I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Heath Lambert recently and discussing several topics including temptation, biblical counseling, preventing ministry failure, and lust. Dr. Lambert is the assistant professor of Biblical Counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s also the Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He’s also author/co-author of several books, including “Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace.”
Dr. Lambert and I began by talking about statistics of fallen ministers and his impression of them:
“The statistic I have heard for a long time is that one-fifth or 20% of ministers will leave the ministry due to some form of moral failure. Those empirical numbers are not what matter to me the most. What matters to me the most is when you’re sitting there talking to a man and his wife who have just been devastated from leaving the ministry or talking to a woman who has been involved with a pastor.
“So the 20% is a big number but when I have people talking to me, that’s when I feel the real weight of it.”
Preventing Ministry Failure
One of the most important topics that we discussed was how to help pastors prevent ministry failure. We discussed this idea for biblical counselors and it is also relevant for anyone in ministry. For that matter, all Christians should be aware of the situations and temptations that we face.
Dr. Lambert discussed two types of prevention. First, he discussed external prevention. Safeguards we can place on our lives to prevent failure. These include having accountability, having an open door policy, and having a right relationship with your wife.
Prevention for ministers and biblical counselors:
– Have an office with windows so others can look in
– Avoid long-term counseling with the opposite sex
“1 Timothy 5 tells us to engage with women in ministry so I do meet and counsel women. I’m a woman’s pastor just as I am a man’s pastor. But it’s important to avoid ongoing counseling with the opposite sex. There’s a difference between ‘I’m going to meet with you a couple of times so I can find out what’s going on’ vs. meeting with a member of the opposite sex in an ongoing counseling relationship.”
– Don’t meet with just one spouse for marriage counseling
“One thing I say to people is, if you’re only meeting with the husband or wife by themselves, it’s not marriage counseling.”
– Don’t meet with a woman without having another woman nearby
Dr. Lambert has an open door policy. He has a female staff member near the door who is aware of the counseling going on. He recommends in a church setting having a staff member outside the door or having a woman sit in the counseling session with you.
– Keep your wife informed
“As soon as you start being aware that you’re meeting with a woman and that you’re not telling your wife about it or you’re not telling her about things happening in the meeting, you need to know there’s a problem. I’m not talking about things that are privileged information either. Some things that happen in counseling situations that need to stay confidential. But there may be times when a person you’re counseling texts you or says something that you want to keep from your wife. If that’s happening, there is a problem.”
- Listen to your wife
“There have been four or five times when my wife has been more aware of situations of trouble that I might have been getting into than I was.” (Dr. Lambert and I agreed to call it women’s intuition). “She has seen things coming before I have. I have learned to listen to her and her wisdom. She is just a better judge of character than I am. She’s been right every time.”
– Be an open book with your wife
“My wife isn’t nosy. My email is just right there. She uses my phone. I’m not doing anything to hide from her. We live life openly and don’t have any secrets. There is one woman I have to make happy in the world and that’s my wife.”
– Have others you are accountable to
“There are four guys I am accountable to. They know everything about me. If they wanted to write a tell-all book about me, they could do it. These are guys I tell every struggle and thought to. Things I don’t even necessarily share with my wife first. I might share with them that I am struggling with lust or dishonesty. They help me to see weak spots and share things with me in the most honest and candid manner.”
– Make your wife a point of conversation
“I’m not going out of my way to talk about her. I’m leading with my wife in conversation. She’s on my mind. The women that know me and work with me know that there’s no room in my life for them. Which is what they should think.”
External prevention is helpful, but for a Christian to avoid temptation and moral failure, it cannot end there. The soul must be on guard and a person’s relationship with Christ must be pursued along with personal holiness.
Dr. Lambert: “The reality is that you can do all those things and still commit adultery. You can put a window in your office door and still commit adultery. You can give up on your commitment to value your wife as soon as you meet a pretty girl in a restaurant out of town. You can create a private email or buy a second cell phone. You can give the appearance of having accountability if you want.
“God is honest about the temptation, he’s honest about the fallout, but He doesn’t just talk about the forbidden woman . . . but He also talks about this perfect picture of your wife. That’s an invitation for us to fight, to treasure our wives.“
“The battle is won or lost at the level of our intentions. What do I intend to do with women? I think about that in a couple of ways. One thing I try to do is urge men to get close to Jesus. Nobody ever committed adultery or got found in some persistent problem with adultery when they were nurturing intimacy and closeness in their walk with Jesus Christ.
