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Porn in the Pulpit: Facing It Head On

Last Updated: October 30, 2020

Mark Denison

Mark Denison, D.Min., along with his wife Beth, is the founder of There’s Still Hope, a national sexual addiction recovery ministry. Mark has a Master’s in Addiction Recovery, is a certified PSAP (Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional), and is an active member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. Mark is a former church planter, pastor (30 years), NBA chaplain, and university board chairman. Mark has written four books on recovery: Porn in the Pew, 365 Days to Sexual Integrity, A 90-Day Recovery Guide, and Porn-Free in 40 Days.

This post has been updated as of October 2020.

In my last article, we addressed the subject, “Porn in the Pew.” While we know that 64% of self-identified Christian men and 15% of self-identified Christian women view pornography at least once a month (Barna Group), porn has also spread from the pew to the pulpit. The enemy knows that if he can destroy the church, he can destroy Christ’s mission, and if he can destroy the pastor or staff, he can destroy the church.

So let’s talk about the pandemic the church wants to pretend does not exist—porn in the pulpit. Let me start with four questions.

How Big Is the Problem?

We want to believe our pastors don’t have the same struggles as “normal” Christians. But the fact is, they are even more vulnerable than most.

Why? They generally lack accountability, keep odd hours (including visits “to the hospital”), and they tend to isolate. It is clear that porn in the pulpit isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Just a brief consideration of the data is eye-popping.

  • 57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors admit they have struggled with porn, either currently or in the past (Barna Group).
  • 21% of student pastors and 14% of pastors admit to currently struggling with porn use (Barna Group).
  • 23% of pastors have purchased printed porn (Josh McDowell Summit, 2016).
  • 63% of pastors struggle with sexual compulsion or masturbation (Patrick Means, Men’s Secret Wars).
  • Nearly half of the men seeking help for sex addiction from a national recovery ministry this year have been pastors (There’s Still Hope).

Why Do Pastors Struggle With Porn?

There are several reasons pastors are susceptible to porn and sex addiction. Many pastors:

  • Are the natural target of the enemy.
  • Live in the alternate universe of a high pedestal.
  • Tend to have few close friends, which drives them into lonely isolation. Add to that the fact that ministers tend to be relational by nature, which makes them vulnerable to unhealthy relationships.
  • Endure an unhealthy volume of criticism, which fuels the desire for a temporary “escape.”
  • Often feel bulletproof. Lacking accountability, they might live in their addiction for years without being discovered. Every time the pastor “gets away with it,” it’s a deeper dive into addiction.

What Boundaries Can Be Put in Place to Protect Pastors?

Pastors need special boundaries for two reasons: to avoid illicit behavior and to avoid the suspicion of illicit behavior. To that end, I suggest each minister take the following four steps.

  1. A pastor should never be alone with a member of the opposite sex. The only exception might be a meeting with the office door cracked open and another staff person in the next room.
  2. Each minister should have a small glass window installed in his or her office door.
  3. Every pastor needs a small group of the same sex with whom he or she can confide their greatest struggles.
  4. Every minister must subscribe to Covenant Eyes. Patrick Carnes writes, in Out of the Shadows, “There are now people struggling with sexual compulsivity who never would have been if not for the Internet.” The Covenant Eyes weekly report provides a layer of accountability every church should require of each of its staff.

To Whom Can the Pastor Go?

All new pastors are approached by well-meaning people early in their pastorate, offering to be their friends. Wisdom suggests a three to six-month waiting period before jumping into any accountability relationships. But these relationships are beneficial and healthy. Here is a truth too many of us forget: God calls each of us into a personal relationship with him, but he doesn’t call any of us into a private relationship with him.

Jesus had an inner circle. He spent more time with Peter, James, and John than he did with Bartholomew, Jude, and James the Lesser. Mark Laaser suggests that every man needs a support group of a few men in his fight against porn, because “one guy is not enough.”

Who should these people be? I suggest they should not be fellow staff members, and in most cases, they should not be members of the pastor’s church. They need men or women with whom they can share their most intimate struggles. Doing so with another staff or church member is a dangerous risk. A better idea would be for him or her to connect with a group of like-minded pastors.

A Personal Plea to Pastors

Pastor, for 31 years, I was one of you. I planted a church and I pastored two established churches. One church was small, another medium, and the third was large. I’ve been where you are. And that whole time, I lived a double life. One of the reasons I failed to get help was that I never really trusted my secrets and struggles with another man. I fought the fight alone. And 99 percent of the time, I was victorious. But a boat with just one small hole will still sink. I thought my boat would be the exception. After all, I held it together for 31 years. And then the unsinkable did the unthinkable.

My boat sank–in a hurry. And by the time I realized it, there was no one there to help me bail the water. That’s because I thought that somehow God would protect me, that he would hide my secrets. I lived as though God’s Word was no longer valid: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). We are assured, “Your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

So pastor, if you are among the 63 percent who struggle with porn, get help. Don’t wait until your boat takes on water. It will be too late. Install the proper guardrails now. Create an accountability group. And if you are engaging in an activity that violates your moral code, it’s not too late to get help. There are so many directions to turn: therapy, 12-step groups, and ministries like ours. Steven Arberburn is right. This is every man’s battle. But the man who fights alone is rarely victorious.

If you are a senior pastor, provide help to your church. Sixty-four percent of your men and at least 15% of your women are viewing porn every month (Barna Group, Porn Phenomenon). Porn is a problem in your church. And you have only three options: ignore it, condemn it, or address it. Your men and women are screaming out for you to address it.

There is porn in your pew. And there may be porn in your pulpit. And that is the enemy that must be confronted and defeated–starting with you. Today.

  • Comments on: Porn in the Pulpit: Facing It Head On
    1. JOE MACEACHERN on

      Thank you Mark, excellent article. May I have your permission to use it when I give my speech to churches. I currently have a book that was published titled “Little Joey’s journey to Love” under the ghost writers name of J.J. Jones. It is a true story to can be read from cover to cover in about 30 minutes and it’s for sale on amazon.com under Christians books. thanks again for a great article. JOE

      Reply
      • Mark Denison on

        Of course, Joe! Thank you for your kind words. I’m going to buy your book this week. I can’t wait to read it!

        Mark

    2. Wayne on

      Mark, this was good. There is one assumption you make in the end: you assume that the addiction has not touched the Senior Pastor himself. I’m willing to bet you a burger that there are Senior Pastors who struggle with Porn and Sexual integrity problems, just look at Bill Hybels.

      Reply
      • Mark Denison on

        Wayne, thank you for your response! I do believe this is a major struggle for senior pastors. The first statistic I cited was that 57% of pastors struggle with porn and 64% of student pastors have as well. By “pastors,” I meant senior pastors, but I was not clear. Thank you for catching that. Tell me where to send your burger!

    3. McDaniel chukwu on

      Wonderful article Mark, please permission to use it for teachings and seminars in my country Nigeria…was an ex porn addict and now a pastor using my story to reach out to teens and youths here in Nigeria..Already have a book titled “The pornography plague” were l narrated my 25 years struggle with pornography..
      Unfortunately the silence among Christians in Nigeria churches I’d deafening.even as the havoc is everywhere including inside the church. I think this is the raw truth churches in my country need this hour..
      And am ready to push this truth till l draw my last breathe,..So help me God.

      Reply
      • Mark Denison on

        Of course! I pray God uses you mightily! Let’s stay in touch!

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