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Posted by Andy Naselli

Dr. Mark Minnick, my gifted and esteemed former pastor and professor, wrote an article several years ago that was recently reprinted: “Maintaining Moral Purity in the Ministry” (Today’s Christian Preacher [Summer 2009]: 12-14).

He begins by recounting a classroom experience he had as a student:

Our homiletics professor caught everyone off guard with his questions. "What would you do," he posed, "if you had been invited to speak at a country church and upon arriving early found that no one was there except one young woman, who was standing outside the locked building in the dark and the rain? Would you invite her to sit in the car with you?"

Minnick suggests five “nevers” to guide him “through the thickets of such challenges”:

  1. “Never risk your moral testimony.”
  2. “Never be alone with a woman not your wife.” (This is where Minnick shares the answer to the opening scenario.)
  3. “Never meet with a woman by herself.”
  4. “Never physically touch another woman, other than by a brief handshake.”
  5. “Never compliment a woman on her appearance.”

Unnecessarily extreme? Maybe for some people in some situations. But above reproach? I think so.

Read the whole thing.

Update: A friend just emailed me a helpful comment:

I agree in principle, but had some of the same concerns that others have expressed (particularly those that reflect cultural issues--are we to conclude that the holy kiss was never practiced cross-gender or that believers all over the world are acting unwisely to continue that practice?). The problem, it seems, in a nutshell is that Dr. Minnick didn't leave any wiggle room when he used the word "never" so strongly. If he had said "Don't..." it would probably be interpreted as guidelines, not rules. That would be better, I think.


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40 thoughts on “Maintaining Moral Purity in the Ministry”

  1. michael says:

    Excellent advice! Following this advice, no one could grab ahold of or question your character in any way regarding purity – in other words, great practical advice to live out being "above reproach"

  2. Gary Morland says:

    I have believing friends who are far above me in many ways but who almost laugh at this kind of thing.

    I heard Billy Graham used to subtly get off an elevator if a woman got on and they were going to be alone. I do that too — oh, except when it's too inconvenient.

    –Gary

  3. David Mitchel says:

    I'll preface my comment by noting that I'm not a pastor. That said . . . while a pastor's reputation is a precious commodity not to be trifled with for small reasons, Dr. Minnick's rules strike me as unnecessarily legalistic. Taking them one at a time:

    1. Never be alone with a woman not your wife.

    John 4:1-26 demonstrates that this guideline cannot be right. Jesus flunked it. I know that He was single, but his reputation was no less vulnerable for that reason. Especially since the woman with whom He was alone was a notorious Samaritan.

    2. Never meet with a woman by herself.

    This one is probably okay, since Jesus didn't arrange the meeting with the Samaritan woman, at least not in any human sense. Arranging a meeting is a more intentional thing than just happening to be alone, so it probably is a good idea to avoid it, absolutely.

    3. Never physically touch another woman, other than by a brief handshake.

    I would agree that pastors (and everyone else, for that matter) should be physically cautious, and not generally "huggy." But I can think of exceptions to this rule; e.g., if a woman had been raped and came to a pastor for help, and either his wife and/or some other righteous person was present, an avuncular or fatherly hug may well be appropriate.

    4. Never compliment a woman [other than your wife] on her appearance.

    This one I absolutely agree with (not just for pastors). I can think of no good reasons to do it, and lots of bad ones.

  4. Andy Naselli says:

    Follow-up: If you leave a comment re Minnick's article, it would be best if you read the whole article and not just my summary before commenting.

  5. Rachael Starke says:

    I really appreciated this article. Not only do these guidelines protect pastor's as individuals, but following them shows tremendous honor to their own wives, as well as women in general. These are ways to protect many more reputations than just one's own.

    I especially liked the idea of the pastor's wife being the … "deisgnated hugger"? "hugger by proxy?" :)

    That's how I view it when I intentionally always hug our pastor's wife, but never our pastor, when they both come over.

  6. Chuck Thomas says:

    The "youth leader driving the church van" policy noted in the article, with the final rider not being a young person of the opposite sex may seem safe of the surface, but should be revisited. As someone involved in camping ministry, our policy is to avoid having an "adult" ALONE in a "confined space" with even a person of the SAME sex. That is why we have co-couselors and all of the the cabin's activities occur as a group.

