The moral failing of pastors has been heavy on my mind lately. Why now, more than points in the past? I cannot say for sure, but it might have something to do with my recent awareness of numerous men who have left the ministry as a result of sinful patterns in their life. Some of them were recently made public, others occurred a couple years ago, but I have only now become aware of the situations. Each time, it grieves my heart. Each time, it gives me reason to pause and consider the implications.
I write this post with a bit of timidity. I do not want to comment on the lives of other men lightly, especially those I do not know personally. I do not want to heap shame upon others when it is not needed. My goal is not to comment on them, so much as share the reflections I have had in light of my growing awareness of this issue.
I am not immune
Whenever a new situation surfaces, it causes me to take an account of my own life. Am I growing in gospel awareness? Are there areas of sin lurking in the shadows - unaddressed and increasing in strength? Do I have channels in my life to confess sin and seek support? Am I preaching the gospel to myself on a regular basis? Is my marriage healthy and growing?
I do not walk through life expecting that I will engage in ministry-disqualifying sin, but I do need to be aware that I am not immune to sin's power in my life. Through Jesus, I have the power to fight sin, but when I am not abiding in Christ, sin has the power to fight back. And hard! Sin is not weak, but because of Jesus, it does not have an overwhelming strength in my life.
Each time I hear about the moral failing of another pastor, I am reminded that I am not immune from this problem. I cannot coast through life or ministry.
Need for character development
I recently had a great conversation with a fellow pastor about church-based ministry training. As we discussed necessary elements in how churches help develop future pastors and lay leaders, he made a strong appeal to the importance of character development. He reminded me that pastors don't often get removed from ministry because of theological distinctions or leadership styles, it is often the result of deep and pervasive sin. Sin that is often hidden and then surfaces through any number of different channels, which makes it extremely messy and very painful for the pastor's family and church.
As I reflect on the moral failing of pastors, and their disqualification from ministry, it has been a great reminder of the importance of character development as part of ministry preparation. We are going to be hiring five ministry interns this fall at First Baptist Church, and we will be intentional to give considerable time to this important aspect of their development.
Creating a culture where its okay to not be okay
As I have been reflecting on the moral failing of pastors, it has been a reminder that often we do not create a culture where it is okay to not be okay. Our actions don't line up with our theology. We don't believe the Bible teaches we need to be perfect, but we do not make room for the imperfection we know is present. As a result, we hide even the smallest of sins. These unaddressed, hidden sins, grow stronger in the shadows, and eventually turn into massive sin patterns.
We do not create a culture or space to talk about our sin. When we hide our sin, we feed it like we would a tiger cub. It feels harmless to start, but we never address the growing sin, until we are finally consumed by the massive feline that has grown inside of us. Helping pastors and ministry leaders find avenues to confess sin, so that sin does not have a chance to grow is a necessary step.
Even if sin has grown to a point of disqualification, keeping it hidden will only result in more pain and destruction. We need to create a culture that can handle sin and help to address sin. Where it is okay to not be okay.
We never stop seeking gospel transformation
The gospel never stops changing us. So even though we need a culture where we can be honest about sin, we must also create a culture that constantly pursues gospel transformation. God is in the business of changing lives, even in the life of the most seasoned pastor. God wants to continue bringing our hearts and our lives into increasing alignment with our status as fully righteous in Christ. We have already been made perfect, by grace, through faith in Jesus. Now God wants our hearts and lives to reflect that more and more each day.
So, while it is important that we create space for the honest confession of sin, we are not content to stay in that sin. We pursue the gospel and the change God wants to bring in our lives.
Be proactive, not reactive
The final point of reflection I been having is that we must be proactive to create healthy patterns and relationships, so that when we need to confess sin or seek help, it is available to us. Don't wait until you are knee deep in the water (or some other less desirable substance) to begin looking for waders. Develop deep relationships that allow you to confess sin. Get monitoring software on your computer. Create rhythms that help you grow in your relationship with Jesus. Preach the gospel to yourself daily. Be proactive, no reactive to fight sin in your life.