How should the adultery of a minister be handled?


My Dear Brother,

I would like to express my deep grief because of what's happening in our local congregation. I am in desperate need of guidance as my heart is so much troubled.

We found out that our minister of many years has been hiding a horrible sin of adultery where a child has been born.

Inevitably, the flock is now divided into those identifying themselves as merciful, tolerant, forgiving, and loving and another that is being labeled as unforgiving, vindictive, slandering, and unkind. Our minister claims that he had repented of it and it seems to me that their party wishes to keep the current status quo of servitude to our congregation. However, the other party demands discipline in the spirit of God's holiness and righteousness exercised in the church.

I know we ought to be forgiving but it just doesn't sound right that we take this offense lightly and quietly move on in our lives without doing anything. I believe there is a reason why James wrote that not all should aspire to be teachers because there are stricter measures that not all men can comply with and maintain. In these kinds of incidents where a leader or teacher defaults on God's holiness, we believe that something has to be done.

We all have dirty laundry from our past, but it grieves my heart that this kind of sin or scandal is treated lightly by some brethren to the point of allowing the brother to still stand in the pulpit. The Lord knows my heart, and even I am a sinner, but it rips my heart, that sin as grave as this is being taken against some brethren labeling them as slanderers and unfairly angry with them. I truly find it a way of escaping accountability from the office he has.

The leadership will have an upcoming meeting to discuss matters of the church including this incident and they have assigned me to deliver a devotion before we start. I am discouraged and disheartened. I have the inclination to just leave the congregation and go somewhere else, but another part of me still hopes and trusts that the Lord is sovereign and will exercise true justice and holiness in our midst.

I do look forward to hearing from you, my dear brother. These past days have been mentally exhausting as there are alliances being built claiming to be true and correct, but each side has flaws. My heart is weighed down, please pray for me also.


I cannot take a side because I am not there and I don't know all the facts. I suspect that even the members there are making decisions without sufficient information.

Forgiving brethren of their sins is not a light topic. Our salvation depends on our ability to forgive. "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions" (Matthew 6:14-15). That forgiveness is not automatically given. It requires a change in the sinner. "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3).

Typically, when a person won't let go of his sins, punishment is necessary to get him to see that his sins are not acceptable. But some people confuse this and think that punishment must come regardless of repentance on a person's part. The case of Nineveh in the book of Jonah should prove this false. Nineveh had sinned. Jonah wanted Nineveh to be punished -- he even ran away to avoid giving Nineveh a warning. But when he was finally forced to deliver God's message, Nineveh repented. Notice God's response: "When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it" (Jonah 3:10). There was no need for punishment when the goal was accomplished.

Another problem is that we all know people can lie. Thus, when a person claims to repent, we don't know if it is the truth or not. We can't read someone's mind and know for certain. So what do we do? "And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him" (Luke 17:4). You have to assume the person is telling you the truth.

By the way, a person's words must be consistent with his actions. "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16-20). In the case of adultery, is the additional evidence that the preacher has changed? Does he no longer have contact with the woman? Is he supporting the child conceived by his sin? Has he changed how he deals with situations to minimize temptation?

You alluded to James 3: "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment" (James 3:). I believe that James is referring to the final judgment and not judgment by brethren. See Luke 12:42-46. This is not a verse saying that teachers and other leaders have to be held to a stricter standard than other brethren.

Therefore, what I would suggest is that this meeting should be more about whether there is evidence that the preacher has not changed as he stated. If there isn't evidence, then the Lord commands that he be forgiven -- not just in words but the actions the brethren show.


Thank you for responding, Brother Jeff.

I would like to know if a part of repentance is a confession to the church?

What's happening is that all discussions are happening on the side. Each side is making accusations that cause people to partially take sides.

With regards to our minister, he claims that he repented. He actually can easily claim this because the sin happened more than 10 years ago. I believe that he is supporting the child. One of the problems here is broken trust and how he attends to this broken trust of the brethren. His past is now wildly spread, but he is only talking to people whom he knows has a chance of taking his side. The older leadership agreed when they had the meeting that he should come out to the congregation to apologize. But when Sunday came, he didn't show up, and after this, they spoke privately to people to explain his side while saying that this is being used against him to bring him down and to prevent him from preaching.

The things that happened are definitely part of the consequences of his sin from the past; however, many leaders are not finding him repentant because they don't see humility due to his action of retaliation to what was generally agreed by the leaders.

My brother Jeff, this is only a fraction of what has been going on for the past decade. A lot of workers in the congregation do not last long, and only now have I realized that there is something wrong with the leadership. A lot of members have also left. Recently I found out that one of the causes is our minister and his wife.

My wife and I were part of our minister's inner circle before. We had so much fun talking about other brethren, and how these brothers wish to tear them down without really knowing the background of the behavior or actions of this brother. These brethren aren't perfect either, but I feel bad now that we have been so impartial to them simply because we are part of the inner circle of our minister. I was able to hear their side, and I finally understand why.

These past days, the pulpit has become a warfare tool for these psychological and spiritual wars. I can't help but think of Paul's warning to Galatians "But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another" (Galatians 5:15 ESV).

The congregation is under dissent and no longer loving, both parties accusing each other of bypassing Matthew 18. There are lies and manipulation of narrative.

Brother Jeff, concerning this situation, these are my specific questions:

1. How can we know that he repented?
2. What behavior should be seen?
3. How does the leadership deal with the knowledge of this sin in the congregation?
4. How can we stop the accusations of each faction?
5. Lastly, will I be guilty of sin if my wife and I transfer to a congregation? I understand the command of forgiveness, but I agree with you that it is not automatically given, but there should be repentance, the problem is my question number 1.


From your notes, it sounds like the preacher had committed adultery before he came to this congregation. The brethren are more upset that they weren't aware of the sin prior to asking him to come work with them.

Since you can't read a person's mind, you have to take the person's word. He said he repented of the adultery, he took responsibility for the consequence of his sin, and since no one was aware of the sin, I must conclude that he no longer has contact with the woman he had sex with. I would not be at all surprised that he moved there to escape the gossip.

Confession to a congregation is not required in the scriptures. See Does sin require a public confession before a congregation?

You can't stop people from sinning. You could teach about the sin of gossiping, malice, strife, etc. but I suspect that people will just get angrier. Perhaps near the start, it might have worked, but it sounds like the situation is already chaotic.

Moving to another congregation is not a sin. The sin is in the congregation's strife. It does sound like the preacher is equally involved in it. It would be for that reason that I would suggest moving.

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