In the lead article in our Spring 2018 harvestusa magazine, Ellen Dykas discusses three blind spots the Church has about women and their sexuality.  What the Church doesn’t see, or what it chooses to ignore seeing, hurts women in their walk with Christ. Watch as Ellen raises these important issues, and then go read her article on what the Church needs to do here.

In our Spring 2018 issue of harvestusa magazine, Ellen Dykas discusses three blind spots the Church has about women and their sexuality. One, they do struggle with porn and lust like men; two, wives are not necessarily the ones not wanting sex with their husband; and three, women are hesitant to go to church leadership for help on these and other issues. Ellen goes on to show how the Church can change the way its leadership sees women and their call to live with sexual integrity. (You can read the entire magazine issue online: Women, Sexuality, and the Church)

Crunch! My little Civic didn’t stand a chance when the larger SUV swerved into my lane. Even though I passed it slowly, a few seconds in the driver’s blind spot racked up hundreds of dollars of damage to my car.

Blind spots are dangerous when you’re driving. We have blind spots in our lives and relationships, also. When we don’t acknowledge that we have them, the results can be devastating. Relationships in our jobs, friendships, families, and even in the church are impacted when we fail to see what we can’t or don’t want to see.

I want to address three blind spots I have seen over the past eleven years of my ministry here at Harvest USA, three areas where the church has repeatedly failed women in their sexuality. There are others, but these three are the ones I consistently see when I talk to women who struggle with sexual issues. When churches recognize these three blind spots, they will be better equipped to understand and help women.

Blind spot # 1:            Women don’t struggle with sexual sin and lust like men do       

A few years ago at a Harvest USA fundraising banquet, I found myself defending my full-time position as Women’s Ministry Director. The conversation went like this:

Well-meaning man: “You’re full time? Are there that many wives who have Christian husbands looking at porn?”

Me: “Well, yes; not only do wives reach out for help, but Christian women who are struggling with things like pornography and casual sex do as well.”

Well-meaning man: “Really? I never thought women struggled with that stuff!”

It wasn’t the first time I had to defend my job. Women have felt invisible in the church. When it comes to sexuality, most of the attention has gone to men. So, when a woman looks for help, no one is there for her because we rarely acknowledge women’s sexual struggles.

Darcy¹ came to me for help because she couldn’t stop hooking up with men. She’d sought out more men than she could remember, and her face and voice communicated shame and pain as she gave me her diagnosis, “Ellen, I guess I’m just more like a man.”

She needed help understanding that lust and sexually-sinful behaviors are gender neutral.

Why did Darcy think that? Because in her church circles, she only heard that men had problems with lust. Yes, there was something wrong with Darcy, but it wasn’t that her sexuality was more like a man’s. She needed help understanding that lust and sexually-sinful behaviors are gender neutral! Idolatrous and lonely, selfish hearts don’t belong to one gender.

I see two reasons that contribute to this blind spot.  One has to do with how men perceive women. Men do tend to have stronger sex drives as a result of their biology. And since men are overwhelmingly in church leadership, they know their own issues but somehow think that women are radically different than them. The standard script is: women are drawn to relationships; men to sex. You mean women have libidos? Why does the church have this blind spot when current statistics on porn use show that 60% of females ages 18-30 acknowledge that they look at porn at least monthly?

Secondly, I have noticed that women contribute to this blind spot, too. We don’t talk much about sexual issues (at Bible studies, retreats, etc.). If men are ignoring our struggles, we are complicit in not speaking up. It’s what I call the ABC mentality: A, men don’t think women have these struggles; B, women aren’t speaking about them; therefore C, churches don’t devote resources and ministries to women in this area.

Pardon me, but I have to yell: THIS IS A DANGEROUS BLIND SPOT! It’s leaving Christian women to struggle alone in silence and shame! I have taught on sexuality to women from all over the United States and several countries, and their testimony is consistent: we are struggling, we don’t hear the church talking about this as a women’s issue, and we don’t know where to get help!

How can churches eliminate this blind spot?

First off, recall that Jesus had no problem coming alongside women who struggled sexually. From the “sinner” who most likely was a prostitute (Luke 7:36-50) to the Samaritan woman who had multiple husbands (John 4:5-26), to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus did not ignore women. Jesus engaged these women as who they are: sexual sinners who need forgiveness and truth woven in with compassion.

