There’s a dark secret lurking behind the pulpit of many churches these days: the shocking fact that pastors and clergy are actually more likely to be struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors than those who are merely sitting in the pews each Sunday.
This statistic becomes much easier to understand once you recognize how much shame, hiddenness, and isolation contribute to these behaviors—all of which can be fueled (and sometimes even encouraged) by the demands the church places upon their leaders today.
Tom Ryan was one of those pastors whose life behind closed doors was very different from what he allowed his congregation to see on Sunday mornings. In his book, Ashamed No More: A Pastor’s Journey Through Sex Addiction, Tom shares the story of not only his downfall, but also the ways in which God has restored his life and brought him to a place of freedom and influence beyond what he previously imagined possible.
Tom’s writing style reminds me quite a bit of Brennan Manning’s, in the sense that I often found myself reading a paragraph multiple times over due to the density of information contained within. I don’t mean that as a negative at all, it just means I had a hard time reading it if I wasn’t somewhere where I could concentrate fully on the book without distraction.
I would recommend that anyone who needs a reminder that freedom truly is possible to pick up this book—especially if you’re a pastor or clergy member. I believe you will find it to be a helpful resource to stoke the fires of hope in your soul.
Highlighting My Highlights:
I’m one of those guys who can’t read a book without a highlighter in my hand, and as far as I’m concerned, it would be a shame to mark up my favorite content and never share it with you. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite quotes from Ashamed No More:
“For more than forty years, a defining and crippling characteristic of my life was a daily struggle with compulsive sexual behavior. I was a dopamine and adrenaline junky. I used my sexuality to get my “drugs.” But my problem wasn’t just sex. Anyone who is an addict and then experiences genuine recovery from addiction sooner or later learns that addictions are not our real problem. Addictions or compulsive behaviors are merely the symptoms of something deeper.”“One of the most important things I’ve learned is that I was not and I am not alone. There are thousands of other clergy with this struggle, and hundreds of thousands of well-intentioned Christians struggle with guilt, shame, and fear—all hiding their secret lives. Can this be what Christ wants for His church? Absolutely not.”
“It might seem highly incongruous to some people that a person can be a growing, earnest Christian—especially a spiritual leader like a minister, priest, or pastor—and also struggle with compulsive sexual behaviors. For years I was sure I was the only person in my church, in my clergy associations, and among my Christian friends who did. It was startling to discover later that far more pastors struggle with compulsive sexual behaviors than don’t. How can that be?”
“Even though shame can cause us to alter our behavior, at least for a while, we are not utilizing self-control out of love for ourselves or someone else. We are “changing” to stop the pain. We don’t like how it feels to be ashamed, so we do what we can to stop the pain, but that is not a healthy motivation for changing our behavior. Why? Because we’re responding to the message “I’m a worthless person” and hoping that by behaving differently we will no longer be worthless. We can stop the pain of false guilt, we think, by performing. It’s trying to achieve a personal identity based on behavior and approval of others.”
“We want to see ourselves as people who’ve taken the forgiveness of the cross and gotten our act together; people who are worth being saved. But we’re not saved because we’re worth it. We’re saved because we’re loved.”
“Until the church once again becomes the place where people who are on the outside of society, folks who struggle with darkness in their souls and brokenness in their lives, know they are welcome, wanted, and loved just for who they are, we will continue to be one of the least significant organizations in our culture, just taking up space and wasting people’s time.”
“In thinking and speaking of ethics and morals, and especially if we want to be faithful to the spirit of the Bible, there is something very important to remember: we primarily are to use ethics and morals to address our own lives, not the loves of others.”
“I know my old wiring is still there, and I could relapse, but I work hard to partner with God so that doesn’t happen. Even if I did relapse, it wouldn’t change who God is. It wouldn’t change what He has done. And it wouldn’t change who I am to God—it wouldn’t change my identity.”