7 minute read

Pastors and Porn – Question #1: “Should I confess my struggle to other church leaders?”

Last Updated: November 13, 2020

Jeff Fisher

Jeff Fisher and his wife Marsha live in Raleigh, North Carolina. They run PurityCoaching.com and have helped hundreds of sexual strugglers, spouses, and church leaders find help and resources. Jeff has podcasted for the last six years about sexual purity through his Top Tips For Sexual Purity Podcast (iTunes). Jeff can be reached at jeff@puritycoaching.com.

Many of us as church leaders have growing sexual struggles. Our private life underneath does not match what we portray on the outside. Then the question arises, “Should I share my sexual struggles with my church leaders?”

The short answer is: “yes.” The better answer is: “yes, but wisely.”

Let’s consider some key issues involved with sharing sexual struggles with church leadership.

An Atmosphere of Authenticity

Don’t we long for authentic relationships? Wouldn’t we like to be in a place where we can be totally honest with others and feel safe? Don’t we want our churches to be places where people can come with their messy lives and be accepted?

We talk about the church being a “hospital for sinners,” but do we really believe that? If that were true, anyone—even pastors could share their struggles and still be accepted.

This may not be the case with your church. It is not the case with a lot of churches. Churches say that they want an authentic, real, open, honest community. We encourage authenticity from our pulpits and preach the value of it. But that would mean that even a person with sexual struggles would be able to come and share.

Question #1: Do You Value Authenticity? You may not practice it, but do you want to be authentic? This is a heart issue. If you don’t want to be authentic, you are further down the path of destruction than you think. The rest of this article may not be a help to you.

Valuing authenticity means that you value the truth. You see being truthful as better than lying.

Question #2: Do You Have a Place You Can be Authentic? Most people would say “no” here. We have not cultivated relationships where we can be ourselves. We have a lot of shallow relationships. Or we have moderately authentic relationships with people, but have not shared our junk. We may not even have an authentic relationship with our spouses.

Here’s my challenge: If you value authenticity, you must find a safe place where you can be authentic.

Paralyzed by My Fears

I found out the hard way when I let my fears keep me from sharing my struggles.

I had a problem with lust, fantasy and masturbation since Jr. High. I brought it into my marriage. When the Internet came to our house, I started having struggles with looking at porn sites. I confessed my sin to my wife a couple of times, got some accountability and counseling for a while, and then thought the problem was fixed.

In the middle of a successful ministry in the Northeast, I worked at a place that had an unprotected computer. I did fine for a while and thought there was no way it would become a problem. Eventually, it did. I confessed to my boss and to my wife that I had trouble on the work computer. My boss said if it happened again I was fired. My wife said if it happens again, our ministry here is done. Fine, right? That should be motivation enough, shouldn’t it?

Eventually, I slipped up on the work computer. This time I felt trapped. I didn’t want to lose my job or my ministry, so I decided to hide my behavior. I had an accountability partner that told me I should keep it to myself and just work on it privately. Later I went to a counselor who told me that my boss and wife were overreacting (bad counsel by the way). I started lying to my boss when he would ask if I had any more struggles. I also lied to my wife when she would ask me. And I started pulling away from anyone that might get close to my life. I covered my tracks.

My behaviors didn’t get any better. I couldn’t control them. I would have a couple of days of purity on the computer, but would go right back to looking at porn. My porn searches became progressively worse.
I started to believe that the best thing for my family and church was for me to hide it and lie. Deep down I knew that that was not true, but I was regularly ignoring the voice of God on this matter. I was becoming numb to God’s Spirit, and paralyzed by my fears.

Did I get so bad that I had to confess? No. I kept hiding my secret. I eventually left that job and thought I had outsmarted God and everybody.

God knew the path I was headed on was destructive and I was getting worse. It was a sweep of the office computer that eventually uncovered my Internet pornfest. My boss and a fellow pastor staged an intervention.

God found me out. God pulled the plug on me. I had a growing secret that was forced out into the Light. And the consequences were greater for me because I had continually covered up and not taken the initiative to get help.

The Truth Must Be Shared

The only way to get better is to begin being authentic and truthful. We are worried about losing our reputation, our jobs and our marriages. But how will our situations ever get better without transparency? The longer we wait, the greater the carnage.

Sharing the truth is hard. Sharing the truth takes great courage. But it is the right thing to do. We know that God wants us to be truthful.

Sharing the truth may mean great consequence for you and others
. We may lose our ministries, our friends, trust, respect, and reputations. If one of us is doing something illegal, it may mean serious legal consequences. But we have to be brave. Ask God for the courage to share the truth. Lean on Him. Trust Him.

