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Porn’s Devastating Impact on Christian Leadership

Last Updated: February 9, 2024

In 2021, Barna found that 38% of pastors had thought about quitting the ministry. Certainly, the difficulty of leading a church in the COVID era was a major factor in these results. The overall trends of church attendance and secularization in our culture can be discouraging for leaders. However, there’s a less obvious problem that is secretly undermining ministry leadership: pornography.  

Let’s take a look at the data to understand better the impact of pornography on Christian leadership in America.

Today’s Pastors Are Struggling With Porn

We know that Christians watch a lot of porn. We’ve learned that pastors often struggle with porn too. A recent survey found that well over half of pastors and youth pastors have struggled at some point in their lives. One in twenty pastors and one in five youth pastors currently struggle.

At Covenant Eyes, we regularly hear stories of pastors and ministry leaders caught up in porn addiction. Porn makes people feel far from God. While using porn is often a source of shame and guilt for any Christian, for Christian leaders there may be career implications as well. Pastors who struggle with pornography often fear losing their jobs.

Pornography is only one of many challenges that pastors face today—but it is a major one that often goes overlooked.  However, the impact of pornography on church leadership goes beyond current leaders who find themselves unable to get help.   

(Learn more about porn stats.)

Porn Is Weeding Out Potential Leaders

Pornography not only decimates established Christian leaders, but it also shrinks the pool of future Christian leaders as a whole. People who watch porn are less likely to be involved in church leadership in the future. In The Healing Church, Sam Black reflects on the data:

“[Researchers] found the more frequently someone viewed pornography in 2006, the less likely they held a leadership position or served on a committee in their church over the next six years.”

Think about the implications of this. Not only are present ministry leaders struggling with pornography to an increasing degree, but there are fewer up-and-coming leaders stepping in to refill the ranks. If churches do not find a better way to confront porn, we’re heading for a serious leadership crisis soon.

We Have an Incredible Leadership Opportunity

Impending crises always present opportunities. While we have much reason for concern about the future of Christian leadership, there’s also cause for excitement. In The Healing Church, Sam Black writes that many struggle with pornography, “who have become equipped to serve the church far better than most men and women who warm our pews on Sunday mornings. Having had a spiritual awakening, they share the freedom they have received because they keep what they give away” (17).

In other words, yes, porn is wreaking havoc on leadership. But those who do find a way to break free become dynamic leaders within the church or parachurch ministry. So, how can we flip the script on this crisis and turn it into an opportunity?

Make the Church a Safe Place

First, for someone to open up about a problem with pornography, they need to feel that it’s safe to do so. If someone thinks they will be shamed, punished, or gossiped about, they’ll never risk admitting their struggle. Too often, this is exactly what happens to those who look for help with pornography.

In The Healing Church, Sam Black talks about making the Church a safe place to reveal our shameful secrets. It’s not enough to tell people they’re safe. We need to show them. Certainly, preachers and teachers should bring up the topic. But, you can powerfully show someone it’s safe to admit to a struggle with porn by having people up front share testimonies about overcoming pornography.

Establish Safe Processes

Making the church safe for porn addiction is no good if you don’t have a plan in place for dealing with it. You not only need to establish a culture where it feels safe to talk about sin struggles like porn, but you also need to have processes in place for handling these issues when they arise.

  • What is the process for a church member who confesses to struggling with porn?
  • How is it handled if the member’s spouse brings up the addiction?
  • What is the process for dealing with a church leader or pastor who confesses to using porn?

These questions need to be answered in a way that ensures those who are struggling will be discipled through the recovery process. There may be times when a leader needs to step away from his or her role because of these struggles. However, they should never be afraid that they will be shamed, scorned, or shunned for admitting their struggle.

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