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September 5, 2012

Pastoring in a Sex-Crazed Culture

By T.C. Ryan

Sexually charged advertising, Internet pornography and delivery vehicles like iPads and smart phones have created great challenges for the folks in our churches. Today over half of American adults are struggling with negative consequences due to compulsive sexual struggles, including loss of income, inattention to work and family, marital indifference and decline, and loss of physical, emotional and psychological health. Helping our people navigate their spiritual lives in a sex-crazed culture is crucial. And it’s not just adults who are in trouble. As I wrote in the preface to Ashamed No More:

The next generation is under siege. Today a nine-year-old boy will receive an email image on his own cell phone that contains images of men and women sexually abusing each other. He will not know how to process it, but will receive the message that “this is what adults do; this is what sex is.” Today an eleven-year-old girl will perform a sexual act on an older boy because she is being taught in this culture that her value exists in using her person and sexuality to service others. These are not extreme examples; they are ordinary. They are happening many times every day.

And they are happening to kids in our congregations. How do we help our people follow Christ in a sex-stimulated society?

Sternly exhorting folks to moral purity doesn’t work. Scolding, cajoling, employing fear and shaming do not work. In most cases, these tactics will only make folks hide. They will make folks lie (to you, to each other, to themselves, to God).

We ignore sexual temptation and brokenness to the distinct detriment of the spiritual vitality of our people. Compulsive sexual behaviors are afflicting at least 40 percent of the men and 20 percent of the women in our congregations. Those percentages are higher with younger people. People are divided in their focus, distracted by their thinking patterns and ashamed of their hidden behaviors. Weariness from sexual temptation and shame from sexual struggles are the primary sources of spiritual acedia—spiritual sloth—for the majority of folks in our churches. The result is a huge siphoning off of emotional and spiritual energy to follow Christ and engage ministry in healthy, open ways.

We need to change the way we think and teach about human sexuality. We must become open in addressing the issues of sexual behaviors. A few of the points I offer in chapter twelve of Ashamed No More which will help lead us to vitality in our churches are:

  • There is a profound and God-given link between our spirituality and our sexuality.
  • Compulsive behaviors are always symptoms of deeper spiritual issues.
  • Sexual sin is no greater than any other sin.
  • Isolation, shame and hiding are toxic to genuine recovery and spiritual vitality.
  • We must use all the tools God has given us, the grace and truth of Christ’s gospel, honest life with each other, the Holy Spirit as the guide and the center of our beings, and developing healthy patterns of living—including all the tools of recovery.
  • Genuine recovery—as the genuine spiritual life—has to be founded on and fueled by love of God and ourselves; if it is fueled by shame or fear, it is not genuine recovery but another form of bondage.

Most clergy struggle with the weight of ministry. The pastorate is inherently isolating, and some of us already have a predisposition to aloneness. When I was starting out, stumbling into sexual behaviors or utilizing print pornography might have afflicted less than 10 percent of us. But the Internet has changed everything. Today well over half of clergy struggle with compulsive sexual behaviors.

If you’re wrestling with these things you are not alone. Help is available. Use it. Don’t stay hidden, no matter how afraid you are.

Do we really believe the gospel? If not, we are far worse sinners than we think we are. We really are. We have trouble grasping just how holy God is and how cloudy our motivations are. We are people prone to the shadows.

But we also don’t grasp how wildly loved we are. The spiritual life is not about our righteousness and our abilities to extricate ourselves from self-destruction. It’s about the Father whose eyes are always scanning the horizon of our souls and when we turn our attention his way he gathers up his robes, running through the cosmic Middle Eastern village of Luke 15, making a fool of himself and clothing us with love. That is the gospel.

Don’t let the enemy have domain over sexuality in your church because you are keeping things secret. Sex and the spiritual life are too good for that.

RyanOP.jpgT. C. Ryan is the author of the recently released Ashamed No More: A Pastor’s Journey Through Sex Addiction. Dr. Ryan and his wife, Pam, live in the middle part of America where he is a writer and speaker. More information is available at his website tc-ryan.com and he occasionally tweets @tcryanone.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 10:15 AM

May 29, 2012

The Three Fires

Counseling is a time-consuming and often troubling task all pastors face. After-hours meetings and confidentiality can be tiresome, and the study of methods and programs can stretch the pastor too thin.

James Sells and Mark Yarhouse have recently published Counseling Couples in Conflict with the hope of creating a new model, one based on the roots of conflict, to provide a well-rounded approach to counseling.

First, the authors emphasize the importance of indentifying the “conflict theme”:

The conflict theme is usually easy to identify. If you are to ask either partner, “Hey, what’s the problem?” it is what you would get as a response. Commonly the conflict theme has two versions—his side of the story and her side of the story. But it is still the same story. The conflict, then, is what they are yelling about right now.

