Nearly every pastor and Christian leader asks themselves how to respond well in this confusing cultural moment. So am I.
Our most powerful act of leadership comes in our example. If you preach or teach, you’ve experienced that terrible feeling that you are not living what you’re teaching. Inside your head, you hear the Spirit’s conviction: “Hypocrite, how can you tell others to do what you are not doing?”
Healthy church leaders honestly face their own sexuality. A spiritual leader’s first job is to “keep watch over yourselves” (Acts 20:28 NIV) to set an example. When we courageously face our own sexual sin and embrace the Father’s gracious forgiveness, we can lead with humble authenticity as we invite people to follow our example.
Be an example, a typoi
Paul told the spiritual leaders of the Ephesian church: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
In all arenas, including the sexual realm, we are to be examples to the flock, to those who are entrusted to us (1 Peter 5:3). The Greek word used in 1 Peter 5:3 for “examples” is typoi, which refers to types or patterns, so we serve as models for the people to follow.
How can we serve as typoi in the sexual arena?
Face the truth about you
We start with confession, facing the truth about ourselves. In twelve-step recovery programs, the fourth step is to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. In Psalm 139:23–24, King David prayed,
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Ask God to know your heart in sexual matters, to test you and know your thoughts. See if there is any sexually offensive way in you. This can be a painful process, but a necessary one for divine healing, like opening a wound and cleaning out the infection.
As I look back over my sexual history, I regret things I did as a teenager. Some of my sexual behavior with girlfriends remains among the greatest regrets of my life. It’s helpful to me in helping others to face how deeply those actions scarred my person, even though I was a virgin when I married.
Growing up I did not see pornography, but when we were on the verge of planting our church, I remember scanning through channels on the TV late at night. In those days, people called it “Picasso porn” because fuzzy images would come through on a channel that wasn’t part of your TV package. The images grabbed my eyes and I looked. I’d bounce back to other channels and then go back and glance again. Even now I as recall the experience I am ashamed of it, even though I know God has forgiven me.
Your sexual history, almost certainly, contains sin over which you feel horrible. And, not to make you feel worse, but let’s widen the lens to include how you have treated sexual minorities. Phrases like “that’s so gay” may have been in your conversation. Thinking back, did you ever use slurs to refer to homosexuals? Did you ever laugh at or ignore a gay peer as he or she was ruthlessly teased? What about how you have treated women or men? Have you whistled at them? Lusted after them? Seduced them? Objectified them?
None of us are without sin.
Honestly address your current reality
It’s crucial to face what’s going on with you sexually right now. If you are in any spiritual leadership, your responsibility before God is greater (James 3:1). So, if you are caught in a sexual addiction or immoral relationship, repent and kill that sin (Romans 8:13). Jesus called us to severe action when he said, metaphorically, pluck out your eye and cut off your hand (Matthew 5:29–30). The point is not sexual perfection, but that you are currently clear with God. Since it’s almost impossible to break sexual sin by yourself, it is likely that you will need professional help.
To set an example requires facing your own temptations and prejudices. You have likely told others to hold themselves accountable and set up safeguards, but have you done this in your own life?
I use Covenant Eyes on my electronic devices that access the internet. My accountability partners who get the report include my wife, a fellow pastor, an elder, and one of my sons. Believe me, I do not want to let them down! My decades-long friend Jeff Jones, pastor of Chase Oaks Church, and I meet every Monday morning to encourage each other to run the race for Christ, including in the sexual realm. I have cameras in my office. Openness and transparency are vital.
You know what to do with it
As a spiritual leader, you know what to do with your sexual sin, but have you done it?
Have you repented of your immorality, your lust, your objectification of others? Seriously!
We give the advice to everyone else, but have we done it ourselves? When you live in sexual shame and guilt, you cripple your spiritual influence for Christ.
Do what you tell others to do: repent and receive God’s amazing grace for you.
Let me remind you of what you know already. The Father loves you unconditionally, unfailingly. Jesus Christ died for you not because you are a good person or a spiritual leader, but he died for you when you were a sinner and because you were a sinner, including being a sexual sinner (Romans 5:8).
Remember your Father’s unconditional love
While I’ve known God loves me since I was a little boy and sang the song, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” it was in 2017 that the Father vividly impressed on me the reality of his unconditional love.
After twenty years of serving our church, the elders gave me a sabbatical. It was filled with wonderful times, but the most amazing experience was a spiritual encounter with God in my heart in which I experienced him as my Father and I was a five-year-old boy.
He held me and assured me that he loved me. In my mind, I protested that I sinned, and I knew he did not like that.
He laughed and hugged me tighter, assuring me not just that I was already forgiven in Christ but that my sin did not diminish his love in the slightest bit, and to think otherwise was simply laughable.
I reveled in the Father’s unconditional love for me.
I want you to experience again his love for you, the precious love that you already know is real.
Let’s set an example for others in these sexually confusing times.