction. Even though they may struggle with it, they should not act upon it, he said.
"So you have that common bond. You're going to be attracted to members of the opposite sex. You're going to be attracted," said Ed. "Some people who might have some sort of predisposition toward homosexuality--it doesn't mean you have to act on it--but you might be attracted to a member of the same sex. But we know what the Bible says about that, one man, one woman."
Another sign that the relationship is headed in the wrong direction is when a church leader begins spending too much time alone with a member of the opposite sex, like always dropping by their office, according to the Youngs.
Lisa heartedly agreed with Ed that leaders should also avoid sharing emotions recklessly. Ed noted how easily an emotional situation like a church leader expressing anger over a member leaving church can lead to two church leaders sharing emotions with each other.
"What does it mean to share an emotion? Ministry is emotional--we all know that. Like, 'Man, that person is an idiot. They left our church! They were this and that. We spent so much time with them,'" explained Ed. "Then you have someone who says, 'Oh, it's okay."
Ed asked Lisa what should someone do in that situation. "That's where you watch your close personal relationships that you share anything with," answered Lisa. "For you, it's me, number one. No one else comes before him sharing with me. And number two for you would be a close personal friend who is a guy."
The third indicator that a church leader is on the road to infidelity is when he starts comparing their relationship with his spouse with another person, said Lisa. She said people who are looking at someone with lust will always see that person in the best light, not reality.
"You turn your back on that relationship that is not as sexy because it has all those variables and you get into a relationship with someone who appears to not have any of those variables. Well, guess what? They eventually come. Because eventually you will have a mortgage payment and you'll have an alimony payment."
Ed added that it's also unfair for someone to compare someone in the covenant of marriage to someone outside the covenant such as a person in the adult film industry.
Lisa argued that when examining relationships, Christ should always be the standard.
"If you're going to make a comparison, compare yourself to Christ...because when you live comparing yourself to Christ, you are going to see them as Christ sees them, with the love that is unconditional."
The last step in on the "pathway to promiscuity" is when two people connect by having sex, said Ed.
Burnout a Cause
During the sexual purity webinar, Ed and Lisa emphasized that leaders should be wary of ministry "burnout" which can make them vulnerable to a host of temptations including sexual sin. The Fellowship Church senior pastor and his wife also spoke about the role of the church in ensuring that their ministry leaders avoid the burnout.
"When you are emotionally down or fried, you are more susceptible to over spending, eating, sexting," said Ed.
They said it is important for church leaders to take a break or day off every once in a while. Lisa said that while there are busy periods in ministry, she said there is always a break that comes. If that's not the case, church leaders need to talk to the person above them to make it happen.
"Because your leader to survive and thrive. Your leader wants your marriage to be great. Your leader wants you to have terrific families to love the church. So don't blame the church. The church is there to support your marriage, to support your family," she said.
Ed pointed out that it is impossible for ministry leaders to have a "balanced life" and always leave early from work. However, he said what ministry leaders should strive for is "rhythm," which can sometimes run fast or slow, depending on the season of ministry.
"So often, we get caught up with storing up treasures in heaven that our souls rust here on earth," he said.
The Youngs also encouraged church leaders to make sure that each person their team has at least one service where he can worship. "Sometimes the sickest people are those who lead," said Ed.
Good Defense is a Good Offense
To prevent an affair from taking place, the Youngs encouraged church leaders to be proactive in keeping their relationships sexually pure.
The first realization for church leaders is that sexual sin is a reality. Citing 1 Corinthians 10:13, which states "when you are tempted, " Pastor Ed said leaders should know "it can happen to me."
In some cases, church leaders who were not leaders in high school or college get prideful when they are complimented for their leadership at church, he explained.
Secondly, church leaders should cultivate their relationship with their spouses through date nights. "A great defense is a good offense," said Ed.
Pastor Ed clarified that taking your wife to a small group at church does not qualify as a date. Lisa said that singles should cultivate their relationships with those who honor sexual purity in their lives.
Thirdly, church leaders should compare their spouses and themselves to Christ, not compare their spouses to others. The Youngs read from 2 Corinthians 10:5, which says to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
"No one says I'm going to choose today to serve Satan but in essence by our choices that's what we are saying. That's why we have to take captive those thoughts and say this day I'm going to choose to serve the Lord and be obedient to his word," said Lisa.
Lastly, Pastor Ed said church leaders should connect with their spouses regularly, which also means fulfill the sexual needs of their spouses.
Ed cited 1 Corinthians 7:5, which states "don't deprive each other."
Lisa said an active sex life is important among married couples to help each other not be tempted.
The couple also advised church leaders to follow the 10 Commandments of Purity that appeared in their book Sexperiment:
1) I shall have no other human relationship before Lisa.
2) Remember your date night and keep it holy.
3) Honor Lisa on anniversaries and special days so that you may live long in the land the Lord has given you.
4) I shall not take the covenant of marriage in vain.
5) I shall not ride in a car or eat in a restaurant alone with a member of the opposite sex.
6) I shall critique the convo.
7) I shall not counsel a woman behind closed doors.
8) I shall not share the details of my marriage with others.
9) I shall not watch, read or expose myself to sexually explicit shows, books, websites, etc…
10) I shall remember the implications of committing adultery.
The C3 Global webinar on sexual purity is available for viewing on the C3 Global website.