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.

3) Allocate resources. We need denominational leaders to reallocate resources for conscientious and specific care and forthe restoration of the psychological health of ministry leaders. This is Christ-centered stewardship of leaders and ultimately the best way to extend care to the whole church, not just the clergy. And it will make the church healthier. Healthy churches expect brokenness among their leaders, accept leaders as they are with a spirit of grace and mercy, and provide everything necessary for healing, with the goal of uninterrupted service. Sometimes service will need to be interrupted, but that interruption should be for therapeutic reasons and not assumed. When ministry leaders break the law, the resulting criminal penalties are part of their amends. It's important that the church not abandon its criminal offenders, but walk with them through these times, remembering that in the eyes of heaven we are all criminal offenders. 

4) Change our way of thinking and teaching in the church about human sexuality. We must become open in addressing the issues of sexual behaviors. This begins with a lot of remedial teaching on what grace really is and how spiritual community truly works. Building on those two concepts, then, we need to give people a healthy and useful understanding of God's design for human sexuality, healthy sexual expression and how to deal with sexual issues. The instruction must be in a spirit of openness, honesty and graciousness. The nature of the instruction has to be one of invitation and loving coaching to a healthier, holier way to live. We must teach our people how to think about and deal with sexual brokenness as a part of the quest for spiritual wholeness. 

9/5/2012 4:00:00 AM
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