Sharing the truth is the only way to stop it. Our sexual behaviors spin us out of control. We get in a vicious, addictive cycle and grow worse. We have to bring our secrets into the Light. That’s the only way we can truly get better.

Who Do You Share With First?

Exercise wisdom in how you begin sharing your struggles.

If you are taking the initiative and are ready to share, here is a suggestion for the order. Each step will help you to be courageous, gather support, and give you wisdom about the next step.

If we share in an unwise way, a lot more damage can be done. If we have been holding onto secrets, we are probably not in the best frame of mind to do it all alone. God has provided several levels of wise people around you that can help you with the process.

1. Talk with someone safe first – a counselor, another pastor, a trusted friend. If you can’t find a counselor in your area with whom you feel safe, call ministries like Focus on the Family, Heart to Heart Ministries, Pure Life Ministries, or Be Broken Ministries.

2. You need to share with your spouse – The closest person in your circle will need to know what’s going on. God has given you a spouse to help you. Your spouse may not be a safe person to share with, and that’s why you need to share with a counselor first. A counselor can help you know how to share with your spouse.

3. Denominational leaders / Mentors – The next in your authority chain is probably your denominational leaders, or at least spiritual mentors. If you are going to share with your church leaders, you need the perspective of other wise people. Denominational leaders have probably already assisted other ministers with sexual struggles. They might even have specific training on the matter. They will be able to give you guidance on how to share with your church leaders.

4. Legal Counsel – If you have victimized someone or done something illegal, you will want to get a lawyer. Getting a lawyer is not to help you hide or craft a defense. Lawyers can be help you to be wise about how to proceed if you have broken the law or victimized someone.

How Do You Share With Your Church Leaders?

When my wife and I met with the leaders of our church plant, I shared what had happened. I shared how my struggles had a long history and how they had escalated recently. I shared about my cover-up and the intervention. I shared the advice of my mentors and I sought the forgiveness and prayers of my leaders.

One mistake we made: We decided to share the details with our church leaders, but not tell the church members that we were having marital problems. It seemed good at the time, but it put our leaders in a difficult position with the church of not sharing some things. It paved the way for rumors of what “really” happened. It also indirectly taught our church leaders that certain things are too bad to be shared in this community. It taught them there was a limit to authenticity.

1. Share with your “inner circle” of leaders first – A general rule of thumb is, “The leaders closest to you need to hear it first.” If you don’t have an “inner circle” of elders, deacons, or counsel in your church, have the leaders all gathered together. But if your church is structured with several circles, start with the leaders who are closest to you. They don’t need to be blindsided by a huge announcement. You owe them your time, and they can be some of your biggest supporters to help with the other steps.

Ask your “inner circle” to be at all subsequent meetings. Ask them to keep the information in confidentiality until you share with all of your church leaders.

2. Share privately with your leaders as a group – You need to have a private meeting with those in your larger leadership circle. Don’t share individually. Every leader needs to hear the same story. Your “inner circle” needs to be at this meeting.

3. Share humbly – You are not there to defend your behavior or minimize it. You recognize that you have a secret and you need help. You have struggles that cannot be handled alone, and you need their assistance.

4. Share the evolution of the problem and the basics – Your leaders need to know how your struggles began and grew. They need to know how deep it got. They probably don’t need every detail, but you need to share how this came about.

5. Answer questions truthfully – It may be hard, but your leaders make ask you some tough questions. You owe it to them to be truthful. If you have already shared the details with “safe people,” you will be better prepared for the additional question from your leaders.

6. Be prepared for some “lash out” – You can’t control how people react to sin. Sexual sin to many is a “more grievous type of sin.” Your leaders may be shocked and angry. You need to listen, take it, and not be defensive. The best chance for your leaders to get behind you is for you to take a humble posture.

7. Ask for forgiveness – This may seem obvious, but you have sinned against them. You have broken their trust in you, and wronged them.

8. It would helpful to have a denominational leader or mentor there with you – If you have a denominational elder who can be there, he can help guide the process. He can be an advisor for what the church needs to do next. He can be a support for you in this difficult process.

Encouragement to Share

Sharing the truth about your struggles with your leaders is a hard thing. But it is the right thing. To be an effective minister for the long run, you can’t hold on to sexual sin. It’s too powerful, and it won’t go away. Be brave. Be strong in the Lord. Take courage. Do the right thing.

