By Thom S. Rainer

It happens too frequently.

It can be the lead pastor or any church staff member.

And too many churches do not handle such tragedy well.

But many churches do. Allow me to share some of the best responses I have heard from churches that have gone through this tragic time.

  1. Terminate with compassion. Almost without exception, the pastor is terminated. But termination does not have to be without compassion. The pastor’s family will need financial provisions; thus many churches provide compassionate severances. And though pastors have full responsibility for their sins, they are hurting as well. Tough love and compassionate love are in order here.
  2. Don’t forget the pastor’s family. They have felt the greatest amount of betrayal. They are humiliated and hurt. This person they likely held in high esteem has fallen hard. The family needs compassion, love, attention, and counseling. Many church members do not know what to say, so they say nothing. I know one church member who sent the spouse and the children a simple handwritten note: “I have not forgotten you. I am here for you. I am praying for you.” It made all the difference in the world.
  3. Be forthright with the congregation. The rumors are often worse than reality. You don’t have to give the sordid details. But the church needs to know the pastor was terminated because of moral failure. Speak to the congregation succinctly, honestly, and compassionately.
  4. Provide resources for reconciliation. God’s ideal plan is for the couple to stay together—to make it through this terrible ordeal. The church can be an instrument of that process back to reconciliation. The church can provide the resources so that the couple can get strong Christian counseling. The process should also be one that seeks restoration for the pastor. That restoration may not mean that pastors are restored to their former office; it does mean the path should include a way to be restored to the congregation.
  5. Don’t forget the pain of the congregation. Many of them feel betrayed. Most of them feel hurt. Find ways to minister to the members for the next several months as they deal with this issue.
  6. Begin a ministry of prayer for this situation. I have been so encouraged to see some churches actually deal with this issue through a specific prayer ministry. One church offered a prayer and reconciliation time after every service. It only lasted a few minutes, and attendance was totally voluntary. But the responses were incredible, both in numbers attending and in the way people were impacted. The church began this ministry with a stated goal of continuing it for three months. It made a huge difference in the healing impact on the church.

When the pastor has an affair, it is a tragedy of huge proportions. But the church can respond biblically, redemptively, and compassionately.

It the midst of this awful situation, the church has the opportunity truly to be the body of Christ.



This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on February 6, 2017. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.


  • Rev. Jerry Hightower

    It’s even harder when it’s the spouse and not the Minister. The Minister feels guilt both from the home, not ruling their home well, and guilt in front of the congregation. This happened to a youth leader that served under me. His spouse cheated. He felt he had no where to go, though many in the church were supportive and we’re trying to convince him he had not done the wrong they left the church. They did eventually get help and are still to this day attending church which is good.

  • pastt Amin Dawa

    I have met a pastor who had an affair, he was punished by suspention for some years. His family really suffered during his suspention financially. But he was later restored to his position and transfered to another location. I can tell you that that pastor is doing very well today in ministry. He leads a church of hundred of thousands of worshippers. So the church must treat this matter with absolute wisdom. Hence we will be throwing away the dirty bathing water with the baby.

  • Tanya

    I guess my question is…why is termination one of the bests responses? As a pastor, I often question why some churches choose this option. I firmly believe that if a congregation chooses to move in Grace and not terminate, the opportunity for true and organic growth increases.

    • Sid Wood

      Tanya, termination does not automatically mean expulsion. Obviously, every situation is different, but the individual has experienced a “moral failure” and in doing so has failed to live up to the trust in which both his flock and his God held him. However, although the ultimate aim is reconciliation and restoration, and hopefully all work toward this end, we must also remember that God holds His shepherds to a higher standard. (See 1 Timothy 3:2)

    • Barry L. Davis

      Why do you assume termination is not an act of grace?

  • James Hamilton

    Termination should be the last resort and ONLY if it is the demand of the congregation. Too often we pastors are put on pedestals, which is completely unfair and makes a job much more stressful than it needs to be and the problem with someone being on a pedestal is that the fall is often fatal.

    • Lizzy

      Yes, you may have been placed on a pedestals, and it is unfair, however you first obligation is to God and to remain humble, watch and guard your heart. Shepherds are held to a higher standard not placed on pedestals. The whole family family suffers from the decision of one.

  • Tosa

    Termination is not the punish, especially if it is the first time. Where is the forgiveness? The Pastor is a man with faults just like you and me, stop putting the leaders on a pedestal or treat them as if they were God. Just a man with faults who sinned, repented and forgiven as Jesus did each one of us.

  • mariette

    that happens also with priests : they are sent to another parish. pastors and priests are human, all humans fail

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