June 6, 2011
Surprised by Addiction
These ministers faced their compulsions—and stayed in ministry.
Addictions come in various forms: alcohol, gambling, drugs, pornography, overeating, and binge shopping, just to name a few. Whatever the particular vice, addictions thrive on secrecy and shame. And while addictions can be difficult for anyone to divulge, pastors face an even greater challenge in revealing their struggles. They risk losing not only friends, but their livelihood as well. As a result, many wander down the dark path of secrecy, isolation, and despair. But more are beginning to seek help.
David, a 41-year-old Lutheran minister in Southern California, has been free for more than a year from online pornography, although no one else on staff at his church even realizes he had a problem.
He kept taking bigger risks, escalating to a crisis point where he found himself in a chat room with video capabilities with an underage girl. David found help through anonymous weekly meetings of a church-based sexual addiction recovery group, Operation Integrity. The meetings, along with the help of online accountability software, helped him overcome his destructive behavior.
"Even though I realized other pastors had struggles, I still felt like I was the only one," David says. "The Operation Integrity group has provided a place where I can make a public confession, find absolution, and not be condemned. There's support, understanding, and encouragement for the road ahead."
As with many pastors who have been stuck in addiction, David repeatedly prayed in private for the Lord to lift the burden, but remained in bondage. It was only as he sought help in a group setting that his addiction came under control.
"When I allowed others to minister to me I actually got the help that I needed," David says. "When I was in denial I carried a lot of judgment in my heart. Now, God has given me a greater empathy for all kinds of people who struggle with sin."
According to Paul Foster, program coordinator at Testimony Life Resources, an addictions counseling ministry in California, accounts of personal redemption must be told by those in ministry as a way to encourage others.
"So often we're afraid to tell people what we've been through and what God has done in our lives," says Foster. "We just need to share a portion of our story to let others know they're not the only ones struggling."