8 Footprint Tracks toward Moral Failure

I love hiking and backpacking. Recently, I read an article about recognizing “critters” in an area by looking at footprint tracks in the dirt. Some tracks aren’t alarming, but others say, “Be careful. There could be trouble in the area.” Based on my knowledge of far too many moral failures among church leaders, here are some “footprint tracks” that could signal upcoming trouble:

  1. An unhealthy marriage somewhere. It might be that only a few people know the troubles, but every moral failure I’ve seen occurred in the context of somebody's struggling marriage.
  2. Undisciplined living. I’ve never met a fallen leader who says, “But, I was walking faithfully with God, reading the Word and praying intimately – and the affair just happened.” I’ve met several, though, who admit they weren’t meeting with God in their spiritual disciplines at the time of their fall.
  3. Ministry companionship. Some church-based affairs begin with two people doing ministry together in some setting – perhaps as simple as serving on a committee together. The time together becomes alluring, and it’s easy to excuse it because it’s ministry.
  4. Unwise sharing.  If you want to invite trouble, tell someone of the opposite gender the difficulties you’re having in your own marriage. Even pastors must be careful when they’re in counseling situations dealing with such matters.
  5. Email or social media flirting. It’s surely not an affair. It’s only jesting. Just words, and just for fun. Nobody really means anything . . . . except that I don’t want anybody else to see what we’re writing . . . .
  6. Conversational hints. People in the midst of a fall sometimes inadvertently give hints about what’s going on. They speak more often about the person. They respond differently when the person’s in the room. The problem is that others don’t recognize the “tracks” until after the failure’s made public.
  7. Emotional connections. More than once, I’ve heard, “But, it was just an emotional affair.” That may well have been the case, but I’ve also never seen a physical affair that didn’t start with an emotional connection – tracks that indicate coming trouble.
  8. Ongoing lies. It’s hard to have moral failure without telling lies at some point. In fact, it’s not uncommon that the church leader living a lie also lies about other stuff as well.

What about you? Are you leaving any tracks that could spell trouble? 


  • Some very good and helpful thoughts–thank you. I have two comments in regard to Item 1 (“An Unhealthy Marriage Somewhere”). In some cases, the unhealthy marriage may be caused by the same person that eventually ends up in moral failure–I have seen this happen. And secondly, a non-ideal marriage makes for a convenient excuse for justifying adultery, and there is no excuse for adultery.

  • David Kinnon says:

    Thanks Chuck. All very insightful and sadly unread at at ealry enough stage in some situations. May I add one other? Brazenness – the fact that a type of deepening “friendship” exists with enough “public” evidence as to say no-one could ever be having an affair that publicly? Often, brazenness is the hallmark of serial failures and may also be accompanied by over-strenuous denial or deflection from answering straightforward questions.

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