Vulnerability. It is one of those words, which the mere mention of can incite fear, anxiety and shame. For some, vulnerability is frightening because of secret gardens of sin, which have been tended and cultivated for years. For others, vulnerability is frightening because, frankly, there is nothing to be vulnerable about—their emotional and personal depth is virtually non-existent.
Vulnerability was lost in the Garden of Eden, when sin entered into the world. Immediately the reactions and movements of Adam and Eve were to hide in shame, not to engage in an open and honest communion with God.
Thus, one of the implications of the gospel as it changes and does its work of sanctification should be a growing in the area of vulnerability. What we are talking about it not a morbid, Freudian excursion into the past, but rather a willingness to answer and ask simple questions like, “How are you doing?”, “What do you love?”, “What do you fear?”, etc. (I highly recommend David Powlison’s article in the Journal of Biblical Counseling, “X-Ray Questions: Drawing Out the Whys and Wherefores of Human Behavior.”)
As a pastor or biblical counselor, how can you foster, cultivate and model an environment where vulnerability is part of the culture? Listed below are three starting points:
- Investigated Motivations
- Educated Sexuality
- Embedded Accountability
We all need to become better question-askers. One of the barricades to sharing—specifically in the area of purity and pornography—is our lack of precision in investigating the deep waters of the human heart. As we ask questions, it helps us to dive below the exterior and discover disordered desires and motivations at play.
The proverbs tell us that a man of understanding can draw out the purposes of a man’s heart (Proverbs 20:5), and that is the joy and privilege of a pastor-counselor as he comes alongside his fellow struggler.
I’ve written before on the topic of pornography and motivation. In my understanding, pornography is almost universally symptomatic of a greater, deeper and wider struggle than just the viewing of pornographic images. The pornography is attended to by a larger foundation of fears, anxieties, disappointments, hurts, boredoms, fantasies, escapes, angry moments, and aberrant theologies.
Pornography is telling us there is a worship disorder going on. Like any other issue, there is always more than meets the eye. Understanding the motivations, which feed the consumption of pornography, allows the pastor-counselor to stay away from reductionistic, simplistic, and legalistic counsel.
As pastors learn this, their counsel and teaching will become richer and deeper in its scope and application. As they seek to draw men and women out of the secret gardens of their lusts, they will soon find the Bible opens up a wealth of wisdom and instruction for the struggler.
Another way pastors can create a culture of vulnerability is through the way they teach and preach on the topic of sexuality.
I lament the availability of solid teaching on this crucial topic in the church. The dearth of teaching on this topic often leads discussions about sex, and everything along with it, underground and uncovered.
Think back to the last time your pastor preached a sermon on the topic of sexuality. And not the kind of sermon which posits from the vantage point of, “Don’t do it until you’re married cause true love waits!”
One of the contributing factors to the rising pornified culture we live in, in my opinion, lies in the fact that the church has not put forward the biblical model for a healthy sexuality.
Sex is good. Unfortunately, the Devil has co-opted the topic of sex, and made it an end unto itself. I have to keep reminding myself and those I counsel, that God, and not the Evil One created sex. Pornography makes pleasure a god, rather than having sex be an aspect of our Christian worship in marriage.
I’m reminded of the telling conversation between Wormwood and Uncle Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters:
Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.
This is what the Evil One’s modus operandi is since he cannot create, but only distort. Take something good, and distort its ultimate purpose.
A final way to help create a culture of vulnerability is to re-think how your church does accountability relationships.
Accountability relationships do not work. There I said it. I don’t say that to be antagonistic, but to say a relationship built on nothing more than accountability eventually will disintegrate. Either the relationship becomes mired in the static question of, “Did you look at porn? How’s your purity? Did you mess up this week?” or the relationship reduces itself to a legalistic set of do’s & don’ts, filters, and internet cancellations.
Now do not misunderstand. Accountability is a key part of the sanctification process. I admire and highly recommend the work of Covenant Eyes, but I believe pastors have to realize that this particular form of accountability has to live and breathe within the larger context of a relationship.
Embedded accountability has to be a part of an embodied friendship. Accountability has to be an aspect of a friendship relationship where the two individuals are also playing games of golf together, grabbing a cup of coffee together after a late morning run, or running a quick errand to the local supermarket…where the two individuals are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
By nature, I think many of us struggle with awkwardness in social settings. Accountability-specific relationships as they relate to pornography and purity only heighten this relational dynamic. I know what question is going to be asked of me, and I know I can either lie about it or tell the truth. Not very many options.
If that’s the conversation, I’ll soon either be a consummate liar or overwhelmed with guilt and shame. Neither of which promotes the life-saving truth of the gospel.
So, the next time someone asks you to keep them accountable in “this area” (as it is so often declared), tell them yes…but that you want more than just to hold them accountable. You want to form a Christ-centered, biblical friendship with them.
So where to begin?
- First, earnest and urgent prayer to our Savior who comes to us in the midst of our mess and sin, and calls us out of hiding. A prayer acknowledging this type of vulnerability must be Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered.
- Second, model it in your own circle of relationships and friendships. Ask better questions. Make accountability a part of your friendship, not isolated from it. Read and soak in the Bible’s teaching on God’s purposes for sexuality.
- Finally, teach and preach on it, showing that indeed all of life should point to God’s glory!
Photo credit: tamuc
Jonathan Holmes is the Green Campus pastor of Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He oversees the Men’s & Women’s ministry, the Young Marrieds’ & Families at Green, and the counseling ministries at both campuses. Jonathan graduated with degrees in Biblical Counseling and History from The Master’s College and has a master’s degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Jonathan and his wife, Jennifer, are parents of three daughters, Ava, Riley, and Ruby.