How Christian Leaders Rise
Last month we talked about Christian leaders and sexual temptation, the stresses and strains of ministry on the “inner man,” and why ministry itself is unusually subject to sexual temptation. But what if a Christian leader falls? Is it the end? Or can the pain experienced become a bridge to something new, authentic, real and transformative? The answer is yes, but first there is a road to walk. We cannot “run through the thistles” quickly and just “move on.” Here are some things we have learned about the road to restoration. The following may parallel your own life, but if it doesn’t, it will match the life of someone you know.
1. Restoration does not happen overnight. Those who think they will conduct a quick turnaround, undertake a few counseling sessions and return to the role and life they had before are mistaken. The old ways have to die. New paths have to be cultivated and allowed to grow. Before the Apostle Paul could be transformed from a murderous zealot into a compassionate apostle, he spent years away from the life he knew, away from the limelight, somewhere in the desert. He “went away into Arabia.” (Galatians 1:17) Moses similarly had to journey to the back side of the desert for a significant season. Even Jesus went into the wilderness after his baptism by John to confront the devil. When my wife and I reconciled after my fall, we instinctively knew our marriage had to be different. The old ways were dead. It took time to understand who we could be as a couple and begin to change. But we could not go back to the way things were. It took time away from ministry to be restored, to heal, to grow.
2. What about employment? Many clergy attempt to stay in ministry because it is what they know. Ministry is what they have been trained to do. In 1993, I was told to go away to another diocese and then come back. I couldn’t do that. I had a home and a community and three young children. So I did what I needed to do. I went to work. Clergy are almost always more trained and talented than they know and are usually very employable. They can and probably need to find secular work, at least for a time. The amount of time in secular work will vary greatly. Usually it will be measured in years, not months.
During this time, many will develop a faith and trust in God they never knew in their addictive state lived out in public life. After my own crisis hit, I remember walking into my apartment alone. As I walked across the threshold, a voice said, “Now we can do business.” I opened the Psalms and heard the voice of God. Abraham Lincoln said “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” Can you relate? It was during his time away that God taught the Apostle Paul about his “thorn in the flesh,” strength through weakness, how to view opposition, how to live with “plenty and want” and many other things he wrote about later. Discovering that God is sufficient for your needs and your ultimate source in life is a wonderful thing. You will never approach life quite the same way again. You will even begin to (I can’t believe I am writing this) thank Him for what has happened to you.
3. God will use our weakness to build grace, mercy and compassion into our lives. Many of us have been driven by inner demons like ego, fear, control, resentment and isolation. When we fall, suddenly we have an opportunity to bring the outside and inside together, to become more honest about who we really are. We may let others “see” us for the first time. This is where the recovering community is virtually indispensable. We recommend getting into a recovery group that discusses sexual addiction only. Why? We are sometimes asked, “Why don’t you talk about video games and other other internet addictions? The answer is: We don’t want to get off track or change the subject. Paul writes, “All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18 b) Sexual sin, especially for the Christian, is a spiritual problem of unique proportions too vast to explore here. Suffice it to say, there is enough territory to cover in our own addiction that we need to stay focused.
We understand that many people don’t want to talk about sexual challenges. But we must because it is important to our daily struggle and to those we seek to help. In this process of healing, we are likely to become more gentle with ourselves and by extension more compassionate and kind to others. We begin to change from the inside out. We are being prepared for “ministry” in whatever form it takes.
4. Sobriety is important. The purpose of the recovery period before entering back into Christian leadership is often misunderstood. Some Christian leaders (many in fact) use the time to become credentialed in counseling or even in sexual addiction professional work. This can be very helpful and certainly aid in the Christian leader adjusting to a new calling. Further training can also help us to serve out of our weakness, a significant way to help to others. But this further training should not be mistaken for sobriety. Personal sobriety means finding a way to not engage in fantasy, porn, masturbation and other sexually destructive behaviors. (By the way, if you think masturbation is harmless, I suggest you read Tim Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods.) We cannot do this alone. We need a process (most notably 12 Step work), community, service, sponsorship (both for us and by us), therapy and helpful boundaries. Without these, we will often slip back and engage in the old behaviors once again. This is not about perfection. It is about learning to let go. For years, unwilling to let go, I simply attended recovery meetings without being sober. I never undertook any of the above activities and commitments.Only when I “let go absolutely,” embraced sobriety, understood the lifelong nature of my addiction and submitted myself to a program of recovery was I able to enjoy the fruit of freedom.
