Barna Research: Most Pastors Don't Feel Qualified to Address Touchy Sexual Issues, Abuse in Church

"...when pastors were asked about their qualifications for handling sexual problems, less than a third of them reported that they felt 'very qualified' to address 15 of the 18 sexual issues in the survey." - C. Post

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TylerR's picture

Editor

There's a difference between "inexperienced" and "unqualified." I suspect most who answered meant "inexperienced." The answer is not to attend more classes. The answer is to apply Biblical wisdom (including rebuke and discipline) to real life. You may be inexperienced, but you're not unqualified; unless you're theologically and pastorally incompetent.

I suspect a major issue is that some pastors are complete wimps. Consider infidelity; a major issue in the article. If you read the Scriptures, you know what to do. It's not a mystery. You just don't want to do it, because confrontation sucks, doesn't it? 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry Nelson's picture

Come on, tell us what you really think!   Smile

TylerR's picture

Editor

It makes me very upset when I inherit problems other pastors should have taken care of years ago. Very upset. They know the problem is there, they dither around the edges, but avoid committing to working to fix it. Why? Because it sucks, that's why. Should I pass the buck, too? No, I can't do that. 

So, I have little compassion for this kind of whiny "I'm not qualified" stuff. Try sitting across from a mature, married couple who's been married 20 years, and watching the wife cry hysterically and the husband fume as you try to desperately discuss why they seem to hate each other. Guess what? Nobody is "qualified" to handle this situation. You can either wring your hands and hide behind your pulpit like a pansy, or flee to your library to caress your commentaries, or get to work and try to help your people.

Little sympathy for this! 

The article reads:

"It is clear from our research and common experience that our pastors are overwhelmed. We need to rethink our organization structures and training to make it possible for the whole church to pursue sexual discipleship together. This work must be integrated into, not isolated from, the lifeblood of the church's main ministry," he said.

Are pastors really overwhelmed? Or, are their priorities wrong? Perhaps a sermon series on marriage, with an accompanying study book might help. You can even touch on marriage as a covenant of commitment, what biblical love looks like (e.g., Eph 5 = selfless and undeserving), and wrap up with a walk through Song of Solomon and a frank discussion of sex and marriage (but not in a cheap way). You could do this in two months for Sunday School or, if you're very brave, for the main service. 

It's not impossible. But (to return to a favorite hobby horse of mine), if you're a solo pastor who embraces a sub--biblical view of a solo pastorate, it might seem unworkable! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

To illustrate why, simply ask a question; what is the definition of "pornography".  -5 points to anyone who says "I know it when I see it."  

I've read innumerable articles about that subject, and quite frankly, one thing they all have in common is that nobody ever defines the term.  Hence you get young kids who see Fox articles about "Pop Tarts" thinking they've got the same problem as the guy who "appreciates" the "art" of Stomy Daniels.

Nothing against Tyler's hypothesis of wimpiness; that's part of it, too, but we might say that the wimpiness factor works itself out in not learning enough about the matter to comment intelligently.   Another place that comes to mind; I'm working through a child protection policy for my church, and reviewers wanted to eliminate definitions, including links to state laws.  Yes, this stuff is icky, but if we're going to prevent it, we've got to understand what we're trying to prevent.  Never mind that it's far less earthy than sections of the Prophets or Song of Songs.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Pastors need to be thinking people. Intelligent people. Folks who watch the social landscape and are committed to confronting it, in their own small way, with Biblical truth. So, for example:

  • If you feel unqualified to deal with marital infidelity in the congregation
  • If you feel unqualified to deal with allegations of sexual abuse in the congregation
  • If you feel unqualified to deal with pornography use within the congregation
  • If you feel unqualified to deal with "gay Christianity" in the congregation
  • If you feel unqualified to address the transgender movement in the congregation

then you're either (1) a guy who's scared because of his inexperience and needs some hand-holding, or (2) you're incompetent and don't belong as a pastor, or (3) you're a wimp, or (4) a combination of all. Period. 

You may not handle something as well as you should, and you'll learn from your mistakes. Blah, blah, blah. Engage and handle these issues or go home. Read books and seek some help; take some counseling classes from Maranatha Seminary. The pastorate is no place for people who like to be loved, or for wimps who are afraid of confrontation and tough issues. 

Written communication is hard. Some people will read this, and assume I'm spitting at the screen and scowling. I'm not. I'm just being matter of fact. I think one of the best things a Seminary could do for young students is to have a pastor come in and try to persuade all of them to never be pastors. Forget all the piety, forget the starry-eyed visions of these would-be, latter-day Spurgeons. Tell them stories of real ministry and hard times. Tell them how their wives will be maligned and gossiped about. Tell them what ministry is really like. They've heard all the pious stories; now tell them the real story. Those that stay after hearing stories of REAL LIFE might do all right. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Perhaps the difficulty of being a good pastor indicates why one Biblical title for the role is "elder", as if life experience might be helpful.  I know for my part as I try to encourage my brother-in-law in a difficult marriage that it sure ain't for wimps.  I would even dare suggest that ten or twenty years back, I'd have been far less able to handle the issues.

