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Reader Question: What do you do when your husband uses porn but he's also in the ministry? What do you do when your husband is in the ministry and you catch him using porn?

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and then give my thoughts. Then I invite you to leave yours in the comments! If we can all chime in, we can help encourage one another.

This week’s question is a really heartbreaking one. My heart is heavy just reading and answering it, and I’ve been praying for this woman all morning. She left a comment recently, saying:

I am mulling over how to reconfront my husband this time. I’ve done the tears. I’ve done the cold clinical confrontation. I’ve done the angry confrontation. Nothing changes because he won’t get accountable and he always says its the last time and I always believe him.

My problem is that we are both in ministry, and although I know this only compounds the urgency with which this problem deserves to be handled, I can’t get past all the what ifs of what could happen if this comes out.Job termination, needing to change housing or possibly even return to our home country. We are missionaries. We are practically alone on the field. There are children who would have no caregivers.

Sadly, in some ways I care more about the children in our care then the state of our marriage, or so it would seem since my mind dwells there more than on what is going on or not going on between us.

Porn makes this wonderful, fun, talented, extroverted, anointed man into a gloomy, unkind, withdrawn person. I believe his exposure to it at a young age via his uncle plus the loss of his father and two brothers make him vulnerable to a cycle of shame secrecy and grief. But he never tells me, he waits to be caught.

We are in a high stress and strong spiritual warfare environment, and I am sometimes harsh and overmanage things. I also do not feel as sexually motivated since discovering the porn issue less than a year into out marriage while pregnant and already feeling vulnerable about the changes in my body and in our marriage. Add exhaustion from the environment we live and work in. Nevertheless I don’t think that those are justifications for what is biblically equated with adultery.

Husband in Ministry and He's Addicted to PornFirst, I want to reassure this woman, and other women reading, that you are not alone. Porn is a huge struggle, even for men in ministry (and perhaps ESPECIALLY for men in ministry, as I’ll talk about in a minute). So here are some thoughts:

Our main goal in this life is to glorify God.

We are to grow closer to Him. To look more and more like Him (Romans 8:29). Our goal is not to bear fruit; our goal is to abide in Him (John 15). It’s God that bears the fruit, and not us. Our goal is to stay close to God.

So don’t think that if you are involved in ministry that this somehow outweighs a responsibility to do the right thing. I can totally hear this woman’s struggle–“but what about this ministry? What about the kids? If I do something about this, I’ll end up hurting them! Isn’t the ministry more important?”

No, I don’t believe it is. If he continues to use porn, he is endangering his own spiritual condition. And that needs to matter. That needs to be our #1 responsibility.

Our ministry will not be effective when there is sin present in the leaders.

Over and over again in the Bible we see where the people were punished for the sins of the leaders. I’m not saying that God will punish the ministry because of what your husband is doing, but there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit cannot use your husband as he should when your husband is engaged in a huge, secret sin. So not saying anything in order to save the ministry is likely to backfire. The ministry itself will grow better when there is truth and when there is light.

Jesus tells us not to take lightly our responsibility to make sure that the little ones around us do not stumble. That may sound like He’s saying, “don’t rock the ministry boat if the kids will be hurt”. But I think that ultimately truth is still truth; and God wants light shone on things. He doesn’t like things being covered up. And when we confess, and uncover sin, God does an amazing work. That work can spill over onto the ministry.

I think deep inside you know all this. You’re close to God, and you sense that He will protect you and protect the ministry. But it’s still a scary thing. Listen to that still, small voice calling you to the Truth.

It is ultimately God’s ministry, not yours.

Right now you likely feel as if you are indispensable, and if you tell people of your husband’s addiction, the whole ministry will fall. If that’s the case, then there’s more going on here than just your husband’s sin. It’s God’s ministry, not yours. Remember that Paul set up churches all over the Roman world, but then he moved on. He didn’t stay where he was, thinking “these people will fall away if I’m not here.” He believed that God would raise up leaders when they were necessary.

This is God’s ministry. He cares about these people. He will fight for them. And He will fight for you, too! If you both want to be used by God, God will honour that. It just may not be in the way that you’ve always planned. But trust that with God at the head of whatever you are doing, He will ultimately bring about the best for all when we step out and do the right thing.

Your Husband’s Addiction Does not Mean He’s a Bad Man

In fact, it could very well mean he’s a good man. I believe that Satan attacks men in Christian leadership in this area in huge numbers because it’s such a secret sin. They can’t confess it or they’ll lose their position. And it brings such shame and such slavery.