    This does not simplify matters for a church with limited youth staff, but you open yourself up to some degree of risk even when you stipulate (as in this case of the article) that the final rider NOT be of the opposite gender of the youth leader. A sad reality of our age (that age being the one that commenced in Genesis 3.)

  7. Mike Garner says:

    Heeding Andy's warning, I wanted to read the article before actually responding.

    I honestly thought the article was terrible.

    It is very important to avoid compromising situations and to appear blameless.

    However, it is pretty bad if we create standards that even Jesus would fail. I believe it was the Pharisees who created a wall, a hedge of protection, around the law in order that they might not transgress it (and ultimately so they didn't look bad).

    If you are a youth pastor driving home after church and you come across a student of yours (even scantily dressed) walking home in the dark, and you decide the best course of action is to keep on driving, then I honestly question how much you really love your students.

    If memory serves me right, it doesn't seem as if Jesus was concerned about what those around him thought about his talking to a woman (even prostitute) alone. When you're more concerned with how others view you than with her soul, you have, in my opinion, let your self-righteousness cloud your vision.

    Don't mis-read me. Don't put yourself in prolonged, compromising situations. If a woman in your church needs to talk about submitting to Jesus at 2am, you don't agree to meet her in her bedroom. However, I'd say you'd be remiss not to agree to meet her at Denny's.

    If the student is walking home late at night, you don't pick her up and go for an hour long drive on the country road to talk. But you definitely find a way to escort her back to her house.

    Then again, I'm just a young guy. It's okay if you don't agree with me, but let's please not set up any standards that Jesus would fail. Let's not think that we're impressing Jesus by coming up with walls around the law and being held in high esteem by our community, all the while we show that practically we don't really care about those whom he has entrusted to us to care.

    Just my two cents,
    mike

  8. Michael says:

    I'm inclined to agree with David on some of this. The Samaritan woman incident was in many ways far more scandalous.

    These are all externals as well. I'd be interested in hearing about how to deal with the internal stuff. Much more insidious I suspect.

  9. carrowian says:

    I'm with you Mike. The example of wondering whether to leave the student by the side of the road to preserve my own moral integrity and reputation seems far too much like the priest and the Levite in Luke 10.

    If I have a perfect moral testimony, but have not love, I am but a sounding gong.

    (Besides, who amongst us is going to claim to have a "moral testimony". If people knew what was in our hearts, our "testimony" would be forever tarnished anyway. Seems like a lot of hypocrisy to me. I'd rather testify to Christ than to my morality.)

  10. David Mitchel says:

    Andy: Just so you know, I did read the whole article before commenting. I didn't think there was anything his Dr. Minnick's exposition of his summary points that qualified those summary points. About each one he said "never" and, if the words of explanation in his article have any meaning, he meant it.

    I may have erred in not starting with Dr. Minnick's foundational never as the one driving the following four: Never risk your moral testimony. A good principle, if you replace the word never with something just a bit softer, like "do not, without very good reason, after checking your heart for easy rationalizations…"

    Understood and acknowledged that the heart is deceitful above all things, that the Devil thoroughly enjoys tarring God's servants through violations of the Ninth Commandment, and that even many real "dilemmas" (like the one in Dr. Minnick's article) can be solved by a little creative thinking.

    But the heart of a legalist may be as deceitful as that of a libertine; a spotless reputation guarded by a thick wall of "nevers" may be but a pretty veneer for real sin. And it sometimes may well prevent an under-shepherd from following in the way of the Good Shepherd.

  11. michael says:

    I LOVE those who throw out the "legalist" comment! There is nothing legalistic about it. And the example of Jesus and the samaritan woman doesn't cut it. Jesus was at a well which is outside, where people could see! I doubt Dr. Minnick has a problem talking with a woman in public!

    In today's society, it would be not only unwise, but downright stupid for any man (religious or not) to pick up a girl on the side of the road and drive her anywhere. All she has to do is "accuse" you. That's it!

    Seems to me, we show more "love" for our families, the church, and the name of Christ when we do not put ourselves in any situation to compromise our moral standing.

    Those of you non-legalists can give girls rides and women hugs all day long. But when you are accused, you can say it was done in the name "love" all day long, nothing else, but no one will believe you!

