The Preacher Rules
I grew up being taught the preacher rules. Not “rules” as in “dictatorship,” but “rules” as in “guidelines.” These rules refer to how a preacher counsels and interacts with women. Preachers must establish practical boundaries in order to protect themselves, other women, and the church.
I’ve known of far too many preachers who thought they could counsel women no differently than men, and, as a result, their ministry ended in scandal. They resigned or were fired because of an affair or the appearance of an affair. On the other hand, I’ve also known of preachers who refused to counsel any women, and, in so doing, limited their godly influence to men only. What is needed, I believe, is balance and wisdom when counseling women so God can use preachers most effectively for His glory.
Again, the “preacher rules” are important for three (3) reasons:
- They protect you from temptation (1 Cor. 6:18; 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Thess. 5:22).
- They protect others from temptation (Phil. 2:4).
- They help ensure you have a blameless ministry (1 Pet. 3:16; cf. 1 Tim. 3:2; cf. Titus 1:6-7).
Consider some guidelines I follow in my own ministry:
1. Never counsel with a woman alone in the church building.
Make sure the woman’s husband (if she has one), your secretary, or your wife is present when counseling in your office. This is critically important. I know that just as no two people are alike, no two counseling situations are the same. Some women simply want to study the Bible with their preacher, while others seek counseling through divorce or abuse. Yet depending on the situation, always make sure someone (such as your wife, secretary, or the woman’s husband) is present. At the very least, make sure someone is within eyeshot by ensuring the counseling session occurs during office hours (when the secretary is present), and leave the door cracked so the secretary can see or walk in. If a woman shows up unexpectedly for counseling and no one else is around, reschedule the meeting at a time when someone will be present.
2. Guard against unhealthy emotional bonding.
For this reason, I avoid counseling women over an extended period of time. It is slightly possible for a woman to become emotionally attached (especially during times of turmoil in her life) to her male counselor. I know a preacher who was literally chased around his office by a woman after counseling her for an extended period of time. (This of course could have been avoided had he followed rule #1.) If extended counseling is needed, I refer the woman to another woman in the congregation or a licensed professional counselor.
3. Avoid conversations about sexual problems.
The logic behind this should be obvious. A preacher has no business discussing matters of sexual intimacy with another woman. If a woman were to bring this matter up while counseling, I would gently recommend the woman to the godly counsel of my wife or another female counselor.
4. Never visit a woman in her house alone.
Sometimes a preacher needs to make house calls. If you are visiting a woman, make sure her husband is present. If she is alone, make sure to bring your wife or another member of the church. If you come to her door and realize you and her are the only ones there, reschedule. Never be in a house alone with a woman.
5. Be careful how you touch.
Avoid enveloping women in full-frontal hugs. I know of preachers who do this, and I’ve never much cared for it. Your physical contact with women should be limited; you don’t want to send the wrong message. While I think preachers should hug people often (I’m a hugger!), there should be boundaries. When hugging women, ‘lean in’ or hug from the side.
6. Remember the old-enough-to-be-your-grandmother exception.
Many of the above rules do not apply to you when counseling someone old enough to be your grandmother. Using your discretion, you are free to visit elderly women in their homes or in the hospital. Naturally, there is a big difference between visiting 82-year-old Sister Smith alone and visiting 30-year-old-recently-divorced-and-slightly-flirtatous Sister Johnson. Remember, it is the old-enough-to-be-your-grandmother rule, not the old-enough-to-be-your-mom rule.
Preachers, this young preacher would certainly appreciate your advice. Do you have any wise counsel to give me, and other preachers, on this topic? What are some rules you follow when interacting and counseling with women?