First things first. If either of you are married, he shouldn’t be flirting with you.
I got asked this question recently via email from a woman who was concerned her pastor was sending her mixed signals. She asked, “Is my pastor flirting with me?”
She had some reasons for concern. She was a regular attender at the church who was recently divorced and the pastor was a little older than her. Every time she came around he seemed to light up and always wanted a hug from her.
His behavior was accelerating and she was concerned. Especially since she was emotionally vulnerable.
I sat down with a few other people and we brainstormed six ways to know if your pastor is flirting with you. And conversely, if you are a pastor and you’re married – you need to stop, get help and be accountable:
1. Your pastor engages in the “full contact hug.“
There are lots of pastors who like to hug. And some people just want to hug the pastor. He’s a likable guy most of the time. Hugs are typically a socially acceptable form of affection for a person who takes care of your spiritual needs and loves your family. But when does it cross the line?
I learned in my practice of ministry class in seminary that if you’re a pastor and you’re gonna hug someone, you need to use either the “a-frame hug” or the “side hug.” Go to sayheygirlhey.wordpress.com for a complete explanation of these hugs, but from the names, you should be able to parse it out.
You want to completely avoid the full contact frontal hug at all costs. It’s just going to get you into trouble. And if your pastor is going out of his way to hug you this way or is sustaining contact with you by hugging you like this? He’s got a problem that we will talk about below.
2. The “Back Rub”
Your pastor should never be giving you a back rub. Ever. Ever. His job is to preach the Word of God, to minister to the people of God. Not to release the tension in your shoulders. When he feels comfortable enough to touch you in a comfortable way, he’s crossed a line and intends to go further. Stop it quickly before it goes further.
3. He breaks eye contact to look “elsewhere“
I don’t want to have to explain this. Your pastor should be able to train his eyes to not look at your womanly features. If he can’t control his eyes, he needs some mentoring, prayer, counseling, and direct confrontation. If he does it a lot, he probably has a lust problem. If he’s only doing it with you, he is sending you a message that you don’t need to be receiving.
4. Excessive compliments outside the presence of your husband or his wife
Pastors are allowed to say nice things to their parishioners. “Mrs. Teasdale, you look lovely today.” “Mr. Babbage, what a divine suit.” “Ms. Anderson, you’ve lost weight, haven’t you?” But beware of the pastor who singles you out often when his wife or your husband aren’t around for particularly meaningful comments.
Such as, “You look really, really nice today. I mean, really nice.” Or, “You have the most beautiful eyes.” Stuff that you might hear in a bar, or from a high school boyfriend. Things that you know a pastor should never say to a church member.
5. He finds ways to be alone with you.
When a pastor has a crush on you or is trying to flirt with you, he will often create situations where you will be alone together. Whether that is you two working on a project together, or he asks you to stay after service, beware if it is happening frequently.
It can also happen very subtly. He might sit next to you every chance he gets or be the one who holds your hand in every prayer circle. It might just be that unnoticeable. I don’t want to make you paranoid about your pastor. If you’re worried, have a friend watch his actions if you think something is up. Get a second opinion.
But I’ve learned that a woman’s instincts are solid in just about every situation. Trust yourself if you think there’s a problem.
6. He calls/texts/messages you for no good reason
This is one of the most prevalent problems today. With social media, we have access to each others personal information, pictures, and daily habits with a simple click. If your pastor is following you and stalking you online, messaging you, texting you constantly – he might be obsessed with you.
So what now?
If you think your pastor is flirting with you what do you do? It’s a tough situation to be in, for sure. If you confront him, he will likely deny it. If you go to the church leadership, they might make you look like a fool.
Document everything that you can. Keep a record of it if you’re concerned. After you’ve done that, I suggest that if you’re married, you tell your spouse what you’ve witnessed. After that, approach the pastor with your spouse (if you are married) and tell him that <insert uncomfortable behavior> that he is expressing makes you uncomfortable. If he doesn’t respond positively and you have documented proof, I suggest talking to a church leader.
If the church leader dismisses it, then it’s time to reassess. Two things are possible. Maybe you read the pastor wrong. Or, maybe they are covering up for the pastor. If you need help, I’m here. Or contact a local leader who will help you privately. Above all, I strongly suggest you do not share anything on social media or publicly immediately. It’s a private matter between you and the pastor and/or the church leadership for the time being. Read Matthew 18 about church discipline.
But know that if you are being abused, sexually harassed or mistreated, there is no excuse for it. You have a voice and deserve to be heard. Do something about it. Get support and help from people around you. If you feel like you’ve been taken advantage of or sexually harassed or mistreated, then please get help.
On the other hand, what if you’re emotionally vulnerable and you find yourself somewhat enjoying the attention? I have had many people approach me in this situation. Listen, you’re not alone. But know that a little positive attention is not the same as a lasting, godly relationship.
So stop the runaway train before it’s too late. To be honest, women are much better at sensing danger or being sensitive to sin before men are. If you have to walk away from the church for awhile, do it. If you have to send him an email telling him that he makes you uncomfortable, do it.
One of the best strategies I’ve ever seen, for the pastor or the member is to confess to someone. In the stages where people feel like they are “flirting,” it can be quickly diffused if they confess the sin while it’s young. Tell someone about how you feel and it will go away quickly.
Also realize that flirting while you’re married or with a married person isn’t harmless. It leads to life altering consequences that will destroy people, churches and relationships.
Look, if you’re in this situation and you need help, whether you’re a church member, leader, pastor or whomever, contact me through the information below. I get it. I won’t judge you. I’ve been there and I understand.
Other articles on this topic:
“7 Sexual Lines No Pastor Should Cross,” by Joe McKeever
“Where There is Smoke,” Clergy Recovery Network
“Three Things a Pastor Cannot Do,” by Joe McKeever
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.
If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you. I have counseled over 500 pastors, church leaders, denomination leaders, pastor’s wives, “other women,” and more in the past six years. I will not judge you and I will keep all your information completely confidential.
If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.