  12. soundslikelife says:

    There is a bit of talking past one another here. There are, of course, far too many ministers in our sexually liberated culture who are playing the flute and dancing and there are equally as many self-righteous zealots playing the dirge and weeping. But thanks be to God we know that wisdom is proven right by all her children.
    "straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel" Don't neglect one for the other. Following commands of moral purity without forsaking mercy, faithfulness, and justice.

  13. Gary says:

    "Never physically touch another woman, other than by a brief handshake."

    He obviously has not been in a latin culture. Greeting someone, male or female, with a hug and (shock!) a kiss on the cheek is more common than a handshake in the US.

  14. wisertime says:

    I go by most of these (although I'm not opposed to the brief side hug). I think the claim that they're legalistic is stupid. They're not any more legalistic than buckling your seat belt. They're a protection not only for your reputation, but for your own heart.

    That said, you can immediately think of situations that might be a legit exception to each of them. If I see a single woman with her car broken down, I'm helping. The exceptions don't mean the rules aren't good.

    JMH

  15. Gary says:

    I don't think "legalist!" is a good critique. Legalism is when you think that abiding by your rules will save you. No one here is claiming that these five rules make them right before God. They are saying that the five rules are WISE. Whether or not they are wise is still debatable. But calling it legalism and moving on isn't an option.

  16. wisertime says:

    Good word Gary. I heard somebody say one time "We're so afraid of legalism that we won't lift a finger to pursue holiness in the fear of God."

    JMH

  17. carrowian says:

    My problem is NOT legalism, but the proposed principle of putting the maintenance of one's reputation ahead of the principle of being loving to your neighbor.

    But I agree that you need wisdom (and also creative thinking, as someone else suggested) to find ways of being loving that minimize the risk (either of temptation or of false accusation).

  18. Bible_Reader says:

    There's a lot to be said for not only doing the right thing but being SEEN to do the right thing. If you are morally upright and above reproach it is not much value if people see or hear about you in potentially dangerous situations. Furthermore, pastors are to be examples and leaders of the flock – that is, every Christian man ought to follow this advice, not just pastors. And that example ought to be not just one of moral uprightness but also of avoiding temptation.

    Let us not forget prayer. Perhaps we could add an "always" – Always pray that God would lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

  19. Mike Garner says:

    I don't think "legalist!" is a good critique. Legalism is when you think that abiding by your rules will save you

    You are correct that this is one definition of legalism. Certainly the pharisees were guilty on this charge (unless you ask NT Wright).

    However, I would argue that another equally valid definition is when you are choosing to follow a man-made rule and in doing so disobey the spirit of a god-given command.

    The pharisees were also guilty on this count.

    In this discussion, if I were to say "you are being legalistic" I would be appealing to the latter definition. Nobody has claimed or hinted at the notion that following these "Nevers" would save you.

    Those of you non-legalists can give girls rides and women hugs all day long. But when you are accused, you can say it was done in the name "love" all day long, nothing else, but no one will believe you!

    If at the end of the day I'm confronted with the option of helping someone, especially in a matter of safety or in presenting the gospel, on the one hand, or making it so nobody could every conceivably accuse me of wrongdoing, on the other, then I'm going to choose the former.

    In my opinion, Jesus, at several points in his ministry, chose to serve and help people, even when it opened him up to charges of wrong-doing from outsiders.

    And the example of Jesus and the samaritan woman doesn't cut it. Jesus was at a well which is outside, where people could see!

    This misses the point. To talk to a women in public, much less look her in the eye, was a great social offense. The fact that she was an adulteress and probably scorned by the community only adds to the charges that could be lobbied at Jesus as a result of talking to her.

    ——-Question——
    Am I allowed to disregard the teaching point of the Good Samaritan if the Samaritan happens to be a woman?

  20. Derek Radney says:

    I agree with Mike Garner. I appreciate the points he has made and the spirit in which he made them.

  21. Brooks says:

    I agree. While we would be wise to think thoughtfully about how best to avoid the appearance of evil in our interactions with those we minister to, and certainly we must be aware of our own hearts and temptations, we must never let man-made rules or principles cancel out the clear commands of God. To do so would be to fall into the trap of the Pharisees. My tentative opinion at the present is that following Dr. Minnick's principles would do more to minimize our ability to love and minister the gospel than it would protect our purity. Sexual sin and lust cannot be prevented simply by limiting our interaction with women (as if women were really the problem here). Better to pursue a deep and true putting to death of lust, even while we lovingly engage with those we are called to minister to.

