We recently became aware that one of our staff members was using a ministry computer to visit pornographic web-sites. What type of accountability systems do other churches and ministries have to help keep their staff members on “the straight and narrow?” What type of guidelines and education do churches provide to help staff members avoid inappropriate moral and sexual behavior, and finally, how do churches deal with it when a staff member or leader has behaved inappropriately in moral and sexual matters (not just on the internet, but also by inappropriate conduct with other individuals)?
Note from Tony: Due to the sensitive nature of this question, we advised our panel that they could submit their responses confidentially if desired. Some responses have been submitted accordingly. Also, on a personal note, I wanted to mention Covenant Eyes (www.covenanteyes.com). A couple of years ago, a pastor-friend and I became accountability partners using this software program. He and I receive reports on each other’s internet activity (web-sites visited, etc.). We think this type of program is an excellent idea for all Christians who use the internet.
Confidential Response # 1
This is an area that seems to be increasing. I believe when you find out of a staff member that has behaved wrongly in this area, swift action is needed.
Recently I became aware that a staff member was having a problem with internet porn. We immediately spoke with the person and came up with a plan of action for his restoration. He is responding in a repentant attitude. We asked him to step down from his responsibilities and spend time getting the help needed. We will pastor him through this situation as he stays connected with us. He will not be on staff for now – we are keeping the door open for him to come back in 6 months; however, this is not guaranteed. His time off is with pay and we are providing funds for counseling, etc. Gal. 6:1 says, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”
In this day, because of potential lawsuits, we must deal with these things swiftly in order to protect the church. Every situation is different. We must have the wisdom of God in each situation to know how to respond.
Pastor John B. Lowe – Warsaw, IN
This is a question for the times for sure.
- Our tech people and internet provider have set our firewall settings. We have to have permission from them to allow anything questionable to get through. For example: www.XXXchurch.com (a ministry web-site) could not be accessed so we had to call and ask for that to be allowed through.
- You can really tighten it down. With software like ours, if a questionable site is accessed, it comes up with a set of eyes and says, “contact pastor regarding this site.” It also sends me a message along with my Assistant so we can address it and find out what happened.
- We have every staff person read and sign an employee/staff person form stating that inappropriate behavior is grounds for immediate dismissal. Then it list several examples: flirting, sexual innuendos , lewd jokes, or offensive behavior.
- Grace is offered the first time with a written report in their permanent personal file. There is not any room in this day and age for overlooking items of this nature, so the second time and your gone.
- Everything is considered on an individual basis, as well as the circumstances. However, it is not hard to determine the condition of the heart. Usually there are several other situations or events that are saying this needs attention. We need to deal with it and confront it as the scripture says in Gal.6:1 and Eph.4:32. However, we all know the ministry qualifications are thin and there is often no compassion from the body of Christ.
- I hear ministers say, “Where is the restoration?” Time and life-style can restore you, but time is important. We have a higher standard than anyone else in the church; therefore the restoration is more difficult than others in the body of Christ.
- The determining factor is the condition of the heart of the offender. Forgiveness is instant in the Lord. Trust is earned—not given as easily, and correctly so.
Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
Inappropriate behavior is an issue that needs to be dealt with up-front and accurately. To begin, I would suggest outlining “acceptable” and “non-acceptable” behavior in an employee handbook and spending some time clearly communicating these items with both current staff members and future, potential employees. Creating a very clear outline will serve you both in the present and in the future, if and when you must deal with any inappropriate actions committed by an employee. It’s important that you have a guideline to look back upon which was openly discussed and agreed upon. Proactive measures like these can make it much more pleasant when dealing with the storms when they come. By outlining the repercussions of specific acts, you remove the possibility of making wrong, emotionally based decisions when the time for tough choices presents itself.
Along with preparing a plan of action for the difficult decisions, I would also recommend creating a culture where the right type of lifestyle is both celebrated and rewarded. I’ve had to deal with the ugly, but by celebrating right living, we’ve been able to develop an awareness that we’re not only interested, but we also care enough about the spiritual environment to watch and guard it. Team loyalty is developed during the good times and provides the foundation upon which to stand when other staff are needed for a show of support.
