By Chris McKenna
Educational Resource Manager
Prior to working at Covenant Eyes, I was a youth ministry director for six years. In this role, I was expected to attend large conferences. These massive, 3-4 day events with my peers and the nation’s top experts on student ministry were gold for me. I took copious notes and stalked certain speakers during break-out sessions, soaking up everything, while drinking way too much Mountain Dew.
But then I would come home, and the same thing happened almost every time – I refer to it as PCP, or “Post-Conference Paralysis.” I was left with an overwhelming feeling of “now what?” All of the brilliant concepts and Holy-Spirit prompted ideas seemed like a huge square peg in a round hole, competing for space with clearing out my email inbox, and ordering pizza for the evening youth group gathering, among a mountain of other seemingly “urgent” things.
Have you ever experienced this? Maybe you have PCP right now.
Fresh back from last week’s Set Free Global Summit, I’ve thought specifically about pastors and other local church leaders who attended, and I’ve wondered how many are left with a similar feeling of “now what?” We know what the issues are. The Porn Phenomenon study, conducted by The Barna Group, does a brilliant job of presenting us with page after page of survey data showing us that our hypersexualized culture has infiltrated the pews and our pulpits. Consider a few findings:
- 1 in 5 youth pastors and 1 in 7 senior pastors admit to using porn at times. That’s more than 50,000 U.S. church leaders.
- 41% of male, practicing Christians age 13-24 say they use porn regularly.
- 62% of teens and young adults report receiving a nude image from someone via text, email, social media or app.
Porn does not discriminate. Being a Jesus-lover inoculates some, but on any given Sunday, chances are there’s a porn addict in your church who is desperate for help—and sometimes he’s doing the preaching. And yet, only 7% of pastors report their church has a ministry program for those struggling with porn.
It’s time to get fired up, accept Josh McDowell’s “Call-to Arms” and boldly state that pornography is a direct affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It trades real freedom for bondage and real relationships for isolation and loneliness. It’s a counterfeit representation of the oneness we were meant to experience “in Christ alone.”
Ron DeHaas, co-founder and president of Covenant Eyes said, “I believe the Church is the solution. The Church must take the lead.” In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” There isn’t another plan for the Gospel! Each of you is part of the plan! The Church will carry the day.
The last section of The Porn Phenomenon offered some practical steps for church leaders to address the “now what?” feeling.
Reject the “Morality” of Self-Fulfillment
There are numerous articles in faith-based magazines and blogs about the “feed me” attitude prevalent in so many church-goers. This idea is that self-fulfillment is the highest moral good. Sadly, the church has been borderline complicit with supporters of the self-fulfillment movement with an emphasis on prosperity and safety.
Chasing after self-fulfillment is not new. In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon made it clear that chasing riches, big homes, and pleasure was like “chasing the wind.” He ends in Ecclesiastes 12:13 saying, “That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.”
In other words, we must counter the narrative that human beings need sex to survive. Instead, they need Jesus.
In John 6:35, we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”
Are we constantly reminding people that the only true satisfaction comes from Jesus Christ? Do we create environments where they can soak in the awe-inspiring, satisfying presence of the Holy Spirit? Are we teaching our people that we were created as spiritual beings before sexual beings? During the 167 hours in a week that they aren’t attending church, the world is telling them to adopt an attitude of “Me, me, me!” You have an hour to remind them to adopt an attitude of “Him, Him, Him!”
Rethink our Approach to Sexual Ethics
Sin is sin. It creates an element of separation between us and a Holy God. But, it seems that churches risk becoming the “sex police” by being overly dogmatic about sexual right and wrong, while being silent about spiritual attitudes that may be even more corrosive. When was the last time someone was called out at church for being greedy? Or prideful?
As mentioned in The Porn Phenomenon, C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity offers this pointed perspective on matters of flesh and spirit:
The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasure of power, or hatred….That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.
Does your church (or even your own attitude) have a tendency toward “disproportionate bias” with sexual sin? According to Woodrow Wilson, “When correcting a child, the goal is to apply light, not heat” and I think the same is true in our churches. Yes, shine a light in the dark places where porn addiction and sexual distortion thrive, but make sure your flashlight on this issue isn’t any brighter than the one you use towards other issues. Let’s leave judgment out.
Create Communities of Grace
In John 1:14, we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (emphasis mine).
