Ask adult Christians what should be done if their pastor is using pornography, and 41% say “He/she should be fired or asked to resign.”* Another 29% say the pastor should take a leave of absence until he/she stops using porn. Those over 50 years of age were more adamant about that—47% of age 51-69 and 57% of age 70+ were ready to can the pastor. But only 35% of age 25-30 and 27% of age 31-50 felt that way.
Wow! If that were the case, a lot of pastors would be out of a job! More than half (57%) of pastors say they are either currently struggling (14%) or have struggled in the past (43%) with pornography, and 33% of the ones currently struggling say they “are addicted” to porn.
Among youth pastors, the numbers are higher: 64% say they are struggling (21%) or have struggled in the past (43%). A whopping 56% of those currently struggling say they “are addicted” to porn.
It is not surprising that pastors think a little differently than the 41% of lay people who say pastors should be fired. Only 8% of pastors think that a pastor “should be fired or asked to resign” if found using porn.
And it is even less surprising to find out that 55% of those using porn “live in constant fear of being discovered.” No kidding! I know of many pastors who, upon being discovered, lose their careers, their families, their homes, their friends, everything. Some have even ended their own lives as a result of being discovered.
What solutions do pastors suggest?
- 82% said they should find a professional counselor.
- 59% said they should find “a group of mature Christians who can hold him accountable.”
- Only 1% of the pastors said that the congregation should be told.
But congregations are unaware of the scope of the problem. Awareness precedes understanding, and understanding precedes action. Once the people understand how addictive porn is and recognize that pastors are as prone to the sin as anyone else, they can take action.
If there is no problem among your pastors, that’s great! But as the pastors themselves say, accountability is the best preventive medicine. How devastating it would be to coast along, thinking there will be no problem, only to find out you need to rehabilitate or replace a key staff person. How disrupting to the ministry, how costly for the counseling, how humiliating for the staff—all of which could be headed off by installing Covenant Eyes on all of the staff computers to maintain accountability and have open and transparent conversations.
It would be like the Black Plague on the church if all of the struggling pastors had to resign. I believe they need help, not banishment. I also believe we need to educate the church that porn is a pervasive problem, and pastors are human, too. If we force pastors to live in constant fear, we force them to NOT seek help, the very help they know is needed.
The majority of those who struggle know what must be done–they need professional counseling along with accountability partners. But they aren’t going to seek that help if they can’t admit they struggle, and they can’t admit they struggle if they know they’re out the door the next minute. We need to meet them at the foot of the cross, where Christ took on the burden of our sins, as well as those of our pastors.
*All data in this article are from The Porn Phenomenon, a 2016 study by the Barna Group.