Cybersex is the new drug of choice - and pastors are not immune.
A study by Zogby International and Focus on the Family reported that as many as one in five adults has sought out pornography on the Internet. Eighteen percent of those who confessed to looking for pornography also professed to be born again Christians.
What's even more alarming is the number of pastors struggling with online pornography. Though exact figures aren't available, Steve Watters of Focus on the Family reports, "one out of every five individuals who contact a phone line specifically set up to counsel families in Christian ministry admit to having a pornography problem."1
For the pastor caught with online pornography the consequences are severe: guilt; embarrassment; a lost ministry; scandalized congregation; shattered reputation; sabotaged marriage; devastated family; the cause of Christ obstructed. Even if he's not discovered, the fear of discovery, guilt, and silent shame hang like a millstone around the neck.
The Internet offers easy and anonymous access to pornography. With temptation lurking in the digital shadows, pastors, staffs, and churches must take the initiative to shut out the online seduction.
As a pastor or staff person, you must take responsibility for protecting yourself and your ministry. Begin by recognizing the truth about yourself. We are all subject to temptation and capable, under the right circumstances, of committing almost any sin. If you don't think so, just ask David.
There are some practical steps you can take to guard yourself. First, find someone who will hold you accountable. Accountability isn't a fad, it's a biblical necessity. You need someone with whom you can be open and vulnerable - someone who has permission to ask you the tough questions. How's your thought life? Have you been anywhere online that you shouldn't have been? Consider allowing them to check your computer at any time, unannounced. You might also give your spouse and secretary complete access to your computer.
Second, filter your Internet access. Subscribe to a family-friendly Internet Service Provider such as LifeWayonline (www.lifewayonline.com). Filtered ISPs block access to almost all offensive Web sites, chat rooms, and newsgroups.
If a family-friendly ISP isn't practical or available in your area, use blocking/monitoring software. Using a set of rules and a regularly updated list of offensive sites, the software works in the background, filtering your Internet access. If you use blocking/monitoring software, let your spouse or secretary control the password. This removes the temptation to bypass the filter. CYBERsitter for PC, and Surfwatch for Macs, are two of the best.
Third, limit your exposure. Use family-friendly search engines, such as Crosswalk.com, Searchopolis, and LookSmart. Turn on the optional family filter at AltaVista, Lycos, and GO. Such search engines block or reject offensive listings. Guard against Spam by choosing carefully to whom you give your e-mail address.
Limit the time spent in chat rooms. Anonymous communication in a chat room quickly breaks down social safeguards and moral hedges. Caught up in the intimacy a faceless relationship generates, you can find yourself saying and proposing things you'd never do in real life. So, limit your use of chat. Have a reason to be in a chat room. Take care of business and leave.
Fourth, keep your relationship with God fresh. Satisfy your deepest longings with God, and you're less likely to seek its satisfaction somewhere else.
Protect Your People
How often have you walked in the office to find that someone has opened the mail or used a piece of office equipment without the staff's knowledge? How long will it be before someone uses your computer, or another, to log onto the Internet? Where will they go? What will they do? What will they leave on the computer for someone else to find?
Consider password-protecting all computers. Don't leave Internet passwords on your computer or written down where someone can find them. For added security, use a program like Norton Security 2000.
Create an Internet use policy. Use it to outline acceptable and unacceptable use of the Internet, who can use the computers and the Internet access, the procedure for reporting accidental encounters with offensive materials, and the consequences for breaking the policy.
With all the safeguards outlined, you can still be tempted. If you stumble on offensive material, hit your browser's Back Button. Then call your accountability partner or your spouse and tell them what happened. This way, no one can accuse you of "looking for it."
If you are feeling tempted to go looking for pornography, turn off the computer. Do something else. Go spend time with those who mean the most to you.
Don't surf alone. When on the Internet, keep your office door open. Avoid surfing late at night, after everyone else has gone to bed. If temptation is a problem, don't take your notebook computer with you when you travel. If you have to take it, leave the modem at home. Check your e-mail at Kinkos or a similar public location.
These are some practical steps you can take to guard yourself, your family, and your ministry from harm. Ultimately, the responsibility for staying safe in the study rests with you. Perhaps the best advice comes from Paul: If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV)
1 "Zogby Survey Reveals a Growing Percentage of Those Seeking Sexual Fulfillment on the Internet," Citizen Link News Release, March 21, 2000.
Where to Go for Help
Cybersex is a serious issue. If you or someone you know has a problem, get help immediately. One of these sites could prove helpful.
Enough is Enough
Heart to Heart
Ken Reeves is pastor of First Baptist Church, Clewiston, Fla., and is founder and president of "Internet for Families," an on-line ministry designed to help families make the most of the Internet. He is also author of Going On-line @ Home published by Broadman & Holman, scheduled for release in September.