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'Porn in the pew': How churches should help members dealing with addiction

'Porn in the pew': How churches should help members dealing with addiction

As studies have shown that about two-thirds of Christian men view pornography at least once a month, a leading addiction recovery expert has shared ways churches should respond to the issue of porn addiction in their pews and pulpits.

Mark Denison, co-founder of the national recovery ministry There’s Still Hope and author of the 2018 book Porn in the Pew: Confronting the Issue Nobody Wants to Talk About, recently joined pastors on a webinar hosted by the pornography accountability software company Covenant Eyes. 

Denison, who himself has suffered from porn addiction in the past, discussed the latest data on sex and porn addiction within the church and among pastors. He presented data showing that the majority of Christian men and 37 percent of pastors admit having a struggle with pornography. 

“Sixty-two percent of evangelical men view porn, compared to 64 percent of the general population,” Denison said, citing statistics from Proven Men Ministries. "How bad is the problem? Christians view porn almost as much as non-Christians and that should scare every pastor that is watching this.”

“As a pastor, you are thinking, ‘How do I respond to this?’” 

He suggested seven things that churches can do to effectively minister to members currently struggling with porn and sexual addiction.

The first thing they must do, he said, is to “recognize the magnitude of the problem.” 

“You have to know as a pastor that it is as bad as what we are saying,” Denison explained. “If you are an older pastor, perhaps you weren’t raised in the age of the internet so you don’t recognize the magnitude of the problem.”

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He called on churches to “create a culture of redemption” that will let churchgoers know that it is safe for them to reveal their struggles with porn.  

“In your teachings and programming, make it very clear that you are for the addict and that God is for the addict,” he said. “[Make it clear] that his addiction has not disqualified him from living a Christian life and serving in the church.” 

Next, Denison called on churches to appoint and train an “addiction ministry leader.” 

“[This is] someone in your church who is trained in dealing with addiction,” he said.  “Perhaps you need to send someone to a Celebrate Recovery training seminary. They do them all the time. Have someone who is specialized to help with this problem.” 

Denison went on to suggest that churches should start men’s and women’s groups if they don’t have them already. 

“We do a lot of couples groups in churches,” he said. “But I want to suggest to you that dealing with the real issues such as temptation and sex and addiction and pornography, if these real issues can best be dealt with men and women together then Jesus would not have spent His entire life just with men.

“His focus was to disciple men. Men leading men and women leading women. I don’t work with women. My wife works with women.”

Denison also called on churches to host 12-step groups such as Sexaholics Anonymous. 

“There are many of them out there,” he said. “It seems like today, [Alchoholics Anonymous] groups have an easy time finding a landing spot in churches. But Sexaholics Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous struggle to find churches to say that ‘You are welcome here.’ Open your church to these groups.”

Churches should also hold annual events where they bring in speakers to address pornography addiction. 

“We do a program called ‘Pancakes and Porn,’ where we come in and for three hours on a Sunday morning, meet with the men and have pancakes and we go through this,” he said. “[My wife] Beth and I do a 30-minute presentation at churches. It is usually on Sunday mornings but can be done for couples where we share our story and we share hope and recovery.’

“That is why we are called ‘There Is Still Hope.' [It’s] for the couples that are struggling with this. If it not us, find somebody else and host annual events.”

Lastly, Denison stressed that churches need to find a way to provide addiction counseling.  

“The best way to do that is with a certified sex addiction therapist,” he said. “But if you don’t have one in your area, then find others that have some level of training in this area.”

He warned pastors not to “do this yourself.” 

“We get calls all the time from pastors who reach out to me. Either they knew me or they found our ministry somewhere,” he said. “They say, ‘This is all you do 24/7. Will you talk to this guy?’ Yesterday, I talked to three new guys in two different countries and a couple of different states that came just because of their pastors saying, ‘We need someone who specializes in this area.’” 

Churches should look to hold their pastors accountable as well, he stressed, noting that about 40 percent of the men that There’s Still Hope works with are pastors. 

In cases where pastors have fallen due to porn addiction, Denison urged churches to respond in six ways. 

He stressed that churches should “lead with redemption.” 

“The natural instinct is ‘let’s just protect everything and let’s get this guy out the door as quickly as we can so we can just move on down the street and not be tied to the sin or tied to what has happened,’” Denison detailed. “So many times it destroys the individual. I am not saying that a pastor, when he falls, has to stay on staff of a church. But what I am saying is we have to redeem this guy and have to minister to the pastor that falls and provide for him the tools and resources to get well.” 

In addition to “responding biblically,” churches should also “react compassionately.” 

“I have yet to meet the man or woman who wanted to put every dark secret of the pastor up on the video screen in church for everybody to see,” he said. 

For pastors that have lost their jobs and career because of their porn struggles, Denison said that churches and churchgoers should look to “provide financially” for the pastors and their families. 

“Whenever a pastor falls and his salary is taken away from him, you have one or two choices. You are going to get criticized from either side,” he said. “Too much grace or not enough. It’s always better to be criticized for exercising too much. This man has a wife and has kids. He is in a crisis mode and has lost his ministry and lost his career.” 

He also encouraged churches to “plan proactively” by having “a plan in place in case it ever happens.”

“Because it will happen,” Denison contended. 

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