This is a guest post by my friend Dr. Jennifer Degler. Jennifer pulls no punches. But, she’s a difference maker in the Kingdom. I’m thankful for her influence.
If you are a pastor considering or engaging in an affair, may I offer you points to ponder from a psychologist who has been honored to work with hurting people on all sides of an affair?
1) The biggest lie you are telling yourself is “I am attracted to my affair partner because of things that are wrong with my spouse.”
Here’s the truth: “I am attracted to my affair partner because of things that are wrong in me.” An affair will not fix what’s wrong with you. Having an emotional or sexual affair is using another person as a pain reliever. They are your Oxycodone, your drug of choice. You are using him or her as a distraction from your brokenness.
The bottom line: an affair is using another person in the worst way and calling it love.
2) You are thinking like a narcissist if you believe things like “The importance of my ministry should earn me a pass on church discipline or making apologies” or “I don’t need to step down from leadership” or “Exceptions should be made for me” or even “I am entitled to this affair.”
Bottom line: You are not that special. None of us are.
3) Your affair or “inappropriate relationship” (the latest euphemism) will come out eventually.
Don’t fool yourself; it’s going to be uncovered and made public. Thanks to social media, thousands of people will know within days.
Bottom line: Anyone who Googles your name will find your affair on the first page of search results.
4) When your secret is exposed, your family, friends, staff, and church members will feel violated, and those who have deeper emotional wounds from an alcoholic, abusive, self-absorbed, or absent parent or spouse will be affected in ways you can’t even imagine.
The current betrayal and abandonment they feel in reaction to your actions will stir up old hurts. They had grown to trust you as their pastor, to believe they had finally found a truly good man or woman who loved them too much to lie. Your affair will leave them reeling.
Best case scenario: they share their emotional upheaval with caring friends and a counselor. Their church pulls together to provide support for many months.
More common scenario: they deal with their emotional upheaval by either 1) checking out (shutting down emotionally, withdrawing from others, or leaving the organized church, perhaps forever) or 2) acting out (self-destructive behaviors like drinking or eating too much, diving into unwise relationships, etc.).
Bottom line: Your affair will shipwreck wounded people who already struggle to keep afloat emotionally.
5) There is hope for the minister who’s had an affair.
It starts with confessing to your spouse, trusted friends, an elder board or personnel committee, and then cutting off all contact with your affair partner.
In the weeks (and consequences) to follow, you may regret confessing when you see the devastation in your family and ministry. You will spend precious time and money on counseling that you may doubt can help you. You will wonder if God can make you whole. You may hate yourself.
It will be the most awful time of your life.
But you will also feel relief when you have nothing to hide.
Your dedication to recovery will help you regain the respect of your children and friends. With tremendous work, your marriage can heal. People will move on to other gossip. You will someday like yourself again.
Bottom line: If you will go through the firestorm ignited when a pastor admits an affair, you will see God bring beauty from the ashes of your life.
There is hope for you, Pastor.
Jennifer Degler, Ph.D.