“Do you struggle with sexual integrity?” seems like a straightforward enough question. But now consider another question: “How do you struggle with sexual integrity?”
The two sentences only differ by one word. Yet the difference between them represents a significant shift I’d like to see among Christian leadership.
The first question begs us to not tell the truth or, at least, to tell only part of the truth. The second question not only makes the assumption that we struggle in some way, but it also signals it’s okay to talk about it.
The first question tends to trigger our fear-driven fight-or-flight response. Confronted with only two options for answering, the knee-jerk response of many would be, “No, not really.”
But the second question feels safer and invites conversation beyond a simple yes or no answer, causing a shift away from defensiveness toward a freedom to engage in honest dialogue.
These two questions represent the difference between shame and grace, law and love.
An Unconventional Approach
This book isn’t primarily about how to stop looking at porn or any other unhealthy or compulsive sexual behavior. Unlike a decade or two ago, it’s no longer hard to find good Christian books about how to combat pornography and sexual addiction.
This is also not a book about blaming others for our poor sexual choices. And it’s most certainly not about stirring up more shame. As Christian leaders, we need safe places for honest and profitable dialogue about sexual integrity.
No, this book isn’t so much about equipping as it is about giving permission. Permission to work through our fear and internal resistance so we can simply take one single step in the direction of greater sexual integrity. Each of us pays a price when we’re unable—both individually and collectively as Christian leaders—to take ownership (privately and publicly) of our common struggle to maintain sexual integrity.
Notice, I didn’t say our common struggle with engaging sexual sin. Engaging sexual sin is optional; contending for sexual integrity isn’t.
When we don’t feel permission to be honest about our common struggle to maintain sexual integrity, we’re more likely to fall morally and lose what really matters: loss of ministry, marriage and family; loss of money; lost enjoyment in ministry; isolation from friends, colleagues and mentors. Not to mention an increased distraction away from our ultimate goal of impacting the kingdom—to the point of potentially becoming irrelevant in ministry.
If we can’t own our common struggle to maintain sexual integrity as Christian leaders, the consequences can find us seemingly without warning. Maybe some of us have been so successful playing Russian roulette that we forget one of the chambers is loaded.
A Glimpse Ahead
Over the past ten years, I’ve personally walked with hundreds of men down the path of sexual integrity recovery. Many of these men served in various roles of Christian leadership. Some lost ministry and family, others didn’t. Some were afraid to take the steps necessary and veered off the path. I fear what happened to them.
But those who kept placing one foot in front of the other eventually saw fruit from their investment. Many who stayed in ministry or eventually returned to it report having a stronger ministry impact, especially in seeing others transformed at deeper levels than before. They report increased opportunities for influence, though this sometimes resulted in doing ministry in a new or different capacity. Those whose marriages survived (and more did than didn’t) report both increased respect from and increased relational intimacy with their spouse. And regardless of the survival of their marriage or ministry, nearly all discovered increased support through closer relationships with other men (including other Christian leaders) and with God.
While the consequences of not walking this path can strike suddenly and without warning, the benefits emerge slowly with time and persistence. This is another reason why not every Christian leader is eager to take the journey. It’s like a medical treatment that has early side effects but whose eventual benefits aren’t experienced until a prolonged course of treatment.
Maybe we feel overwhelmed in knowing how to take the first step. Maybe we’re simply scared to death of it. Or maybe we’ve taken steps to move away from past sin and just don’t know what our next growth step might be.
Welcome to the path
In my professional work, many began this journey involuntarily because something
happened: a spouse discovered their Internet searches, they were caught in their double life by another employee at work or something of that nature. If we met them somewhere on the path, they’d say, “Don’t wait until the decision’s made for you. Do something now, so you get to choose the way and timing of your growth.”
They learned the hard way. But we can learn from their failure without the need to suffer nearly as many consequences. Yes, there are certainly consequences to voluntarily sharing our struggle with a Christian counselor, mentor, ministry colleague or spouse. But being caught in our struggle rather than voluntarily sharing it results in greater mistrust and disillusionment on the part of others. This is especially true for a spouse. As I often tell my clients, disclosure almost always turns out better than discovery. The consequences are either the same or better—not worse.
At the end of the day, I’m not really hung up on whether we accept a label such as sex addict or sexually compulsive or sexual sinner. I don’t care whether we accept a label at all. My greatest concern is that whatever we do, we accept responsibility for admitting where we are and for how far we’ve strayed from our Father’s heart. Like many of the perils in Pilgrim’s Progress, there are lots of ways to subtly veer from the King’s Highway onto some alternate path leading to danger and destruction.
But no matter how far off course we find ourselves, the correction for each of us is the same:
admitting where we are, turning back toward the Father and taking one step toward home.
Then another one. Then another. All the way home.
The farther out we’ve traveled, the longer it may take us to travel home. That’s okay. We’ll still get home along the same pathway that took us toward the pigsty in the first place.
There’s no shame here. Only a decision to either continue the same old dusty, lonely path or turn around and face the risks and rewards of rebuilding the life we left back home.
I’ve seen God rebuild leaders and ministries from the ground up, stronger than they were before. Even if you’re not completely convinced of my perspective, just know that, a willingness to take any step is a step in a helpful direction, with or without public disclosure. I know that with each successive step, there’s a greater likelihood you’ll keep on walking.
I’m not going to play the role of the Holy Spirit here. That’s his job. Just consider me another prodigal brother who’s gently nudging you back toward our dear Father.
After all, we’ve all got a story to tell.
You’re not the only one. The question is not whether you struggle with sexual integrity, but how you struggle. Male Christian leaders are among Satan’s primary targets for sexual sin and temptation, but many men are still burdened by past and current mistakes, needlessly struggling with shame and silence. Michael Todd Wilson understands these challenges and provides honest, grace-filled counsel drawn from years of experience helping men pursue greater sexual integrity. He uncovers the everyday tendencies that keep us from overcoming our personal obstacles and provides fresh ideas to live in the light. Unburdened is perfect for individuals, groups or one-on-one mentoring relationships.