I keep what I call my “Sharpies List.” It’s a list of qualities that I am constantly working on in my own life, as well as looking for in current and future employees. That list contains items such as: Capacity for continued growth (teachable) – Personal Initiative (energy to perform without needing to be constantly supervised or directed) – Relationally Aware (as opposed to relationally unaware) – Integrity in Action (doing the right thing, even when it isn’t popular). I’m attempting to keep my entire team aware of my list. This keeps the expectations very clear and transparent. We’re not expecting something from our support staff that we aren’t willing to demonstrate our self.
The Bible clearly instructs us to “restore” an individual who has become overtaken in a fault. This restoration, however, is relational, not positional. As lead pastors, we are not bound to restore a person to leadership. We are committed to restoring to right relationship, specifically with God. I might take a chance by maintaining a friendship with an individual who has made some really bad choices. I can’t, on the other hand, roll the dice when it comes to stewarding the anointing that the Holy Spirit has entrusted to me. Should an individual elect to exchange their position on our team for the opportunity to experience self-gratification, that would be their choice. Based upon our employee guidelines, they would not have left me with any choice at all. I would simply need to enforce the actions outlined in the guidelines and move on to the next item on the agenda. I wouldn’t want to sound as if I didn’t care about the individual. That would be very far from the truth. However, I have the awesome responsibility of seeking first of all His kingdom and His way of doing and being right.
Confidential Response # 2
It is very important to have an accountability system in place for the internet at church, not just for your staff and employees, but also for any volunteers who have access to the internet from the church. We have placed a very strict policy in place for passwords and a firewall system. My Associate Pastor is the only one who has access to everyone’s passwords, which can only be changed with an official request. The Associate also receives a report from the firewall system of all sites that were attempted, that were blocked, and who tried to access the site.
Along with the internet, there are other things we as a church have in place to keep the staff from as much temptation as possible, including never counseling alone with the opposite sex, never taking lunch meetings alone with the opposite sex – in other words, avoiding all appearance of evil. I do not bend on these guidelines. When I hired my Youth Pastor who was single at the time, I told him that he was not to be alone with a teenage girl anywhere, for any reason, and if I ever saw him alone with a teenage girl, I would fire him on the spot. How is that for “welcome to employment at the church?” I never had to fire him and he has been here over eight years.
I think as far as education, for me it has been more of making sure that the staff and employees and volunteer leaders remain full spiritually. I require them to be in one service a week that they are not serving in. In other words, the Youth Pastor must sit through the Sunday morning service and the Children’s Pastor must sit in and take part in the Wednesday night service. If our people are drained spiritually and physically then it is very easy for them to yield to the lusts of their flesh, and that goes for us as Pastors as well. I also have monthly leaders meetings where we go over leadership and I encourage them as leaders. I also have openly talked about the internet and other temptations that the staff must deal with. We have to use the internet. It is a great tool. I sometimes just walk around the office, a surprise visit just to see what they are doing. This helps on a number of different levels. They never know when I am stopping by.
Unfortunately, I have had to give disciplinary actions because of sexual sin that was a result of the internet. I did have to fire someone. I think every situation is unique, but it starts by having a morality agreement that every employee and volunteer leader must sign. It specifically states the behaviors they must refrain from to be on staff or a volunteer leader in our church. If they violate that agreement, then there are consequences. I have also had to put a sealed reprimand in a personnel file, with a warning that the next violation would result in termination. I will say this, in those tough decisions, I am first and foremost a Pastor and a restorer. Even the person who was fired, I was able to restore. They are doing well now and about to reenter the ministry. The one who had the reprimand was trained and overcame and has not had another incident. As Senior Pastors it is our job to also “Pastor” our staff. It is hard to discipline, but we all know it produces fruit of righteousness.
Pastor Matthew Mangan – Williamston, MI
It seems that your question has many parts to it. First, the computer: there are filters you can get that will not allow you to get on those websites. Next, you need to implement written guidelines on how you want your staff to deal with all people of both sexes. If the guidelines are violated, a warning is issued. If it persists, help them pack their stuff. Lastly, the heart needs to be dealt with!
Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
Great Question! We’ve installed a free program on every computer at home and at church. It’s called Blue Coat K9 Web Protection. It’s free!! It works. My wife has the password and every once in a while needs to input it so that we can access a new social website, but otherwise, it stops what needs to be stopped. Here’s the link www.k9webprotection.com.
Pornography is addictive and needs to be treated and addressed as such. Admitting an addiction is the first step. Telling someone you have a problem is where most ministers get stuck. Telling your spouse is the first step. Cutting off easy access to pornography is vital, however, addicts will try to find ways around it. So it has to be admitted and brought out into the open in order to effectively end it.
Next, is the larger issue of good marriages in ministry. Pastors with kids and a church have unlimited demands on their time and energy. Mom and Dad are often too tired at the end of the day to give each other their best. Add a physical problem, church problem, financial stress, or a family problem into the mix and the result is too little emotional and physical intimacy with husband and wife.
Remember, your marriage has to be placed ahead of the demands of the church. Divorce will end your pastorate. Pastoral duties are second to your marriage and family. Set aside on your calendar a lot of time for your spouse. Often good husband and wife communication, prayer, and problem-solving is needed before emotional and physical intimacy is possible. Making meetings with your spouse the most important part of your daily agenda, strengthens your marriage and your ministry. Physical intimacy flows from emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy is created when you pray together, value and listen to each other, and tackle problems in mutual agreement.
Addictive problems are often the result of a group of issues, so you have to be willing to work on a wider spectrum of areas to create a lasting solution.
Pastor Al Jennings – Fort Wayne, IN
I would like to address the accountability system as it relates to dealings with the opposite sex. Our staff policy is that no staff (married or single) is allowed to be alone with a member of the opposite sex (other than their spouse). This policy applies also to any of our Ministers (paid or volunteer).
As far as those who have fallen, if they acknowledge their sin and are willing to submit to counseling, we put them on a three-month probationary period, at which time they will withdraw from actively serving in our ministry. Then we assign someone in leadership for them to be accountable to and assign them materials. We require them to submit brief written reports on their assignments. If we see the individual has demonstrated an acceptable level of spiritual progress, completed the assignments given, and have made the necessary adjustments in their lifestyle, we will allow them to serve at the end of the three-month period. Hope this helps.
Confidential Response # 3
I have been here and dealt with this and it is not pleasant. I think we all understand that pornography is a very real issue in our society and it is in the church big-time. I address this issue to my church and to my staff from the pulpit by teaching on holiness on a regular basis. I do an entire message on it, and then by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I will hit on it in my messages. I throw out nuggets of truth about this and then I often tell the church I know it is going on and they had better stop. I do this again by the prompting of the Holy Spirit and I have people come to me and repent privately.
I caught one staff member looking at porn by monitoring church computers with software. If you own the computer you need to monitor it. Then I confronted the staff person, and because they repented, I had a restoration program already in line and now that person is restored.
I watch how my staff interacts with the opposite sex. If I see anything suspicious, I begin to watch closer and if I need to say something, I do. I will not allow any inappropriate talk or action in my staff or church leadership.
I found one of my pastors I oversee in an adulterous situation, and I tried to help him but he persisted in this type of action. So I had to remove him from the pulpit and pull his credentials. You cannot let this behavior be in the church; it has to be dealt with (see I Corinthians 5).
Confidential Response # 4
I had a situation recently with a potential staff member that we were ready to hire. He had done many tasks and helped as a volunteer and showed much skill, dedication, and was able to accept great responsibility. I was thrilled to have such a good addition to the team when an incident took place that showed he had moral issues that disqualified him to serve in this way. He has shown repentance and I am meeting with him to help bring God’s restoration to his life and for his future.
What is important with a situation like this, is that both the leader and the one who has sinned distinguish between God’s forgiveness and earning back respect. Without a foundation of respect, leadership is impossible. God’s forgiveness is free, purchased by the blood of Jesus, and there is nothing we can do to earn it but simply receive it by faith and from a contrite heart. Respect on the other hand is not based on the blood of Jesus, but our respectability—our lifestyle. It is proven and earned over time. God’s forgiveness is instant, but earning back respect takes time – the worse the offense, the longer the time. In fact, in some settings or locations, earning back respect may be impossible. The individual may not be disqualified for ministry, but perhaps disqualified in that location forever.
