For decades, it has been documented that Christian men struggle with pornography at alarmingly high rates. Even Christian women are not immune from this struggle. What has come to light in recent years, however, is that many pastors experience this same struggle.
We know pornography is harmful to everyone. But it can be especially harmful to pastors and the churches they serve. If you are a pastor or Christian leader ensnared in the trap of pornography, here are a few ways to respond.
Years ago, I knew of a pastor caught up in pornography. When other church leaders confronted him, he said, “Most guys struggle with it.” That was his way of saying, “It’s not that big of a deal.” Sadly, his reaction is all too common.
Pastor, it is a big deal!
First and foremost, it is a sin. Not only are you sinning against a holy God, but if you are married, you are sinning against your wife (Matthew 5:27-28). Tim Challies has argued that when you look at pornography, you commit at least eight sins. Indeed, this is no light matter.
There are plenty of ways one might justify the use of pornography. Some justify it by thinking, “At least I’m not committing adultery.” Or, “There’s much worse stuff I could be viewing.” But God calls you to be a vessel of purity and righteousness unto Him. The Bible says, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:3-5).
The first step to forgiveness and recovery is to stop rationalizing your behavior. Anyone who is addicted to pornography will never find victory by minimizing it. Healing begins by acknowledging your sin before God (Psalm 32:5).
If you haven’t already, you must renounce through confession, your sin to others (James 5:16). This is not something to confess to everyone, but there are those to whom confession is appropriate – your wife, your fellow pastors and elders, trusted friends, etc. Don’t try to hide your sin.
Having acknowledged your sin, there is now a need for repentance. Think of repentance in terms of doing a “180” in how you think and live (Acts 26:20). You are acknowledging that you were in the wrong and that God was right about everything. You are saying, in effect, “I need to change.”
In repentance, there is clear grief and sorrow over one’s sin. Job confessed, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).
The glorious news of the gospel is, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1). You are not such a spectacular sinner that you are beyond the grace of God. Through the atoning work of Christ, God will forgive you (Titus 3:4-7).
As you move forward in faith, continually remind yourself of who you are in Christ. You are His precious child. Yes, you are a sinner, but that doesn’t define you. Never forget that you are known and loved by God, and there is a rich storehouse of grace available that you can never exhaust (James 4:6).
Pastor, you are engaged in an intense spiritual battle that won’t go away anytime soon. Having acknowledged your sin, repented of that sin, received God’s amazing grace, and resolved to walk in all purity, the enemy of your soul is not a happy camper right now. He is waging war on you!
The Bible says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9). The devil would like nothing more than for you to fall back into the snare of pornography. This is where you must fight with all diligence and with all the spiritual resources God has given you (Ephesians 6:10-18). Trying to fight this battle with your own strength will not work.
If you will resist the overwhelming temptation of pornography, it is important to cut it off at its root (Mark 9:43-48). Ask:
- Where are you viewing it?
- When are you viewing it?
- How many times a month on average?
- Is it just through the internet, or are you accessing it elsewhere?
- When are you most vulnerable?
Asking these questions can help as you strive to minimize or eliminate your access to pornography. Given the sex-saturated world in which we live, this won’t be easy, but there are steps you can take that will help. The Bible exhorts us to “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Like Joseph, we must run as fast and as far away from it as we can (Genesis 39).
I wish I didn’t have to mention this, but there are times when resigning from a ministry position is entirely necessary. In the qualifications for pastors and elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9), we discover that holiness and self-control are not optional. Some pastors are so deep in this sin that a “restoration” is not in order.
Much wisdom is needed in this area (Proverbs 11:14). The pastor struggling with pornography needs Godly brothers who can speak truth into his life. Focus on your own soul and your marriage rather than trying to shepherd an entire flock.
Pastors tend to be capable, hard-working, and motivated. Don’t think that ministry is your only option..
Pastors caught up in pornography, just like anyone else, commit the sin of idolatry. They look to “images” to find joy and satisfaction in their hearts instead of God. The Bible presents a glorious alternative. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
While pornography can excite the viewer for a time, it never lasts. It only ever leaves one feeling empty and unsatisfied. In contrast, God, in Christ, offers eternal joy, lasting satisfaction, and contentment that transcends our circumstances.
In finding freedom from pornography, look to Jesus, no matter what stage of your journey! Renew your commitment to your Lord. If you are married, renew your commitment to your wife. Strive to love and cherish her as you ought (Ephesians 5:25-33).
God has made us as sexual beings, and He means for you to express that desire exclusively within marriage (Job 31:1, Hebrews 13:4). Give your wife the attention you once gave to pornography, and then give her more.
This is not an easy road to travel, but always remember that the battle belongs to the Lord. If you sin and give in to temptation, repent. If you continue to sin, continue to repent.
Never give up on this battle. There is deliverance and victory in Christ.