Rev! Magazine ran a good article about pastors and porn a little while back. It is worth reading here.
Here is one quote from the article that struck me:
“Very few pastors ever receive adequate education regarding professional and personal boundaries in their training. They experience that it is unsafe to talk about personal stories of struggle regarding their sexual lives. The reality is that it could either cost them their ministry career or brand them as flawed and unworthy of serving in a pastoral role.”
While pastors are ultimately responsible for and accountable for their own actions, I think churches have an obligation to (or at least a serious self interest in) create environments that allow for these issues to be dealt with in a Biblical, healthy, authentic and restorative way.
For me, porn wasn’t the main problem, but it was certainly part of my sexually addictive cycle and behavior. For several years I have used SafeEyes (or a similar internet filter) as well as X3Watch or Covenant Eyes (or a similar accountability software). When I did share with people in the church about struggling with porn, the results were on two extremes: (1) some people I shared with pretty much said “no big deal”, “we’re all human”, “we all struggle”; or (2) some people took the opposite extreme of yelling at me and pretty much saying if I ever got caught or didn’t stop I would lose my job.
Let’s just say that neither of these approaches was helpful.
At times, I have been in healthy accountability relationships that really worked. This was true in college, this was true often with my roommate, and with close friends over the years. The formula always included (1) absolute honesty, (2) mutual accountability (not 1-way), (3) a focus on encouragement, not judgement, (4) modeled and appropriate grace, (5) good tools (like internet filters, etc), and (6) a focus on general spiritual health and intimacy with Christ as primary over the issue of just “do not”. The other key ingredients are prayer — together and for each other — and intentionality. I often had good accountability set-ups that lasted a few months, but then we would become less intentional about it and soon it just wasn’t happening.
I am currently in a really good accountability situation — probably the best I have ever had. I have a weekly small group where we ask each other very specific questions and also check-in with each other throughout the week. In this group, there is a serious commitment to Jesus, to discipleship, to grace, to encouragement and not judgement. In the group, accountability is intentional, mutual, and positive.
In addition, I also have several mentors who know they can ask me anything and who I am in accountability with. I talk regularly with these guys. I also know who I am able to call when I am struggling, facing temptation or have slipped/failed.
I wish I had all of that in place when I was a pastor.
So accountability is essential and important. And I think it is tricky in the pastoral role.
My Board on a couple of occasions talked about creating pastoral accountability. This was usually being pushed by 1 or 2 people and the tone was almost always off. For example, it was never mutual or focused on growth and encouragement. Often it was proposed in a very micro-managerial way that included things like regular weigh-ins (yes, checking my weight) and other things like that.
As a pastor, I appreciated people caring about my general health, but it is easy to cross the line into something that is bizarre, unhealthy, negative and focused more on judgement than encouragement.
I am not sure what the answer is for pastors, but I think churches need to think about these issues and it is a good conversation.
What are your thoughts? What have you seen work? What are some of the challenges?