So it could be that your husband was attacked exactly because he was in line with God’s will for his life. He was going into the ministry because he wanted to serve God. He was stepping out in faith. Thus, he was becoming dangerous to evil forces, and so he was attacked. This doesn’t mean he’s bad; it just means that he’s a target.

Your Marriage and Your Ministry will Wither in the Dark

That being said, staying in the dark, keeping a secret, will only hurt your marriage and your ministry in the long run. Our God is a God of light, not of darkness. He likes confession, and truth, and transparency. That’s where His grace can fall. That’s where we can see radical transformation. If we try to keep everything inside, and hide it from others, then we’re being proud. And “pride goes before a fall”. God can’t work in us when we’re keeping secrets.

Many Ministries Have Confidential Programs to Help Porn Addicts

Quite frankly, this is such a huge issue that if everyone who uses porn was automatically fired from the ministry, there would be very few left. So what many ministries have started to do is to establish confidential programs where people can go for help and accountability, without the leadership necessarily knowing (or without the leadership needing to take action as long as the accountability partner thinks the person is acting appropriately. In the case of child porn, or anything violent or acted out, for instance, steps would be taken to notify authorities).

My husband and I teach at marriage conferences for FamilyLife, for instance, a division of Power to Change. And shortly after we signed up we received an email from the “speakers’ care team”, saying that if we ever needed a place to talk to someone confidentially about our marriage, we could do it there.

It is so difficult to find anyone to talk to about your problems when you are in ministry, because the very presence of problems seems to jeopardize your job. But many denominations and missions organizations are employing these “care teams” to help deal with exactly things like this. Get on the phone or the internet and investigate whether you have such a team to report to, rather than having to contact the leadership directly and tell them your husband should be removed. These teams are used to dealing with these things, and will help map out a plan which may–or may not–involve leaving the ministry.

If your husband has been involved with things that are truly illegal, like watching child pornography, or even talking to young girls online, you simply must report it. I know it’s hard to go against your husband, but those children need to be protected. Yes, you’re endangering the life that you envisioned for your children. Yes, your extended family may be angry at you. But you will never, ever be at peace when this is happening, and your husband could continue down a road where he may do something truly horrific. Don’t stand by and watch. Stand up for those children now.

UPDATE: I’ve also just heard about a wonderful program called City of Refuge which provides housing, support, and counseling for those who have lost their ministry positions over something like this. You can find out more about it here.

Demand Accountability or You Will Report Him

Assuming this is not a drastic case where the authorities need to be called in, now’s the time to demand accountability of him. So here’s where the rubber hits the road. I’ve given you all of these reasons why you should confront him. Now how do you do it?

In this woman’s case, she’s caught him before. He’s apologized before. He’s told her he would stop, but he hasn’t.

That’s extremely common. However, porn addicts in general do not stop unless they have accountability. Part of truly repenting of the sin is confessing it to someone else. I’m not saying you have to confess it to everyone–but you do have to confess it to someone. And that someone should be someone who can keep you accountable. And that cannot be you, his wife.

CovenantEyes.comCovenant Eyes is an online tool that can help you do just that. You install it on your computer, and then you set up an email notification so that if you ever go on a site you shouldn’t visit, it automatically sends your accountability partner an email. You can also get it for mobile devices now, too. I’m a partner with Covenant Eyes, and if you sign up using the code “TLHV” (for To Love, Honor and Vacuum), you’ll get your first month free.

I like Covenant Eyes because it can be used on the mission field. A missionary can have a partner back home who is keeping tabs and emailing and Skyping to have weekly accountability meetings and prayers, but it doesn’t need to be someone on the missionary’s actual team that he sees everyday (since often the team is too small, and that’s not feasible for a number of reasons).

So I’d sit down with your husband and tell him that he needs to confess to someone and set up Covenant Eyes (or some other system), or you will have to alert the higher ups in the ministry. This simply can’t go on, because he is not just endangering the family; he is endangering the work. And you can’t have that.

He likely will not take it well. He will get angry. He may tell you it’s not your place. But a lot of men in Christian leadership who struggle with this desperately want to be found out so that they can get the help they need. They’re just too scared to start the process themselves.

Pray Like Crazy

This may very well be the scariest thing you have ever had to do. You’re putting the ministry, your job security, and your marriage on the line. But I simply don’t see you as having any other choice.

So pray as if your life depended on it. Pray as if your husband’s soul depended on it. Pray that God will bring light, and restoration, and truth into this circumstance. And that His power will shine. Because when we step out, even in fear, and do the right thing, God can move in such amazing ways. So pray, and get ready to see what God will actually do.

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