I will never forget the conversation I had with a young man who was once a student in my youth ministry. At this time he was 19 years old, dating a wonderful gal who he would later marry, and trying to figure out where his future was going. We were in my living room, talking about all kinds of things, having a meal, but before I knew it, things would be awkward…
I believe the statement that started us down the awkward path was something like “Man, I can’t control myself. Me and my girlfriend sleep together all the time and we can’t seem to stop, and whenever we try I get sucked into looking at porn.” As we talked, he poured out about how all of it was wrecking their relationship. Feelings of guilt, shame, worthlessness, etc. began to characterize the way they felt about one another. We discussed what the scriptures said about it, speculated on the reasoning behind the scriptures, and discussed the practical application for both of our lives. It was a very real, very practical conversation. But here’s where the awkwardness came in…
At the very beginning of the conversation everything in me wanted to reach out to him and tell him “Yes, I understand. I have battled these exact things in my life as well.” But walking right alongside that thought was “You are the youth minister at his church. If for some reason he shares this, or the wrong person finds out, you could get in trouble, and possibly lose your job.” Whether or not that was true, it was the first thing to pop into my head at the thought of sharing my burden with him. Fortunately, I did share with him. Had I not, the good, healing conversation and prayer time with him never would have happened. And thankfully to this day, we still have a close friendship. We are still able to share honestly with one another and pray with each other no matter what is going on.
But man… It is easy for people in ministry to believe that they have to be perfect.
After all, they are the ones who preach and teach the passages that list out all kinds of sins that are to be avoided. They are the ones who speak to us as an authority on how we connect to God and how we should and shouldn’t live. So when a part of their life is not in line with the scripture, they feel the need to hide it. After all, they probably just got done telling you not to do the very thing they struggle with wanting to do everyday. They want to practice what they preach, and if they are in paid ministry, they particulalry worry that having their sin struggle known by anyone could result in losing their job (and all the struggles that come with losing a job.) The very one’s who preach forgiveness, grace, and restoration to the rest of us are scared to seek the same for their own lives.
So what happens when their sin struggles go unconfessed and aren’t death with? They become secret. And when they become secret, they tend to get worse and worse until they eventually spin out of control and wreck the person. In his commentary on temptation, James reminds us that sin leads to death (James 1:15.) When a ministry leader holds on and keeps sin secret… they die. Just like the rest of us.
So how do we challenge this belief?
1) Understand that all people are sinners, including them. In Romans 3:23 Paul reminds us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. While ministry leaders are held to high standards (James 3:1), they are still susceptible to temptation and sin. They are part of that “all” that Paul writes about. To expect your ministry leader to be sinless is to set them up for failure in your eyes.
2) Be slow to make judgments when sin is confessed or exposed. When someone else screws up, our natural tendency is to focus on it because then we don’t have to focus on our own life, our own problems, and our own sin. Jesus warned against this way of thinking (Matthew 7:3-5) encouraging us to keep our focus on ourselves. The key here is not to make a judgement of your ministry leaders worth to God because of confessed sinned. Nothing can separate them from the love of God (Romans 8:37-39) so why it should it separate them from ours? However, when we rush to judgment we just reinforce the belief that we expect our ministry leaders to be perfect.
3) Provide a safe place for them to be open about sin and struggle. Now, this is not likely to be some public place. I’m not advocating that a ministry leader go before a congregation upon every moment of sin and struggle, but there should be a safe place. Church elders, other ministers, or Christian counselors should be able to provide a safe haven for the ministry leader who struggles. James suggests to us that sharing sin struggles and praying together brings healing (James 5:16.) This is often the role we allow our ministry leaders to play for us, but shouldn’t they have it as well? To deny them a place to heal is to set them up to fail.
In all these things, please don’t misunderstand me. We don’t want to promote or allow someone to stay stuck in sin without any sort of accountability. In fact the book of Hebrews warns us that one who willingly pursues sin with his life is in a very dangerous place (Hebrews 10:26-27.) In such cases, discipline and accountability is important. But for the person who is struggling, battling, and desiring to put his sin to death, there should be grace.
If your minister, pastor, or ministry leader believes they have to be perfect, it will destroy them.