Here’s how we can follow the example of Jesus:

  1. Pastors and women’s ministry leaders, teach a full-orbed biblical sexuality. God gifted women with their sexuality for his glory. Even though the Fall has marred its beauty, Jesus came to forgive and transform sexual sinners, women as well as men! When you speak or preach, utilize illustrations and testimonies that highlight how the gospel gives hope, courage, and holiness for women who are bound up in sexual sin. Perhaps do a sermon series or Sunday school class on the three passages listed above, explaining how we can follow Christ’s example to protect and extend grace to women.
  2. Take the courageous initiative to weave sexual topics into ongoing discipleship ministries, and equip women to come alongside each other. Our workbook, Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness, was written for this purpose and has a companion E-Book Leader’s Guide. Also, our website has loads of free articles and blog posts on sexuality that can give you ideas for rich discussion topics.

Blind spot # 2:            The primary sexual issue in Christian marriage is that husbands want sex more than wives

The first blind spot leads to another erroneous belief that married women, in particular, do not care about or lose interest in sex. Wives are often told and counseled that this is why their husbands are looking at porn or have gone outside the marriage for sexual encounters.

The reality is far different. More Christian marriages than we realize have sexually-unengaged husbands. Peek into my ministry world:

  • A woman’s husband has not initiated sex, or responded to her initiation, in over two years. She described herself as a woman with a strong longing for sexual intimacy.
  • A pastor’s wife who hadn’t had sex in 10 years with her husband said, “I guess life just got busy with his ministry, and we got out of the habit.”
  • Finally, there is a young wife who wants sex more frequently than her husband. There’s no sexual sin going on; she just has a stronger sex drive!

Of course, there are many reasons for these stories. And yes, some wives are less than enthusiastic about sex with their husbands. I have met many wives who do not enjoy sex and even disdain it. But if you look a bit closer you’ll see reasons that are important to know.

I see this more all the time: wives who feel like nothing more than an object for their husband’s sexual pleasure.

Past sexual trauma will influence a woman’s view of her husband and her own body. Sex that is not physically pleasurable, like rarely experiencing orgasm, will impact a woman’s desire. A full life of working and being a mom leads to exhaustion. Who has the energy? And, I see this more all the time; wives who feel like nothing more than an object for their husband’s sexual pleasure.

Now, hear me on this point. I’ve already said that women have battles with sexual sin too, including pornography, fantasy, lust, compulsive masturbation, and adultery. And like men, they bring the residue of past sin or current struggles into the marriage. So do NOT hear me playing a blame game on men here.

But in the age of the internet, one stark reality is that far too many Christian men are more than dabbling with a little porn here and there. It should not surprise us, given the degree to which the internet is embedded in our daily life, and the ease with which pornography can be accessed, that Christian men are viewing pornography in greater and greater numbers (with the use of porn among youth and younger men being far higher). As one study concluded, “Men of all ages and stages, but especially married men, are coming to pastors for help with pornography struggles.”

When a husband trains himself to be aroused and satisfied sexually by images or other types of pornography, his ability to be aroused by his wife often diminishes. Real life—and real bodies— pale against the photoshopped, fantasy stories the internet sells. Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is now a thing.

And when porn doesn’t reduce a husband’s interest in having sex with his wife, it can become the coach for what he wants sexually from his wife. The result is wives who feel manipulated and used.

Pastor, when you hear of a marriage problem involving sex, dig for the reasons why.

  1. Do not accept pornography usage as being either a “small porn problem,” or “just what men do.” Regardless of how often a husband views it, pornography teaches a way of life and relating that is so terribly damaging. Do not say to a wife of a husband who is involved with porn that she should “have more sex,” so that he won’t look at it. I’ve heard so many tragic stories from wives who were counseled this way.
  2. It is time to offer marriage classes that have discussions on sex. There is a lot of confusion about sex among God’s people. I’ve been asked many questions from Christian married women like, does anything go in marriage as long as it’s mutual? What do I do if my husband wants to do things I’m uncomfortable with? Is it ok if we watch pornography together before we are intimate? I masturbate secretly because I rarely orgasm with my husband…is that ok?
  3. Be proactive with pre-marriage couples. The best time to catch problems that will likely destroy a marriage is before the wedding. Pre-marriage counseling must include a frank and honest discussion of sexual history, current sexual sin struggles, as well as a clear emphasis on God’s beautifully good design for husbands and wives to serve and love each other selflessly in their sexual relationship.

Blind spot # 3:            Women should have no problems talking to pastoral leadership when they are struggling with a sexual issue

There is a sad and tragic reality that I have seen in working with women. Most women do not feel safe going to pastoral leadership to talk about sexual struggles.

A forty-year-old woman came to me for help after two decades of promiscuity. She ran a highly successful business: an escort service which offered sex for money. At age 19, she had been an active member in her church, singing on the worship team, and living a life of sexual integrity. What happened?

