When Does Viewing Porn Disqualify a Church Leader for Ministry?

By Luke Gilkerson

In the following video from The Elephant Room, Pastor James McDonald asks Pastor Mark Driscoll about when a pastor or church leader should be disqualified from ministry because of viewing pornography.

A few things Pastor Driscoll says strike me:

  • The issue isn’t just about porn. It’s about lust. Driscoll is right: Porn may be a red-letter sin, but we should be just as concerned about other forms of lust in leaders’ lives (manifested in their lives and relationships).
  • The church must be about both authenticity and holiness. Many churches find this to be a hard line to walk. If pornography is the issue (as Driscoll says), then the church needs to be a place where authenticity and confession are encouraged for the thousands who are struggling. At the same time, church leaders should be exemplary men, modeling not only authenticity but holiness.
  • We must hold to 1 Timothy 3 standards. Driscoll highlights a couple qualities from 1 Timothy 3 set by Paul: (1) the church leader must be “above reproach,” and (2) he must be a “one woman man.” (Pastor Bobby Scott does an excellent job elaborating on these ideas in our e-book for pastors who struggle with porn.)
  • Habitual porn-use is disqualifying. Driscoll does not define what is “habitual” in terms of frequency but in terms of the rut pornography has carved in someone’s mind. He cites the book Wired for Intimacy by Dr. William Struthers. Because of what we know about the neurochemical side of watching pornography, especially Internet porn, the church should take very seriously a pastor or leader who keeps returning to porn. (Watch this video with Dr. Struthers that was recorded when he visited our headquarters.)
  • The church removing a pastor from ministry can be a loving act. The church’s goal for a fallen leader should be restoration of his life and character, and if they deem it wise, his ministry. Removing a pastor from the stresses of ministry, though painful, could be one of the most loving things a church can do when it is followed by process of discipleship and biblical counsel. (In our e-book, Chris Beall talks about the grace and love his church showed him when he fell not only to pornography but also to adultery.)

Ultimately it is up to the overseeing leadership of a church how to handle a pastor caught in this kind of sin. But Driscoll’s words of wisdom here should be heeded: a church must take habitual porn use very seriously and deal with it in a manner than shows great concern for the holiness of its leadership.


Luke Gilkerson is Internet Community Manager for Covenant Eyes, an Internet accountability service.

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