I was a student at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California when Leadership Journal came on the scene in 1980. I’ve been a fan ever since. So when they asked to excerpt some of my story from my book, Ashamed No More, for the Fall 2013 issue (http://bit.ly/1fQBgnn) you can imagine it was a bittersweet opportunity. On the one hand, to have something I’ve written published in a journal I so respect and that circulates among so many of my peers is an exciting thing. On the other, the story is about my brokenness and struggles and is terrifically humbling.
Yes, I see the irony. I want to be a success, to have my peers value my contributions to the church. But the Gospel isn’t about me and my accomplishments. Genuine service in Christ always comes out of humility. Like anyone else I’d like to be admired and honored. But to be healthy and growing I have to face reality. The Gospel of Jesus ceaselessly brings us back to these twin truths: we are not really as good as we’d like to think we are; and we are more wildly and extravagantly loved than we have any idea we are.
So my story, really, isn’t much about me. It’s about God and others. That’s the spirit in which it is offered, and the spirit in which it will best be used. We grow most steadily when we regularly are checking our motives.
Leadership Journal allowed me to add a “sidebar” to the excerpt from the book, one which addresses ministry leaders and clergy specifically. For space it had to be edited down. Here is the full sidebar I wrote. If you care for a healthy leadership of Christian ministry in all it’s forms, campus leaders, youth leaders, pastors, church and missions and ministry organizations staff, please read this and forward it to everyone you know. We have an enormous challenge in front of us to help all our servant leaders.
The Struggle Clergy Have
That we have enormous numbers of faithful, called and good people in Christian leadership today who are struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors is beyond dispute. In most cases, they are struggling alone, ashamed of the affliction they have unintentionally developed, frightened of the consequences should their thoughts and actions become known.
Throughout the history of the people of God, a number of us have stumbled into compulsive sex as a lifestyle (think of Samson) or have made serious errors of sexual judgment (think of David). That is the reality of human nature, and those who haven’t struggled with their sexuality have struggled with something else. We are all broken people and we all need mercy.
However, one of the consequences of the Internet is that the very human and very natural vulnerability we all have around our sexuality is being exploited by a seemingly endless supply of anonymous and highly addictive sexual images, material and avenues of sexual connection.
Ministry leaders are not immune. In fact, what I’ve learned as I’ve pursued my own recovery and become available to help others is that clergy are particularly vulnerable. Because of the link between spirituality and sexuality, personal wiring, previous wounds, burnout and boredom, I believe ministry leaders are especially susceptible to stumbling into a compulsive misuse of their sexuality.
Once a leader’s sexual thinking and behavior has become compulsive, alarming messages, moralizing and threats will not be effective in helping them change. These tactics only make the addiction worse. What is effective is honesty and love, specific tools and healthy community. These are non-negotiable.
Fortunately, help is emerging from different sources, and ironically clergy searching for help can find some on the Internet. A few of the sites that offer hope and help are: Samson Society; Operation Integrity; Seven Places Ministries; Faithful and True; XXXChurch; ASI247; and Covenant Eye’s Breaking Free blog. These sites are all easy to find with simple web searches.
But why can’t the church become the place of truth and grace, of safety and invitation, of nurture and healing that Jesus calls it to be? It’s time to train and equip all of our leaders at every level how to understand compulsive sexual behavior and how to help people work through it to healing and health.
And especially we must help our leaders. Tenderly and carefully freeing and restoring all of our servant leaders is a genuine way to honor the heart of the One we serve. Remember it was said of him, “a bruised reed he will not break and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”
–T. C. Ryan