Sundays had always been challenging for me. But they became excruciating. By the time I blew up my life, every Sunday morning after awaking I spent a full hour trying to muster the courage to get out of bed. I usually felt sick. As I prepared to go to church I would ask the Holy Spirit not to hold my sins against my people, to have mercy on them and bless them in spite of me. I was their pastor. And I was a sex addict.
I love the Church. I love Jesus even more. That is why I have such deep, deep remorse that I spent so many years both as a pastor and as a man struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors.
Ashamed No More
As I have made progress in my own recovery, I’ve discovered an enormous problem we have in the Church. A lot of men and women who are Christians are struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors, and they’re doing it alone.
That is not the way it should be and that’s why I wrote Ashamed No More. While the book tells a good bit of my story, it’s not a memoir. It’s about holistic spiritual transformation, how our spirituality and our sexuality are linked, how addiction works and what we can do about it. It’s written for everyone interested in robust spirituality and a healthier Church.
I think it would be terrifically helpful if every leader read it, whether or not they struggle with compulsive sexual behaviors. Because our churches are filled with strugglers, and the more they do it alone, the stronger their addiction grows.
The truth is that a growing number of us are trying to follow Jesus while engaging in sexual behaviors we don’t like, don’t respect, don’t understand, and cannot control. We need help. But too often we are not able to find help, love and healing we need in the Church.
Church Members Need Help
God has created us in his image and we are relational creatures. But living in this disordered realm, many of us do not relate in healthy or appropriate ways with others, with ourselves and with God. Sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder, and for whatever reasons, we have stumbled into an inappropriate and unhealthy attachment to our own sexuality.
We need help. Oftentimes we need professional help. We need others in our lives, others with whom we can increasingly be open and honest, self-revealing and self-yielding.
No one fixes their compulsive sexual behaviors on their own. Ashamed No More tells how I had to learn to break down the walls of separation between myself and others. I needed professional help. I needed support tools, like Covenant Eyes. But intuitively I knew I had to be very, very careful around Christians.
Why? Because I knew what we tend to do with others who are broken, especially those who are sexually broken. And it’s much worse if you’re a pastor. It’s terribly unfortunate, but inadvertently the Church often reinforces the shame we struggle with and makes recovery more difficult.
As tragic as the epidemic of sexual addiction is, what is more grievous is that where people ought to find solid comfort and strategic help—the Church—is in fact where folks hide the most. Because intuitively they know they must.
Many Times, the Church Makes It Worse
In the Church, we don’t like messes. Too many of us believe a gospel that says Jesus forgives our sins and straightens out our lives. He makes us salt and light in a flavorless and dark world. That is true, but the real Gospel also tells us we all need grace and ongoing mercy. God loves and uses people who are not perfect and in that demonstrates His power and glory.
When we struggle with sexual brokenness, often it results in an isolating effect. Then our enemy exploits our brokenness and vulnerability with lies like we don’t fit in, no one else is as bad as we are, people will never accept us if they know, and we need to fix this on our own. Just often enough we hear of someone being gossiped about or overtly ostracized and it reinforces our fears. And so we hide.
Clergy—who struggle with porn and sexual compulsivity as much or more than their congregants do—are terrified to get help. Can you blame them?
But think about this: they are called and gifted to do this sacred work. Why wouldn’t they be targets? The Church should expect sexual issues among clergy, not be scandalized by them. The point is healing and overcoming brokenness, not holding up a false model of “purity” and keeping the pretensions going. “We are as sick as our secrets” the recovery slogan goes. And in the Church we are not well at all.
7 Changes the Church Must Make
Jesus is reversing the effects of the Fall, including removing the shame of our sexual vulnerability and brokenness.
In chapter twelve of Ashamed No More I offer seven suggestions for helping the Church become an agent of hope and healing in a culture bent on self-gratification and self-destruction:
- Examine our own sexual attitudes and behaviors
- Change how we treat leaders
- Allocate resources for helping leaders
- Change our way of thinking and teaching in the Church about human sexuality
- Include everyone in the solution
- Make help available
- Enhance ministry preparation
We must deal with the onslaught of sexual brokenness in our society and in the Church. Compulsive sexual behavior is putting a stranglehold on the spirituality of Christians and is robbing the Church of vitality. Isolation, shame and hiding are toxic to genuine recovery and so it is in the Church’s best interests to become open, honest and accepting.
When the prophet Isaiah foresaw the coming Messiah, he spoke of him as one who “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” (Isaiah 42:3)
If this is how the infinite and holy God treats those whom he loves, how should we treat each other?
Dr. T. C. Ryan, author of Ashamed No More, is a speaker and pastor, retreat and seminar leader. He leads two recovery groups, one for clergy and one for men in the church he and his wife currently attend. He blogs at TC-Ryan.com, and you can learn more about his ministry on his Facebook page. He still uses Covenant Eyes on all his communication devices and is grateful for it.