She had a secret: she had feelings for girls. She was scared and confused but finally mustered the courage to seek help from her pastor. She explained that she’d never pursued any romantic or physical experiences with girls but needed help.

His response? “We don’t have anything for you here and, it’s best you step down from the worship team.” She did step down—and out of that church and found acceptance in the LGBT community, which became her home for twenty years.

I’ve sat with too many women who have shared stories that have made me ache with tears; others have infuriated me. Single women who have been counseled like this, ‘If you’d just find yourself a husband then you wouldn’t have these kinds of issues.’ Wives who have been told to submit to their husbands in the bedroom, even when that submission meant feeling degraded and used. Wives have been diagnosed as paranoid, because they suspected their well-known and respected-by-the-church husband of infidelity.

Experiences like these teach women to keep their struggles hidden and silent. They live with shame for feeling like a failure in their life or marriage, and they are desperate to talk to someone who understands and is safe.

Women with this history transfer their fear and distrust of men to male leadership in the church. Far too many men in leadership do not recognize this as a substantial issue for women.

And there’s the sober reality of sexual abuse survivors who are in your church. It has become common knowledge, backed by numerous studies, showing that 20% of women have experienced some form of sexual abuse before the age of eighteen. This trauma is devastating, and while survivors respond to their abuse in unique ways, it is not uncommon for many women to fear men and authority. Far too many men in church leadership do not recognize this as a substantial issue for women. It’s a glaring blind spot.

Here are a few ways church leaders can cultivate an atmosphere of safety and grace for women sexual strugglers and wives.

  1. Examine your beliefs about women and sexuality, and discuss this article with women you respect. Ask them: where do you see my blind spots? What do I need to learn?
  2. Offer anonymous surveys to the women in your church to learn from them about what their reality is regarding sexual struggles and sin.
  3. Work to make your church grow into a place where women have a voice and will be protected, defended, and helped if their husbands are unrepentant. Raise up and train women leaders to whom the women in the church can go for help. This would greatly encourage women to address their fears of talking to pastors and leaders.

Paul’s pastoral benediction to the Thessalonians, a church obviously struggling with sexual sin, was this, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

Brothers and sisters, our God’s peace has been entrusted to us as his ambassadors. It is our calling to extend Christ’s shalom, or human flourishing, to women and their sexuality. Will you engage it? Will you consider implementing changes to the way you teach, preach and disciple your people? Your women? I hope you will and will pray to that end.

Ellen Dykas is the Women’s Ministry Director of Harvest USA. To reach her with questions or advice about her article, she can be reached at ellen@harvestusa.org

¹All names have been changed.


Ellen talks more about this on her accompanying video: Women and Sexuality: What Are the Church’s Blind Spots? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Ellen Dykas explains why you should read the new harvestusa magazine on Women, Sexuality, and the Church.
Click here to view and/or download a copy of the Spring 2018 harvestusa magazine.

Single people, we live in hard world.

An article entitled “Sexual Freelancing in the Gig Economy” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/15/opinion/sexual-freelancing-in-the-gig-economy.html) appeared in the New York Times. Its premise is this: economics influences dating. The fact that we prefer a Netflix binge nowadays to the Leave-It-To-Beaver date night means that our economic situation has, yet again, shaped us.

And here’s where things get interesting: the article argues that dating simply “applies the logic of capitalism to courtship. On the dating market, everyone competes for him or herself.” Hold on. Is this really the way we view dating? Honestly, I think we have to own it: We do, in fact, tend to treat people as objects instead of people. But is this the way it should be?

What’s more, the article goes on to state,

The generation of Americans that came of age around the time of the 2008 financial crisis has been told constantly that we must be ‘flexible’ and ‘adaptable.’ Is it so surprising that we have turned into sexual freelancers? Many of us treat relationships like unpaid internships: We cannot expect them to lead to anything long-term, so we use them to get experience. If we look sharp, we might get a free lunch.

If the article is right, in spite of the fact that humanity has always thought of people as objects to be used, we, as singles, might be growing up in a world that intensifies this attitude. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Think about the porn epidemic. Think about the hookup culture. Our own use of Instagram might even reflect this mindset of consumeristic relationships (http://www.techinsider.io/teens-curate-their-instagram-accounts-2016-5)!

What can we do, then, to confront a worldly attitude that promotes using other people?

Take Each Other Seriously

I think we must start here: as single people looking to date other single people, we must take each other seriously. People are not to be invested in for the simple return they may yield to us. As always, C.S. Lewis says it well at the end of his sermon, The Weight of Glory:

There are no ordinary people . . . it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously — no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love. . .

Do you see what he’s getting at? We Snapchat with immortals.

All people will one day be everlastingly transformed into glorious or horrendous beings. And this means that, even in the dating realm, we are to take each other seriously. And part of what it means to take each other seriously is to actually love one another in tangible ways instead of using and exploiting others for our own profit.

Jesus’ words are hard to hear: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25); “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

In the topsy-turvy ethic of the Kingdom, true life on this planet looks more like losing an investment than gaining a profit. Love looks more like the cross than the crown. Meaningful relationships look more like the servant who washes feet rather than the master whose feet get washed.

In other words . . .

Meaningful Relationships Are Costly

We need to steep ourselves in the truth that meaningful relationships cost time. In an age of instant gratification and constant distraction, simply finding the time to talk meaningfully about life is rare; it’s commonplace to see couples at restaurants perusing their Facebook and Twitter feeds. But a meaningful relationship will cost an hour here and there, or thirty minutes when we feel we need to be doing something else. And it must cost a social media-less dinner.

Meaningful relationships also cost the facade. The thing about the freelance mentality of relationships in our culture is that this constant shopping around helps us avoid the true vulnerability that comes with meaningful relationships, where we are both known and loved, not simply for our accomplishments but for our failures as well.

In Christ, we are free to demolish our facades. We don’t have to pretend to be someone we’re not. The safety that Christ brings allows us to say “I’m not okay” to our neighbor. This vulnerability is crucial for human flourishing, because vulnerability pushes us toward the Kingdom. It helps us to lean into Jesus and into the identity we have been provided in Him.

Changing a culture of freelance relationships starts with living out a richer culture.

Of course, then, meaningful relationships cost ourselves. I’m not saying that we should give ourselves away to every Jack and Jill on the street, but maybe sooner, rather than later, we ought to be thinking, How can I intentionally sacrifice for and serve this other person? How can I serve others in the lunchroom, on the football field, in the school hallway, on social media, at the cubicle next to me at work?

This is the ethic of the Kingdom: We seek the good of others, because He gave Himself away for us (1 John 4:10-11). We give ourselves away in love and service because we get Christ (Philippians 3:8-11) — because we ultimately already have Christ.

For Those Who Love Single People

Maybe you are thinking, I’m not single. What does this have to do with me? Well, as Christians, we believe in the power of community. In other words, wisdom does not function in a vacuum. If you are parents of single children, friends of single people, or perhaps even a minister to single people, a couple of things come to mind. . .

Ask singles tough questions. Ask them how life really is. Ask them about their doubts and worries. Ask them about their view of God, themselves, and others. Ask them to explain when they talk about life’s hardships, or how happy they are. Ask them questions to let them know that you take both them and God seriously.

Put away the phone. When meeting up with singles, let’s ditch our phones. Turn them on vibrate and don’t answer them unless it’s our spouse. Let’s not ever check our social media when we are engaging with them. Let’s be present.

Be vulnerable. When talking about how things really are, while still being wise about how much we share, let’s open up about our own doubts, fears, and failures. Let’s let them know that we are no more a super-Christian than they are.

Taking each other seriously means that we really listen to, learn from, sacrifice for, ask the hard questions of, and pray for the singles that come into our paths. Notice that our interactions with single people are the embodiment of the principles we hold dearest as Christians. Changing a culture of freelance relationships starts with living out a richer culture.

Does the prevalent view of humanity we pass to singles look more like the gig-relationship mindset that pervades our culture? Or does it look more like Jesus, who takes us and our lives seriously from the outset, who served us that we might be washed, and who sacrificed Himself that we might have life in Him?


Cooper talks more about this on his accompanying video: How Do We Create a Richer Dating Culture? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

HARVEST USA did two day-long seminars for parents and youth leaders at Chelten Church, in the suburbs of Philly. Afterwards, we sat down with Jon Shepherd, their Student Ministry Director, to talk about ways he addresses sexuality with his youth group. 

As a bit of an ice-breaker, what’s one of the funnest moments you have experienced in youth ministry?

Having been a part of the Youth Ministry at Chelten since 2006, I have so many fun memories. One that everyone can enjoy involved one of our senior guys laying on the beach at Ocean City, NJ letting a flock of seagulls eat Cool Ranch Doritos off his bare chest.

We know you have a heart for youth, so tell us a bit about why you got into youth ministry.

One of my favorite quotes is from Frederick Douglass who said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” I got into youth ministry because I want to use the gifts that God has given me and my own experiences to help the next generation know Christ and follow him from a young age.

What do you think are some of the unique challenges facing youth ministers today in discipling students in the area of sexuality?

In my opinion, the biggest challenge is the culture’s definition of normal sexuality. From billboards to TV shows, songs to smartphone apps—we are combatting a message that says that you get to define your sexuality and do what seems right for you.

Also, what is unique to our day and age is the role that the smartphone has played in the lives of our teenagers. Social media, for example, tells our young people that they don’t look good enough. Other apps make hooking up or sexting as easy as a swipe of your finger. Unfiltered cell phones provide accessibility to endless amounts of pornography with just a few simple clicks.

This type of leading, from a point of need and weakness, creates a culture within the church where it becomes safe for students to approach leaders to share their struggles.

Leaving the depressing state of our world, what have been some of the best moments in addressing sexuality amongst students?

The most impactful times with students have always come after another leader or I have made the first move toward individual students by sharing some of our own struggles. I can remember a night where we had a “guy’s night” and allowed the students to anonymously write questions on index cards where a panel of their regular youth leaders would take turns answering. Several of our leaders were very vulnerable with our guys and shared both past and present struggles with sexual sin. This type of leading, from a point of need and weakness, creates a culture within the church where it becomes safe for students to approach leaders to share their struggles.

As we take the risk of sharing our need for Jesus in the area of sexuality, we open the door for students to invite us into their lives. Young men will come and share their addiction to pornography. Young ladies share that they have turned to self-harm or an eating disorder because they don’t feel pretty or sexy enough. It is then a privilege to walk beside them to Christ, knowing that we both need the same grace.

HARVEST USA came to your church to do Gospel Sexuality: Student Ministry Training. What did you take away from the seminar that you would like others who work with students to hear?

One reason youth leaders don’t talk about sexuality is that we feel the pressure to have an entire night or series devoted to the topic, which is overwhelming and quite honestly, terrifying! Your training gave us some great tips on how to make sexuality a regular topic of conversation. For example, when addressing different sins that students may be battling, include in your talk a sexual sin like looking at pornography along with lying to your parents and trashing someone else’s reputation.

Also, we learned that when we don’t talk about sexual issues, it communicates shame to the one who is struggling in those taboo areas. Jesus invites all sinners to come forward from a place of shame, as he did the woman with the bleeding problem in Mark 5. We must create a church culture in which sexual sin is not ignored but is instead safe to talk about, a place where we can confess and find healing in Christ.

Push through the awkwardness when talking about sexuality. That first step to begin a conversation that’s uncomfortable to you and the student—or your child—is hard, but it’s totally worth it.

 What did you take away from Gospel Sexuality: Raising Sexually Healthy Kids that you would like parents to hear?

Gospel Sexuality: Raising Sexually Healthy Kids began with providing the bigger picture on sexuality and sexual sin by using the metaphor of the tree. This metaphor showed that we cannot simply address the fruit—the behaviors that we see—we must also address other factors as well.

Also, it is not enough to have “the talk;” we must, instead, engage in multiple discussions at different levels over the course of our child’s life. In other words, discussing sexuality with our kids is not a box to be checked, but is instead an ongoing topic of conversation and discipleship. We want to maintain ongoing communication to the point where we can be there to help pick up the pieces when they mess up and walk with them to Christ.

As a parting gift, what are three words of wisdom you want to give to youth ministers or parents on talking about sex and sexuality?

Push through the awkwardness when talking about sexuality. That first step to begin a conversation that’s uncomfortable to you and the student—or your child—is hard, but it’s totally worth it. Sharing your own need is also a great way to begin that conversation. As you share your own story, where you talk about your past and present need for Jesus, you invite them to open up and share their struggles.

Second, shepherd in community. Sexual sin can be a dangerous area to enter into with a young person. It is essential that we shepherd our students in community. Developing a team of adults in your youth ministry is key to this. In our youth ministry, every student is divided into small groups based on age and gender with multiple volunteer youth leaders over every group. We regularly divide into small groups for processing God’s word, sharing, and prayer. When a student comes to a staff member or volunteer leader with a sexual sin, we ask the student to continue to widen the circle of knowledge by involving another staff member, volunteer leader, or parent into the conversation. While it is extremely important to protect the student’s trust and privacy, it is also important that we, as youth leaders, are accountable to one another for our own protection.

Third, pray for your students more than you talk to them about sexuality. The reality is, we cannot fix the brokenness in our own lives or the lives of students. Redemption and healing can only be found in Jesus Christ. Knowing this truth is a huge relief and comfort. God is far more invested in your youth ministry and the sexuality of your students than you are.


Watch Jon talk more about this on his accompanying video: How does a youth pastor address sexuality with students? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

Whether you’re a youth minister or a parent, talking about sex and sexuality to teens is uncomfortable, to say the least. But it needs to be done. Listen as one youth minister at a large church gives his tips on how he and his youth team handles it.

And click here to read more of our interview with Jon at our blog: www.harvestusa.org.

 

As a youth minister, it’s an already confusing task to lead youth to the feet of Jesus when you yourself need to take the journey. How can we, as youth ministers, bear students’ sins and sufferings when we’re barely holding on? How can we lead youth to streams of living water when we’re dying in the desert?

And then throw porn into the mix. Some churches call for an all-out air strike on any of their staff who might wrestle with pornography: the staff position will be taken away, and the staff person will leave in shame. While we don’t have time to get into church policy, the measures taken by any church should be nuanced enough to vary by situation. But as youth ministers, how can we ourselves move forward? What are some initial categories we can keep in mind?

Confession to My Spouse, Boss, or Mentor?

Placed in context, the richness of James’ teaching on confession becomes apparent:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 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 (5:13-16, ESV).

Confession does help others hold us accountable, but more than that, confession is a means for others to join their healing prayers for us with the two Divine intercessors, our Great High Priest and the Spirit (Romans 8:26-27, 34). Sin says, “Don’t confess. No one can be trusted.” Jesus says otherwise. Sin casts confession as insecurity and defeat. Jesus casts confession as a means to healing. Confession is scary, and I always wrestle with it whatever my sin. But I’ve got to lean into what I know is true: God says there is healing here, not destruction.

If there is a pattern of confession already taking place in your marriage, confess to your spouse. I understand there are a whole host of issues that need to be addressed, from the support your wife needs after hearing your confession to how often you confess to your wife, but I always air on the side of transparency. But should you confess to your boss? It certainly depends on the type of church culture you are in and, more particularly, the relationship you have with your boss. This needs to be in the equation at some point, but I would suggest you first start elsewhere. What about a peer? I certainly think so, but peers usually do not have the grey streaks of wisdom that come with age and experience. That grey-streaked wisdom can help to lift us from the mire, instead of simply commiserating with us in the midst of it.

Consider confessing to someone older and wiser, preferably someone in ministry, who has demonstrated not only a record of humility but also a record of being able to shoulder other people’s burdens. This person will be able to both empathize with you and point out potential blind spots in yourself.

Practical Repentance

The urgent call is clear: we need to brainstorm ways, to whomever we confess, to practically turn from our sin and turn to Jesus. At minimum, it will mean installing filtering and accountability software on all devices you use. But it could also mean getting rid of smartphones or personal computers altogether. It could mean setting up times of Bible study and prayer with the person to whom you confess. It will certainly mean making a habit of daily prayer to cast ourselves upon our God. The key is practical, daily repentance, not lofty, vague goals.

Practical Love

As a youth leader, you are already serving. But as a way to battle the inward spiral of selfishness that porn facilitates, let’s look for ways for you to serve more. Can you set up regular times to do the dishes for your wife or husband instead of surfing the Internet? Can you set up a standing meeting with students that will interfere with your usual time of looking at porn (i.e., early breakfasts, dinners)? With the person to whom we confess, it’s good to brainstorm little, practical ways that we can further love and serve others for the kingdom of God.

Seasoned Mentors

All of the above ideas – confession, repentance, and love – happen in the midst of a relationship with someone we trust. I would strongly advise finding older and wiser men and women who can serve as mentors for us. This could mean having a standing meeting where we talk about life, stress, good things, hard things, or anything at all. During these meetings spend time in prayer, walk through a book on Christian living together, or simply read Scripture.

Pornography thrives in the darkness of isolation. It is best dispelled in the light of relationship with others.

When Do We Need to Exit Ministry?

When is pornography a disqualification from ministry? My first response is: I don’t know. If we continue to harbor the secret sin of porn and do not confess and ask for help from anyone, then clearly we have no business in ministry, where openness and honesty in the light of Christ should be the norm. On the other hand, if the presence of pornography is simply ubiquitous, infused into our lives with power and influence, and if taking the steps above are not leading to measurable evidence of practical repentance and change, then yes, step away from ministry.  Here is when you need to ask your supervisor for their input and honestly submit to your local church.

I think a certain posture is key, however, in being able to do this: we need to be so focused on Christ and His faithfulness in practical ways that everything else in our lives, including our jobs, can be up for grabs. We need to ask at least two question of ourselves. The first is, are we going to be helpful to others if we continue to struggle like this with porn? The second is, am I giving myself time to heal, obey, and follow Jesus if I’m struggling so much with porn and trying to lead others to Jesus?

Jesus Chose You

Overall, it is difficult to reconcile our own sin with the leadership task we have been given as youth ministers. But we also need to recognize that God has chosen sinners to act as youth ministers; He has chosen us in our weakness and sin to point others to Himself. Jesus’ words are obvious, but I often forget the obvious: “‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:17). Still, just because Jesus chose sinners to do his work does not mean that we should continue in youth ministry. Wisdom and input from others is crucial.

Whether we continue in our job or not, we must remember that Jesus came for people like us and has united us to Himself in a Spirit-forged bond. The Spirit residing within us is power to engage the fight passionately and relentlessly. He will not give up on us. And that truth is water to a desert-ridden soul, hope for the confused youth minister, and fuel to keep leading others to the very same Savior that we ourselves so desperately need.


You can watch Cooper talk more about this on his accompanying video: What does a youth minister do when he struggles with porn? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

Youth pastors have challenging ministries, and that’s an understatement today. I took a phone call from Tom (all names have been changed), a youth pastor at a large, PCA church, and his situation is something churches will be encountering everywhere.

Tom said he had worked hard to build a thriving, discipleship-oriented youth ministry. He solicited many 30-something adult helpers and small group leaders. His ministry emphasis was on biblical education and personal ministry, but he also worked to develop an outreach mindset for the unsaved and outsiders among his kids.

And it was working. The youth group grew. Many un-churched kids regularly attended as a result of being invited by his kids. But one day his outreach approach came close to tearing the entire ministry apart.

What happened? One of the invited kids, Eric, who got very involved in the youth group, announced one day that he was gay.  This is where the problem for Tom began.

The kids from church had different responses to Eric’s disclosure, and they fell into three camps. The first camp was, “That’s wrong!  He shouldn’t be in the youth group.” The second was, “He should be here. The church is the best place for him to learn about Christ.” And some said, “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”

All three responses created confusion and turmoil.

And then the parents got wind of it all. Not only were they shocked by the emerging disorder in the youth group, but many of the parents began to learn, for the first time, what their children believed about this issue. And they responded with anger and fear at everything that was happening.

Tom’s phone rang, and his email overflowed. “How did this kid get into the church’s youth group?” asked one dad.  One mom gave an ultimatum: “If that boy continues to attend, we’re pulling our sons out.”  Another said, “I don’t want that kind of bad influence around my child.”

Some church kids threatened to leave if Eric was asked to leave; others said they would never invite anyone else to come. To top it off, Tom’s staff had different responses. Tom was in no-man’s land, feeling pressure to make the right decision. Clearly, there would be consequences no matter how he handled the situation. Hence his phone call to me!

We must take seriously this awful fact: the culture (not parents, not the church) has become the predominant and authoritative teacher of sexuality for our youth. If youth leaders don’t want to take the initiative to address these issues, they should not be in youth work today.

As issues of sex, sexuality, and gender become the defining identity marker in the culture, it has never been more critical for the church to be educated and equipped.  With the church and parents often committed to not speaking about these matters to our kids, most kids make up their minds about sexuality and gay marriage by the age of 12 these days (and it’s getting younger every day). The culture has “discipled” them well. They are listening to the voices on the Internet and media, which they spend hours each day consuming.

Churches need to educate their leaders and volunteers in how to lovingly and compassionately minister to youth, some whom struggle silently with sexual issues from a relatively early age. Parents need to be taught how to talk to their kids, well before an issue explodes and they respond in anger and fear.

Those who are involved in ministry to junior and senior high youth must speak boldly, frequently, compassionately, and truthfully about sex, sexuality, and gender, especially because most kids struggle in their silent formative years when sexual identity is being formed and embraced. We must take seriously this awful fact: the culture (not parents, not the church) has become the predominant and authoritative teacher of sexuality for our youth. If youth leaders don’t want to take the initiative to address these issues, they should not be in youth work today.

Yes, you want 13-year-old Jason to trust you (or his small group leader) to tell you he’s looking at porn on his smartphone. Yes, you want 15-year-old Erica to confide that she’s attracted to other girls, and wants to know, is she gay.  You want Sam to tell you he feels he’s another gender. You want these kinds of talks because God has placed you in their lives at this crucial time, while they still live at home and before college. Believe me, once they get to a secular college, there will be plenty of voices saying, “Yes, please come talk to us. We’ll help you figure this out.”

I’m so serious about this I’m going to repeat it:  if youth leaders are not willing to engage these issues with the youth under their care, they shouldn’t be involved in youth work today!

HARVEST USA is ready to help your church become educated and proactive in dealing with these matters. We can meet with your church staffs and elder boards to help them strategize and implement how to do 21st-century youth ministry work.

Email me at john@harvestusa.org.

Walking away from an emotional affair is painful; it can feel like death. In fact, something does need to die: the unholy attachment between two people that never should have been. In my first two posts in this series, I shared how you can identify an emotional affair and how to take the first steps out of it. In this final post, I’ll share what healing looks like over the long haul for everyone involved.

After the confession of sin and the intentional breaking of all ties between the two people involved, the next step is both immediate and lifelong: what is Christ asking you to pursue and commit to so as to grow in relational, emotional and sexual integrity? Answering that question will be necessary to not just get through this pain, but to grow in and through it.

If you’re the single person

What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests. You now know in what direction those desires led you, so here are some things to reflect upon—and to do—to move in Christ’s direction.

  • Focus on God’s grace for brokenhearted sinners. Turning away from our sin hurts, and this will be excruciating. I don’t want to sugar-coat this. But, see this pain as one that heals, freeing you from the enslaving pain of secret sin and an unholy, obsessive relationship.
  • Steep yourself in Scripture and learn again how God’s word brings deep comfort.
  • Learn about a biblical view of God’s design for singles in regards to relationships, including friendships with both men and women.
  • Press into a study of what wisdom looks like in dating relationships, and what godly marriage is.

What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests.

 If you’re the married person

  • Same for you, drink deeply of God’s mercy for you, a suffering sinner who is desperate for God’s comfort.
  • Actively turn towards Christ and your spouse in new and selfless ways will be your most important step. God is now calling you to cultivate spiritual intimacy and friendship with your spouse and to bear patiently with him or her in their healing process. Marriage counseling will help you find and repair the fractured connections between you and your spouse, helping you grow forward into a relationship based on trust and true intimacy. Your character is formed through the promises you make and the commitments you keep.
  • Continue to close all paths and doors that can connect you to this person. And I do mean all. God never said to manage sin; he said to kill it. He doesn’t say kick the sin out of the living room of your heart, but you can keep it in the back guest room. But if it is impossible to cut off all ties due to circumstances, then you must have rigorous accountability about your commitments.
  • Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled. [1]
  • Don’t do this alone: get help and accountability. This should involve a wise counselor and spiritual friends who will remind you that one thing that got you into the mess was not being honest with God and others.
  • Accept that your obedience in doing all this will hurt. The pain of letting go and accepting these losses will sting for a long time, most likely. This is normal, brother or sister! Anticipate it, and ask God to give you faith to believe what is true, and resolve to walk forward into wholeness and integrity. It is worth it.

Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled.

If you’re the spouse who was betrayed

  • How will you handle being sinned against in a traumatic and trust-crushing way? Will you turn towards the God of comfort, strength, and healing, or find comfort in sinful ways? As your spouse turns away from the sinful entanglement of the emotional affair, will you walk forward with your spouse into a new marriage built on forgiveness, honesty, and trust in Christ as your foundation? These are critical decisions you must make early on when your hurt is greatest. Only you can make these decisions, and through the Holy Spirit, you can be led into a new spacious place of healing and hope. 
  • You, too, will need accountability. Besides a marriage counselor for you and your spouse, find a friend or two to be totally honest with. It will feel embarrassing to admit that your spouse was unfaithful to you. This betrayal was intensely personal, and while the affair was birthed out of your spouse’s sinful heart, it’s natural to “wear it” like a garment of shame. Ask God to lead you to the helpers and friends he has for you, and pray that your heart will be ready to receive his provision!

Is there life after an emotional affair? Yes, friends, there is! But only through following Christ through your own “Garden of Gethsemane,” one day at a time. Saying to God, Your will be done Father, not mine, but your will be done, will be your daily prayer. God is strong enough to get you to the other side of this affair and the wreckage it has brought about.  He is your healer, redeemer, and will always be faithful to his word.  It may feel impossible at this moment, but he can bring beauty from the ashes, comfort to your heart, and give you an amazing chapter of grace in your life story.

[1] For some resources to learn more about this, listen to my workshop at the Gospel Coalition’s 2016 Women’s Conference here:  Cultivating Emotional and Sexual Wholeness; and I recommend two excellent books by Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (for married couples) and Sacred Search (for singles).


You can watch Ellen talk some more about this on her accompanying video: Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part 3.  These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

Ending an emotional affair is hard. It can be so hard that some choose not to end it even when it’s clear that the relationship is wrong and doesn’t honor Christ. But there are practical steps you can take to know how to get through this process—and come out stronger on the other side.

Click here to go deeper on this subject in Ellen’s blog: Emotional Affairs: When closeness becomes destructive—Part 3


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