Book Club Channel
Healing Sexual Addiction: Seven Things the Church Must Do
Editor's Note: In his new book, Ashamed No More: A Pastor's Journey Through Sex Addiction, former pastor T.C. Ryan courageously shares his personal story of a lifelong struggle with sexual addiction and his path toward healing. In this book excerpt, Ryan offers seven suggestions the Church can—and should—embrace to be a part of the healing process.
1) Examine our own sexual behaviors. Pastors, ministry leaders, and those in church leadership need to do their own thorough personal inventory examining their lives for problems with compulsive sexual behaviors. No matter how fear-inducing this will be, they need to take personal responsibility to do whatever is necessary to address the problems they have and do the hard work of becoming healthier people. The elements of this process are awareness, honesty, surrender, commitment, retraining and rebuilding thought patterns, developing healthy patterns of behavior, and addressing all idiosyncratic needs specific to the leader and his family. This will be challenging and hard, and he will need help.
2) Change how we treat leaders. We need those who lead ministry leaders to radically recalibrate their approach to the issue of sexual brokenness in those who are in ministry leadership. Their commitment must be to help heal the ones in their ministry stewardship who are hurting and do everything necessary to take care of and provide for any dependents their ministers have. Denominational leaders who offer anything less must recognize they are no longer leading in the Spirit and way of Jesus and therefore have co-opted leadership in Christ's name for one of institutional self-preservation.
A clergy friend shared with me an example of what not to do. His denominational office sent an official message to every ordained person regarding Internet pornography use by clergy members. The message reminded the pastors that any sexual deviance—including use of Internet porn—was a violation of their ordination vows. They were offered a short-term window of opportunity to come forward and admit their problem. The implication was that they wouldn't be defrocked, but it was unclear if they'd be removed from their position. There was no mention of any help. Everyone using Internet porn and not coming forward during this opportunity was warned that they would eventually be found out and the discipline would be severe.
Now, what do you think was the impact of that message for those struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors? It was a message that guaranteed anxiety, shame and fear for everyone struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors and made them even more determined to repress their struggles and hide. And what is the result for the spiritual and emotional health of the congregations of that denomination? More fear, more shame, more hiding. How is the gospel of Jesus served by such an approach? How much better it would have been to acknowledge the significant problem hampering the spiritual wellness of their clergy and offer strategic help to everyone willing to address their issues—then remind them this will help them fulfill their ordination vows.
Some denominational leadership is fearful of scandals or struggling with insurance issues, and these are valid issues. But they will not be well resolved by using fear, control or shame. It is better for organizational leaders to develop a genuinely pastoral, rehabilitative approach to those struggling with personal issues—whatever they are—and then enlist the participation of everyone in dealing with correlative issues.
For nearly twenty years, T. C. Ryan was founding and senior pastor of a large church. He resigned in order to concentrate more fully on his ongoing recovery from a lifelong sexual addiction. Dr. Ryan now has a ministry of spiritual direction with individuals and groups, preaches, writes, and leads seminars on achieving spiritual wholeness in a sexually broken world.