[Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a four-part 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 or #2 or #3]
As Christian leaders, it’s our job to advocate for and support others on their journey towards greater Christ-likeness. For many of those under our care, the greatest area for application is sexual integrity.
As mentioned in a previous article, it’s important for us to communicate to others that it’s not about whether we struggle but how we structure. This subtle but powerful shift allows them to normalize the commonality of having to contend for sexual integrity without providing a license for sexual sin.
Living out a Christian sexual ethic is clearly important for every believer. Yet Christian leaders desiring to support others in their journey towards greater sexual integrity need to remember the value of placing a greater focus on the relationship itself than on accountability for their perfect behavior. This isn’t about giving a free pass to sin, but rather a recognition that without an intimate and honest relationship we’ll never be told the truth about their sexual struggles and/or behavior in the first place. A “law over love” perspective can lead to a form of godliness but denies the power of a safe relationship, which is most often the context for leading others effectively down the path of sexual integrity.
If we want to enter into that vulnerable space where a man struggles in his mind and heart right before he engages sexual sin, we have to become comfortable with the idea of creating a relationship where their raw emotions and real pain can be shared without a fear of how we’re going to respond to them.
Here are three types of men who need our help related to the pursuit of sexual integrity:
Those contending for sexual integrity with little to no engagement of sin. This is the guy who recognizes “there but for the grace of God go I.” He may be struggling with fantasy or an occasional pull into pornography. These men respond well to supportive and vulnerable relationships with mentors and peers, reasonable boundaries/tools for wise choices and encouragement for looking beneath the struggle to examine the deeper motivations for their temptations in the first place. Books about proactive sexual integrity (rather than those focusing on sexual addiction) are most helpful for this group, such as my book, Unburdened: The Christian Leader’s Path to Sexual Integrity.
Those engaging private sexual sin. These men are periodically or regularly going beyond the struggle with lust and are engaging sinful behavior with some frequency. Whether at the level of habitual sin pattern, compulsion or addiction, these men benefit from structured relationships that prioritize vulnerability along with a strong accountability component. Many benefit from both one-on-one mentoring/coaching/counseling as well as some form of support group environment (such a Celebrate Recovery or other Christian 12-step group). In addition to books about practical sexual integrity, other Christian books educating men about sexual addiction are also helpful (such as Wired for Intimacy or Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction).
Those engaging publicly-known sexual sin. When sexual sin goes public, whether a few people know within the church or it has exploded onto the national stage, things must often be played out a bit differently than what’s described above.
When leading other men to pursue sexual integrity, our support needs to be much more comprehensive than just helping them not engage unhealthy sexual behaviors. It’s also about:
- Lust. Jesus said it’s about the ungodly desire in our hearts (Matthew 5:28), a point the 12-steps has applied to sexual addiction in their recognition of being “powerless over lust” (Step One).
- Neglected self-care. It’s also about leading them to see how areas of poor overall self-care (physical, emotional, spiritual, relational and mental) often play a role in creating a vacuum for such unhealthy pursuits in the first place.
- Forgetting our destiny. We sometimes forget the goal isn’t just staying away from bad things, but rather pursuing healthy, godly, good things (Philippians 4:8). A lack of healthy investments is ultimately a failure to thrive. Recapturing a vision for healthy self-care in areas consistent with our Christ-centered values is the pathway for moving us back toward the abundant life Jesus promised to those who follow Him (John 10:10).