5 minute read

How a Pastor Fell Into Porn—and Found Freedom!

Last Updated: September 13, 2022

Keith Rose
Keith Rose

Keith Rose holds a Master of Divinity degree and BA in Sacred Music. Keith worked with the Covenant Eyes Member Care Team for 15 years. He has also served as a Bible teacher, pastoral assistant, and music director at his local church. He's now the editor of the Covenant Eyes blog and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina with his wife Ruby and daughter Winslow.

Many pastors struggle with porn in secret. Pastor Garrett Kell was one of them—until he came forward with his story and opened up about his battle against porn. Our podcast team recently sat down with Pastor Kell, and he shared his story of falling into secret sin, finding the courage to open up, and learning to walk in the light.

His fall into the porn trap was subtle.

Many people who struggle with porn addiction can point to a defining moment in their experience with porn, but for Pastor Kell, it began more subtly.  Pastor Kell became a Christian at age 21. The Lord saved him from what he describes as a “life of partying and indulgence.” After his conversion, he experienced a “honeymoon phase” in his walk with the Lord—freedom from sexual sin and temptation.

But eventually, he fell prey to pornography. “I don’t remember exactly how it began,” he says. “I remember looking at some images and feeling convicted, and shutting it down, and not really knowing what to do.”

At this point, Pastor Kell’s pastoral gifts had already been recognized, and he was on the track to ministry. He says, “I didn’t know how to live well publicly and privately as a Christian.”

He learned to hide his struggle.

“I started to learn how to hide the compromises that I was having,” says Pastor Kell. Hiding the sin was crucial since Pastor Kell was pursuing a life of ministry.

Early on, his slip-ups with porn happened only sporadically. Until one day, he went home from his work as an evangelism pastor and felt an irresistible compulsion to look at porn—which he did for the next several hours. After this, Pastor Kell felt very defeated, “I thought, this is just the way I am… how am I going to manage this moving forward?”

Spreading Out Confessions

He hated this sin, and he loved the Lord. But he felt trapped. “The shame and disorientation of not walking in the light was powerful. It ensnared me. I knew I needed to talk to people about it, but I didn’t know how to do that as a pastor.”

Rather than open up completely, Pastor Kell spread out his confessions:

“If I compromised I would reach out to a friend, ‘Just wanted to let you know, I had a rough night with some struggles with lust, but I’m better now.’”

Consequently, no one truly knew the extent of his struggle. With partial confessions, he fooled himself and others into thinking he was honest and open. But like many other pastors who struggle with porn, Pastor Kell had learned how to camouflage it.

He felt afraid to walk in the light.

The fear of coming clean was deep and powerful. Pastor Kell says that this fear is shared by many in the ministry. “The fear you feel is real, and it makes sense why you’re afraid.” He describes that feeling:

“Every degree that I got from school has something to do with the Bible—I don’t know what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”

Additionally, many pastors who struggle with porn really do love the Lord and feel a strong call to preach the Gospel in their ministry. They fear that opening up about this sin could jeopardize everything they’ve worked for and could even bring reproach on the Gospel.  For these people, Pastor Keller offers this encouragement:

“The only thing worse than being found out is not being found it. It’s better to walk in the light. The most important thing about you isn’t your title [as a pastor] or your career. No matter what it costs you, to get Jesus is worth it.”

Pastor Kell explains how the loving discipline of the Lord is a gracious gift. Although it feels painful for a time, it’s well worth it.

He finally opened up about his struggles.

How can Pastor Kell say that? He knows it from personal experience!

Pastor Kell had just gotten married and was experiencing a season of victory from porn. But he hadn’t yet confessed the extent of his struggle. He and a good friend were preparing to plant a church together, but Pastor Kell felt that he needed to come clean. He wrote a letter in which he wrote down everything that he’d struggled with, and he shared that letter with his friend.

Pastor Kell’s friend spoke to him with tears in his eyes:

“Brother I want you to know that I love, and God loves you, but I don’t feel good about us moving forward with a partnership in ministry, and honestly I don’t think you’re qualified to be in ministry right now.”

It was everything he feared—and everything most of us in ministry fear. Pastor Kell says, “Those were hard words. But we shouldn’t be scared of hard words, because those words saved my life.” Despite the painful consequences of opening up about his sin, that was an important step toward freedom.

He stresses the importance of confessing to other people.

We need to confess our sins to one another—not just to God. James 5:16 commands this. And Pastor Kell points to the deeper reason for this kind of confession:

“When you confess to a fellow image bearer, there’s something you see about the reaction that teaches us about God. We’re told not to grieve the Spirit when we sin. When a spouse finds out that their spouse has been looking at pornography and it grieves them, that’s an appropriate response. It makes sense for them to be hurt.”

In other words, if we only confess our sins to God, we most likely will not feel the real weight of our sin. In a sense, we’re not truly confessing to God because we haven’t grasped the weight of our offense against Him. And it makes it a whole lot easier to keep watching porn!

Even though confessing his porn struggle cost Pastor Kell a lot, it was worth it! When he brought his struggle into the light, he found freedom, forgiveness, and grace beyond what he could have imagined.

He continues to make accountability part of his life.

Although Pastor Kell overcame his bondage to porn through confession and accountability, he recognizes that he’s still vulnerable to temptation, “You can’t fight supernatural powers against you in your own natural power. You need supernatural power.”

That supernatural power comes from God’s Word—which tells us to seek openness and accountability. And so Pastor Kell pursues radical honesty and openness with his allies. He walks in the light and takes steps to eliminate areas of darkness. He keeps his smartphone locked down so that he has to use the Covenant Eyes browser app.

“If you don’t have people who know you, I think you’re in a really dangerous spot.”

For more of his powerful testimony, listen to the whole podcast with Pastor Garrett Kell, and check out our other great podcasts as well!