By Lou Butterfield
It’s a Sunday morning and a brother in Christ answers the invitation, struggling down the aisle, with several problems immediately apparent. His pants are torn, he has blood streaming down his leg and the femur of his right leg is protruding through the skin. He has experienced some type of major trauma. He needs care and needs it immediately.
The elder in charge quickly goes over to him and is told by the Christian that he was just injured in a car wreck and needs the prayers of the church for healing. What does the elder do? I’m quite certain an ambulance would be called to take the man to the hospital and while the ambulance is in route, a prayer for healing would be in order.
Why would an ambulance be called? Doesn’t the elder believe in prayer? Of course, but he also understands the gravity of the situation. He realizes he is not an orthopedic surgeon and, although God is certainly capable of healing the member’s leg miraculously, none of us have witnessed such a healing in our lifetime. So he calls the ambulance, a necessary component toward proper healing of the brother’s leg.
The elder would feel no lack of confidence, no abandonment of his duties, no worries about the church accusing him of not being qualified to be an elder, because it was apparent that operating on the broken leg was way out of his league. But he did provide the help that was needed in the healing of the Christian? Prayer would be a welcome and necessary part of the healing process.
It’s the next Sunday and another brother answers the invitation with no problems immediately apparent. This individual confesses to the elder in charge that he has been struggling with sexual addiction, pornography to be exact. He confesses that his addiction was about to destroy his family, and he needs the prayers of the church for healing. What does the elder do?
More likely than not, the elder would make some sort of statement to the church that this Christian has come asking the prayers of the church for some struggles he was having. He would then lead a prayer, and rightfully so, asking God to help the brother and to heal him. Perhaps after services were concluded, the elder would express to the brother his appreciation for his willingness to confess this sin, and then go on to make some sort of statement of assurance that God had forgiven him, which is absolutely true. But is the member free from the addiction? Absolutely not! (Thanks to Dr. Adrian Hickmon, for this illustration idea.)
Marnie Farree, Executive and Clinical Director of the Bethesda Workshops in Nashville, Tenn., says in all her years of helping both men and women who were caught up in the addiction of pornography, although she is confident God has the power to instantly heal, not one time has she witnessed such healing from this addiction. It takes a lot of work for healing to take place.
For many elders, including me when I was serving as an elder, I simply had no idea what to do, how to help, or where to start when such an addiction was confessed. The fact of the matter is this sin is seldom confessed because of the shame Satan attaches to it and the general attitude in many of our churches to keep our heads firmly in the sand when it comes to issues of sexuality. So the only thing I knew to do was pray. Then I would send the repentant and forgiven brother on his way, assuming his struggles were now over. I couldn’t have been more wrong nor could I have been doing a greater disservice to my brother by sending him on his way without pointing the way to the healing he so desperately needed. I didn’t know what to do, but I was certainly capable of researching and coming up with answers.
First, as elders, we need to understand that sexual addiction to pornography is a huge problem and is present in our congregations. “Sexual sin has long been the intentionally, unseen, dead elephant in the pews of many congregations…the church looks on, fearful and frozen in their self-imposed silence”(Ryan Butterfield, CSAT, in The Mouse Trap, Dangers of Internet Pornography.)
Many statistics point out the pervasiveness of this sin. “Every second of every day, there are over 28,000 Internet users viewing pornography” (TopTenReviews.com). “First exposure to pornography on the Internet is at about age 8-11” (Macleans.com).“Over 50% of Christian men regularly view pornography” (ChristiaNet.Inc.). We also need to realize that addiction to pornography is not just a male issue. “Roughly 9.3 million females view pornography every year” (Nielsen/Net Ratings). Just today as I write this, I received two emails, one from a female who is so shamed by her addiction to pornography and her ostracization by the church that she is in total misery. The other was from a long-time friend who has hidden his addiction for years thinking the church neither cared nor would continue to allow him to attend if his secret was revealed.
Secondly, as elders, we need to lead our churches in becoming “safe places” so all of us, as sinners, may confess whatever our sins happen to be, expecting and receiving help without fear of being considered one of the unclean. We need to practice the truth that “We are all beggars telling others where they can get a loaf of bread.”
Thirdly, as elders, we need to provide, or at least point the way to, the proper type of professional help for those who are struggling with sexual addiction. Although dentists are professionals and help care for those with dental problems, one wouldn’t expect a dentist to operate on the brother with the femur sticking out of his leg. There are many good therapists, specializing in a number of areas, but most are not trained in the area of sexual addiction. Seek out a Christian, Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT.) They have gone through extensive training in this area and are best equipped to provide the care necessary to lead the sexual addict in the path of healing. Many churches have on staff those who are trained in the area of Biblical counseling. But, as is the case with most addicts, sexual addicts don’t need to be told how sinful they are and how, if they continue in this behavior, they will not be pleasing to God. They already understand that they are sinners, full of shame and guilt. They need proper guidance to help, hope, and healing.
Two of the premier facilities for helping those struggling with sexual addiction, with short weeklong intensives are Bethesda Workshops (www.BethesdaWorkshops.org) and Capstone Treatment Center (www.capstonetreatmentcenter.com)
Fourthly, as elders, we need to provide educational opportunities that will allow the entire church to learn and be forewarned concerning all types of sexual sin. Several weekend seminars are available for churches that want to be educated in this area. Our children, for example, need to learn why viewing pornography, sexting, camming, cybersex, going into chat rooms, etc., is wrong, not just that it is wrong. We need to begin at very early ages with our children, by providing parents with the information they need to––age appropriately––teach their kids at home. Long gone are the days when a parent can have “the talk” with their kids and assume they know everything they need to know. If the kids are not getting proper information at home, they will either get it from their school friends out behind the gym or from the Internet. The church needs to be prepared to step in and provide Godly teaching.
Fifthly, as elders, (or anyone involved in counseling) we need to follow the teachings of the apostle Paul in Galatians 6:6, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”
May God bless us with wisdom and action as we address the problem of sexual addiction in our churches.
(Lou Butterfield, Ed.D., is the Executive Producer of an 18-lesson DVD series called The Mouse Trap, Dangers of Internet Pornography. He may be contacted at: email@example.com
Elders Facing the Addictive Epidemic of Pornography
By Lou Butterfield