In December 2010 Covenant Eyes released a new e-book for pastors who struggle with pornography. The following is part 4 of Pastor Bobby Scott’s chapter.
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Developing policies to help pastors struggling with lust is not an easy task. Many pastors are guilty on some level of violating Jesus’ admonition to not look lustfully (Matthew 5:27-28). However, the Word of God gives ample truth to guide us. Here are some general principles based on the biblical conclusions from my three posts that can be used to develop specific guidelines for your church/denomination:
- Before you discipline, teach. Approach writing your policies with the same intent that Paul gave to Titus. He left Titus in Crete to raise men up to the moral standards he outlined, and not just to discard everyone who fell short.
- Make it your aim to help your pastors. Apply the words of our Lord, “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out” (Matthew 12:29).
- Strive to always restore whenever possible. Remember how Christ mended the sin-inflicted wounds of a broken shepherd called Peter and how He restored him to feed His sheep (John 21:15-17). And don’t forget the story of John Mark. After Paul rejected him, Barnabas worked with him and brought about spiritual growth. In the end, he became useful to Paul.
- Clearly identify the problem. What are the triggers, the patterns, the lies being believed, the status of his marriage, the dangers of his work environment, his level of spiritual maturity and health, etc.?
- Get to the root of the problem. In other words, dig as deep as the problem goes. How does he respond to accountability? Is he transparent? Did he ignore previous warnings? How often does he engage in pornography? Is he looking at soft or hardcore porn? Does he masturbate? Does he involve live persons? To what extent does he go to hide it? Does his behavior become reckless and endanger others? Does his sin include illegal behavior, etc.?
- Make a clear distinction between the pastors who humbly confess their struggle and submit to help verses pastors who persist in denying their sin, hiding it, and rejecting accountability. God often exposes sins to uncover wolves among His flock.
- Measure your discipline to the degree of the sin. God always disciplines his children in love and with the most gracious means that will bring about repentance. Is a warning and the taking of further preventive steps, e.g., Covenant Eyes accountability software, enough? How about counseling and accountability only? Is an administrative leave necessary? Is permanent disqualification or a criminal investigation required?
- Take a clear stance that pornography is a serious breech for any man, especially a pastor. In other words, make sure your policy is specific. For example, if a pastor intentionally looks at soft porn then your policy might prescribe automatic accountability. Try to make sure your policy aims to put out a fire before it turns into a blaze. Or in the case where a pastor initially looks at what you define as unquestionably pornographic, then your policy might prescribe mandatory counseling, and if repeated (once, twice, three times), mandatory suspension. My point is not to write your policy, but to encourage you to make it specific enough that the pastor’s conscience can be strengthened to draw clear lines that he can not cross without incurring disciplinary consequences (Hebrews 12:6).
- Do not be a respecter of persons! Remember God’s warning to Aaron, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored” (Leviticus 10:3). If a pastor must be removed, then the church must remove him. We must be jealous for the name of Jesus and be convinced that we do great harm to the church and even to the leaders themselves when we leave men in ministries when God has made it obvious that He wants them removed.
- Pray! Consistently make it a point to pray for the purity of your pastors and for the Lord to lead them not into temptation but to deliver them from evil. And as you pray, remember Jesus is a High Priest who can empathize with all of our weakness. He Himself prayed for Peter knowing that he would fall. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
In closing, let me offer two final words of advice:
- First, intervention is a process that will vary from situation to situation. Therefore, leave room in your policy for case by case discretion. Be wise.
- Second, removing a pastor for disciplinary reasons is always hard. So after intense prayer and a careful application of Scripture, if your situation requires dismissal of a pastor because of egregious or unrepentant porn use, then fearing God, do it with great courage and resolve.
May God help our pastors to be and remain blameless, “one woman kind of men” and grant His church the discernment to guard against those who refuse to be.