You know, we all do it. People frequently accuse Mark Driscoll of glorifying it. C.J. Mahaney often gets accused of relishing in it. (I’m not saying that I agree with either Driscoll’s or Mahaney’s detractors, only that they are targets). We may not like to admit it, but our lack of willingness to admit it, does not negate the fact that we ALL do it. What is the “it” to which I am referring? I am glad you asked. We all have sin in our lives. Unfortunately, when a statement like that is made, it is often used to excuse the sinful actions in one’s life. Yet another typical response to the sin in our own life is to somehow offer a justification that we (in error) think lessens the severity of the sin. Not only is attempting to justify sin one of our primary responses, but so too is denial. We often attempt to deny that the sin in our life is actually sin. While these are some of the primary responses offered to excuse or cover the sin in our life, for those of us who are leaders in churches and ministries, this cannot be the case. When we refuse to deal with our own sin we a) limit the power of God working through us due to our disobedience and we b) profane the name of Christ that we are called to exalt by our rebellion.
Before you get too carried away and begin to think that I write this from the perspective of someone who is judging and looking down upon other ministry and church leaders for their sin, let me assure you that nothing could be less true. Part of what has hurt the cause of Christ in our generation today (there are many things, but I shall not refer to them all in this article) is that those of us in ministry have often times not been clearly transparent. While it would do you, me, and the cause of Christ no good for me to “air my dirty laundry,” I assure you that as a human, I still struggle with sin in my life on a daily basis (as did the Apostle Paul as seen in Romans 7). The question we must begin to ask ourselves is not, “Do I have sin in my life?” or “How bad is the sin in my life?” but rather, “How do I deal with the sin in my life?” Only when we ask the latter will we truly be able to fully honor Christ in our obedience.
Unfortunately one of the most difficult things for those of us who are leaders to do is to admit when we are wrong. While pastors and ministry leaders do not possess the same amount of power as the President of the United States or corporate CEOs, there is a certain amount of “power” and prestige that comes with being in such positions. This power and prestige often feeds one of the most innate sinful desires of humanity: pride. Think about that for a minute. Does not the life of David reveal this to us as well? He was the king. He saw a woman he wanted, and knowing she was not his own, he took her. Knowing that he had done wrong, and when his attempts to cover his sin failed, he eventually had another man killed to cover his backside. (Yes, I realize that this sounds like modern-day politics at its finest). Do you get it? David did not begin to deal with his sin. He tried to do what we often do: he tried to cover it. (By the way, although I am using David as the reference point, I am in NO WAY saying that all sin that ministry leaders commit is adulterous in nature, but I am saying that all sin that is committed is heinous in the sight of God because they are sins that essentially cost His Son His life.) Before David could deal with his own sin, he had to first see that sin as God saw it. Let that soak in for a bit. We often are so busy trying to figure out how to cover our own sin that we do not stop and see it as God does. David did this too. Only when Nathan came to him, and essentially called him out, did David pause and reflect to see his sin as God saw it. The same is true for us today. We must see our sin as God sees it if we are going to deal with it as He would have us.
Once David saw his sin in the same light that God did, he responded correctly. Psalm 51 is a beautiful picture of his response. David genuinely repented. Too often the term “repent” in our culture means to simply say, “I’m sorry.” That is certainly not the case in David’s prayer of repentance, nor is it the biblical use of the word. When one reads Psalm 51, you genuinely feel the heartbreak and sorrow that David experienced as a result of his sin. You see that he realizes that his sin ultimately offended God. David is authentic in his cry to God to deliver him from his sin. When one reads Psalm 51, you walk away with the idea that David has absolutely zero desire to return to his sinful activities, but he instead has made his delight in the Lord. Oh that we could grasp this today!!! Not only must we see our sin as God sees it, but we must genuinely repent and turn from that sin. Our delight should not, and cannot, be in our pride or in the sinful actions of our lives. When there is sin in our lives, we must genuinely repent. To do so, we must humbly submit to the truth of God’s Word in our lives. Repentance is not easy, especially for those us who struggle with pride, because it requires willing submission on the part of the one repenting.
In years past it was common for new homes to be built with a large front porch. In the evenings people would often sit on their porches and visit with their neighbors. In recent years however, this trend has changed. Travel across almost any suburban area in the United States, and you will notice that new homes today typically consist of a 3’ by 3’ front porch. Why? Because the sense of community that was once common has been replaced by a sense of individuality and anonymity. What was once public has become private. Because of this it is imperative that those of us who are ministry and church leaders find someone to whom we are accountable. I will readily admit that allowing someone the right to ask you the hard questions is a difficult thing, but I will also tell you that doing so will prevent damage in your personal life and the ministry to which God has called you. In our contemporary culture we have forgotten one of the main tenets of Christianity: it was not meant to be lived alone! In Acts 2 we see that the early Christians had all things in common. While some use this passage to validate socialism, I think God has a much larger agenda. He is teaching us that we need each other. I want to encourage you, if you do not already have someone, to find someone to whom you are accountable. While the questions they may ask could make you admit some things in your life, you will thank me later.
In our society that is so heavily influenced with various media forms, it is imperative that we have a healthy mental intake. I recently had a conversation with someone regarding the release of a highly publicized movie about both the overt and covert messages it sends to those who watch it. I was informed that it was only fantasy, and that I should not worry about fantasy. While I understand and appreciate what was being said, I would also say that David’s sin with Bathsheba began with a fantasy about something he saw (mental intake). While fantasy itself is not a bad thing (I mean, God did create our brains and give us creativity and fantasy), it can quickly lead to sin when the object of those fantasies becomes sinful in nature. Because we are prone to sin already, it is wise to ensure that what we put into our minds through media is edifying. Paul even speaks to this in Philippians 4:8. What a great litmus test for us! It is almost as if God knew we would need such when the Bible was penned all those many years ago! While it may severely alter our media intake (of all forms), following the command of Paul is both preventative in our lives and honoring to Christ.
Finally, if we are going to deal with the sin in our own life, we must make our spiritual life a priority. As ministry and church leaders, it is often easy to get bogged down in the daily grind of preparing messages and lessons, caring for the sick, making visits to prospects, and being a spouse and parent. Often what suffers in such cases is our own spiritual life. When that is the case we increase the size of the target on our back for the enemy because we are not properly prepared to wield off his attacks. You can rest assured that if Satan knew how to attack Jesus in Matthew 4 (food, pride, and power), he knows where we are vulnerable as well. In fact, Peter even warns about such. He calls the devil a lion who is seeking whom he may devour. He is looking for our weakest moments. What we do as ministry and church leaders is important, but let me assure you: we are not irreplaceable. The most vital aspect of ministry we face is our own spiritual life so that we are a) properly equipped to lead, b) prepared to lead out of our own overflow, c) prepared for the attacks of the enemy, and d) not a reproach to the name and work of Christ.
As ministry and church leaders, we have to get real. We all have sin in our own lives. The cost is too great for us to not deal with it. We must deal with our sin in the same way we encourage those to whom we are called to minister to deal with their sin:
- See it as God sees it.
- Genuinely repent.
- Actively engage with an accountability partner.
- Have a healthy mental intake.
- Make our spiritual life a priority.