  22. wggrace says:

    In England we play cricket and football (or "soccer" if you prefer). One sport has laws and the other rules. The distinction given to me when I was a child was that laws must be obeyed and rules functioned as generalisations of what is right. I am not convinced that this really is true of the sports concerned but I do think it is suggestive as to how we may take the five laws/rules. Take them as good general principles and they may well work very well in most cases (obviously in some cultures kissing women other than your wife is virtually obligatory to comply with ordinary etiquette). But to take them as laws, taking the "nevers" as absolutes, may lead one to miss the target of obedience to God altogether.

  23. wggrace says:

    One other thing.
    I am troubled by the implication that pastors need to do or avoid certain things that others need have no qualms about. The behaviour of the paster is meant to be exemplary not only in the sense of above reproach but also in the sense of to be imitated.

  24. Gary says:

    Another thought on this… Is our definition of "reproach" too strict? These days when people speak of being "above reproach" they seem to mean "not able to accuse someone."

    I'm not sure that's the biblical definition. Jesus certainly was not that type of above reproach. There were serious charges leveled against him; blasphemy, demoniac, hanging out with sinners, profaner of the Sabbath, etc. The key distinction though is that none of the charges were reasonable. The accusers couldn't agree with themselves. None of them corroborated and none could ultimately determine what he had actually done wrong.

    Also, if there should be no accusations whatsoever, then I Timothy 5:19 makes no sense. We should certainly entertain an accusation against an elder by a single witness because clearly, if any accusation comes, that elder is not beyond being accused! If they are being accused at all, then by this definition, they are not above reproach.

    No, I think a more robust definition would be that being above reproach is living in such a way that no _credible_ accusations come your way. No credible accusations were leveled against Jesus. Credible accusations from multiple witnesses are a problem. Accusations from a single paranoid person? According to scripture, not so much a problem…

  25. steve s says:

    To whom it may concern.
    Brothers. I really hope it's not my wife or daughter you leave at the side of the road, with a broken down car, in order to protect your precious reputation.
    Sheesh. Where were you when they dealt with Luke 10 : 30. Busy looking around to make sure there weren't any strange women sitting within ten feet of you? ;-)

  26. michael says:

    In the list of Paul's qualifications he lists being "above reproach" first both times. So this is what a pastor / elder must be before all things! It IS possible to do all the duties of a pastor all the while being "above reproach." So in ministering pastors must put being "above reproach" first.

    I know of 2 men, formerly in the ministry, currently in prison because of being too friendly with girls. Guilty of not (and it is disputed), their lives, families, and ministries are harshly tarnished. (not to mention sharing a cell with a guy named Bubba!) I'm sure they wished they would have followed Minnick's advice!

  27. steve s says:

    Then I hope it's not YOUR wife or daughter they leave behind! The reason Bubba is in prison is because he did something bad to a stranded female motorist. Somebody who should have known better (but with an impeccable reputation as a 'pastor') left that poor woman stranded when they should have helped her out.
    Luke 10 : 30?

  28. Eric says:

    "I don't think "legalist!" is a good critique. Legalism is when you think that abiding by your rules will save you. No one here is claiming that these five rules make them right before God."

    Gary – although it was not explicit in the article, following rules such as these are "signs" or "evidences" of your salvation to many people in this camp. Therefore, if you don't exhibit these signs, they question your salvation. So yes, legalism is the correct description to use.

  29. steve s says:

    We might be able to argue about 'legalistic'. Would we be more comfortable with 'pharisaical'?

  30. Andy Naselli says:

    I just added this update to the post:

    Cf. this observation that a friend emailed me:

    I agree in principle, but had some of the same concerns that others have expressed (particularly those that reflect cultural issues—are we do conclude that the holy kiss was never practiced cross-gender or that believers all over the world are acting unwisely to continue that practice?). The problem, it seems, in a nutshell is that Dr. Minnick didn’t leave any wiggle room when he used the word “never” so strongly. If he had said “Don’t…” it would probably be interpreted as guidelines, not rules. That would be better, I think.

  31. michael says:

    Steve,

    Luke 10:30 the dude is "half dead!" If my wife or daughter is half dead feel free to stop!