And in reality, I was, as a lot of the issues my brother-in-law and his wife are dealing with now are really just metastasis from where they were then.  Do I think I was totally incompetent?  No; I would stand by what I told him back then, but if I could go back, I might have nudged him harder to do the right thing.  It's a lot like what Tyler mentioned in his comment from 9:35am CST, except it's 25 years.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WilliamD's picture

TylerR wrote:

Pastors need to be thinking people. Intelligent people. Folks who watch the social landscape and are committed to confronting it, in their own small way, with Biblical truth. So, for example:

  • If you feel unqualified to deal with marital infidelity in the congregation
  • If you feel unqualified to deal with allegations of sexual abuse in the congregation
  • If you feel unqualified to deal with pornography use within the congregation
  • If you feel unqualified to deal with "gay Christianity" in the congregation
  • If you feel unqualified to address the transgender movement in the congregation

then you're either (1) a guy who's scared because of his inexperience and needs some hand-holding, or (2) you're incompetent and don't belong as a pastor, or (3) you're a wimp, or (4) a combination of all. Period. 

You may not handle something as well as you should, and you'll learn from your mistakes. Blah, blah, blah. Engage and handle these issues or go home. Read books and seek some help; take some counseling classes from Maranatha Seminary. The pastorate is no place for people who like to be loved, or for wimps who are afraid of confrontation and tough issues. 

Written communication is hard. Some people will read this, and assume I'm spitting at the screen and scowling. I'm not. I'm just being matter of fact. I think one of the best things a Seminary could do for young students is to have a pastor come in and try to persuade all of them to never be pastors. Forget all the piety, forget the starry-eyed visions of these would-be, latter-day Spurgeons. Tell them stories of real ministry and hard times. Tell them how their wives will be maligned and gossiped about. Tell them what ministry is really like. They've heard all the pious stories; now tell them the real story. Those that stay after hearing stories of REAL LIFE might do all right. 

 

Tyler, 

Here's another thought...maybe most of these pastors have a pretty shoddy sex life (IE: duty sex from their wives once every month or two just to keep them married because attraction between them is at an all time low) in their own bedroom and don't know what to do about it. Therefore, they feel unqualified. As feminine and overweight  as so many pastors are, I can see that being a real problem that nobody wants to admit. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Why would a pastor claim he's "unqualified" to deal with the issues in the article? I can think of a few reasons, two of which I've mentioned already in this thread:

1. Inexperienced.

He's confusing "incompetent" with "inexperienced." No amount of academic training can prepare somebody for the "real deal." This is true in any field. In my own context, you can learn as much as you like about interviews and interrogations, but it's all abstract theory until you get experience by actually doing it. This means you'll make mistakes, learn from them, and figure out how to employ what you learned in the classroom. 

My response = start trying or find another job. It won't get any better by being too scared to try. 

2. Incompetent

It's entirely possible the guy didn't get a good theological education, or any education at all. It's also possible he's not a mature Christian himself. In other words, he's handicapped either by his own spiritual immaturity or his lack of education.

I'll always remember listening to a pastoral candidate tell a congregation that his "big vision" for the church was to get wider front doors, so the church could be more wheelchair accessible. What a fool. He then fielded a question about expository preaching by asking what that term meant. He held an MDiv from an evangelical institution. 

My response = read good books, find a quality, unaccredited Seminary and start taking classes as soon as possible. Get help from the pastors in your local fellowship. Or, be honest with yourself (or pray for others to be honest with you) and leave the ministry ASAP.

3. Wimp

Some leaders, in every organization in every field, are complete wimps and don't belong in leadership positions. They're cowards. They're afraid of change, suspicious of people, and frightened. You've worked for people like this. They're little people, small-minded people. They might be the nicest people ever. But, they're wimps. It's not a crime to be a wimp. But, it is a terrible thing to put a wimp in a leadership position. Some pastors are like this. 

My response = leave the pastorate immediately. Local churches should do better jobs screening candidates for ordination, and should start saying "no" every once in a while. Don't ordain a wimp to the ministry. It's for his own good that you spare him from the hardest job he'll ever have. It's the merciful thing to do. 

I still have very little sympathy for a pastor who claims to be "unqualified" to deal with the real issues of real life, with real people. Why are you a pastor, then? Spare me. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jay's picture

Here's my philosophy on this type of counseling, as illustrated by Batman Begins:

Henri Ducard: Your parents' death was not your fault.
[Bruce, angered by Ducard's comment, attacks Ducard with his sword]
Henri Ducard: It was your father's
[Bruce furiously attacks Ducard, but is easily defeated]
Henri Ducard: Anger does not change the fact that your father failed to act.
Bruce Wayne: The man had a gun!
Henri Ducard: Would that stop you?
Bruce Wayne: I've had training!
Henri Ducard: The training... is nothing! The will is everything!
[Ducard bests Bruce once again]
Henri Ducard: The will to act.

Or, if the movie scandalizes you, there's the story of David and Goliath:

When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

I didn't have the appropriate specialized training to intervene when I dealt with my first domestic violence victim.  Or the first sexual assault victim.  Or the first time someone told me they were attracted to someone of the same gender.  Or when hard conversations were needed with many people about the direction our church was heading.  But I also knew that I didn't have the luxury of time or getting more training.  All I could do was say to myself "what does the Word say and how can I apply it to this?"

And you know what?  In most cases, the Bible served me just fine.  All I had to do was give them a listening ear, commiserate with them that whatever the situation was hard when appropriate, and then gently, firmly, and lovingly give them whatever it was God's Word said about it.  Some received it, and some did not.  That's up to them.  But cowering because "I didn't know what I was doing" is simply not an option.

John 13:33-34 says that people will know that we are Christians by our love for one another.  And if we aren't loving enough to step up to the challenge of dealing with tough situations like the ones mentioned by Barna, then take those fancy diplomas off your wall and find an easier line of work.  It isn't getting any better out here, and it's going to get a lot worse soon.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells