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A Pastor Reflects on Porn and Church Leadership

Last Updated: October 28, 2020

A very challenging situation came to my attention recently. It involves a woman who’s married to a man with a long-term addiction to pornography. She has talked with their pastor (the husband’s brother) but not much came of that. She is hurt, feels betrayed and doesn’t talk with her husband about his struggle anymore. We addressed this aspect of her story yesterday.

There is another facet to this situation which leads to questions about sexual brokenness and church leadership.

The woman writes that now her husband is being considered for an elder position by their pastor (his brother). It appears that in this congregation’s polity, everyone in the church votes for the leadership and their votes are known.

This is creating terrific anxiety for the woman. She feels betrayed (again) by her brother-in-law/pastor and by her husband because all three of them know the husband has a long-standing and unaltered practice of using pornography.

She feels that she cannot vote “yes” for her husband on principle; but if she votes “no” she’s afraid the truth will come out and her husband’s standing in the church will be ruined. She feels caught, alone and frustrated by an intolerable situation not of her own making.

How should we think about the leadership and spirituality?

The principle that should guide the development of healthy church leadership should never be performance and perfection. The Gospel mandate for healthy church leadership is pursuit and progress. 

In the greatest sermon ever preached, Our Lord made it clear that the goal of spiritual transformation is completeness or perfection. We live the Christian life to become like Christ, fully reflecting the goodness of our Father (Matthew 5:48). The path to that goal is to learn to fulfill the first and second great commandments, loving God with all our being and becoming more attached to him than anyone or anything else, and loving others as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). The truly spiritual life is one of progressing along that path.

Our sexuality is a primary arena in which we must learn to continually bring ourselves to the school of Christ for rewiring and transformation. We all have some mal-attachments in sexual thinking and perception—for all of us are sexual beings and all of us have challenges in the way we handle our thoughts and feelings. Sexuality is such a powerful force that it creates tremendous attraction—and in some cases revulsion—in us and we need the Spirit’s help in becoming healthy sexual people.

So how should churches handle compulsive sexual behaviors in leaders?

The church that wants to be useful and relevant will regularly share in board meetings, leadership group training and especially from the pulpit messages like this:

  • We live in a sex-crazed culture;
  • As beings made in the image of God we are all vulnerable around sexuality because it is so special, so wonderful, so personal and so powerful;
  • Because we so easily get our wires crossed around sex, lots of people—men and women—are finding themselves trapped in behaviors and habits they know are not right, ways of living they themselves don’t respect but are having trouble changing;
  • We can help each other change if we will use truth and grace.

Create an atmosphere of encouragement and growth, not inquisition. No condemnation or shaming. Be easy about it. Be open, not uptight. Intentionally develop a climate of invitation for everyone in the church body to grow in the grace and life-changing knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Regularly teach that leaders struggle just like everyone else, and in fact their isolation in leadership sometimes makes it more difficult and challenging to lead the life they really want to lead. This isn’t an excuse for unhealthy behavior, but it’s important to recognize the difficulty.

If leaders need help and are willing to get it, churches must do everything feasible to make it available. What helps the health of the leadership nurtures the well-being of the whole body.

Offer strategies for positive self-care steps. Educate the church body about compulsive sexual behaviors and strategies for recovery. Those who aren’t struggling with sexual addiction need to understand it anyway because so many folks around them are.

Remember to make the Main Thing the Main Thing

So what should the wife do about the church vote? She should probably vote “no” because that is what her conscience is telling her. But it’s important to explore the motivation. She doesn’t want to ruin her husband’s “standing” in the church; but his reputation isn’t real. It’s a facade. Her motivation can’t be for how he appears to others; her motivation has to be love for his soul.

We don’t forbid the brother who’s caught in the throes of addiction from leadership so that we protect the church or protect our reputations. No, we don’t put him in that role because right now, that’s not the loving thing to do for him. He needs something else. He needs recovery and health and growth in grace. And then he can serve.

Not too long ago, a notable church leader’s hidden sexual struggles came to light in a media storm. A friend told me about two separate conversations with atheists who reacted by strongly declaring that this was why they didn’t want to have anything to do with the Christian message. Because of this leader’s failure? No, they said, because of how badly the church treated him. They valued what we too often disregard. Love.

Remember the words of Jesus:  “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Agape love, self-giving love is how Jesus teaches us to treat each other.

photo credit: royalconstantinesociety

T. C. Ryan is the author of Ashamed No More: A Pastor’s Journey Through Sex Addiction (InterVarsity Press, 2012) and is a speaker about life in Christ, genuine spirituality and Christ and recovery. He can be found on Facebook (T. C. Ryan), tweets (@tcryanone) and his website is tc-ryan.com.

  1. Jocelyn Sophia

    I am so against pornography. I want to say that I only worship GOD, and I believe that GOD does not have a son. I believe that Jesus was a man that GOD CREATED, only having a mother, with no father. GOD is not my father. GOD is my CREATOR. GOD is loving, kind, wise, just and so gentle. GOD is not a man nor is GOD a woman. We know what it is like to be a person, and we know about ourselves that we do not know the hearts of other people, however GOD our CREATOR does know the heart of every person.

    GOD revealed to Jesus the rules about sexuality and making porn is totally against the rules that GOD revealed to Jesus. First, only a married couple are allowed to engage in sexual acts, and secondly, sexual acts must be done in private, without inviting others to watch or join in. Filming sexual acts is a sin, and asking people to film one’s sexual acts is a sin.

    This lets you know a little about who I am. I am glad that some people are speaking out against porn. I am in favor of it being illegal for porn to be made in America.

  2. Joe

    The pastor / brother is equally at fault, it seems to me, and is partaking in the brother’s sin. Does the pastor / brother also have a porn problem? It seems to me at the least the pastor does not see the destructive force of porn in people’s lives.

    It can be overcome. When God gives the heart of flesh that is able to respond to Him, the Scripture goes on to say that God will “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” ESV God is the one who does the work, but we must allow Him to do it. He has in my life with what I struggled with for years. I am now finding victory in Him.

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