Home > Mallinak, The Ministry > On Investigating a Predator Pastor

On Investigating a Predator Pastor

July 2, 2007

First, we should be very clear that this post is not talking about a pastor who yields to temptation and stumbles into sin. The Bible is very clear that in such a case, when a pastor is overtaken in a fault, the spiritual are to restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.

But our confusion often begins at this particular juncture. How are we to know the difference between a pastor who uses his position to prey on people, and a pastor who genuinely was overtaken in a fault? For starters, the pastor who stumbled in the heat of the moment will not be demanding forgiveness and restoration. Nor will he be insinuating or implying that we ought to be thinking restoration. Nor will he wait to get caught. He will come forward with his sin himself. His first desire will be to come clean, to make himself accountable, submitting to the church, and making things right. If his sin has disqualified him either temporarily or permanently from ministry (and he will not use semantics for a covering — see Psalm 51 for a sample of true confession), then he will step down immediately. It is absurd to argue that a pastor who refuses to confess his sin, who demands forgiveness and demands that we ignore his sin, who refuses to step down, should be restored to anything.

When a pastor sins and immediately does the right thing, submitting himself to the Word of God and to the spiritual authority of the church, then Galatians 6:1 comes into play; restoration can take place to the extent allowed by Scripture. In this case, we are not dealing with a “Predator Pastor.” But when a pastor is busily (and overtly) attempting to cover his sin, to diminish it, to rationalize it, and to force your hand through demands for submission, forgiveness, and/or restoration, then we have a predator on our hands. How then do we deal with such an one as this?

First, we must remember our Scriptural duty to maintain the purity of the church, and as with our children, we must not let our soul spare for his crying. Because of their position, pastors have a particularly potent ability to manipulate. We must not be manipulated. When we combine the trust normally vested in a pastor with the position of authority inherent to pastors, we get a dangerous mixture, and any attempt to go against that pastor can be fraught with danger, full of confusion and difficulty. In such a case, our love for the truth must trump any loyalty to a man.

Any charge of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously. We must examine evidence. Churches often make the mistake of ignoring the obvious in favor of feelings. Church members rarely feel that their pastor is capable of sexual misconduct. But our feelings about the possibilities say nothing about the facts of what actually happened. We must weigh evidence, not feelings.

But weighing evidence, unfortunately, is not always an exact science. As has been mentioned previously, cases of sexual misconduct can be difficult or nearly impossible to investigate by their very nature. Sexual sins rarely have witnesses. Establishing two or three witnesses could require waiting for two or three victims to suffer abuse and to come forward. That can be next to impossible. Certainly, if there is more than one accuser, or if witnesses do come forth, their testimony should be heard, and if their testimony agrees, let every word be established.

Some will insist that “if you didn’t see it happen, then you can’t know.” Not so fast. Other evidence must also be considered. For instance, we often overlook “boundary violations,” those violations of space and time and appropriateness and ethics that always accompany any sort of sexual misconduct, and particularly are always present in the case of a predator pastor. Those investigating allegations of misconduct must always be alert to inappropriate contact and conduct on the part of the accused. Boundary violations must not be taken lightly, and certainly cannot be ignored. Does the accused admit to “inappropriate contact?” Are there witnesses who can establish unethical behavior? Have witnesses observed procedural violations? While certainly not conclusive, these are or should be obvious warning signs, and must be taken seriously.

During an investigation, church leaders should also pay attention to the way the accused answers questions. Rather than thinking that we will be able to detect a lie, based purely on feelings, we should instead look for deflections masquerading as answers. Above all else, predators wish to escape detection. We should note that goal. They do not want you to find the truth. Predators want to continue with their behavior. They want to protect themselves. They don’t care about the truth.

This means they are good liars. Not that lies can ever be good, but that they are practiced and polished in the art of lying. They are not novices in this area. And being skilled liars, they know what you are looking for. They know that they must keep their gaze steady. They have heard all about the “gaze aversion” secret, and they will avoid that mistake at all costs. Their body language will exude confidence, nor will they show any sign of nervousness. They have practiced the poker face, and the innocent routine. Go ahead! Try to catch them changing their story! But they have an explanation for everything, and you will need providential aide to catch them in a lie.

