There have been two cases, in recent times, here in America, that have been widely reported, of church leaders involved in sexual misconduct. One of the most well-known cases is that of the late Ravi Zacharias and the accusations of sexual abuse against him. Ravi Zacharias was a highly acclaimed Christian apologist and speaker.
The other case saw Brian Houston, Global Senior Pastor of Hillsong, remove the New York Hillsong Church pastor, Carl Lenz, from his position because of an adulterous affair.
Let us recognize that there has been sexual misconduct going back to the days of the Bible. However, we need to acknowledge it does not have to happen. So in this Langstaff Letter, I want to reproduce an article that I wrote previously: “Hedges.” This article deals with avoiding the temptations that leaders face. It is based on the book I wrote called “Hedges.” The book is now out of print, but we are looking to reprint it soon.
“I was fascinated years ago when I stumbled across a passage in Deuteronomy 17 in a daily devotional entitled ‘Commands for Future Kings.’
I was fascinated to realize that in the early days of the nation of Israel God gave specific directions – hedges to place around future leaders to protect them from the three major temptations that leaders face – ‘Power, Sex, and Money’ or as some people put it ‘The Gals (or guys), the Glitter and the Gold.’
COMMANDS FOR KINGS
- not to multiply horses; a symbol of power
- not to multiply wives; sex and
- not to greatly multiply silver and gold for themselves; money. (Note: The emphasis is on greatly multiplying wealth. It is not wrong for leaders to prosper as long as it is not at the expense of other people.)
Unfortunately, the great majority of Israel’s kings ignored the commands of Deuteronomy 17. The most spectacular failure to resist these temptations belongs to Solomon, who was given all the ingredients for success; a strong nation, a godly father, and God-given wisdom that gave him the ability to rule wisely. But in the end, he did what God told him not to do. (1) He multiplied horses (I Kings 4:26 & I Kings 10:26). (2) He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (I Kings 10:14). (3) He began to multiply gold (I Kings 10:14).
Disobedience brings consequences. It is the principle of sowing and reaping. Solomon, indeed the nation of Israel, paid a heavy price for his failure to obey. ‘And the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the Lord God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and who had commanded him concerning this thing. . . .’ I Kings 11:9. Solomon’s disobedience eventually resulted in a divided kingdom in Israel.
Now, how can one guard oneself against these temptations? There are many ways but let me highlight three important ways:
Eugene Peterson, the author of the Message, declares, ‘There is a saying among physicians that ‘the doctor who is his own doctor has a fool for a doctor.’ If those entrusted with the care of the body cannot be trusted to look after their own bodies, far less can those entrusted with the care of souls look after their own souls, which is even more complex than bodies, and have a correspondingly greater capacity for self-deceit.’
All of us need other people in our lives to whom we are accountable; who can speak into our lives; who can warn us of dangers; who can honestly challenge us; people with whom we have a meaningful relationship; people who really love us enough to keep us accountable.
As a young minister fifty years ago, I learned an important lesson, namely, that if I was going to maintain integrity in my relationships with the opposite sex, then I had to have a set of boundaries. Now I am not legalistic, but having seen so many leaders fall into sexual sin, I worked out my own rules ahead of time in regard to five potential trouble spots.
- Women that you work closely with you in ministry – Quite often, a pastor who ends up in adultery does so with a person he works closely in ministry.
- Secretary – Your wife, who is your helpmate, should have veto power over the choice of a secretary.
- Counseling – Be careful how you counsel the opposite sex. Where and when you do. If necessary, refer them to a professional counselor.
- Travel – Be aware that this can provide speci5ic temptations.
- The Temptress – There are still Delilahs around in churches today.
A question a leader needs to ask is ‘What are my boundaries?’ Better to have a fence at the top of the cliff than an ambulance at the bottom.
In Deuteronomy 17, God himself gave us one of the most important keys to avoiding these temptations. It is very simply consecration and commitment to God and His word. Psalm 119:9&16 declares, ‘How can a young man cleanse his way. By taking heed according to Your Word. With my whole heart have I sought you, oh let me not wander from your commandments.’
Jack Hayford described how he applied this verse to his own life as a young man, “Thus, I launch upon a journey of opening my heart to Him for scrutiny every day, not as an exercise in self-flagellation or berating introspection, bet as an intentional means of maintaining sensitivity to His Spirit’s ‘voice.’ Keeping integrity with His dealings in my heart.”
As the psalmist declared, ‘Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you.’ This applies particularly to private, personal temptations that people face, including such things as pornography.
‘To be forewarned is to be forearmed’ is a saying I heard when I was very young, and I have never forgotten it. God warned His leaders in Deuteronomy 17 so no one coming afterward can ever say ‘I never knew.’ But rather by applying these three simple ABCs, one can retain integrity in one’s life and leadership.”
WHY DO SOME LEADERS STRAY & OTHERS STAY TRUE
There may be many reasons, but one of the reasons why some leaders fail is that they do not build a hedge of protection around their lives and ministry. A great example of building a hedge in regard to ministry is to be seen in the case of Billy Graham and his team. Over sixty years ago, Billy Graham and his team set down rules for ministry and life. Here is Billy Graham’s own record of all this:
“One afternoon during the Modesto meetings, I called the team together to discuss the problem. Then I asked them to go to their rooms for an hour and list all the problems they could think of that evangelists and evangelism encountered.
When they returned, the lists were remarkably similar, and in a short amount of time, we made a series of resolutions or commitments among ourselves that would guide us in our future evangelistic work. In reality, it was more of an informal understanding among ourselves-a shared commitment to do all we could do to uphold the Bible’s standard of absolute integrity and purity for evangelists.
The first point on our combined list was money. The temptation to wring as much money as possible out of an audience often with emotional appeal.
The second item on the list was the danger of sexual immorality. We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife. We determined that the Apostle Paul’s mandate to the young pastor Timothy would be ours as well: “Flee … youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 1:22, KJV).
Our third concern was the tendency of many evangelists to carry on their work apart from the local church, even to criticize local pastors and churches openly and scathingly. We were convinced, however, that this was not only counterproductive but also wrong from the Bible’s standpoint.
The fourth and final issue was publicity. The tendency among evangelists was to exaggerate their success or to claim higher attendance numbers than they really had.
So much for the Modesto Manifesto, as Cliff (Barrows) called it in later years. In reality, it did not mark a radical departure for us; we had always held these principles. It did, however, settle in our hearts and minds, once and for all, the determination that integrity would be the hallmark of both our lives and our ministry” (billygraham.org).
Billy Graham followed his own rules. For example, many years ago, Hillary Clinton wanted to talk to him, so he arranged to meet her at a restaurant with other people around him.
We should note that while these boundaries apply to leaders, they also apply to all of God’s people. So let us live lives of integrity because when we live committed lives, we will bring glory to His name. So let’s do it.