The sub-headings are from Rock of Ages, a classic hymn and one of my favourites.
Not the labour of my hands
Every leader is guilty of shameful thoughts, disgusting habits, perverse ambitions and foul behaviour. But what do you do when people are looking up to you as an example? How can you come to terms with how far you fall short of the New Testament’s requirements for leaders? How do you cope with your own depravity?
I think one of the most common ways of handling this difficulty is to pretend that we as leaders are not sinful, or at least, not bad sinners. We hide our sin from those in our care and we are angry when someone mentions it in front of our youth group kid or small group member. Not that we think we’re better than anyone else, but we feel the pressure to be a good example of holiness.
Could my zeal no respite know
But lies are inherently damaging. They can lead to despair, a hopeless weight of secret guilt. Or they can lead to unrepentance and pride, to ignoring sin because it doesn’t fit with our projected image. And lies damage those in our care as well. They set impossible goals for people who are no more capable of being perfect than we are. And so they can fall into despair as well. Or they might continue to struggle for that goal, idolising their leader and their supposed perfection.
But we worship the God of truth, the one before whom we are all exposed. If we ignore our sin, he doesn’t. If we hide our sin, he sees it. While we may deceive others, or even ourselves, we can not deceive God.
And yet, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This same God who sees all evil has also chosen to act definitively in history to bring about our deliverance from sin and the guilt with which it shackles us. Repentance is not to be avoided for the Christian leader – it is the most refreshing of breaths. For in such moments of vulnerability is the grace of God all the more clear.
Helpless look to you for grace
And that’s where we need to be leading our people. We ought to model utter dependence on the grace of God. The broken leader has no claim to righteousness, other than the blood of Jesus Christ – because there is no other claim to righteousness! And our people need to see this reliance as our only option – and theirs. They need leaders who share what their failings are, that they might point to the overwhelming torrent of grace from God and assure their people that this is the same God who can forgive even them. This is the kind of leadership that points away from oneself to the true Shepherd, the one over all.
So the next time someone points out one of your failings to one of your youth kids, or whoever it is, embrace the opportunity to teach about the grace of God. Admit your sin, that apart from the grace of God, you too stand condemend. And tell them of the God of grace who forgives you. And how that grace sets you free to say no to ungodliness and live an upright life as you wait for the glorious day of Jesus’ return.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.