In 2002, 30% of pastors surveyed said they had visited a pornographic website in the past month.1 If this statistic is still representative of pastors today, then the testimonies in this book are relevant for nearly a third of ministry leaders. Many today—myself included—fear this statistic is conservative.
The panel of voices in this book was hand-picked because these authors all have an intimate and sometimes painful familiarity with the topics about which they’ve written. They represent different theological positions and church traditions, but all of them share a similar passion to see ministry leaders live lives of integrity and purity.
This book felt somewhat incomplete without a final “So what.” Readers will likely walk away from a book like this drawing their own conclusions and with their own opinions, but when it comes to sexual sin we are warned by Paul to not be deceived by empty words (Ephesians 5:6). For a man entrenched in pornography, especially someone who has yet to confess his sin before others, the cloud of self-deception can be a thick one. Let me try to pierce it with some direct words of exhortation.
If you are a ministry leader who habitually falls into sexual sins like pornography, God wants you to confess your sins (James 5:16) to spiritual men who can help restore you (Galatians 6:1). After gleaning from the experiences of many ministry leaders and counselors, I recommend the following course of action:
First, find one spiritually mature person you trust to whom you can divulge your secret. This should be someone you not only trust to be confidential, but someone you trust to give biblical advice. If you don’t know of anyone, then continue praying for someone. As a preliminary step, if you want to talk to someone anonymously about your problem, some of the authors in this book lead ministries geared towards men in your position. Call them. Contact them. But remember: anonymous accountability is only a preliminary step, a springboard of advice and counsel that can help you take the next step.
In your accountability relationship, begin working through some of your most pressing questions. Why do you feel drawn to pornography again and again? What are some of your most noticeable triggers? What can you do right now to begin putting distance between yourself and pornographic temptations? Should you find good Christian counseling? How can you tell your wife? What is the best way and time for you to bring this problem before the right people in your church/denomination? Set a precedent in your relationship to have “gospel-centered” accountability (see Chapter 5).
The next step—possibly the hardest step to take—is to confess your struggle to those who are responsible for overseeing your character and ministry position. This will be different for each minister, depending on both the official governing structure and informal relationships of your church or organization. Some are accountable to a board of directors, a board of elders, a district office, or a group of fellow ministers. I recommending finding one representative from this group that you believe will be treat you graciously and treat your sin seriously.
After Paul was converted, he wanted to join the disciples in Jerusalem, but they—perhaps justifiably—didn’t trust him. Paul’s role in Stephen’s death and the arrest of many believers was well-known. Not knowing about his dramatic conversion experience or his fearless proclamation of the gospel in Damascus, they feared what would happen if Paul met with them. He needed a mediator to make the introduction. This was what Barnabas did. He brought Paul to the other apostles.
Who is your Barnabas? Who can you talk to among the leadership of your ministry/denomination who can help in the transition of making you accountable to those who oversee you?
Last, you should work with your accountability partner(s), counselors, and other leaders on a plan for change. Perhaps your fellow leaders or those who oversee your ministry will measure out some kind of disciplinary actions (such as required counseling, accountability, a leave of absence, or removal from ministry altogether). Trust God amidst this process—even if you believe your fellow leaders are not handling the situation with wisdom (see Appendix A). As you continue in ministry, work with these people to understand how open you should be with your congregation and community about your struggle.
Remember, accountability partners, counselors, or fellow ministers are not your judges. You have only one Judge. It is to Him and Him alone that you will give a final account (Romans 14:12). When Christ appears He “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5). For the Christian this is a great comfort, for at that time “each one will receive his commendation from God”—not condemnation (v.5).
While these people are not your judges, they are men indwelt by the Spirit of the living God, and as such, they are some of God’s appointed means to help you be godly. God has given us the gift of honest and transparent Christian friendships to stir our hearts and encourage holy living (Hebrews 10:24-25). As much as we might fear the opinions of others about our lack of holiness, we should fear more what life might look like if we cut ourselves off from the very means God has appointed to transform us.
1 Covenant Eyes Pornography Statistics. Covenanteyes.com/pornstats