It is the fight about the bounced check, childcare, dirty laundry and why they are not stopping to ask directions. These themes can be about little aggravations; they also can involve large and significant differences or violations. The conflict theme usually rests between people—counselors must integrate “his problem” with “her problem” to form “their problem.” (pp. 30-31)

Second, Sells and Yarhouse recognize it’s unlikely that this is the first time the conflict has occurred; thus they help us understand the couple’s “history with the conflict theme”:

Pain has a memory. Usually there is more to a couple’s conflict than the actual argument topic such as schedules and arriving home on time. Spouses have a history of causing injury to one another. That repetition builds expectations and a response pattern within each partner.

In athletics, the term muscle memory refers to a set of movements that are learned then practiced over and over, like shooting a free throw in basketball. The brain habituates the body to the movements that have been rehearsed. So a basketball player can line up at the free throw line and shoot a basket with his or her eyes closed. Since the movements are memorized, one doesn’t even have to look.

Conflicts in marriage are similar. Once they have been repeated multiple times, our brains learn to recognize the cues previously experienced and react to the other person out of anticipation. In these situations, it’s like couples can “fight with their eyes closed.” (pp. 32-33)

Finally, Sells and Yarhouse recognize the “family of origin conflict tradition”: a family history that has origins beyond the couple’s. A couple’s understanding of how they have been taught to communicate and to handle conflict can go a long way to healing:

From their respective families each learned a pattern of acting, reacting and interacting with events, circumstances and people. Early in life we all learn a set of rules about how to respond to situations. Included in those instructions are implied ideas about how others are to act and how we can all best get along together.

Neither partner was privy to how their partner was instructed, mentored and graded by their respective teachers. And their curriculums were different, often drastically. We can observe the lessons learned by the way they responded to their pain and the pain of their partner. (p. 34)

James N. Sells and Mark A. Yarhouse, Counseling Couples in Conflict (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2011).

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 10:25 AM

November 1, 2011

Ministry Apps: Using LifeGuides

By Douglas Connelly

If you have used IVP’s LifeGuide Bible Studies, you know that the strength of this series is the way the guides lead people into a deeper interaction with the biblical text and then to relevant application of the text to their lives. You should also know that LifeGuides can be used to enhance and enrich your ministry as a pastor.

I’ve used quite a few of the study guides in my own preparation for teaching. As I led a small group focused on prayer, I worked through Lynne Baab’s guide Prayers of the Old Testament to nurture my own soul. I also modified three or four studies and used them with the small group to give us better insight into how we can pray for our own and others’ needs. A friend of mine led a prayer retreat for denominational leaders and passed out copies of the LifeGuide on The Lord’s Prayer at the end. He wanted the study guide to prompt the participants in the retreat to a continuing commitment to prayer.

Occasionally I get a letter or e-mail requesting a copy of one of the LifeGuides I have written. Most often the request comes from a man or woman in prison. There is usually an explanation attached about how the Lord found them in the darkest of life’s circumstances. Now they are filled with a new desire to know Christ in his fullness. Those requests led me to begin to use LifeGuides more consistently in my counseling and in my discipling of young believers. I have a supply of guides in my office and often put one into the hands of a new convert or a struggling believer, and encourage them to get into the Word on their own as they grow in their spiritual walk.

My point is that LifeGuides can be great tools in any pastor’s ministry and can be used in a wide range of situations and applications. They work wonderfully in traditional adult education and small group settings, but they can also help you minister more effectively to specific needs in your congregation.

LifeGuides will also enrich your own spiritual development and stir new insights to help you prepare that next sermon series. If you are considering a series on David, work through Jack Kuhatschek’s excellent guide on your own or with your staff or your worship team. You will find yourself thinking more clearly about how the series can be applied more personally and powerfully to your congregation. Prepare a series on the Ten Commandments by carving out time for a personal retreat. Take your Bible, Rob Suggs’s LifeGuide The Ten Commandments and a notebook. Leave the commentaries behind for a while and just let God’s Word and the Holy Spirit speak into your life. The message series will come alive in you before the congregation ever hears a word from the pulpit.

I enjoy the discipline of writing LifeGuides, but their influence on my life and ministry is far greater than the few guides I’ve been privileged to write. They work in so many situations simply because they lead people into the riches of God’s truth and that truth changes lives—even a pastor’s life.

connellyOP.jpgDouglas Connelly is the senior pastor of Parkside Community Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan. He is the author of several LifeGuide study guides for InterVarsity Press and has also written The Bible for Blockheads series for Zondervan.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:00 AM | Comments (1) are closed