Sexual Sin Struggles and the Great Commission - Radical

Sexual Sin Struggles and the Great Commission

Is it possible to overstate the impact that pornography, sexual sin, and sexual addiction have on the work of Christ’s church on earth?

Is there a direct correlation between a believer’s sexual struggles and their ability/availability in fulfilling their role in the Great Commission? These two concepts are not often addressed together. But shouldn’t they be? What do pornography and other forms of sexual addiction have to do with the Great Commission?

Jesus’ Last Words

Jesus’ last words to his disciples before his ascension into Heaven were…

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Most pastors would probably agree that there is less fulfillment of this Commission going on today than should be. Local disciple-making is painfully lacking. Many churches experience an enormous void in lay leadership. They find it difficult to secure Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, men’s and women’s ministry mentors, elders, deacons, etc. Beyond the local implications, Christ’s church is sending far too few people to the nations. We have an alarmingly small number of American Christians going to another part of the world to spread the good news of the gospel.

While addiction to pornography and other manifestations of sexual sin are not our only problem, their impact extends to everything that the church does. While perhaps not provable, it seems clear that pornography and sexual sin and addiction are a leading reason that Christ’s church is not fulfilling the Great Commission to the extent we could and should.

Does Sexual Sin Affected Missions?

Looking at Jesus’ first phrase from the Great Commission reveals quite a lot more than we might think at first glance.

“Go, therefore…”

Porn and other sexual sins paralyze believers. We get stuck. Our motivation evaporates because of distraction, shame, or any other number of intervening factors. These factors cause us to isolate ourselves, removing ourselves from close, authentic relationships that stimulate us to love and do good deeds. We cannot and do not focus on the work we have been given as a Christ-follower, which is to go to those within our sphere of influence who need to hear the gospel. We are called to go, but sexual sin causes us to stay put.

“and make disciples…”

To make disciples is to allow God to use our availability and obedience, It makes us part of a process in another person’s life in which he/she becomes someone who is growing in his/her faith and love for the Lord. We make disciples by spending time and investing in their lives, modeling faith and love through how we live our own lives. If we are enslaved to porn and sex, we cannot live a life of integrity, consistently modeling the faith and love of a growing believer.

Even if we act as if we are, a close discipleship relationship with another person will (likely) eventually reveal our inconsistency. Fearing this, most believers with a porn problem avoid entering into close relationships with other believers. The net result is that they are not making disciples. The church experiences a void in which far too few people are fulfilling this call from Jesus.

“of all nations…”

If so many within the church are already not going or making disciples to those in our immediate proximity because of being sidelined by porn and other sexual sin, how much exponentially greater is the impact on sharing the gospel with “all nations?” Sexual struggles keep a tremendous number of believers from even considering that they could be used in an international context to spread the gospel. In a sermon at Passion 2007, John Piper referenced a mission conference in which George Verwer, the head of Operation Mobilization, spoke.

“Verwer’s burden in that conference was the tragic number of young people (like many of you) who at one point in their lives dreamed of radical obedience to Jesus and were joyfully willing to lay down their lives and sacrifice anything to make Jesus known among the nations, but then faded away into useless, American prosperity because of a gnawing sense of unworthiness and guilt over sexual failure that gradually gave way to spiritual powerlessness and the dead-end dream of the middle-class security and comfort. 1

Piper’s view

Piper’s view was that the problem a “tragic number” of young people face is not an unwillingness to go to the nations. Rather, it’s a feeling of disqualification or neutralization based on their sexual failures. Piper says that what seems so tragic…

“…is that so many young people were being lost in the cause of Christ’s mission because they were not taught how to deal with the guilt of sexual failure. Note carefully how I am saying it: They were not taught how to deal with the guilt of sexual failure. The problem is not just how to not to fail. The problem is how to deal with failure so that it doesn’t sweep you away into a whole life of wasted middle-class mediocrity with no impact for Christ. 2

An absence of men in missions

At my home church, we frequently commission people who have been called to serve Christ by taking the gospel to the nations. They do this either in short-, mid-, or long-term context. One thing I frequently notice is the glaring absence of men. My observation has been that in typical mid-term commissioning of 15+ people, all but 1 or 2 of them are single women. Pornography and sexual sin is certainly not isolated to men. But statistically, it is a much higher percentage. What I see when I look at a long row of mostly women going to “all nations” is evidence of Piper’s analysis.

Further evidence is found in an article by Greg Mathias, Associate Director of International Missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He states that research shows the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention “estimates up to 70-80% of their applicants every year have some sort of pornography history, and many of these applicants are either slowed down in the application process or stopped all together…These are rough estimates. More research needs to be done in order to provide an accurate picture of pornography usage among IMB applicants. Also, these numbers do not take into account other sexual sins and deviations which hinder or stop applicants in the process.3

What Can the Church Do?

While most pastors and church leaders acknowledge that pornography and sexual brokenness are among the greatest threats to the church today, only 7% of their churches offer any solution whatsoever to people who struggle4.

