Sacred Family Circle
At Home Resources
Strategies for Freedom from Pornography
By Bernie Anderson, M Div Pastoral families are constantly on display. We live in the proverbial “fish bowl” and there is very little we can do to avoid it. Couple that with pastoral ministry being a high pressure profession, many pastors can fall into unhealthy escapes. Quickly becoming the most common escape is pornography.
It is devastating when pastoral families are in crisis because of the pastor’s pornography use. Not only is there the internal fallout likely due to the lying and hiding of the illicit behavior from other family members (including the spouse), but there’s the pressure to keep the problem hidden for fear of losing a job. Such a scenario creates a rather intense and highly pressurized environment that destabilizes the health and well-being of the ministry family while stifling the ministry’s effectiveness .
According to a study done by Focus on the Family, roughly 50% of families have been impacted by pornography . That study was not specific to pastoral families but a Leadership survey done in the same year, reported that 51 % of pastors had visited a pornographic web site and 37% had reported pornography being a current struggle. In another survey, Christian author, Patrick Means, indicated that 63% of pastors confirm that they are struggling with sexual addiction or sexual compulsion including, but not limited to, the use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, or other secret sexual activity.
The real question is, how can ministry families address this problem and remain intact to continue the good, God-glorifying work they have been called to do? Below are eight strategies for a pastor to best address a secret struggle with pornography that leads to recovery, sobriety, and restoration.
1. Address the problem immediately and directly. Warning lights in cars, “safe-mode” on a computer, and smoke detectors point us to a potentially devastating problem. We ignore warning signals to our own peril. It is a sign that more is going on below the surface when a ministry leader’s pornography habit comes to light. If there has not been widespread public knowledge, then the pastor has time to make changes privately and avoid a public scandal, not to mention circumvent the public humiliation of family and friends. Whatever the case, this issue demands the immediate attention of the pastor and his or her family.
The spouse should gently but firmly encourage the pastor to seek support and help. A spouse may go so far as to research various resources in their area. But the pastor needs to do the work of following up, such as finding and scheduling an appointment with a therapist, or attending a group. Should a spouse only meet with resistance and excuses, it is appropriate to find another respected family member or friend to also confront the pastor. This will likely be a very frustrating, and painful time as the pastor comes through the fog of addiction to realize the damaging impact his or her behavior is having. Until the pastor demonstrates a legitimate desire to pursue recovery on his or her own and follow through, very little progress will be made.
2. Confide and confess but do not hide. To be clear, that does not mean this problem needs to be shared on a broad public level. It means that, as part of the plan for recovery, disclosure to a small group of trusted friends is necessary. Do not have some sort of dramatic public confession before a large group of congregants where the pastor bares his or her soul in shame and humiliation. Those types of confessions could actually do more harm than good.
Confiding in a small group of spiritually mature believers, making them aware of what’s going on is healthy, appropriate, and deeply contributes to achieving sustained sobriety. Naturally, this step is extremely difficult and embarrassing for a ministry family, even if it is just with a small group of caring friends. Keep in mind that concealing, hiding, and lying about the behavior is what led to the escalation of the problem to begin with.
The question often arises as to whether or not to disclose to your conference leadership. Some conferences have a system in place to provide a way for pastors and their families to get on a path toward recovery without fear of losing their jobs or having their situation shared publicly. I applaud those conferences and pray that more will implement such systems. If indeed this is the case for you, then I believe it is wise to inform your leadership and have them join in getting you back to sobriety. If that is not the case, then surround yourself with a small group of confidants and move forward with recovery without the conference’s help.
3. Implement structure. As pastors, we generally have a loose schedule with only Sabbath worship service and Wednesday prayer meeting as regularly defined appointments during the week. That does not mean we are sitting around doing nothing. But it does mean that unless we incorporate some structure we may find ourselves with significant portions of our day that lack focus. In those instances it is easy to drift toward pornography.
Implementing structure means that an attempt is made to focus our day more intentionally. It means that we have a plan and schedule what needs to be accomplished, i.e. visitations, sermon preparation, meetings, email etc. without diverting or allowing others to distract us. There should also be time for recreation and play built into the structure. I know many pastors tend to be morning people. If that is the case, then morning should be set up to do the most important things like personal worship and sermon preparation in the first few hours after being up.
Structure also includes putting boundaries on our devices so that they do not control our lives. Turning the cell phone off, staying off of the computer and any other devices at times, keep us from constantly being connected and potentially tempted to stray. Smart phones in particular have become a major struggle for some pastors. If that is true for you, it may be time to downgrade and get a less sophisticated device.
Finally, another component to structure is making ourselves accountable both in life in general and while we are online. Both approaches require time and effort but they are critical. Putting software such as x3watch on your computer or device helps provide accountability and surrender anonymity while online. Also, taking the time to recruit and then consistently spend time with someone who can ask tough questions will prove to be invaluable.
