LAKELAND, Fla. (BP) — Much too often it happens. A pastor, staff member or volunteer church leader has been viewing pornography.
So what should a church do if a leader has viewed pornography? Let me suggest a 10-step process:
1. Have specifics written down, proof or a credible suspicion that he has looked at pornography.
When confronting a church leader, approach him with specific instances when there is reason to believe he has looked at pornography. Whether someone actually saw it on his computer, the history was checked and there was a porn trail or some other way, share specific instances or valid suspicions. Gather the facts first.
For instance, when a staff member at our church had been looking at pornography on a church computer, it was discovered by one of our assistants. She confronted him and shared it with me. The reality is, we must do everything possible to prevent this from happening. That is why it is essential for churches and families to have the conversation about pornography. Credible suspicions often come through a spouse, friend or co-worker who has a deep concern. The more our leaders address the problem, an atmosphere is created where questions such as, “Do you ever struggle with pornography?” can be asked more easily. From that question there may be an admission of a struggle.
Further, if suggestions to a staff member or church volunteer to be in an accountability relationship and have filtering software installed on all computers is met with resistance, in my mind, that indicates a credible suspicion. Why wouldn’t they? We must choose volunteer and church elected leaders wisely, but obviously we cannot monitor what they do on their computers. We also must rely on the Holy Spirit to make known the truth in relation to those who are committing this sin. Recently a pastor friend of mine took his staff on a retreat. There he asked them with genuine concern, “Do any of your struggle with pornography?” He was shocked to discover the number of staff who were battling the temptation to look at pornography. Being proactive on this issue with church leaders is absolutely essential in this sexualized culture.
2. Have at least one other trusted leader with the person who confronts the staff member or leader.
You need someone who can be there with you to demonstrate love grace and, yet, the severity of the situation. The staff member or leader must know this is not a personal vendetta against him, but a serious breach of trust.
3. Confront in a private place where confidentiality is sacred.
You do not want to unduly embarrass the leader. Approach him in the privacy of an office or home where there is no risk of someone overhearing the conversation. The goal is redemption, not embarrassment. You need uninterrupted time with no distractions, since the confrontation may entail an extended amount of time.
4. Communicate what you know and how you know it.
When confronting a leader, rehearse what you are going to say and how you will say it. This is not the time to lecture or be angry. This is about redemption. Make sure you have bathed this in prayer prior to the confrontation.
5. Give the person an opportunity to share and confess.
Inform him that this would be the very best and redemptive opportunity to come clean and to begin the road to restoration. He needs to know that excuses and denials only make the situation worse. Redemption begins with confession and brokenness.
6. Insist that he tell his wife.
In the process of confrontation, the leader must understand the importance of coming clean with his wife. Help him to formulate a plan as to when and how he will make this confession to her.
7. Require immediate accountability.
For the confrontation to be redemptive, a personal accountability plan must be established, which may include a leave of absence from his leadership role. Determine who would be the best person for him to have an accountability relationship. Without accountability, failure is almost certain. Also insist that he place filtering software on each of his computers. Suggest a Christian counselor for him.
8. Specifically communicate the restoration process.
You need to have a specific and written plan for the path to restoration. Each situation is different, but if possible, give a path to restoration. This should include specifically what is required for restoration in order to return to a ministry role; the time involved; steps that must be taken; and how he will keep you informed so you will know when restoration for a ministry role is reached.
9. Express your love for him and his family.
You must communicate your love and God’s love for him. Remember Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). No matter what happens, the leader needs to understand that you, the church and, most importantly, God loves him unconditionally. Your confrontation in love can be the beginning of freedom.
10. Share specific consequences of failing to keep the pornography-free commitment.
Once you have laid out the path to restoration, communicate the consequences of breaking the commitment to live free from pornography. If you choose to keep the person on staff or in a volunteer leadership position, the consequence must be the immediate termination of his job.
Should you terminate the employment of the pastor or staff member who is guilty? I believe much of that depends upon how deeply immersed in pornography he had become, his response and how his wife responds when he tells her. If he demonstrates a genuine brokenness, repentance and willingness to follow the path of restoration, then healing grace should be an option. However, where there is obvious denial and blame or if his wife decides she can no longer live with him, the church is left with little choice.
Jay Dennis is pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla, and founder of Join 1 Million Men (www.join1millionmen.org), a movement challenging 1 million Christian men to commit to living a pornography free-life and challenging 1 million Christian women to pray for 1 million Christian men to live pornography-free lives. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).