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I had an awkward situation recently. My doctor prescribed a sleep study (part of some health tests I am doing in preparation for my forthcoming new health regimen).

The tech called me to arrange the details. She did not seem to have many details about the clinic, so I asked some questions. One of which was the setting—in this case, it was an office building with several faux bedrooms where they would wire me up and measure me sleeping.

I asked about the staff, and she was "it."

Then came that awkward moment. I knew she would not understand it, but I explained, "I can't come if it is just you and me in the building." It was awkward, and I am guessing few ever said such a thing. So I skipped out on my study (and will probably have to pay the no-show charge).

It might seem silly to you, but let me encourage you not to see it as such. Many of you who read this are young pastors. I know too many pastors who have lost great credibility because of an accusation (let alone an indiscretion).

I am not irresistible. I have a great face for radio. I do not think that anyone will swoon over me. But I do not know the stability, morality, and disposition of people that I meet.

When I told my wife, I thought she might slap me. She has been excited about my recent health plans. However, she was the opposite. She felt protected and affirmed. She knew I would not put our family in jeopardy.

I remember Danny Akin once saying that he would not pick up a woman on the side of the road in the rain if her car broke down. He would never be alone with a woman not his wife. It seemed a bit selfish until he told the rest of the story. He would pull over and give her the keys and let her drive where she needed to be.

Guarding yourself takes work, can be awkward, and is often inconvenient. But one problem averted makes it a good stewardship of your life, ministry, and family.

At the churches I planted, we always used something like Saddleback's Ten Commandments:

Thou shalt not go to lunch alone with the opposite sex.

Thou shalt not have the opposite sex pick you up or drive you places when it is just the two of you.

Thou shalt not kiss any attendee of the opposite sex or show affection that could be questioned.

Thou shalt not visit the opposite sex alone at home.

Thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex alone at the office, and thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex more than once without that person's mate. Refer them.

Thou shalt not discuss detailed sexual problems with the opposite sex in counseling. Refer them.

Thou shalt not discuss your marriage problems with an attendee of the opposite sex.

Thou shalt be careful in answering e-mails, instant messages, chat rooms, cards, or letters from the opposite sex.

Thou shalt make your co-worker your protective ally.

Thou shalt pray for the integrity of other staff members.

(The first four do not apply to unmarried staff.)

I hope you have a list like this for your own life and ministry.

"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality..." (Ephesians 5:3)

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for EvangelismPreviously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Ed recently started Mission Group in order to create unique and practical resources for church leaders. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.

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Charles Gentry

commented on Aug 4, 2011

All good advice. However, sometimes bi-vocational pastors have to meet alone with managers and/or subordinates if they plan to do their jobs. As a bi-vocational pastor sellng insurance, I have had many occassions in which I had to accompany a female salesperson for training. There just was no other way. Also, in this day of liberality, being alone with a person of the same sex can be detrimental if not handled carefully!

Michael Lum

commented on Aug 4, 2011

Thank you for the GREAT challenge and reminder Ed. Good advice for all of us--especially the men on this site. Any one who has gone through the agony of affair or helped friends go through it knows the pain that Satan brings through our stupidity. There is a reason why you have never read of a huge scandal at Saddleback and part of it is the commitment to purity. Let's all join in this godly promise--single or married! : )

Ulaiasi Turagavou

commented on Aug 4, 2011

Thanks for your words of caution and advice , I happen to be on a Military assignment and whats true about your advice is that most men are valnurable to this area of life who fall prey to opposite sex if they are not watchful and alert what the devil is doing to break family life a problem faced on most military TOD

Tom Shepard

commented on Aug 4, 2011

There is no doubt that all of us need to be extremely careful in this area. We can all slip and fall. As a military Chaplain it has been my experience to counsel female soldiers on occasion. Good advice: Make sure the soldier has an escort. Keep doors and windows shades open. If need be move to a semi-public spot where people can see you but not hear. As I think of how Jesus handled it - the best example is the woman at the well. Best Advise - If you have wrong intensions in the first place - DON'T even think about it.

Derrick Tuper

commented on Aug 4, 2011

We have to remember that being overcautious is better than being undercautious. "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" 1st Cor. 10:12. I'm not so sure the first four shouldn't apply to single staff members. Obvoiusly it's more appropriate for two singles to be seen together but integrity still rules. Precautions should still be made. Perhaps not as stringent as married staff but protective nonetheless.

