A new survey of U.S. Protestants revealed that a majority of pastors believe the sin of adultery does not permanently disqualify a leader from serving in the ministry. Only a fraction of participants think extramarital affairs prohibit Christians from serving in church leadership again.
A new study conducted by Lifeway Research revealed pastors’ thoughts on moral failure while serving in ministry. While most pastors believe a fellow pastor should step away after committing adultery, there are varying opinions on the duration of the sabbatical.
The survey of 1,000 pastors found that approximately one in six (16%) pastors believe a faltering pastor should step aside for at least one year. Three percent said the pastor should stay away for six months, while another 3% said at least three months.
Other participants said pastors should stay out of public ministry for longer than one year. Ten percent said at least two years. Another 7% said a minimum of five years, and 1% said at least 10 years.
In contrast, 27% believe pastors who have been unfaithful either to their wife or to God by having sex outside of marriage should withdraw from ministry altogether. Additionally, 2% said a fellow pastor who has an affair does not need to take any time away from church leadership.
Another 31% are unsure of the appropriate amount of time a pastor should refrain from ministry.
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said the difference in the appropriate length of a sabbatical varies across churches. While the Bible has always condemned adultery, the extent of the associated punishment is still highly disputed.
“Scripture doesn’t mince words about adultery. From the Ten Commandments… to the qualifications for elders listed in 1 Timothy. Adultery is not appropriate for a follower of Christ nor a leader of a local church,” McConnell said.
“The Bible is clear that this behavior does not fit a pastor… [However], there is much debate over how long this would disqualify someone…”
The survey also found that ethnicity, education, and denomination of church leaders influences their response.
African Americans are least likely to say a pastor is permanently disqualified from ministry after committing adultery (8%).
Among denominations, Pentecostal pastors are the least likely to suggest that a church leader permanently withdraw (6%). Pentecostal pastors are also most likely to say pastors should stay away from ministry for at least one year.
Along educational demographics:
According to the study, church size is also a factor that impacts respondents’ answers. Pastors of churches with 50-99 people (31%) are more likely to select “withdraw permanently” than those with an attendance of 100-249 (23%).
“Pastors’ opinions on the subject are a good barometer for opinions across churches,” said McConnell. “There is widespread disagreement from pastors across denominations, church size, age, race and education levels to quickly restoring pastors who commit adultery to public ministry positions.”