Rather than looking for the “obvious” signs of lying, which do not actually exist, we should pay attention to the more subtle signs of deception that are common amongst liars. Much has been written about this already, and a thorough discussion would take some time, but we should look briefly at a couple of indicators. One would be what psychologists call “emotional leakage.” Essentially, this indicator surfaces through odd emotional contrasts. For instance, a person is very warm and friendly, and suddenly shifts to cold and unfriendly. Another person goes out of their way to flatter, and suddenly insults you. Or, the happy suddenly becomes angry; Mr. Nice Guy inexplicably changes to Mr. Hateful. These Jekel and Hyde changes indicate deception.

A second subtle sign of deception is deflection and evasion. When the question is asked, does the suspect answer directly, or does he attempt to deflect and/or evade the question? There are many ways that liars will use deception. For instance, when asked, “did you touch her in any way?” he might respond by saying, “I would say no.” On the surface, an answer like that seems straightforward enough, until you consider that he did not actually say “no.” He only said that he would say “no.” Trite as that seems, it is a world of difference to a liar. Another example of deflection or evasion would be feigned shock and outrage that the question is being asked, or that anyone would think such a thing. A good liar uses very subtle changes to deflect or evade questions that he does not wish to answer. Anna Salter lists several ways, which I will include below:

1. Unfinished business: “That’s about all.” “That’s pretty much it”; “That’s about all I can remember.”
2. Answering the question with a question: “Why would I do something like that?”
3. Maintenance of dignity: “Don’t be ridiculous.”
4. Commenting on the question: “That’s a hard question.”
5. Projection: “Someone would have to be sick to do that.”
6. Denial of evidence: “You have no proof.”
7. Accusation: “Are you accusing me?”
8. Qualifiers: “I can’t say”; “I could say”; “I would say.”
9. Answers: “My answer is…”; “The answer is…”(1)

Note that none of these answers directly answer the question. Although these kinds of answers do not prove that the person is lying, they are warning signs, red flags waving furiously back and forth, bidding you to look closer.

In the absence of conclusive evidence, and when suspicion lingers and evidence is lacking, the Bible gives us another way to find the truth, one that we often overlook. Consider Exodus 22:10-11:

If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good.

Numbers 5:11-21 also tells us what must be done in a case when there are no witnesses. Namely, the accused must swear an oath in the name of God that the charges are not true. Now, some no doubt will object to this advice. The Bible says “swear not at all.” But the Bible is not forbidding oaths. Instead, the Bible teaches that we should not need to swear an oath in order to tell the truth. God’s people love truth. If we only tell the truth when we swear an oath, then we are miserable liars. Rather, the truly honorable man swears to his own hurt without needing to change his story.

Whenever we have a lack of evidence but a persistent accuser, the investigators must explain the gravity of the situation, along with the serious nature of swearing an oath in the name of God. They should then require the accused to take such an oath. In doing so, we trust God to expose any lie. In other words, we put the case in the hand of God, asking God to bring the truth to light.

Above all else, we must remember that allegiance to the truth is our first allegiance. No pastor should ever put his own personal reputation or his own ambitions for position above the truth. No deacon or church leader should put his loyalty to a man above his loyalty to truth and justice. I would rather step aside one hundred times than allow justice to be perverted, or shelter a predator.

Categories: Mallinak, The Ministry
  1. Bobby Mitchell
    July 2, 2007 at 7:49 pm


    Great article. I agree with your zeal about this type of thing and I stand with you.

    There is one area of your post that seems to be a contradiction. You seem to me to imply that if the erring brother does not “turn himself in” then he is not really one who has been “overtaken in a fault.” You wrote: “Nor will he wait to get caught. He will come forward with his sin himself.” Then, you give Psalm 51 as an example of serious confession. I agree that Psalm 51 is such an example.

    But, therein lies the contradiction. David did not turn himself in. He did not repent until he was confronted by Nathan.

    Another example of some folks who were seriously repentant, but not until they were rebuked, would be the church at Corinth. Paul rebuked them in 1 Corinthians concerning their refusal to discipline the immoral man, but after the rebuke they repented and Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 7 that they really were repentant.