Those that I have seen and observed who have been restored back into ministry, take their time and truly deal with the character gaps in their life and the real root problems of the sin. There is no timetable other than getting to a healthy life where the sin is truly overcome with God’s grace and a new proven lifestyle. Those that hurry back into ministry either because of necessity or finances seem to fall again and the consequences get worse with each future mishap.
May God give you the wisdom and grace to navigate these difficult, but important paths.
Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV
Thankfully, I have no experience with this matter. This being said, I do have thoughts on what I would do.
I would ask them to explain what they were doing (knowing that this would be very tough on them). I would ask for an honest answer of how long this behavior had been going on. I would ask why they chose the church computer for this activity. I would hope to gain some insight in how they got themselves into this issue by listening to their answers. Depending on how they answered and what kind of repentance they displayed, I would make my next move. One option, depending on their attitude, would be to allow them to announce their resignation without telling anyone why they were leaving and then try to minister to them the help that they need. If they had the wrong attitude toward being caught, then I would make the announcement that they were leaving and probably still not tell anyone the reason and still hope for a future ministry opportunity to help them get free from this.
Pastor Tim Phillips – Harrison, AR
We have written up a policy that each of our staff members using computers has signed. We have experienced no problems up to this point, so I have not experienced what others apparently have. There is a great organization called Pure Life Ministries that helps people caught up in pornography. You can find them on the web at http://www.purelifeministries.org.
Pastor Mark Garver – Madison, AL
I’m not one who loves do’s and don’ts, but I’ve found that a point of reference is really helpful in working with people so that we have a common understanding of expectations. We use the form below for every new hire, every volunteer leader, and our worship team members.
Code of Ethics and Integrity for Conduct
We appreciate you and the gifts and talents you bring to this ministry and are committed to helping you achieve your highest level of service for the Lord in this ministry.
As part of our witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is imperative that all Church Leaders and Team Members in service at [YOUR CHURCH NAME] consistently act with the utmost of ethics, character and integrity. As a spiritual leader of the Body of Christ and this local assembly, you represent the Lord and this ministry in both your work life and private life. As a result, you are expected to always be sensitive to how others may see you biblically, spiritually, and ethically. We encourage you to strive toward living a life that is an example to others of your relationship with God and your belief in the Church’s mission statement and statement of faith. It is imperative that all spiritual leaders conduct themselves in a manner that reflects favorably upon the ministry.
All volunteers are asked to carefully consider each statement in this code of ethics and integrity and to sign their name to demonstrate their commitment to observing this code in their life and ministry while serving at [YOUR CHURCH NAME] in [CITY], [STATE].
As a Team Member:
- I will exhibit the highest standards in Christian character, ethical behavior, personal integrity and be a responsible servant of God.
- I will conduct myself in a manner that is consistent with the disciplines and teaching of the Bible and accept accountability for my actions and attitudes and will avoid situations that could reflect negatively on the name of Jesus Christ.
- I will be courteous and helpful to the public, congregation members, ministry partners, ministers, and those doing business with the ministry.
- I will not physically, sexually or emotionally abuse, or harass. I will accept personal responsibility to protect minors and adults from any and all forms of abuse and will notify the pastoral staff immediately if any abuse is suspected.
- I will refrain from smoking and use of tobacco products.
- I will not possess or use illegal drugs. This will constitute cause for immediate dismal for me as a volunteer possessing such or being under its influence.
- I will refrain from the use of alcohol or intoxicating beverages.
- I will, as a single believer, remain celibate and maintain sexual purity. The Bible defines marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman and in the event that I have made a marital commitment I am called to witness to this fidelity in all my relationships according to the laws of the Bible.
- I will avoid even the appearance of evil by not co-habitating with a person of the opposite sex.
- I will not gossip about anyone or disclose personal and/or private information that I am privy to due to my position.
- I will share concerns about suspicious or inappropriate behavior with the pastor and/or those acting as spiritual authority over the area in which I serve.
- I will respect my leader and fellow team members and will not speak against them publicly or privately, considering them partners in the work of God. I will serve them with counsel, support and personal assistance.