  • Comments on: Pastors and Porn – Question #1: “Should I confess my struggle to other church leaders?”
    1. KenDV on

      As someone who has connections in many & various church circles, I have seen too often pastors who get the “shoot the wounded” treatment from their church, for whatever sin. This is a good guide to confession and authenticity with a heart for healing, and not for punishment.
      But even before this we need authentic safe places for men and leaders to share their struggles and addictions, and to gain support from men willing to listen, to give advice as needed, and to hold them in prayer. If those safe places are not available, the spiral continues until a jarring intervention occurs or the man drowns.

      Reply
    2. Luke Gilkerson on

      @Luke – Thanks for your comment. I’m glad this article was a help to you!

      Reply
    3. Scott on

      I am a minister that had a porn problem for 18 years (13-30 years old). I thought I could handle the problem, I was wrong. I finally brought the darkness to light to wife, counselors, and pastoral staff at the church I was serving at. I rededicated my life to Christ and resigned my position at the church. The staff continued to hold me accountable and had me serve in volunteer ministries (Sunday School). After 2 years, they encouraged me back into ministry which God confirmed to me and my family. God has truly blessed the ministry and our family. I have now been pastoring a church for over 2 years and have been porn free for over 5 years. The question I have is this: Would it be wise, biblical, right to confess my sin to the previous churches that I served at while struggling with porn? What about the church that I was ordained at? I personally am ready to confess to them, but my wife and the counselors take my confession them and counselors/pastors as enough. Will I bring more harm than good by going to the previous churches?

      Reply
    4. Jeff Fisher on

      Hi Scott,

      First, I want to say that I think you’re making some fantastic progress. Congrats on being porn free for 5 years.

      Secondly, I’m impressed with your former church for sticking with you, helping you stay accountable, and bringing you through the restoration process. So many churches dump there ministers. Whether or a not a minister is able to get back into vocational ministry, a church family needs to help their sexual strugglers through the healing process.

      Thirdly, I am impressed at how you are showing true fruits of repentance. You have submitted to authority. You are consulting with wise counsel and with your wife. And now you are asking a question about how far should your confession go. You are showing brokenness, humility, you have a sense of the consequences of your actions, and you want to make everything right.

      Let me offer a few thoughts on your questions about confessing to former churches.

      I think you should follow the counsel of your counselors and of your wife on this one. I suspect that they are pretty good barometers for you and the depth of your confession.

      Here are some exceptions:

      * If you had stepped over the “flesh” line with someone from a former church, there’s no question, that’s unfinished business.

      * If you had developed an emotional affair with someone from another congregation, that calls for a confession.

      * I think if you lied to your elders or leaders directly about your use of pornography, that’s something you would want to consider confessing.

      You may have a chance in the future to talk with former church elders or members about what God has done in your life. Your story is important as a testimony of God’s grace and a godly model of restoration.

      It’s not that your porn use at your former churches did not effect your ministry, of course it did. Porn, lust, fantasy, and sexual sin are idols and take the energy we could have used for God’s purposes and point them in wrong directions. But you are no longer under their authority. You were under the authority of the church you were removed from. That is the church body that you must be primarily concerned with.

      One thing I’m certain of… if there is something you feel you need to confess to your former church and your counselors and wife concur, you must talk to the current pastor first. He is the shepherd now, and he needs to know about a reveal that would affect his church.

      These are my initial thoughts.

      God bless you, Scott.

      Jeff Fisher
      PornToPurity.com

      Reply
    5. JS on

      My husband has been addicted to porn for more than 30 years. He will not seek help and for about the past 8 years has been trying to break its hold through willpower. He doesn’t share with me when he succumbs and I have stopped asking because it hurts when he lies to me then I find out later that he had viewed. Our pastor is also my husband’s biological brother. I went to him for counseling once a few years ago because I thought he would be concerned for his brother. My husband even gave me his permission to talk about this problem. Basically, my brother-in-law said that my husband had to seek help. There was nothing he could do. He prayed with me, but that’s all. Now he is considering my husband for an elder position with the church. I know when the day comes to vote, I cannot vote “yes.” This is tearing me up because I feel betrayed by my pastor/brother-in-law and my husband, yet I don’t want to hurt my husband. This problem has been going on for so long I don’t talk to my husband about it anymore and had given the issue over to God. But I cannot vote for my husband to become an elder. I’m afraid if his own wife votes “no” then the truth will come out and my husband’s ministry will be ruined. Please someone help. Talking to my pastor sure didn’t help me and I have no one.

      Reply
    6. Jeff Fisher on

      Hi JS,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I know it comes out of a heart of desperation and conflict. You want to honor your husband, yet his behaviors, actions an heart are not honorable. He is not repenting and his actions are a baseball bat to your marriage breaking it into more pieces each time.