Ray Mckendry

commented on Aug 4, 2011

Ed, thanks. Even single guys who are church workers or who are pastors need to watch the first four rules/commandments suggested by Saddleback surely!

Ray Mckendry

commented on Aug 4, 2011

Ed, thanks. Even single guys who are church workers or who are pastors need to watch the first four rules/commandments suggested by Saddleback surely!

Sterling Franklin

commented on Aug 4, 2011

Ditto with Charles' comment -- you have to be circumspect with anyone these days.

Pastor Sung Kim

commented on Aug 5, 2011

Here's where I'm going to have to disagree. While I agree with the overall theme of this article, what Brother Stetzer is saying leaves little room for trust in the Holy Spirit or for spiritual discernment. The other thing is that as a small church pastor, I don't have the luxury of having a staff. There are many times that I have to meet with a female Board member alone or drive a single church member home. In one particular instance, not driving that person home was not even an option because there was no one else available and she also has a physical disability that would not allow her to walk home. I believe that guidelines and helpful tips like this are important and that "self-preservation" both perception-wise and legally are too. But not every situation is cookie-cutter and not every situation calls for this drastic of an approach. There are two different issues being discussed here. If you're trying to mitigate risk, then this article is fine. But if you have such difficulty that you don't trust yourself in situations, one needs to raise the question on whether you should even be leading a flock. I'm just thinking out loud here. In the end, I believe you must trust in God and prayerfully allow for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

Min. Perry Ashford

commented on Aug 13, 2011

To - Pastor Sung Kim - You have a valid point however, I am leaning more towards Ed's suggestions and comments. When possible avoiding every hint is best. This also depends upon the culture your ministry is contained upon. In the USA, Ed is totally correct!! In any other country, you may be correct. It depends. What I agree with you on is the dependance of the Holy Spirit to guide you. This is a MUST for ANY Leader. I also am not a good looking man but being a Minister in the Church of God, some of the opposite sex look upon me as power, statute or recognition. All of which can seem enticing to some that just do not understand the role of a minister. If the holy spirit isn't guiding me I will find myself with many hints of which I and my wife, would not want. Thanks for the article Ed.....Much needed.

Fidel Patron

commented on May 25, 2018

Though I can agree with most of what you write, I don't see the point of the whole issue, why not take up the appointment and take someone, either your wife or a male colleague, along with you.

Natasha Ten Krooden

commented on May 28, 2018

What an amazing article. I don't have the luxury to refer people though, so I would love to adhere to such a set of rules, but that is just not possible. I also question where the trust lies within this and your workers/pastors. In 13 years of working in ministry, I had one case that sent me in a tough journey of restraining orders and life of accusations; I took a referred case of a previous colleague because he was uncomfortable with counseling a woman... Turned out he wasn't in danger, but my life was. Therefore I will never take a referred case if you do not trust yourself, and God and your discernment in a situation you should not put your coworkers in danger either, I wonder if you are a good leader if you don't find a transparent way of leading without restricting relationships? There are certain things I do because they work and kept me safe: 1. Pick office hours and leave the office door open so other staff and people see you. 2. Pick a designated public space where everyone knows you will go to counsel, so in public, everyone knows you are there not socializing, 3. Tell your spouse who you are going to meet. They don't need to know the case, but it brings clarity and if you are trustworthy I doubt your spouse would doubt you. 4. I am unmarried, but my office has my counseling list. I tell them about every appointment. This has kept me out of hot water, especially because my work focus is youth. They don't have to know what the counsellees are going through, just when we are meeting and why. 5. No pastor is qualified to handle sexual matters unless you studied and specialized in that psychology field, you shouldn't be counseling on that anyway.

Fidel Patron

commented on May 28, 2018

I agree completely, but the article started out with a situation where the writer was uncomfortable about going through some health tests, because he would be the only one in the building with the female overseeing the tests. This is why I suggested that this could have easily have been overcome by taking his wife, or a colleague along. My wife and I have for years now arranged to have our bi-annual medical check-ups together. We used to see a male GP, who had no issues with this, we now see a female GP, and again there are not issues. If the GP we see ever has an issue then we will look for another one. We will not stop having a medical check-up because of it.

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