Your personal sexual integrity is as important as anything else. A pastor friend of mine put it this way: Sexual sin among ministers is the atomic bomb. Nothing else can destroy so much, so fast. It will wreak havoc and destruction in the church on a scale that nothing else can.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. –Ephesians 5:3
Sexual integrity is at least as important as theological integrity. It might even be more important, because some theological error can be corrected in the process of ongoing ministry, as in the ministry of Apollos. I laid a few theological eggs myself early in my ministry. I wince to think about them. But those errors are recoverable. A failure of sexual integrity, however, usually slams the door to ministry.
I remember a young guy who came to my church as youth pastor right after I’d left to go to college. He’d been at it for three or four months, and word got back to me: he’d fondled a couple of the girls in the youth group… and boom, just like that, his ministry was over. Makes me wonder what he’s doing now. Building maintenance? Insurance? Who knows.
Think of your pastor. Which of the following three sins would provoke the strongest reaction from your church if he were found to have committed it?
- Lying to the finance committee about his expenditures
- Losing his temper and cussing someone out at a ballgame
- Shopping at an adult bookstore
Now answer this: which one would the press jump on?
You see? It’s the atomic bomb.
A few years ago, every TV news station in our area showed up at my church because one of our fringe members committed a sex crime. It had nothing to do with our church or its leadership, but they came anyway, and they were on the hunt. The 5:00 news reports called him our “youth pastor.”
We must remember that the reputation of Christ is on the line.
Many capable authors have written on sexual sin, so rather than try to write one of my own, I’d like to suggest a few points of application, and then see what you might have to add.
Commit to biblical sexual integrity.
Living chastely is, in my opinion, the largest challenge of the Christian life in our culture. Think of all the people who would be willing to become Christians if there were no sexual restrictions! Are you fully, wholeheartedly to living chastely in thought and action, limiting all your sexual activity to the secure confines of holy marriage?
If not, maybe ministry isn’t for you.
Read this sentence very slowly: Sexual integrity means no pornography.
It’s everywhere now: you can get it on your phone, for crying out loud. Get a filter, get accountability, do whatever you have to do, but stay away. It is deadly to your soul.
Hedges in relationships
Whether you’re single or married, it is important for you to have boundaries you respect in relationships with the opposite sex. Typical hedges with members of the opposite sex include things like: do not meet alone behind a closed door; do not dine alone with them; do not ride alone in a car with them. Take care about your conversation, too: be respectful, not flirtatious, and include the other’s spouse in conversation and community whenever possible.
Nancy Leigh De Moss has a good article on the topic from a woman’s perspective.
These days, you also need to be careful with younger people of the same sex. If you’re a 35 year old man, regardless of your integrity or marital status, if you spend lots of alone time with a 14 year old boy—even if it’s for discipleship—it can arouse suspicions. It may be silly, but it’s real. We have to protect the church by staying way above reproach. One voiced accusation, even if it’s false, can set off a firestorm of panic and distrust that can devastate the church. (In cases like this, a simple fix is to meet in public places.)
Faithfulness in marriage
I’d like to quote from a fellow pastor in my area, whose blog post on this I thought was right on:
“If she’s not your wife, then she’s not yours to touch, love, know the intimate emotions of, call late at night, write emotional emails or flirtatious texts to, or daydream about. She’s not yours. She belongs to another man, if not the one she’s married to then the one she will marry. She belongs to God. So do you. If you are toying with any of the things I just mentioned–calling, texting, emailing, or even daydreaming about a woman who is not your wife–you are playing with fire. Rest assured, if you continue, it will spread and burn every square inch of your life.”
Have standards for media consumption
Here’s a question: do you have a standard for movies or TV that you will not watch because of its sexual content? No? Then you should get one. There are kinds of media that you simply don’t need to see. Our culture doesn’t blink at highly sexualized programming… but we should. Pick another movie. Change the channel.
Learn to Confess
Ok. Everyone who wants to share their most secret, depraved thoughts with someone else, raise their hand. Anyone? That’s what I thought. Me neither.
Real accountability for sexual integrity is hard. The last thing I ever want to do is confess my sin… and sexual sin, last of all. It is, however, the path to freedom. Drag it into the light, and it loses its power over you. If you’re in the grip of temptation, find a trusted friend in Christ, and confess.
Obviously, there’s much, much more that could be said here. This post is a draft for the sex chapter of the forthcoming book on seminary, so help me: what would you add to what I’ve written? What books or practices or resources have been helpful to you?