[Editor’s Note: This is part two of four in a series by Michael Todd Wilson on how pastors should respond to sexual sin in the church. For more information about this topic and Wilson’s book Unburdened, visit MichaelToddWilson.com. Read Post #1]
So what happens if we find ourselves caught in an active porn addiction, on the other side of a one night stand or feeling hopelessly stuck in an emotional affair? We desperately want the way out. Yet, we feel powerless to change and paralyzed to take any step towards freedom.
It’s important to remember what God has promised and what He hasn’t. God never promised to remove all our consequences. Yes, sometimes He does reduce or eliminate them for His own purposes. But much of the time, He allows them to remain. Sometimes the consequences are exactly what we’d expect; other times, they’re anything but.
The power God promises us isn’t toward a specific outcome, but rather the power to surrender our weakness to His strength. It’s trusting Him to show up and show us the way out – even as we endure the consequences of our actions (1 Corinthians 10:13). Practically speaking, the “way out” is through a humble prayer of surrender when we can’t see all the steps with our human eyes. In such surrender, the Holy Spirit may impress us with a very specific action to take. If so, He will empower us to take the first step. Don’t become distracted by steps five and six. Simple obedience to step #1 will not only empower our ability to take that step but also lead us in the direction of the subsequent step beyond that one.
More often than not, a first step is a disclosure to another person about where we really are. Though extremely scary for most, disclosure nearly always turns out better than discovery. When we disclose our sin to another person (biblical confession), we decide the “how, when, and with whom” that disclosures happens. If we wait for discovery to happen (which Bible says will happen eventually, see Luke 12:2-3), someone else often decides.
Having walked with hundreds of Christian leaders, I can tell you disclosure is the far better path.
But who do we tell? Herein lies a practical benefit for having the vulnerable and accountable relationships. Peers, mentors, support group participants, therapists and coaches can all be leveraged to the extent they’ve been proactively integrated into our existing community. If none of these are unavailable, other resources include Focus on the Family’s Pastoral Care Line (1-844-4PASTOR will briefly support, then refer callers to professionals who’ve been pre-vetted by them) or a competent Christian counselor or sexual integrity coach found online.
While more immediate consequences exist in telling a spouse or boss at this stage, these are obvious places for disclosure for those ready for such a step. For those who can’t seem to go there yet, crisis lines and professionals can serve as “half-steps” for help in planning how spouse/boss disclosures might be best facilitated.
Through the years, I’ve learned to not discriminate much between the different options for disclosure moving forward. When someone’s not ready for the “best” step, any step in the direction of the way out serves to empower the individual with Holy Spirit strength for all subsequent steps that follow.
In a theoretical sense, I’ve seen good recovery from the following progression:
First, tell existing accountability/professional relationships. Initial disclosures of both internal temptation struggles and external sin behaviors can be shared here first — not because we intend to hide the truth from our spouse, but so we might get more objective feedback from other men who’ll support us in living lives of high integrity. This includes discernment about who else may need a full-disclosure (such as a spouse). They can help us organize our thoughts and encourage our resolve to tell our spouses about our hurtful choices.
Then, tell spouse, boss, board, congregation, etc. Depending on our unique spousal relationship, there are benefits and drawbacks to including an accountability buddy or counselor/coach in on our disclosure with our spouse. Once the spouse knows, intentional decisions can then be made (with her feedback as a stakeholder in the relationship) about sharing with a boss or ministry organization board which, in turn, will give us direction if a more public disclosure is needed. On these final two categories, the general principle is this: the more public the sin, the more public the disclosure that may be necessary.
If this article speaks to where you are, let me encourage you. I know it’s scary to think about the consequences. Once we let other people know what’s really going on with us, we relinquish much of the influence over what happens next. But controlling our consequences by keeping the secret hidden only maintains an illusion of control, an illusion that’s shattered once our sin is finally exposed. Reach out to somebody—anybody—in whom you have the slightest bit of trust.
Take the risk of disclosure and entrust your future to your Heavenly Father. As you may recall, He has an extensive track record for bringing our good and His glory out of brokenness.