    I do not believe the notion that folks who don’t “get right” until they are caught are not really sorry. Those two Scriptural examples suffice and more could be given.

    As a Pastor, I have personally dealt with erring brethren who did not “come clean” until they were caught, but I have seen true repentance evidenced by their humility and good works. I have also seen folks turn themselves in, so to speak, and then return again to their sin, like a dog returns to his vomit.

    Now, in either scenario I believe that the response to the rebuke they receive speaks volumes.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding you on this particular point. I look forward to reading your response and I hope that God uses your articles to root out Predator Pastors .

  2. July 3, 2007 at 6:08 am

    Brother Mallinak,

    I loved your post, but I would echo Brother Mitchell’s concerns. He actually used both of the cases I was going to mention.

    I believe more can be found in the response to the rebuke, as Brother Mitchell mentioned.

  3. July 3, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Thanks for pointing it out, guys. You are right. I had in mind the guy that makes you find all the evidence yourself, that lies about it when confronted and makes you dig out the truth, and only admits to his sin when he sees that he is cornered and cannot escape. I wasn’t clear enough on that. But you guys have it right.


  4. Bobby Mitchell
    July 3, 2007 at 11:56 am


    Your explanation of what you had in mind makes sense. Thanks.

  5. C.Charles
    July 16, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    Mabey Price would feel at home here.

  6. July 16, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    Funny… in a sad sort of way.

  7. Sandy H.
    July 23, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Are you JUST talking about pastors with a problem with sexual sin?

    We have a situation at our church. A year ago three of our five elders resigned because they came to a place where they felt they could not work with the pastor any longer (long, complicated story). Many folks have been ‘trickling’ out in the past few years, and since the elder resignation there’s been a flood of folks leaving. Several of them have told us of lies the pastor has told, they’ve gone to him privately, but he refuses to admit to anythng. He and one other elder are left, and the other man is just a puppet, he won’t say anything against the pastor. The pastor is good with words, and difficult to pin down. He also won’t allow more than one family group to meet with him at a time, this seems to be keeping them from “bringing two or three witnesses.”

    No one in our family has caught him in any lies, so we believe we have no reason to leave. But the love, the spirit & the warmth has left our church. We are very discouraged, it is an effort to worship there every Sunday.

    We fell like we’re waiting for our turn to catch him in a lie, confront him and then find ourselves compelled to leave. How does one biblically deal with this?

    Thanks for any suggestions.

  8. July 24, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Sandy, you are right that this is a difficult situation. Your husband needs much wisdom (Jas. 1:5), and needs to handle this right. I don’t believe that it would be Scriptural to ask those who left the church to give their side. They have left, and in leaving, they can no longer help. If you don’t know of anything specific that is un-Scriptural (or sinful), then you of course can’t bring anything to the pastor.

    How do you know that he won’t allow more than one family group to meet with him at a time? Is this a public announcement, or did someone else tell you that? If it was a public announcement, then your husband should discuss it with the pastor and express his concerns, particularly about the ability (if the need arises) to bring two or three witnesses.

    Also, if your husband believes that “the love, the spirit & the warmth has left the church” then it would be good if your husband approached the pastor in the spirit of meekness and discussed these things. Is there a particular reason that so many are leaving the church? Your husband should ask that.

    The Bible says of charity that it “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Perhaps the sin was on the part of those who have left. You should remember that possibility. This is where you need wisdom.

    The fact that several have told you that the pastor lied to them can be problematic. On the one hand, if they were not pursuing a Matthew 18 approach to dealing with the pastor’s sin, then they were in sin. From the sounds of things, they called the pastor a liar as a “parting shot” before leaving themselves. This is sin, even if the pastor did lie and did refuse to admit to anything.

    But the problem extends beyond this. Their accusations have clouded your mind and your thinking on this issue. Unless you and your husband clear this up, you will leave the church no matter what, and you won’t care whether it is right or wrong. This is dangerous. The best thing for your husband to do is to approach the pastor in humility, tell him what has been said, and give the pastor the opportunity to clear his name. Again, doing this in the right spirit could be very revealing to your husband, and could expose the root of the problem.

