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When Pastors Look at Porn . . .

Last Updated: April 22, 2015

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

People are watching more porn now than ever before . . . even pastors and ministers. How are denominations and church organizations dealing with this issue?

The Assemblies of God actually has a formal list of guidelines in place for helping ministers who have a “moral failure involving pornography.” I commend AOG for putting careful thought into these guidelines. (These guidelines were published in the Fall 2005 issue of Enrichment Journal.)

The guidelines of discipline, first, recognize that there are varying stages of involvement with pornography.

1. The Curiosity Stage – The minister is personally searching for pornography because of the veil of mystery or confusion that surrounds it.
2. The Experimental Stage – The minister is looking for pornography to see whether something is stimulating or compelling.
3. The Regular Usage Stage – The minister is using pornography at set times, under certain conditions, or within certain contexts.
4. The Habitual Stage – The minister is regularly using pornography to a point where a habit has been formed.
5. The Addicted Stage – The minister is compulsively using pornography.

For each stage there is a rehabilitation process that the Assemblies of God recommends.

1. The Curiosity Stage – There is no suspension at this stage, but the minster needs to go through a minimum of 3 months of approved pastoral counseling.
2. The Experimental Stage – There is no suspension at this stage either, but the minister needs to go through a minimum of 6 months of approved professional counseling.
3. The Regular Usage Stage – In this stage, the minister is given a minimum 3-month suspension (contingent upon and concurrent with sustained abstinence), and must go through a minimum of 1 year of rehabilitation with approved professional counseling.
4. The Habitual Stage – In this stage, the minister is given a minimum 6-month suspension, and must go through a minimum of 1 year of rehabilitation with approved professional counseling.
5. The Addicted Stage – In this final stage, the minister is given a minimum 1-year suspension, and must go through a minimum of 2 years of rehabilitation with approved professional counseling.

What do you think of these guidelines?

Is it wise for a church to have guidelines when it comes to the moral failure of its leaders?

Some might contest that guidelines such as these only keep a minister trapped in his sin: in the shame of his addiction and in the knowledge of what disciplinary actions await him, he might try even harder to conceal his sin. Wouldn’t it be better just to have an open invitation to ministers to come forward with their confessions with no threat of discipline?

Personally, I think this would be a very unwise decision. For one, promising no discipline is anti-biblical. All church members, even ministers, should be included in the informal and formal disciplinary life of the church.

Second, these guidelines are built to provide hope, not fear. In a denomination where a minister has a porn problem, if he doesn’t have guidelines like this, he cannot predict what discipline awaits him. Will they send him to counseling? Will they kick him out of his church? If they do, will he ever have a chance of returning to the ministry? In a church without guidelines, the minister may leave his sin unconfessed out of fear.

With guidelines like these in place, he knows that his denomination is taking a firm stance against pornography and offering help and healing to the sexually broken minister.

Any thoughts?

  • Comments on: When Pastors Look at Porn . . .
    1. CS on

      Concerning pastors caught in sin:
      I don’t think guidelines would ever ‘trap’ someone into staying in their own personal sin. I believe as mentioned that guidelines provide a safety net for the pastor, so that he can confess his sin and know that there is not judgement but discipline. I think it would be best to confess his sin to the church as a whole, which would give the congregation the blessing of coming alongside him to minister.

      While I would sympathize with the pastor and understand that discipline is never good at the moment, I would sympathize more with the church. I as a church member would initially feel anger at the pastor. The pastor is there to equip the saints, and they are not being equipped when he is inviting sin and selfishness into his own life. We tend to be sympathetic to the wrong people. While its true that we come along side each other with open, forgiving arms and love, we absolutely must call the sin what it is, a vile, wicked, selfish, lustful habit that brings destruction to families and breaks unity in the church.

      It isn’t ‘brave’ to admit your sin to other Christians, its commanded. I do not understand why we tread so lightly around sin these days. Call it what it is, call it wicked, call it filthy, call it sick, then offer forgiveness. We need not worry as Christians about how someone receives discipline, we only worry that our words are not our own, that we are led by the Holy Spirit, that we practice forgiveness and bear each others burdens. We can not let our fear that they will keep the sin to themselves taint the truth of the Bible–they should be above reproach. Biblical. Confess your sins to one another… Biblical. Treat him as you would treat your own father–Biblical.

      What would we think of a pastor who invited several naked young women over while he was alone? The church would be appalled, I hope. They would know it is a sin, they would be sad and would want healing to take place, but they wouldn’t tolerate it. We should have the same outrage over pornography. Those emotions (outrage, anger, hurt) are there for a reason–they are God-given. Anger produces change. The church should feel some deep emotion over this, otherwise it is apathy and the church is already dead.

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