“One of the things I am praying every single morning is ‘Jesus will you give me you? Will you make me like you? Will you give me passion for you?’ Because when Jesus is filling up your heart, he’s defining the categories of your heart. And he’s defining what there is and is not room for in your heart.”
The Allure of Temptation
Dr. Lambert said he prayed for several things every day in his pursuit for Christ including purity and a better relationship with his wife. In doing so, a Christian is insulating themselves from lust but also turning their hearts toward their wives.
“In Proverbs 5 and 7, there’s a sense in which the author is very honest about the forbidden woman. She’s very tempting. She’s got an attractive offer for you. Her husband is out of town, he’s not coming back for a month, she’s decorated her house, she’s put some perfume on, and come, let’s take our fill of love. She’s not telling you this is going to be the least thrilling thing you’ve ever done. She’s not saying, “everyone you know is going to find out, your ministry is going to be over.” She’s saying, “you’re going to have the time of your life.”
“God is honest about the temptation, he’s honest about the fallout, but He doesn’t just talk about the forbidden woman, but back in the 20’s of Proverbs 5, He says ‘start thinking about your wife.’ He says, ‘let her breasts satisfy you. Rejoice in her love.’ So He gives you this true picture of this thing to fight against but He also talks about this perfect picture of your wife. That’s an invitation for us to fight, to treasure our wives.“
Fighting Temptation By Focusing on Your Wife
“You’ll hear some guys say when you’re looking at a woman with lust, ‘bounce your eyes.’ I want to do that, I want to look away, but I also want to bounce my heart. So, I’m trying to cultivate with discipline of bouncing my eyes, ‘no, not that,’ but to do more. And to think about what my wife does that makes me happy. Think about what she does that encourages me. Think about what I would like our life to be like in 30 years.
“Another thing I’m doing is looking for opportunities to nurture the affections in my heart for her. So I have on my iPhone a set of songs that I will only listen to if I promise to only think about her. If I am feeling really frustrated with her, rather than just feel frustrated with her, I’ll plug my iPhone into the car and start thinking about my wife. We’re structured so music strikes a chord with our affections. So I’ll just listen to George Strait, “Carried Away,” and start thinking about my wife.
“I also have five things about my wife that are awesome that I think about when I’m frustrated with her or if I’m tempted. These are things that are true of her that are true of no one else and they stir my heart.”
A Right Relationship With Other Women
“The next thing is that in the 1 Timothy 5 sense it says we are to treat women with all purity. There are two relationships described in Scripture we are to have with women. The first is with our wives as described in Song of Solomon.
“The other one is the sisterly relationship. I find that every time you look at a woman, every time you engage with a woman, you are making a choice about what’s going to motivate your looking at her. About what is going to motivate your interacting with her. Is my interaction with you, my conversation with you, my looking at you motivated by lust or some kind of desire to impress you to have this be something other than it is? Or is it motivated by loving you as a sister with all purity?
“I don’t have a sister, but I have a daughter. And I have affection for both. But the difference is daylight and dark between the types of affection. So I have a gut check when I have a conversation with another woman, I ask, ‘What’s motivating my looking at you?’ And if I’m aware that I’m motivated by something other than sisterly purity, then I know in that moment to say, ‘Lord, forgive me, give me grace to be motivated by sisterly purity as I engage with this woman.’”
Having the Right Intentions
“Those motivations are where the battle is won or lost. I’m for windows in the door and all that, they’re all important, but ultimately, if you’re not motivated by sisterly purity but by the lust of the eyes, then all of the windows, and accountability won’t matter.
“But if you are motivated by sisterly purity and a woman is in a mind to commit adultery and there is no window in the door, you’re not going to fall in that moment. Why? Because you’ve spent time cultivating the idea, ‘you’re not for me, my wife is, and this wouldn’t honor Jesus.’
For pastors seeking to be educated and stronger in biblical counseling, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has distance and on-site learning classes available. For any church member looking to strengthen their counseling base, The Association of Biblical Counselors has weekend and other programs to train you to be effective in your congregation.
Other helpful links:
“Interview with Heath Lambert on ‘Finally Free‘” by Grant Castleberry
“Porn, Pride, and Praise: An Interview with Heath Lambert” by Desiring God
If you have been moved by Dr. Lambert’s words and need help, please take time to purchase his book, “Finally Free: Fighting for Purity With the Power of Grace.”
Special thanks to my friend and mentor, Dr. Hershael York, for making this interview possible.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
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