Life is a constant struggle to find balance between grace and truth. I’ve found this to be abundantly true as a parent. Some situations are clearly “truth” issues. For example, “Don’t touch the stove, it’s hot!” is pretty black and white. But, when my kids come to me with issues of the heart, these are different because they are often accompanied by guilt and shame. With these issues, heavy doses of truth often act as an accelerant for more guilt and shame. On the other hand, a reaction full of grace, absent judgment, causes shame and guilt to shrivel and die.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” The beautiful combination of confession and prayer crush the power of shame and guilt. Ephesians 5:8 asks us to “live as children of light” because in the light, grace and mercy and peace can have their way, lifting heavy burdens from tired shoulders.
How would you describe the overall atmosphere of your church? Is it one of grace or truth? Is the senior pastor the most trustworthy and authentic person in the church? How can you, as a leader, model vulnerability in your own life? When it comes to leadership, John Maxwell states, “you replicate what you are.” Does your church have programs or environments that invite authentic, open, accountable, judgment-free sharing? According to Barna, “Successfully waging a battle against porn use can be done in the loving company of a community of grace.”
Present a Culturally Resonant Challenge to Pornography
The idea that one must choose to embrace learning, science and reason or be a student of religion, dogma and faith is prevalent. But, didn’t God invent science? If God is who He says He is, shouldn’t we find scientific evidence that points towards a Divine Creator instead of away from Him? In the case against pornography, it’s not just a list of Scriptures that tell us there’s a better way, but we now have a growing list of sound, scientific sources stating that pornography and sexual addiction adversely affect neurological activity in both genders and even disrupt sexual response in men.
In a cultural sense, current causes often use issues of human dignity, equality and fairness to push their agendas. These same issues exist in the case against pornography, giving churches a perfect opportunity to engage in critical, social justice conversations. The Porn Phenomenon provides an amazing list of talking points:
- Porn denies human dignity.
- Porn objectifies human bodies.
- Porn tells a false and inhumane story about people of color.
- Porn presents a picture of sex that is carnal, aggressive and often unrealistic.
- Porn is cruel, degrading and misogynistic, and distorts expectations of both masculinity and femininity.
- Porn destroys relationships, pathologizes sexuality and ruins the lives of children.
- The industry exploits and coerces actors, and by design or accident incites sex slavery and human trafficking.
- Porn treats human beings as commodities.
What if you were more familiar with these studies and statements? How could your church embrace science and culture as a means of furthering conversation about pornography? If we can do this well, then we might be more successful in promoting what Barna points out as the last “next step.”
Promote a Robust Biblical Counter-Narrative to Porn
The Porn Phenomenon provides this excellent explanation on page 124: “In stark contrast to porn’s lies, God’s word says that human beings are created in God’s image and thus are precious beyond compare. And sex is a God-created aspect of human life – it’s not a dirty word.”
Let’s go back to the very beginning. In Genesis 1:27, we read these amazing verses, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Next, verse 28 is basically telling Adam and Eve to procreate! “Be fruitful and multiply.” Sex is God’s idea! And not just for procreation, but also for pleasure (Gen. 2:23) and oneness (Gen. 2:24). These aspects of God’s design for sex stand in stark contrast to the false stories told by pornography. Church leaders have a massive opportunity to talk openly about sex and pornography, showing the massive distance between God’s plans and porn’s lies. Without conversation, both from the pulpit and within families, silence on God’s design for sex and sexuality actually whispers “this is taboo” or “this is shameful” and points curious minds towards the endless pages of answers provided by a simple Google search. Passive parenting is not an option in the digital age, where information is quick and cheap.
Is your church willing to tackle “the tough stuff”? Has your church equipped parents to have conversations about sex, sexuality, and God’s design for both? Since the average age of first exposure to explicit content online is around 10-11, how have you equipped your children and youth leaders on keeping kids from porn and on coaching kids on what to do when they encounter something inappropriate?
The distance between where you are today and the vision of your church you had while in Greensboro might seem enormous. But ask yourself this – how did anything ever get started at your church? Probably one prayer, one phone call, and one sermon at a time. Culture doesn’t change easily, and sin hates giving up ground it has taken in the sexual arena or any arena. Be persistent. Be courageous. Be bold. Remember what Jay Dennis said, “Start the conversation and allow God to move in ways that only He can move.”