When Nick Stumbo first encountered porn at the age of 10, he immediately knew that it was shameful and secretive. Like most Christian homes at the time, the topic of sex was taboo. Aside from the “birds and the bees” talk that Nick had with his father, there was little to no further conversation about sex, much less pornography.
As time went on, Nick continued to watch porn. He was a regular attendee at his church, active in youth group, and an ashamed porn addict. He confessed his problem to the Junior High youth pastors, believing that this would fix his problem. These pastors prayed for him, but offered no further steps to overcome the addiction and heal.
So, Nick continued falling into porn’s trap.
Years later, he proposed to his girlfriend and soon confessed to her that he was struggling with addiction. The two married and Nick said that he would stop watching porn, but without seeing the pattern driving his addiction, nothing stopped.
Ten years into ministry and marriage (both seemingly going great), Nick was a 31-year-old senior pastor of a large church. Then, one day, his wife came to him and said that she wanted to separate. She told Nick, “I don’t hate you, but I hate how this makes me feel. I don’t know if this can change, and so I don’t know if I can stay.”
A Need for Recovery
It was then that Nick realized his need for recovery. Without a heart change, he would lose his wife, his family, and maybe even his church. So, he signed up for a 12-month counseling program through Pure Desire, a ministry that uses small group resources to help people of all ages recover from sexual addiction. Nick joined one of these small groups and met other people on a similar journey to his. He watched other men struggle with addiction—but also overcome their addiction. Transformation in Nick’s own life was nearly immediate, and he gave up pornography for good.
Nick told his church about his addiction from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. He preached openly about his addiction, confessed to the congregation, and talked about his journey to freedom. He also asked for the church’s forgiveness and shared his desire and need for help to start similar programs for other men and women struggling in the church. He says, “If churches and pastors had support, they could survive. The support from my church was the reason why I knew I could confess and keep my job.”
Following his pulpit confession, Nick actively sought out change in his church. Small groups were started for those struggling with sexual purity, integrity, and addictions. Nick said that helping his congregation deal with sexual brokenness was the best training his church ever did. Everyone going into leadership came out of these groups. Removing secrecy in their life changed people. And, it grew their reputation as a church.
The “Pornography Pastor”
Prior to Nick’s confession and recovery, the topic of sex was just as taboo in his church as it was when he was 10 years old and watching porn for the first time. Now, as his leaders started men and women’s groups, people started referring to Nick as the “pornography pastor.” Nick used to think this title was embarrassing and shameful. Now, he views it as a sign of healing. His church was rising up against pornography and working hard to promote healing in the church. God’s people are not immune to the devastating effects of porn, and once Nick realized that, his church radically changed—for the better!
In 2015, the very ministry that helped Nick to recover from porn offered him a job as Executive Director. He had been speaking for Pure Desire for some time and eagerly accepted their offer. Although sad to leave his position as pastor at his church, Nick was excited to play a part in Pure Desire’s mission.
A Word of Advice for Pastors
Today, Nick speaks openly about the local church and the need for sexual discipleship. He compares the role of a pastor to that of a doorkeeper, saying, “They will open the door to talking about porn or close it. Do you give people the sense that to face their brokenness is a normal and healthy part of the church?”
“Sexual discipleship is the real work of the church,” Nick continues. “We can do everything else (Bible, pray, etc.), but if we go over their head with this, we will fail as a church.”
So many churches keep their sexual counseling groups under the radar. It needs to be talked about openly and all the time. It cannot be taboo. Nick says, “If they’re proactively holding that door open and saying we’re here to help you, that makes a huge difference.”
Many times, the church treats pornography as a belief problem. In the best way that these believers know how, they love God, believe in Jesus, pray, and lay down their lives. But, this isn’t always enough to cause their behavior to change. Pornography affects the neurochemistry of our brains. Belief in God alone cannot immediately reverse an addiction.
Nick compares porn addiction to having an anger issue. You can have anger problems and still be strong in your belief. For most people, just improving your relationship with God simply won’t be enough. As long as shame is creating lies, it doesn’t matter how much you read your Bible. We have to rewire our thinking. Strong faith doesn’t mean our problems disappear. Porn is a sin because it is causing us to idolize, objectify, and lust. The bigger problem though is that it’s always progressive. It’s never a one-time thing. It creates a pathway to wanting more.
The problem with porn is that the end outcome is always death (relationship, career, ministry, dream, etc.). Unaddressed, sexual addiction will kill something. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can keep it under control on our own.
Nick Stumbo is passionate about giving pastors and leaders permission to be real people. Being called into ministry doesn’t make you sexually healthy. Churches assume your role as a leader will make you sexually healthy, yet Nick says that he doesn’t know of any seminaries or Bible colleges that train pastors to be sexually healthy. This sets them up in a double bind, because everyone assumes they’re healthy, holy people, and then the leader feels they have to hide it.
So, what can you do to make porn a “regular” topic of conversation in your church? Nick offers three suggestions:
1. Talk to your church about porn – consistently.
2. Provide an environment for your leaders and congregation where honest confession is encouraged and support groups thrive.
3. Encourage the young people in your church to put aside their shame and understand the beauty of purity and God’s design for sexuality.
Be a “Pornography Pastor,” and change the mindset of your church for the better.