In the first post we looked at the importance of sex and sexuality for pastors and the dangers inherent in minimizing that part of their lives. The second post explained how pastors can become vulnerable to the misuse of their sexuality, acting out via cybersex activities or by having extramarital relationships.
Pornography-viewing and other sexual acting out often serve a dual function of relieving stress and offering escape into a fantasy world. Such sexual acting out indicates a pastor’s life is precariously out of balance. Here are some tips for keeping your life in better balance:
- Boundary-setting: One of the greatest stressors for pastors stems from their inability to set clear boundaries. What are some ways to set clear boundaries? Take time off. Construct a metaphorical fence around your day off. Let it be known that that time is vital for replenishment. Barring a dire church emergency, defer non-essential requests from parishioners. This can be done with grace and humor and will decrease burn-out symptoms. Delegating responsibilities is another way to set a boundary. Avoid micro-managing and succumbing to the belief that the pastor needs to do it all. Learning to say “no” is an important aspect of boundary setting. For example, set time-limits on phone conversations and meetings. Pastors often have a need to please everyone, which is impossible.
- Self-care: Engage in self-care, including physical exercise, adequate sleep, proper diet. In addition, self-care includes time for pleasurable activities, time with friends, developing a hobby. Seek out a spiritual mentor with whom you can be transparent. Take time for your prayer and devotional life.
- Nurturing marriage: Healthy marriages require quality time together. Keep a date night sacred. Take a weekend away. Talk to your spouse, especially about your feelings—fears, doubts, frustrations. Your partner is there, not to fix everything for you, but to provide care and support. Mutual emotional vulnerability can significantly enhance sexual intimacy. Talk with each other about your sexual needs and desires. Be playful; don’t get stuck in the same sexual routine.
This is not an exhaustive list of ideas but provides some seed-thoughts on rebalancing one’s life. However, many pastors reading the above will likely consider the writers to be naïve or even delusional. The objection would be something like, “We don’t have time to engage in these activities. Church work is too demanding.” But this objection takes as a given, what we feel needs to be reexamined. It is incumbent upon the pastor to shape his/her ministry in healthy ways to reduce stress and the potential for sexual acting-out.
To succumb to the thinking that the above is impossible places pastors in untenable positions. To survive and thrive in ministry requires more than dedication to one’s pastoral vocation. It requires attending to the basics, balancing life, and caring for self as one cares for others. In so doing, the risk of needing to escape into sexual acting-out is significantly diminished.
Two final thoughts.
Firstly, for those who find they have been unable to stop pornography-viewing or other acting-out behavior, counseling with a professional trained to deal with these types of issues can be very helpful. These problems are treatable in a therapy context which assures both acceptance and confidentiality.
Secondly, the pastors who come to us for help are usually male, despite the fact that female pastors also struggle with sexual issues. We are aware that these posts may be unintentionally geared more toward male pastors. We would love to hear from female pastors regarding gender-specific differences related to the topics we have discussed.
-Bill Bixler and Greg Hill
Dr. Bill Bixler (above right), a clinical psychologist, and Greg Hill (above left), licensed professional counselor, have both received clinical and theological training and are co-founders of the Center for Emotional and Sexual Health in Cary. They are certified sex addiction therapists and specialize in working with: couples coping with infidelity; individuals caught in sex and porn addiction; teenagers struggling with porn, sexting, etc.; and spouses and families traumatized by the addict’s behavior. They are also available to speak to church groups on sex and sexuality. They can be contacted via phone: (919) 466-0770 or email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image by Pixabay user PublicDomainPictures