      I want to make a couple of suggestions:

      #1 – That you talk with a professional counselor who is skilled in sexual addiction therapy. Let me recommend a few:

      Debra Laaser – Faithful and True
      http://www.faithfulandtrue.com/

      Rose Colon – Pure Life Ministries
      http://www.purelifeministries.org/

      Dr. Debbie Neel – Atriumph Counseling Center (here in Raleigh)
      http://www.atriumpsychology.com/

      All of these ladies are highly skilled and will give you good counsel.

      #2 – Go to Darrell Brazell’s site and download this wonderful free resource for spouses. Pastor Darrell has some very helpful, practical, encouraging things to say to spouses.
      http://www.newhope4si.com/
      http://newhopelawrence.com/sermons/Wives/Wives1track.mp3

      #3 – If you need a fellow minister’s wife to talk with and bounce things off of email my wife Marsha marsha@porntopurity.com. She has helped many wives.

      Neither Marsha nor I are professional counselors and we don’t know all the details of the history. We would be foolish to make direct recommendations. As you build a strong support team around you they will be of great help.

      It’s puzzling to me sometimes that men (pastors included) don’t see what’s going on. Their hearts are hardened to the duplicty of their own condition. But I was a minister and steeped in sexual sin too. I always thought I could manage it. I thought I was one commitment away from licking this problem. I didn’t think I was as bad as I was. I didn’t realized my heart had grown cold. I was also paralyzed by fear, not wishing for anyone to know my secret struggles.

      God loves you and loves your husband. He doesn’t promise an easy road out of this. In fact, His discipline can be very severe. Please know that God is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. He will humble those who have exalted themselves. It is still true that we reap what we sow, and that God has ways of taking hidden deeds of darkness and bringing them out into the light.

      I don’t think you should vote yes. I think your husband must be brought to church discipline. He has not repented. I know as you seek wise counsel they will guide you on how to react to these next steps.

      I am sorry that your church family has not been able to come around you. Please know that there are many others who have walked this difficult road too. You are not crazy and you are not alone, even though you may feel so.

      If your husband would like to talk to someone, any of these ministries will have good people for him to talk to, or give him my email address jeff@porntopurity.com. I will be glad to talk with him.

      Praying for you right now.

      Jeff Fisher

      Reply
    7. KC on

      Please, please, please help. I just don’t know where to go to or talk to. My husband is a pastor in a local church and he is well loved by the people. I agree that he genuinely cares for the flock and gives his best for the church. But just this morning, I saw him peeping through the bathroom window while a teen-age girl is taking a bath, also part of our church, who is living in our home because we are supporting her studies. He was peeping at the same time, masturbating. I could not even shout. I was shocked to my core. I don’t know what to do. I think he realized that I was there so he jumped out and acted as if nothing happened. Probably he thinks I did not see him. I confronted him this afternoon and he acted as if he did not know what I was saying. But i was adamant that I saw him, and he cannot deny it. He said he was sorry. That it was his first time, he was tempted. I asked him if he was doing it before, and he said that it was the first time. I asked him if he was watching porn, and he said No. It was the first time for him to do it, and he was really sorry. I told him he was sorry because I caught him. He promised that he will not do it again. I don’t know what to do. He is the senior pastor, and nobody after him. He has other pastors with him who are juniors. I told him we need to talk to somebody but he was too ashamed, and he could not believe it himself that he has done it. I don’t know what to do. I told him that the teenage girl will not live with us anymore but he said that she has nowhere to go. And that he will not do it again. If its true that it was his first time, what is the right thing to do? Just keep quiet?? and hope that he will not do it again. I’m scared. It does not really matter anymore what the church will think if they learned about this. I’m just worried that the church will disintegrate and the sheep will scatter. I’m so confused right now. I want to do the right thing but I don’t know if we can bear the consequence especially for the really good people/members of the church.
      Please pray for me…

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        I am so, so, so sorry, KC. My heart is just breaking for you right now, and I’m telling you that you’re going to have to be very strong and courageous right now. You’ve already been so brave in letting yourself understand what you saw. You’ve been so brave in confronting him with the truth, even though he wanted to deny it. And you’ve been so brave in writing to us here and seeking help.

        You’re going to have to be just a little bit braver yet.

        Because what you saw is a CRIME.

        YOU MUST REPORT IT TO YOUR LOCAL POLICE IMMEDIATELY.

        DO NOT KEEP QUIET.

        YOU MUST REPORT THIS CRIME.

        There is so much we don’t know here, but we know this: his behavior is a CRIME and it MUST be reported.

        I am praying for you. I know this will have enormous consequences. But be strong and courageous. The Lord your God is with you, wherever you go. Blessings, Kay

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *