Beware of Church Leaders?

I have been somewhat detached from "ministry world" for quite a while now.  I haven't really had the time to keep up with the latest headlines in the tiny slice of the world we know as evangelical Christianity (and if you don't believe it is a tiny slice then you haven't spent much time outside of that world or outside the bible belt). 

Honestly it has been somewhat refreshing for me.  

However with a couple of weeks of downtime before I begin a new position, I have been playing catch up. I'm not sure it is the best use of my time because I have read copious reports of church leaders manipulating numbers and manufacturing baptisms, pastors building seemingly oversize houses with questionable resources, disingenuous practices to land books on the NYT bestseller's list, abuse of power, unwise use of church funds, self-promotion, undue harsh criticism of other leaders, limited accountability, and multiple other underbelly realities of ministry that most church attendees tend to ignore or be unaware of.

I was involved in "full-time" ministry for about 20 years.  I have worked in and led churches of all sizes and shapes. I have rubbed shoulders with some of the most influential leaders of the evangelical movement. I have been a part of the good, the bad, and the ugly of ministry world.  I know firsthand the brutal reality that pastors are human. They are sinners.

I have known personally church leaders who...

lie
cheat
are prideful
teach sketchy doctrine
misuse church money
deceive
drink too much
cuss
are arrogant
manipulate the numbers
are racist
have cheated on their spouse and been caught
have cheated on their spouse and not been caught
look regularly at porn
sneak into strip clubs
exaggerate
have an unhealthy marriage
are poor parents
overeat
are judgmental
are abusive
struggle with same sex attraction
cover things up
live a double life
are greedy
are selfish
gossip
overreact
are easily angered
refuse to repent
have a temper
rarely pray
rarely read their Bible
make inappropriate comments
use sexual innuendos constantly
exploit their position to take advantage of and control people
hate
are lazy
overwork
falsely accuse
never share their faith
talk bad about individuals in their congregation
worry constantly
are bitter
are unforgiving
boast
covet
lust
want out of ministry but feel they have no viable option
maintain a secret life
prioritize the wrong things
backbite
are jealous
desire revenge over reconciliation

and on and on and on...

I do not know any church leaders who struggle with all of these things but I also have not known any church leader who did not struggle with some of these issues. 

I would also say the average pastor wrestles with...

doubt
insecurity
a lack of confidence
feeling inadequate
feeling underqualified
feeling overwhelmed
depression
fear
feelings of not measuring up
faulty comparisons
uncertainty

and on and on and on...

And yet, the average church leader I know also loves Jesus and His church, believes the gospel, has a genuine heart for God, wants to be an effective leader, wants people to follow Jesus, wants to live a holy and pure life, and wants to be a solid husband, father, friend, and pastor.  I don't believe there are a lot of intentional religious charlatans out there. A Few? Yes.  Most? Absolutely not.

In my worst moments, I still loved Jesus, my church, and my family. 

So what are we to make of this ever-present tension?  How do we embrace both the reality of our own sin and the call to live "above reproach" (especially those in leadership)?  What choices ultimately disbar a person from leading? What sin struggles separate the qualified from the disqualified?

I'm not sure I know the clear cut answer to these questions. I know my personal sinful choices left me in a place where I did not believe I was qualified to lead effectively any longer so I walked away.  And I am not sure if there is a "re-qualifying" process that will provide me a peace about returning to ministry. I am not sure I even want to re-enter that world.

What I do know is that church leaders are human. They sin. Allow them to be sinful humans. 

What I also know is that church leaders are called to a higher level of accountability and so they should never use their "I am human" tension as an excuse to live with unconfessed and unresolved sin.  We should constantly be seeking repentance in our lives.

Being exposed to the underside of church leadership can be disheartening to those who have a misconstrued idea of what it means to be "called" by God.  Even the biblical accounts of God-called leaders do not pull any punches. Most of the Bible's Hall of Fame is filled with leaders who struggled with many of the sins mentioned above.

Ministry is a brutal world led by fallen humans.  But guess what? That's God plan. At the end of the day, church life is not about who we are. It is about who He is and who we are IN HIM.  Our brokenness propels His goodness. Our sin enunciates His grace. Our fallenness points to His glory.

Ministry is not about us ... and maybe that is part of the problem ... maybe we tend to make it about us instead of about Him.  And that's why there will always be headlines.  

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