The mood was somber in the sanctuary, and the air was heavy with shock and disbelief as the senior pastor announced the disturbing news that his associate pastor and friend of many years had had a sexual fall and, as a result, would be removed from ministry.
Names and places may change, but this story is becoming all too common within the Body of Christ. Local and national news media attest to this rapidly growing trend by highlighting, in scandalous fashion, the sexual indiscretion of church leaders. The negative effects of sexual sin are far-reaching, and the results are always devastating to individuals, couples, families and communities.
The Church’s response to sex and sexuality has run the full gamut—from remaining silent to providing full license to promoting repression. In any case, it has demonstrated very little consistency in addressing issues of sexuality. It is crucial in a postmodern, sex-saturated culture, where the goal is to blur moral lines, that the Church take a strong stand in promoting a healthy sexuality within a theologically sound context. To succeed, it must first recognize and acknowledge the prevalence of sexual sin within its walls and evaluate how the resulting brokenness undermines ministry and hinders believers’ response to the Great Commission.
Millions of Americans, both men and women, meet the criteria of sexual addiction. Disturbingly, this statistic applies not only to the secular population; sexual addiction has a firm and deadly grip on believers—many of whom are clergy and other church leaders. It is estimated that 50 percent of Christian men and 20 percent of Christian women struggle with sexual addiction. Research reveals that 37 percent of pastors are frequent or regular consumers of Internet pornography. Fifty percent have admitted to struggling with it at some point in their lives. And most of them suffer alone, as studies indicate that 70 percent of sexual addicts keep it a secret.
Why do so many church leaders fall into sexual addiction? Research indicates that the sexually addicted pastor typically comes from an abusive, shame-based background. As he enters ministry, he learns how to help others—but neglects his own spiritual well-being. Even though he preaches grace and mercy, he cannot accept it for himself, and he thinks no one—not even God—is trustworthy. To hide his shame and double life, the pastor develops an elaborate self-protective mechanism that keeps him from getting close to anyone. He is therefore isolated, with no close friends or accountability. Ultimately, this Lone Ranger lifestyle leads to depression and other psychological issues that continually feed the vicious cycle of sexual dysfunction.
As a result of a “core of shame” and an underdeveloped sense of identity, the pastor is compelled to seek affirmation through the praises of others. This behavior leads to workaholism, because he requires the accolades of those he serves to obtain a “high” that boosts his ego and affirms his personhood. The high is short-lived, and the pastor will soon need another “quick fix.” Once the sexually addictive cycle is realized, he remains in a constant state of drivenness to fulfill his compulsions. Consequently, his own spiritual formation is stunted by his inability to relate to God on an intimate level, making him ineffectual in helping others find true, life-giving spirituality.
While the Church and its leaders are getting hooked on the new “crack cocaine” of Internet pornography, the porn industry is exploding with growth, earning worldwide revenues reaching 97 billion dollars. It appears that this dark industry has developed its own “great commission,” and its “gospel” is spreading like wildfire—as indicated by the 4.2 million Web sites and 372 million pornographic pages that draw 68 million “followers” worshiping daily at the altar of lust. The numbers are staggering, and if the Church remains passive, they will increase exponentially as culture continues to spiral in an increasingly hedonistic direction.
After reading this article, many will feel burdened by an issue that looms large in society and in the Church. Despite the prevalence of sexual addiction among church leaders, God’s sovereignty remains and the power of Christ’s work on the cross continues to set people free from bondage. However, the cancerous nature of sexual sin will continue until the Church fully acknowledges the pervasiveness of this sin and comes alongside those who are struggling—offering grace, hope, help and healing in the name of Jesus.