Time does tend to heal but significant sobriety ought to be the norm before one returns to ministry. Some may object to this, or feel it is too harsh, pointing out that many functioning clergy engage in masturbation and porn yet are still employed. But that is not our problem. God has a time table for us all. We ourselves broke significant boundaries, which we either confessed or we were discovered engaging in. We must find the healthy way forward no matter what others do. God is interested in our soul’s health first. Employment, even when we believe we are “called”, is secondary. Restoration cannot and should not be rushed. Whatever losses we experience, career or otherwise, God will more than compensate for as we walk our unique path with him.
5. Am I damaged goods? Many Christian leaders think of themselves as having a certain reputation. Once having fallen, they may think of themselves as “less than.” This is the reason secrecy is so much a part of the addicted life as we attempt to protect our “moral standing” in the church and the world. I appeal to you not to think of yourself this way. Nearly all of of the leaders in the Bible including Abraham (liar), Moses (murderer), David (adulterer and murderer) and Paul (persecutor) engaged in immoral behavior. Even the lustful King David was called “a man after God’s own heart.” Could it be that part of what God did in their lives was to remove the false idol of trying to be what others think we are, trading transparency for respectability, in order to keep the ecclesiastical career going? All the time we may be dying inside?
Many of us have come to believe that God will actually use us more when we can let go of an embedded false image, that we will be freer to take greater risks to serve others and actually be more effective in helping them. The enemy wants us to believe ,”It is over for me.” God wants to us to believe, “Now we can do business. We are just getting started.” One day, if we haven’t seen it already, we will see this painful road as an important part of our equipping for future service. Romans 8:28 was never more apt. “ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.” Yes, even in this. God will not waste anything, even our pain, to include us in his plan to reach his world.
Jay Haug will be preaching at Church of Our Savior, Jacksonville Beach, 505 Beach Boulevard, on Sunday, July 19th at 9 and 11 am. We would love to meet you there as we address the gospel’s provision for lust, pornography and sexual addiction.
Jacob’s Well has a license to show the very informative and hopeful movie, The Heart of the Matter, finding light in the darkness of pornography. Please let us know if you are interested in showing this film to your church, Christian organization or men’s group. We are be willing to come and lead a discussion. Our goal is not to expose anyone’s porn use. It is is to inform the church and Christian leaders about how to respond to this growing and challenging problem in order to help the hurting and struggling people in our midst. The gospel has given us an extraordinary opportunity if we will take advantage of it.
Interested in finding out more about Jacob’s Well? We would be happy to sit down with you during the quieter summer months, enjoy a cup of coffee and talk about the services we provide. No strings attached. If you are out of the area, let’s talk on the phone. Call or text 904-635-8546.
At our recent seminar, Protecting Your Children From Internet Pornography, the following comments were received after the presentation.
“Very eye opening.”
“Very informative. Addressed all aspects of issue.”
“Critical and needed to be heard!” “Really helpful.”
“Thank you for all your honesty, humility, and for being brave to be real with us!”
“ Glad I attended tonight to help guide my kiddos.”
“All helpful. Statistics and parental guidance were great.”
“ All three parts were awesome.”
“It was most helpful to know that we as parents have the ability to enrich our children by being open with them.”
“Thank you so much.!”
“I just wanted to say that this was very difficult for me because it destroyed my marriage.”
For more information on bringing this 90 minute seminar to your church or Christian organization, please call, text or e-mail us. We also will have this seminar in audio and video form and hope to make it more widely available soon.
In The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien, Theoden, King of Rohan, hesitates to go to war against a large and determined enemy sent by Saroman to destroy his people. Theoden says defiantly to a conference of leaders, “I will not risk open war!.” Aragorn wisely replies, “Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.” Our society has unleashed open war upon our children in the form of 24/7 porn available in high definition on the internet, delivered straight to the palm of their hands. Shall we do nothing? Jacob’s Well does not engage in anti-pornography campaigns. Rather, we believe in educating and preparing parents, grandparents and guardians to help their children to walk in freedom, either before or after exposure.