What are the risk factors for pastoral infidelity?  Not dealing with these factors explains why reliance on Christ isn’t enough.  They aren’t relying on Christ with their whole beings, but with only the part that is capable of spiritual maturity.

In the four recent surveys, three family risk factors emerged:

  • Family history of infidelity
  • Single parent/blended family history
  • Physically abusive/chronically conflicted family history

Such families usually have a lack of adequate nurturing and there are often attachment disturbances that need to be faced and resolved.  Sex can become a great comfort to pastors who haven’t learned to receive nurturing from the right sources, or who haven’t resolved marital conflicts.  Distance from a father can influence a son to "sexualize" his world, not having a close relationship with someone who models true masculinity.  The world's definition becomes all the more alluring: That "manhood" equals sexual appeal.

Here are three high risk personal factors:

  • Sexual molestation
  • Adolescent promiscuity
  • Learning disabilities/ADHD

Such experiences or limitations often engender a focus on the pleasure of sexual gratification.  Adolescents are often picked on because of their limitations and sexual gratification can become a copying mechanism.  Also, most children who are sexually molested feel guilty.  Hence, a negative self-image becomes something to be unconsciously reinforced.   This is sometimes an "invisible loyalty" to the perpetrator who may have even threatened the one who was molested.

Here are two high risk seasons of life:

1. Times of loss

2. Times of life transitions

Whether it’s the loss of health, a spouse, a career a dream, a family member or even a pet, these losses create vulnerabilities to inappropriate comfort, including the attentions of others with whom alliances can be dangerous.  The greatest risk factor may be the two years surrounding pregnancy and infancy of a child.  At such times, there’s more focus on the baby, hormonal changes, and other changes, including restrictions on sexual activity.  I've know people who have had an affair right after a loved one died.  The vacuum in the heart can be so great that any pleasurable stimulation can be a source of craving and can be falsely justified.

Finally, here are two high risk personal behaviors:

  • Opposite sex friendships
  • Conjoint volunteer activities

In the cited studies, 50% of the pastors who were unfaithful said that they had a history of close relationships with members of the opposite sex.  Temptations to talk about personal matters evolve, and exchanging details always breeds intimacy.  When these interactions are kept secret from the pastor’s spouse, distance between the pastor and his wife sets in, and the pastor’s vulnerability increases.  The researchers suggest that common ministry passions between the pastor and the affairee, which are not shared between the pastor and his/her spouse, is the biggest personal risk factor, after pregnancy. 

Younger pastors who never “sowed their wild oats” are the most vulnerable; more highly educated pastors are also more vulnerable, being more of a “target” for a parishioner, and perhaps developing more of a “gray area” between right and wrong.

Also, keep in mind that, according to the researchers, pastors who struggle with immorality don't generally attend conferences.  Continual learning and fellowship with other pastors can be a big help in avoiding inappropriate or sinful relationships.  Also, keep in mind that “sin doesn’t make sense,” and it doesn’t have to.  Pastors should simply run from sin!