FIRST-PERSON: Use boundaries to deter sin

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- A pastor I know well had hidden marital infidelity for years, but it recently came to light. The truth about this is continuing to emerge, but enough of it's already out there to make me grit my teeth when I think about it.

The reason for my strong response is I know what a pastor's sexual misconduct does to a church. My last two pastorates were at churches that had lost pastors to marital unfaithfulness. At my last church, there were members even after 15 years who still had a hard time trusting me because of what another pastor had done.

Wounds heal, but scars often last a lifetime. God forgives, but a church never forgets when its shepherd strays. What it does to the body of Christ and to communities who watch from the outside is incalculable.

Heartbreaking incidents like this remind me of why boundaries are so critical. When pastors dabble in gray areas of how we treat the opposite gender, we're already asking to lose the battle. Is it a sin for a married person to individually visit or lunch alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse? This is kind of like asking whether it's safe to strike a match at a gas pump. Maybe it's not a sin, but it's certainly dumb.

Lynette and I have agreed never to do anything in relation to the opposite sex that could be called into question, even if motives are pure. And I have asked North American Mission Board's missionaries and staff to follow the same commonsense guidelines.

If you haven't adopted similar guidelines personally or church-wide, here are some you should consider:

--I will pray for the integrity of other leaders and staff members.

--I will maintain financial integrity.

--I will not show affection that could be questioned.

--When counseling members of the opposite sex, I will be sure another person is present.

--Other than my spouse or another family member, I will not be at a residence alone with the opposite sex.

--If married I will not have a meal alone with the opposite sex, other than a spouse or a family member.

--If married I will not be alone in an automobile with the opposite sex, other than my spouse or a family member.

--I will not view pornography.

--I will be careful in answering cards, letters or emails from the opposite sex.

Today, the way we correspond with people provides new pitfalls. Texting and Facebook are great tools, but can be dangerous weapons against believers. Technology has given us unprecedented access to anonymity, secrecy and inappropriate content, and its abuse is bringing down church leaders every week.

While the pain of these recent events is still fresh in my mind, I want to encourage fellow pastors to establish similar guidelines that will protect you and your church from the ravages of inappropriate conduct.

If we're going to lead healthy Southern Baptist churches, plant healthy new ones and raise up the next generation of church leaders, we've got to give them a church they can be proud to help build.


Kevin Ezell is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. This article first appeared on NAMB's "Whatever It Takes" blog.

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