Everyone in the small group just sat there. The awkward silence hung heavy in the room, like a heavy stage curtain that had just lowered onto everyone sitting in the circle. The bombshell had been dropped just a few seconds ago, but with each ticking second of silence it seemed like years.
Josh and Amy had been a part of the small group since it had formed three years earlier. Although not the group leaders, they had been among the most faithfully committed and involved with attendance and get-togethers. They had people from the small group over to their home frequently. Some considered them part of the glue holding the small group together.
“Josh has been sleeping with prostitutes, and I’m having an affair.”
After several moments of silence, someone had finally moved to the seat next to Amy and put her arm around her. Then she asked her to go on.
Over the course of the next half hour, Amy unloaded a long and tragic story of secrets, lies, dysfunction, and hiding. Throughout their 10-year marriage, she and Josh had both known that things between them weren’t perfect, or how they wanted them to be. But neither of them risked pressing the issue. Partly out of fear of vulnerability and partly out of just not thinking about what was possibly going on, they had learned how to exist together without ever experiencing truly intimate honesty in their marriage.
Their struggle over the years had included problems with communication; problems related to their sex life; suspicions Amy had about Josh using porn (suspicions he denied, but she became convinced he was lying); and ultimately a shutdown of any attempt by either of them to pursue healthy intimacy and vulnerability.
Josh had been using pornography and had become addicted; his behavior had escalated to the point where he had begun hiring prostitutes while on business trips. When Amy found out, she lost it and began to lash out. But this was always at home, and neither of them allowed anyone to know what was happening.
Eventually, in a desperate attempt to hurt Josh as badly as he had hurt her, Amy had begun an affair with one of Josh’s co-workers. What had started as an attempt to get back at her husband had turned into something much more complicated, as Amy was now beginning to feel like she was in love with the other man.
As Amy finished her story, there was more silence in the room. Everyone glanced at each other out of the corners of their eyes, as if begging someone to say something. Finally, as Amy wept and Josh sat ashamed with arms crossed, looking down at the floor, their small group leader David said “I think we should pray.”
For the next few minutes, David prayed. He felt disjointed, disconnected from the God he was praying to. He tried to think about every phrase he prayed, hoping it was ok and wouldn’t make things worse. He had no idea even what to ask for, other than for God to “be there” and “give us all wisdom.” When he said “Amen” and the group ended, some of the couples made a bee-line for the door, mumbling about having to pick up kids, but actually making the quickest escape they could. David and his wife Beth stayed behind, along with another couple. And they just sat there.
Before everyone went home, David told Josh and Amy that he would try and figure out how the small group could help. He asked if it was OK to talk to one of the pastors about what was going on. Josh didn’t want anyone to know, and Amy didn’t care if everyone knew. Then they left, and David and Beth sat in their small group room looking at each other.
“What do we do?”
Chris, the Pastor of Education & Small Groups, was sitting at home on Sunday afternoon watching a football game when his phone rang. It was David. For the next several minutes David tried to recap what had happened in their small group, and communicated his complete loss at knowing how to handle it.
Chris felt a little paralyzed as he listened to everything David shared. He had no idea what to do, either. He’d only been on staff at the church for three years. In that time had been involved in several situations with couples experiencing marital difficulties, but never anything this bad. This whole thing was a huge mess. Chris didn’t know anything about sexual addiction. “Is that even a thing?” he wondered. If both of them had cheated on each other, then who had the grounds for divorce? These and a thousand other questions flooded his mind. After telling David that he’d get back with him soon, Chris hung up his phone and sat, stunned, in silence.
“What do I do?”
While the story I just told is a fictitious one, it represents very real situations that happen every week in our churches. In fact, if you’re a ministry leader reading this, you very well may be trying to figure out how I know about situations going on in your church right now. This type of brokenness is happening in our churches, and it isn’t going away.
Why do these things happen? Is it simply sinful choices? Is addiction involved? How can you tell the difference? How can you know what to do?
It’s very difficult to know exactly how to evaluate and respond. How can pastors, elders, deacons, small group leaders, small group members come alongside hurting people in the right way? How can you be part of biblical care that embraces both Scriptural integrity and abundant mercy & grace at the same time? How do you respond to counseling and care situations that are way above your pay grade? How do you know what to say, when and how to say it, and who to bring in for help?
None of us always know what to do. And it isn’t reasonable to expect you to know exactly what to do in every type of situation, particularly ones you have not yet faced. But in order to avoid adding to the harm, it’s critical to ask questions like the ones above. You must think it through and come up with a plan. If you don’t prepare a response, then you will almost always react. Responding is careful and deliberate. Reacting is knee-jerk and emotionally driven. As a leader you always want to respond, rather than react, to the brokenness in our churches.
How do you know what to do? Scripture doesn’t speak specifically about every situation we face. When it doesn’t, how do you adhere to its principles while seeking the specialized help that you need? How can you feel confident that what you’re doing is best?
Awaken can help. Through coaching & consultation with church leaders, we can help you develop a strategy for responding to crisis situations when they arise. We can also help you think through how to create a culture within your church that encourages people to be honest about their struggles before they have escalated to a point where it seems too late to help. We can help you feel more confident that you’re truly shepherding people well – through the most difficult experiences of their lives – with both grace and Biblical integrity. We can provide training for staff, elder, and small group leadership so that everyone involved has a clearer sense of their role and feels confident in that role.
Please contact us and let’s talk about how we may be able to help you as navigate through these rough waters with your people.
Awaken offers several groups that can help you wherever you are in the recovery process. We have weekly support for men and women who struggle with addictive sexual behavior, and for women who have been affected by their husbands’ or boyfriends’ addictions. We also have Twelve Step groups dealing with issues of addiction and control. CLICK HERE to get information on all of our group offerings. Or contact us with any questions you have.
Greg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in January of 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife Stacey have experienced deep healing & restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken they walk with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness.