Yesterday, I had a phone call with a young leader convinced he was no longer qualified to lead because he’d messed up in a way that pretty much every man on the planet has messed up repeatedly. This morning, I received an email from a pastor wanting to know if he was qualified to lead when he still struggles with sins of the heart and mind.
First, a disclaimer … Paul made it clear in the pastoral epistles that those who desire to be overseers must live lives that are above reproach. Certainly, no one can actively serve as a pastor who is secretly harboring or openly flaunting unrepentant sin, and often confession of certain sins sidelines our ability to lead with credibility.
But what about those weaknesses that are common to man? Not the scandal that brings reproach upon the cause of Jesus, but the sins that arise out of our struggle with the flesh and with humanness? I love this summary from Robert Coleman in his classic work, The Master Plan of Evangelism:
Our weaknesses need not impair discipleship when shining through them is a transparent sincerity to follow Christ.
Perfection isn’t the requirement for those who wish to lead. Progress is. Still, our lives as leaders are indeed always on display. Coleman also said,
When it is all boiled down, those of us who are seeking to train people must be prepared to have them follow us, even as we follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). We are the exhibit (Phil. 3:17f.; 1 Thess. 2:7, 8; 2 Tim. 1:13). They will do those things that they hear and see in us (Phil. 4:9). Given time, it is possible through this kind of leadership to impart our way of living to those who are constantly with us.
1. Focus on progress, not perfection. Make sure you’re growing in the art and skill of prayer and the study of God’s word.
2. Keep a short account with God by confessing sin quickly and agreeing with God about the sinfulness of your sin.
3. Refuse to minimize, rationalize or justify sin. This is a dangerous pandora’s box.
4. Own your weaknesses and lean hard into the grace of God on a constant basis.
5. Shift your focus from keeping God’s rules, which you can’t do on your own, to staying in close relationship with Jesus.
6. Preach and lead out of humility and never pride, as a fellow struggler rather than a lone champion.
7. Meditate. Pray. Keep your heart soft, your mind clear and your life simple.
There is more. Much more, in fact. But this is a good start. I’m reminded of the words of “Give Me Faith,” by Elevation Worship:
I may be weak
But your Spirit’s strong in me
My flesh may fail
My God you never will
If you’ve given in to habitual sin and have created a scandal, step away from ministry leadership to repent, recover, make amends and form a new pathway.
But if a “transparent sincerity to follow Christ” shines through your weaknesses, keep going! Don’t give up! Lean harder into the grace, forgiveness and enabling power of your relationship with Jesus than ever before, and be the exhibit for your friends to follow toward Jesus.