How is it possible that the church can both recognize the significance of the problem but offer no solutions? Before criticizing the church too harshly, we must recognize some common truths.

First, the church has only recently begun to address sexual brokenness openly, and to stop treating it as a “taboo” topic. We are behind the trend. Second, in many churches without solutions, the problem is not that they do not care. But rather the problem is they simply do not know what to do. The issue is overwhelming. It is difficult to know where to start. But not knowing where to start is not good enough.

Knowing that the church must engage with its members who are enslaved to pornography and sexual sin, what are some tangible steps for church leaders to take?

1. Educate Yourself

In any battle, job number one is to understand the issue and acclimate oneself to what is going on. For too long the church has skirted the problem of porn and sexual brokenness by preaching “don’t do it.” We hoped that will work. Grasping the extent of the porn epidemic involves not only understanding the spiritual implications.

We must also understand the physical/chemical and behavioral ones as well. Pornography and addictive sexual sin don’t only affect a person spiritually. There is a hijacking of the brain and body going on as well. Often this has been occurring and building since before puberty. By the time they realize the effects, the damage seems permanent.

But it doesn’t have to be! There is hope for a Christian whose sexual struggles seem to bind up their whole life. But it will require the gracious, compassionate help of many people, including the leaders of their churches.

2. Communicate a Grace Message

An important thing to remember is this. Most Christians who compulsively struggle with sexual sin don’t want to. They may at some point have believed the lie that it was a harmless, victimless crime, but no longer. Now they feel trapped. They feel controlled by the behavior they have come to understand is destroying them.

But fear of rejection from other Christians keeps them hiding in isolation. Sermons that focus solely on behavior modification reinforce their beliefs. Even well-intentioned sermons – when focusing more on behavior than the driving beliefs behind them – can drive addicted believers deeper into hiding.

Leaders must change the narrative. They must purposefully choose a message that focuses on what the finished work of Christ has done rather than on sin-management. We must remember Paul’s message that God’s kindness leads us to repent. We must communicate the grace, unconditional love, and kindness of God as it relates to habitual struggles with sin.

3. Create a Safe, “Me Too” Culture

When it comes to confessing sin, nobody likes to go first. Fear and shame tell an isolated person, “no one would understand,” and “if they knew, they’d want nothing to do with me.” Church leaders have the opportunity to dispel this lie of our enemy by going first. In addition to preaching grace-filled messages that accentuate the unconditional love of God, pastors should also preach transparently. They should share their own experience with receiving grace for their own sin struggles. Too often we put our leaders on pedestals. Or at least suggest that they must not continue to have any struggles with sin.

This is unfair to both the leaders and the congregations. It puts pressure on leaders to be perfect – consequently making them feel unsafe to confess, just like their members. It creates an artificial “holiness gap” that strugglers perceive because they never hear anything to which they can say “me too!” We must allow pastors to be real people with real struggles. They should preach real hope and solutions we can relate to.

4. Cooperate with Qualified Ministry Partners

Pastors, elders, and church leaders, please understand this important truth. You can’t do this alone! The epidemic of pornography and sexual brokenness within Christ’s church is a tidal wave. It is too big for any one of us to fight or address alone. Plus, most of our church leaders have not received any training specific to sexual addiction or compulsions. To try and adequately address the issue without the correct understanding would be overwhelming. It can even possibly be a harmful injustice to those who are struggling.

Instead, church leaders should get to know qualified people who have education and expertise in these areas. There are a growing number of therapists who have specialized training in sexual addiction. Many of these do a great job of working together with church leaders. They provide a holistic recovery approach to struggling Christians.

There are also ministries, like Awaken. These ministries specialize in offering a Christ-centered process-driven approach to recovery from sexual sin & addiction. Ministry specialists can help your church become one of a growing number providing specific solutions to the porn problem. They can help you make sure the number doesn’t stay at 7%. We are ready to help you begin to make the changes within your church so that your people will know that it’s a safe place.

Christ is With Us

Are you ready and willing to walk into these murky waters? Are you willing to be the instrument God uses to pull his people out of the pit of destruction? It will require an investment, and it will not be easy. But it is the calling of anyone in ministry leadership. Shepherding the sheep means seeking them out when they’ve wandered away and are in trouble. And then gently, lovingly bringing them back.

You won’t be alone. Even in the difficult, sometimes discouraging work of helping people who are sexually broken, remember the final promise Christ gave in the Great Commission…

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


Sources:

  1. John Piper, “How to Deal with the Guilt of Sexual Failure for the Glory of Christ and His Global Cause.” January 4, 2007, Passion 2007 Atlanta GA.
  2. Ibid
  3. “Is Bad Sex Killing the Great Commission?” by Greg Matthias.
  4. “The Porn Phenomenon: The Impact of Pornography in the Digital Age,” by The Barna Group & Josh McDowell Ministry (a Cru Ministry), p.115.

Greg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in January of 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey have experienced deep healing & restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken Recovery, they walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness.

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