    If the car is broken down, call me or wait with them! (course my wife or daughter has one and has prob called already). But they're not getting in some guy's car by themselves. (And this is what THEY say, not just me!)

    I've seen too many pastors cross the line! (and that BETTER NEVER happen to either of my girls!) It's best to work it out so they aren't together!

    Judge me and others as a pharisee, legalist, or whatever you want! That's what we feel is best!

    Everyone can choose: Hey if you are a pastor, show you care by inviting women over your house when you are alone, greet them with a hug, have flowers for them! Complement them on their hair and their perfume! Show them you care! Then share the gospel with them! Share the love of Christ. Wise? Good?

    If you say the above is unwise and you would never do such a thing, are you not practicing the same 'pharisaical' approach? Are you not setting up a line you would not cross?

    It seems best to me, that here we should follow the teaching, Let every man be persuaded in his own mind, for he is the one going to give account!

  32. steve s says:

    Mike,
    She's 'half dead'…so she's also 'half-alive.'
    Decisions….decisions.
    You have mixed with pastors who were not pastors at all, they merely held the title.

  33. Jeff says:

    Andy:

    This indeed is sage advice. There is a caveat to #5.

    One is safe to compliment a woman in most cases if she is over 80 or under 8! Otherwise the rule holds. Mothers-in-law are also excepted from the rule! 8)

    Jeff Straub

  34. alaaji says:

    I grew up in a black Baptist church and we hugged each other all the time. I recall the pastor always being a bit more stand-offish though. The part about never touching another woman other than a brief handshake is definitely cultural. I also lived in France and everybody in church kissed each other (once on each cheek).

  35. bp says:

    steve s:
    A pastor who crosses the line is merely a pastor in title and not a real pastor at all?? Are you saying that real pastors don't ever feel tempted to cross lines, or that they just never would cross the line?

  36. steve s says:

    bp,
    which do you think you could back up with the scriptures?

  37. wggrace says:

    One interesting bible story in this context is that of Joseph. He did find himself alone with a married woman and it caused him no end of trouble. Surely it would have been wiser not to have been there at that time. But did he do wrong? I don't think that he did and being in trouble for doing the right thing is no sin. So if a pastor gets accused falsely because he tried to do the right thing, he can still hold his head up before God. And if he doesn't then God will life it anyway

  38. Mike Garner says:

    I was going to allude to the Joseph story also. It isn't a direct corollary to this discussion, but I do think that it does show that we can be where God wants us to be, falsely accused, imprisoned, scorned by others on the issue of purity, and still be following the will of God.

  39. mike d says:

    This will sound much more snarky than I intend it to but I have a hard time picturing this advice coming, stated like this from anyone other than a white Baptist.

  40. Jake says:

    I've been thinking about this all day. In general I agree with Dr. Minnick.

    The only caveat I would add is that loving as Christ did trumps my moral reputation. I can trust God with my reputation, if someone decides to gossip about something I did that I have a clear conscience about that is their problem not mine. I know I am supposed act out of Christlike love at all times and in all places — placing my treasure time and talents at His disposal for the manifestation of His glory and for His good pleasure and for the well being of my brothers and sisters in the church.

    That said, there are ways of handling all the situations proposed in the article that are God honoring. Yeah, get out of the car and stand in the rain. Put your suit coat over the teen's shoulders and take her home and take the time to sit down with her and her parents and explain how precious this young girl is in God's sight, how her beauty is a fragile gift from God for her and her future husband which needs to be protected. The next one is a no brainer — of course meet with the woman and share the gospel with her — her eternal soul is at stake! The fourth example — trust the man to know his wife and graciously enjoy the breakfast and then take your leave — of course if she serves you breakfast wearing only her house coat, then slap it in "B" for boogie and RUN.

    Of course we are to be above reproach — to me that means we don't go looking for trouble. But if trouble finds us, then we have an opportunity to be Christ to that person in a situation that God has ordained for us to manifest His glory in. In some ways, my reputation is in God's care and is his 'problem', I can trust him with it in the situations He puts me in.

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Andy Naselli (PhD in Theology, Bob Jones University; PhD in New Testament exegesis and theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary, research manager for D. A. Carson, and administrator of Themelios. His family belongs to Bethlehem Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter.