By Carol Pipes
Seven in 10 pastors (70 percent) are approached by church members or staff several times a year or more with concerns about sexual brokenness, according to a new report from The Brushfires Foundation.
Researchers asked senior pastors to identify which of 18 sexual issues they had addressed in the past year. Among those issues, marital infidelity tops the list.
Four in five pastors (80 percent) say they were approached in the past year by a church member or staff dealing with infidelity, and three in four (73 percent) have handled pornography-related questions.[epq-quote align=”align-right”]“Sexual issues too often are dealt with in secret or not at all. We believe that we need to bring these issues out into the open and into the full community of the Church.”[/epq-quote]The first in a series of reports from The Brushfires Foundation and Barna Research, Sexuality & the Church in America I explores how senior pastors are addressing sexual challenges within the church.
“Pastors are encountering a lot of sexual confusion and pain over the course of a year, perhaps more than many people realize,” says Daniel Weiss, president of The Brushfires Foundation and author of the report.
“Sexual issues too often are dealt with in secret or not at all. We believe that we need to bring these issues out into the open and into the full community of the Church.”
A majority of pastors believe the church should be responsible for helping people deal with issues relating to sexual sin or sexual brokenness. Yet, fewer than one-third of pastors feel “very qualified” to address most of the issues listed in the survey.
There are no easy answers to these issues, says Weiss. “The reality is that many churches aren’t set up well to simply ‘plug and play’ a resource or program,” Weiss told Facts & Trends.
“If pastors haven’t addressed these issues much in the past, doing so might cause some confusion or even a backlash. However, it may also encourage people to seek the pastor out for guidance, which is a good thing.”
Weiss offers several ways pastors can start the process of opening up these topics in a safe and healthy way:
- Preach on relevant passages in Scripture. There are ample opportunities to use Scripture to preach and teach on these issues.
- Explore the apostolic letters to early Christian communities in Bible study. Much from that time is applicable to culture today.
- Convene prayer meetings to pray for people struggling with these issues.
- Raise the topics in men’s, women’s and youth groups. Present the topic as a problem for the church to tackle together, not as something impacting only a few struggling individuals. Promote a community approach to sexual integrity and healing.
- Pray with elders and lay leaders consistently and discern how the Lord would lead in your congregation.
- Dedicate a set amount of time each week to study these issues and develop a resource library for the church.
- Bring in speakers and presenters that have dealt with these issues and can talk about them without fear or shame.
- Shore up church office policies with internet filters and best practices as a signal to the congregation that these are serious matters and the church will be in front of them.
“Since every congregation is different, each solution must be tailored to the circumstance of that congregation,” Weiss cautioned.
“We encourage a process of slow, prayerful, and deliberate integration into regular church ministry. In the short-term, a pastor could use any news item (including this research) as a sermon topic to simply open up the discussion.
“I strongly believe that a pastor can easily signal to the congregation that talking about such sensitive issues is appropriate and welcome. It will take some time to develop the trust and openness needed for some people to bring their challenges to the pastor, however.”
You can download the full report (for free) at brushfiresfoundation.org/integrity.
CAROL PIPES (@carolpipes) is editor of Facts & Trends.