- I will only use my position, influence or authority to promote the Lord Jesus Christ and/or this ministry. I will not use my position, influence or authority to promote any business, product or service for personal gain.
- I will refrain from viewing, distributing and possessing any pornographic materials in any form. I will not use a church computer or any computer to access, view or transmit pornographic material or sexually explicit information. Because the church provides employees and some volunteers with communication tools such as but not limited to computers, staff and volunteer rights to privacy in this context are quite limited. Staff and others should have no expectation that any information transmitted over church equipment or stored on church computers is, or will remain, private. Use of the internet or other transmissions may be monitored. E-mail and other communications such as text messaging should not be considered a confidential means of correspondence.
- I will be diligent and responsible in meeting my financial obligations.
- I will not engage in violence, threats or outbursts of anger towards others.
- I will be aware at all times of the diverse make-up of our church body and will respect all genders, cultures and races. I will speak and act with sensitivity, awareness, and responsibility in my behavior, jokes or communication.
- I will refrain at all times whether acting on the church’s behalf or in my private life from any behavior which could cause reproach to the Body of Christ or this church fellowship.
It is obviously not possible to anticipate every situation that may arise or to provide information that answers every possible question. As a result, the Church reserves the right to modify, supplement, restrict, or revise any policy or provision at any time with or without notice, as it deems necessary or appropriate or by the direction of the Holy Spirit.
I have read, understand, and commit myself to living and ministering according to this code of conduct.
Name of Volunteer and Date
Leader Signature and Date
(Keep one signed copy, return other to the church office)
Confidential Response #5
We accidentally found out that our full time youth pastor of 5 years was heavily involved with internet pornography with his church computer during office hours. This had been going on for a few years or longer. He had set his computer history to “zero” so it would leave no evidence each night. Another church member was using our youth pastor’s computer and found some links to a couple of porn sites one evening before the history had cleared. The next day we checked his computer and found a long trail of porn sites he had visited on a regular basis during office hours. Even with the history set at “zero,” there is a way to see the sites that have been visited on the computer.
Immediately upon finding overwhelming evidence of our youth pastor’s involvement with internet pornography (this included a lot of activity on Monday when he was the only staff person at church), my wife and I met with him and told him what we found on his computer. He admitted that he had been using the church computer for 3 years or more for pornography. We told him that he was suspended until we met with the Board and got back to him. We met with our Board that evening and contacted the regional and national director of the ministry association we are part of. All three agreed that immediate termination of his position as youth pastor was the first action to be taken.
Based on the counsel we received, to avoid liable charges, etc., I prepared a written statement that I read to the church the following Sunday morning. As advised, I did not mention specifically what had occurred and did not deviate from the prepared statement. I stated that we had become aware of some personal information that the Board felt immediately disqualified our youth pastor from his position. I asked the congregation not to ask him or his wife about the situation, but to pray for them and the church. (As a side note, before the Sunday AM service, our youth pastor had told several of his friends in the church what he had done). I went on to say that it is our desire that the youth pastor and his wife remain members of the church and we want nothing but the best for them.
Also, as we were advised by our ministry superiors, we required our youth pastor to seek professional counseling that the church would pay for if he wanted to remain in the church in good standing. Many seasoned ministers we talked to who have dealt with this issue all agreed to the need for Professional Christian Counseling in addition to prayer and spiritual deliverance. They stated that in the majority of cases they had dealt with, when there was no professional counseling to see them completely through and over this stronghold, the person returned back to pornography. Unfortunately, after receiving a different point of view on the telephone from a so called professional counselor, our youth pastor chose to leave the church and not go to counseling that the church was going to pay for. Fortunately, as a result of the prepared statement, very little talk or questioning went on in the church about this issue. We only lost one or two other families as a result of this situation.
To avoid this happening again, we have implemented the following safeguards:
- Have a checklist of personal/spiritual life questions that potential staff members must answer in writing.
- Conduct a background check on all potential staff members and children’s volunteers.
- Notify all staff members in writing that the use of church resources (computers, TV’s, telephones, cell phones, etc.) for pornography, gambling, or any illegal activity are grounds for immediate termination of employment.
- Notify all staff members that we reserve the right to review and monitor their use of any church provided resources.
- All computers must have their history set at a minimum of 10 days.