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Should Pastors Meet Alone with Women?

This week on the podcast, we’re going to tackle a topic that just comes up perennially. This is just one of those things that we always have to deal with in ministry. And it’s the question of should pastors meet alone with women? Now, I want to say right at the very beginning, as you start this podcast, this is not just a podcast for pastors. On Marked by Grace, where I’m trying to talk to all sorts of Christians, all sorts of regular normal Christians who are trying to live their life by faith in Jesus Christ in a way that is informed and empowered by grace. I’m not just talking to pastors on this episode. In fact, everybody, every Christian, every church member has a stake in the answer to this question that is for pastors, pastors, what should you do? There are women that want to meet with you there are women that want to meet with us. What should you do? Should you meet with them alone? If you’re a woman in a congregation, you need to be pastored by your pastor. And what should your expectations be about how you’re going to meet with him? For men in the congregation, how are your pastors behaving? Are they behaving in a way that is above reproach? Are they behaving in a way that you can expect that the woman in your life that you love is going to be able to be cared for by them in a way that is honorable and helpful? So all of us have a stake in the answer to this question. I’m going to give you my fast, easy answer, and then I’m going to explain a couple of things by it. So should pastors meet alone with women? The answer is no. I’m going to tell you the reasons why there’s not just one reason that’s important. There’s not just one reason; there are several reasons why that’s true. The answer is no. Pastors should not meet alone with women. I’m going to tell you why that is, and then I’m going to talk about what that means for ministry.

Avoid the Appearance of Evil

Here’s the first reason why and it’s an abundantly biblical reason. It’s found in Ephesians 3. Pastors should not meet alone with women because we are as Christians, not just as pastors, but as Christians, we’re supposed to avoid the appearance of evil. Ephesians 5:3 says, “Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you.” The apostle Paul creates this category of sexual immorality and not just sexual sin, but any kind of impurity, any kind of covetousness, any kind of desire for anything that’s not yours. It shouldn’t even be named among you. It’s not just saying don’t do it. He’s saying people shouldn’t even think you’re doing the idea of it shouldn’t even come into play. The apostle Paul is making you and me responsible there, not just for not sinning, but he’s making us responsible for being sure that it doesn’t look like we’re sinning. If I meet alone with a woman, am I sinning with her? Are we talking about her Christian walk? Are we talking about the Bible? Is there sexual immorality going on? I don’t know. You don’t know you can’t see. What the Bible says is I am responsible as a Christian for my reputation as a sinner. I’m not even allowed to make it look like I’m sinning. You’re not allowed to make it look like we’re sinning together. We have to be above reproach. We have to be out in the open, aboveboard, open and honest, and clear. We must avoid even the appearance of evil. This is important because sometimes people get their back up on this issue. As a pastor, I don’t meet alone with women, and sometimes women can get frustrated with this. Oh, you don’t think that I can meet alone with you without keeping my hands off? That’s not it at all. Nobody is making any judgments about anybody. It’s just that we have a responsibility to be open and honest and aboveboard, and seen to be open and honest and aboveboard. The best way for me to stay above reproach is not to give anybody any occasion to wonder what we were doing. So avoiding the appearance of evil is one reason why we need to have a policy and a principle that pastors don’t meet alone with women, but it’s not the only reason.

The Problem of Predators

Another reality is the problem of predators. The reality is we live in a sinful, broken, devastated world where wicked men use the trust of ministry to prey on the weak. We must create a culture in our churches that protects the weak from harm that protects women from gross, dirty old men. We must do that, and so when your church has a policy that pastors don’t meet alone with women, as we do at First Baptist Church, they are protecting potential victims from potential predators. If we have an environment where everybody can see everything is open, everything is honest, everything is above board, nothing is hidden, then that is a protection against predators. And so, because we don’t want people getting hurt in our ministry, we make it a rule for everybody. Every pastor is not allowed to meet alone with women. Those are two reasons. There are a few more.

Avoid Temptation to Sin

A third reason why pastors ought not to meet alone with women is that, listen, pastors are not perfectly purified before Christ. It is not uncommon for a pastor to struggle with lust. I’m not talking about the creepers. I’m not talking about the predators. I’m talking about a good and godly man who is fighting to live his life for Jesus, and we want to avoid any context that could create a temptation to sin. Listen, ministry conversations are intimate conversations. We are talking about the deepest, most personal struggles that people face. Those kinds of conversations can create weaknesses. They can reveal weaknesses, and they can cause problems. It’s not accusing anybody of being a horrible, disqualified pastor for saying that there are some contexts that could awaken lusts in an otherwise good and faithful man. And so to avoid that, we just say, hey, we need to keep the conversations open out in the open and above reproach. To protect against inflaming or revealing any kind of lust in an otherwise good and faithful man, we need to have a situation where pastors don’t meet alone with women.

The final reason has to do with the struggles that women will face. So again, sometimes people will hear this, women will hear this and be like, oh, great, because some pastor out there because some man might struggle with less now I can’t have a meeting. Well, that’s not what I’m saying. In fact, I’m saying a lot more than that. I’m actually saying that sometimes the problem in a private one-on-one meeting is not the pastor but the woman. That’s just the truth, and it’s the truth in a couple of different ways. Sometimes, women feel uncomfortable meeting alone with a man. She’s not accusing him of doing anything wrong. She doesn’t suspect him of doing anything wrong. It’s just the nature of dynamics between a man and a woman that she sometimes feels uncomfortable. It can place that woman at ease, to have other people in the room, or to have the meeting be visible to other people. Just as it’s the case that good, faithful pastors can struggle with lusts that we want to deal with and stay ahead of, so also women can deal with lust. It is true; it’s not the case in every situation. I’m not saying that every woman, that this is true of every woman. I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying it is a fact that there are plenty of situations where an otherwise faithful woman gets involved in these kinds of conversations, those conversations, as I said earlier, are intimate and personal, and it awakens lusts that were not there before. We want to protect against that situation, and the easiest way we can do that is by saying, hey, pastors don’t meet alone with women.

Practical Tips

So for all of those reasons, we say, hey, it is the best idea not to do that. It is good for your church to have a policy about it. It’s good just to say, hey, this isn’t my personal decision. My church, the leaders of our congregation, the leaders in our church have just said, this is a policy, and we don’t violate it. That’s what you should do. That’s what we’ve done at First Baptist. That’s what I would recommend. But then you have this issue. So they wanted to talk about a couple of things. After you say, hey, this isn’t a good idea, and we’re not going to do it. Then you have this issue of, okay, pastors, though, need to minister to the women in their congregation. Said the other way, women in the congregation need to know that their pastors can draw near to them and help them. How do you do that? Well, I didn’t say that pastors should not meet with women. I said pastors should not meet alone with women, and there are all sorts of ways to deal with this. There are times when I will meet in my office with women. There is nobody else in the office, but my door is a glass door. I work in a high-traffic office where people are always walking by. Where my assistant can always look right in the door and see who’s in there and what’s going on, where my Associate Pastor can look right in the door and see what’s going on, I would highly recommend glass doors. One of the things I always say about that is about having just a lot of glass in your doors; there are some things I need to talk about that you don’t need to hear. But there’s nothing I do that you don’t need to see. Glass doors can be a way of solving that problem. Another way to solve the problem is to have other people present in the room, you could have another woman present in the room, or you could have another couple of people present in the room. But the point is ever how you solve the problem. The statement pastors ought not to meet alone with women doesn’t mean pastors aren’t meeting with women and caring for their needs in ministry. It just means that when we do that, we’re going to do that carefully in a way that stays above reproach and in a way that honors the Lord and allows our ability to minister to women to endure.