    One final thought. If the pastor is in fact in sin, that does not mean that you should leave the rest of the church to deal with it just because the pastor refuses to cooperate with any kind of Matthew 18 procedures. Our loyalty must be to the church above all else. Loving the church means bringing it before the church, and not leaving until the church refuses to answer to the sin Scripturally.

    The Lord is able to deliver you! Trust him, not your own understanding.


  9. Bob
    July 31, 2007 at 9:09 am

    Does Matthew 18 apply to a pastor who is in sin or who has sinned against the whole church (as in lying or something)? What about I Timothy 5:19-20. Doesn’t this passage say we need two or three witnesses and then we are supposed to rebuke the pastor before all? Or do we need to go to him privately first, or to the board first, following Matthew 18?

  10. July 31, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    Matthew 18 is instruction for the local church. Of course it applies. What is the Pastor? He is not the head of the church. He is a member, just like the others. He must be accountable to his church just as his church must be accountable to him. But the procedure for dealing with offenses still must be followed Biblically, as Christ prescribed.

    The point of I Tim 5:19-20 is that we are not to receive an accusation against an elder, except before 2 or 3 witnesses. If we harmonize that teaching with Matthew 18, we have basically the same idea. But when there are lingering doubts about the pastor’s honesty, either we determine to ignore it (which Sandy H apparently struggles to do) or we go directly to the pastor to ask him about it. I don’t see how we could say that I Tim 5:19-20 prohibits going to the pastor in private.

    If the sin is obvious, and there are many witnesses to it, and the pastor refuses to hear the church, then the church should move to remove that pastor.

  11. Sandy H.
    March 18, 2008 at 12:54 pm


    I’m sorry it’s taken me so very long to thank you for your carefully thought out response to my concern. For some reason I thought I had responded, and then upon checking this site again, realized I hadn’t.

    My husband & I both deeply appreciated the considered reply you gave. Even though many months have gone by, we still haven’t come to any decision regarding changing our church membership. We’re praying that if our pastor does indeed have a habit of the sin of dishonesty, that God would bring it to light in a way that cannot be ignored. (He has a way of doing that, you know!)

    As far as not allowing more than one family to meet: A woman who is a member in our church, but her husband is not, did not want to meet with the pastor alone, but wished to meet with a couple who had similar concerns. He refused to allow it. It was not a case of discipline for either family, and they were all willing, but they wanted to bring the matter before him as “two or three witnesses.” He said he would meet with this family or that family, but not both together. So how does one acomplish Matthew 18 under those conditions?

    Thank you again, for the time you took to address our issue. I hope some others have been helped by it as well.

  12. March 18, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Your case is a difficult one, and I can see that. And I will grant you that a pastor can make things difficult for people. My first suggestion would be that this lady whose husband will not (or maybe should not) go with her should request that either the pastor’s wife be present, or that another deacon (of the pastor’s choosing) be present when she meets with the pastor.

    I agree that she should not meet with him alone, for various reasons. If the pastor absolutlely refuses to allow anyone else in the room, then I would suggest that this lady tell the pastor her complaint in a public place (like the church auditorium, when people are around). If he won’t hear her, I think she should tell him that she will be following Matthew 18 and taking her case to the deacons on her own.

    I would hope that things would be resolved by that time. As I said, this is a touchy case. But there is such a thing as Scriptural grounds for leaving a church, and when all other alternatives are exhausted, if the church (in this case, the deacons) refuses to do the Scriptural thing, then this would be the right alternative.

  13. March 18, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    I agree with what Dave has said.

  14. Sandy H.
    March 19, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Hmmmm . . . . now that’s interesting, your remark about the lady telling the pastor her complaint in a public place. I’d always pictured a formal meeting of the membership when bringing an accusation against an elder. But then we were frustrated, because, naturally, the pastor isn’t going to call a meeting in order to be accused.

    So do you think this is what the folks who believed he had lied to them should have done? (After going to him privately, of course, which all of them I spoke to had done.)

    I continue to bring this up because I’m sure this is not the only similar situation and I hope others will find this helpful.

  15. David
    March 20, 2008 at 10:56 pm


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