Vice President Mike Pence set off a Twitter firestorm a few months ago when he stated that he observes a couple of simple rules to protect his marriage. First, he said that he refuses to be alone with a woman who is not his wife. Second, he said that he avoids attending events featuring alcohol if his wife is not with him. His opponents called him a bigot, a pervert, and a sexist.
Weeks later, Hollywood erupted in a volcanic explosion of sexual misconduct allegations against men like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer. Maybe if these men had employed Mr. Pence’s rules to their own lives, their integrities and careers would still be intact.
But the point is this: in a culture that is hypersensitive to issues of sexual misconduct, and in an age when an accusation is as good as a conviction, public figures must protect themselves. Church planters must protect themselves. The healths of their marriages, families, and ministries depends on it.
I sat down with a few experienced church planters and pastors to discuss this issue. Here are a few pieces of advice I jotted down during our conversation.
1. Avoid private messaging.
Church planters are pastors, and pastors must interact with female church and staff members. Keep these encounters public. Avoid private-message exchanges via Facebook, Twitter, or texting. In the event that a woman sends you a private message, get another person’s eyes on that message thread as soon as possible.
2. Hold meetings in public.
If a female church or staff member asks for a one-on-one meeting, move that meeting to a public place. Private meetings with women are often the breeding ground for inappropriate relationships, so eliminate the possibility of encroaching upon dangerous territory by making your meetings as visible as possible.
3. Share issues brought to you with your fellow pastors/elders.
Some will object to this rule, asking, “But what about confidentiality?”
Keeping a church member’s private affairs confidential is important, but not more important than preserving your integrity. Your people should know that you have to share with your fellow pastors for the sake of transparency and accountability.
That is not to suggest that you should betray the confidence of your people–only that you should establish policies in order to protect yourself from completely private and potentially-dangerous interactions with female church and staff members.
4. Involve your wife.
Tread lightly here. As I mentioned before, you do not want to betray your people’s confidence. Your wife does not need to know every detail of their private lives. She does, however, need to know about your interactions with other women. If possible, she needs to be involved in them. If a woman wants to discuss a sensitive issue with you, ask if it is okay to involve your wife in that discussion. Better yet, ask the woman in question if she would like to meet with your wife one-on-one.
5. Be vigilant.
You might think that you are not vulnerable to moral failure, but you are. Just as pride cometh before the fall, so a false sense of invulnerability cometh before the failure. The moment you begin to think that sexual scandal cannot happen to you is the moment that you will cease to employ these common-sense rules. Remain vigilant.
Note: This post resulted from a conversation with Matt Marrs of Northland Baptist Church, Craig Coppenbarger of Valor Church, Joshua Hedger of Emmaus KC, and Christian Williams of The Grove.