4. Reclaim Sabbath. “Sabbath rest” for an Adventist pastor in particular is almost an oxymoron, yet one of the most significant practices for gaining and sustaining sobriety is the practice of Sabbath. Since sexual sin, such as viewing pornography, is really more of an issue of the soul more so than sex; nurturing and restoring the soul is essential to gaining sobriety. Sabbath in particular gives permission to all believers, including pastors, to focus on spiritual recovery.
Obviously, there are specific responsibilities we will carry out on any given Sabbath morning. But as pastors we can be “at rest” as we minister to our congregations. We can be intentional about having our weekly messages done by Friday before sundown (I know, sounds crazy!). We can turn off the computer and other devices during Sabbath and talk to our family. We can avoid being a “busy body” and constantly running to and fro at the church Sabbath mornings. We can also avoid over-planning Sabbaths and carve out time after church for family and friends to fellowship and connect together. Or it may be that we simply need to sit in a comfortable chair and read a book that has been sitting on our shelves for months. Whatever the case, Sabbath is crucial to coming through a struggle with pornography because of the deep meaning it has for our souls.
5. Get educated and equipped. Gaining an understanding of the nature of our problem goes a long way in helping us achieve sobriety.
6. Join a recovery group. No one finds freedom alone, including pastors. Being part of a supportive community is critical but often the most challenging part of the process of finding our way back to wholeness. It is natural to simply go it alone as a pastor, but that is a recipe for disaster. A recovery group provides an intense but generally healthy environment in which to be transparent and honestly talk about our struggle. Ministerial groups, other individual pastors, or even a Celebrate Recovery group can provide healthy interaction that contributes to recovery as well. There are even organizations that run groups online that can be accessed from the privacy of your own home.
The point is, we benefit greatly from environments where similar stories of struggle are shared and we can find encouragement and specific guidance. It does not all have to be focused on recovery either. A couples’ bible study group you attend with your spouse, or a men’s fellowship group can also be places to find community and, in a less direct way, contribute to recovery.
7. Get away. In some cases, it may be imperative for a pastor to actually break away for several days and seek a time of focused recovery. This time is not for vacation but should involve attending an Every Man’s Battle workshop or another event specific to getting a handle on the pornography problem. The benefits to such an approach are that it takes the pastor out of his normal surroundings and routine and is a positive disruption.
In the same way that physical fitness experts have discovered that periods of intense, focused, physical workouts with short breaks can contribute quicker to weight loss; it is likely that more progress can be made in a short time of intense recovery work than over weeks or months. This time away also serves as a launching pad for more effective recovery once back home.
Another benefit to getting away is that with a break in the normal everyday routine can break the cycle of acting out. Simply being in a different place and around different people committed to helping you can subdue the typical response to the urge to act out. It will likely involve an unusual investment of time and money, but with careful planning it can and should be done. The temporary upheaval it could cause pales in comparison to the rich benefits that could come out of this investment of time, money, and energy.
8. Focus on Jesus and do not give up. Wherever we find ourselves in this journey, we should understand that God’s grace also extends to spiritual leaders. Regardless of whether we are in the midst of a cycle of acting out, another relapse, or on a solid path of recovery, our most vital need is God’s grace. Furthermore, we must realize that in Jesus alone do we find a life that deeply satisfies and diminishes our desire for something to numb the effect of sin in us. To find peace and reestablish relationships with those we love we must daily surrender all to Christ, relying and resting fully in Him. In placing our trust in Jesus, He alone, through His spirit, provides the transformation, not just the behavior modification, we ultimately need. As we persevere on this course of recovery the words of the apostle Paul in Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV) reveals scripture’s concise but potent recovery plan, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Amen.
 Focus on the Family Poll, October 1, 200312.89.html
 The Leadership survey on Pastors and Internet Pornography, http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2001/winter/12.89.html
 Patrick A. Means, Men’s Secret Wars (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2006).
 The following is a disclaimer provided by Josh McDowell Ministry, the creator of this video: “The Just1ClickAway video was created according to the highest standards of integrity. All minor children acting in the film were supervised at all times by a parent. The parents met with the director in advance to closely review the script, receive explanations about the purpose and use for the film and sign releases. Minors were on set only for their specific parts and their scenes were shot without suggestive images or other characters within their view.” www.just1clickaway.org.
Bernie Anderson, M Div, Pastor for collegiate/young adults at Forrest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church in Apopka, Florida
- DUELING WITH STRESS
- Forgiveness: The Journey
- Hope Beyond Tears: Healing for Depression
- Living Within Your Means
- Moving . . . again? Ways to help your family during a move
- No More Banging Doors: Healthy Communication in the Ministerial Family
- Parenting at the Parsonage
- Social Media Accepted
- Strategies for Freedom from Pornography
- Surviving a Marriage Crisis
- Tax Man Comes
- Teen suicide prevention: Identifying the warning signs and getting help for a suicidal child