Pastors Split over Ministry Return Time for Pastors Who Commit Adultery

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An overview of the findings from LifeWay Research’s recent study.

When a pastor commits adultery, most of their fellow pastors believe they should withdraw from public ministry for at least some time.

A new survey of U.S. Protestant pastors by Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds 2% of pastors believe a fellow pastor who has an affair does not need to take any time away.

“Scripture doesn’t mince words about adultery,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “From the Ten Commandments, to the Apostle Paul’s lists of wicked things, 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.”

Few believe less than a year is a sufficient period of withdrawal from public ministry: 3% say for at least three months, and another 3% say at least six months.

Around 1 in 6 pastors (16%) believe an offending pastor should stay gone for at least a year.

Other pastors want them to be away from public ministry for a longer period of time: 10% say at least two years, 7% say at least five years, and 1% say at least 10 years.

For more than a quarter of pastors (27%), a pastor who commits adultery should withdraw from public ministry permanently.

Three in 10 pastors (31%) say they aren’t sure what the appropriate time frame would be.

“While the Bible is clear that this behavior does not fit a pastor or elder of a church,” said McConnell, “there is much debate over how long this act would disqualify someone from pastoral ministry.”

Changes Since 2016

Pastors’ responses are similar to, though not unchanged from, a 2016 LifeWay Research survey.

Pastors today are less likely than those four years ago to say shorter time frames are appropriate periods …

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