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Weakness again

I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with myself about weakness. In my first post I asked some questions about competence in leadership. This time I’m thinking about sin.

One of the things that’s talked about a lot about at college, in lectures, chapel services, ministry discussion groups, etc is the spiritual life of the minister of the gospel. We are constantly being reminded that relationship with God is essential in ministry. Partly, that’s because it’s only in that relationship that sin can be dealt with.

There are appropriate places to confess and repent. Some would say those largely exist in private or with a small group of close friends. (I’ll choose to leave the whole question of private / public spirituality for another time). But I think there’s a great deal to be said for ministers modelling honesty about their sin to their congregations. Here are some ideas:

  • it fights against pride – no one who’s publicly honest about their sin can hide behind their calling or office as if they’re holier than the people they serve. Only Jesus was the sinless one – the rest of us fall short and are all in need of God’s grace, including ministers (sometimes more so).
  • it encourages a culture of repentance in a community – leaders set the culture. If they’re active in repentance, they give permission to their people to admit their sin, be forgiven and move forward too.
  • it showcases the importance of the gospel in the minister’s own life – they are dependent and empowered by grace.
  • it puts the gospel front and centre – no one can say that a minister who is just as sinful as the next person is somehow to be credited for the success of a ministry – it is because God is gracious that they are given the privilege of serving.
  • it glorifies God – every time anyone is honest about their sin, there is the opportunity to point to the glorious moment of the cross and the profound freedom from sin that Jesus brings.

So if there are all these benefits to being honest about our sin, why don’t we do it? It may be pride as I suggested earlier but I think it could also be because ministers are scared of the consequences of facing their own sin. What if people don’t want to follow someone who’s just as flawed as they are? What if they no longer look like they meet all the criteria of passages like Titus 1:6-8 and they’re then removed from their leadership position?

We’ve all seen or known people removed from ministry because they brought the gospel into disrepute. Habitual sins like living in a homosexual or adulterous relationship are in some sense the easy ones to point out – because they suggest outright rebellion against God without repentance. But what about ministers who struggle with porn? Or those who simply don’t do ‘quiet times’ or read their Bibles?

What do you think?

Categories: God Ministry & mission Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

7 replies

  1. ‘ministers modelling honesty about their sin to their congregations.’

    …I don’t know that i’d go as far as saying this should be a part of the sunday service…i.e the minister gets up and confesses their sins to the congregation. is that what you were thinking? if not, what does it look like in practice to do what you’re suggesting?

    Otherwise, great idea! It’s James 5.16 right?

    Also interested: Why do you list ‘those who simply don’t do ‘quiet times’ or read their Bibles’ as committing sin?

  2. Hey Reuben

    I’m not thinking ‘confession time’ for the minister, but I’m thinking about being honest. I think this is particularly helpful in application, say, of sermons.

    One example that’s occurred to me recently when blogging some of the gender stuff has been that we try to sell people on how good the whole headship /submission thing is. I think that often leaves women thinking, “well that’s all well and good if my man’s good to me, by what if he’s not.” But a minister explaining on example (and it could be minor – doesn’t have to be huge) or how he failed to lead his wife well and she still submitted to him would be a huge testimony not only to her obedience to God but also to the grace that defines his leadership. Of course you have to be careful up the front of church but I had in mind more a culture of honesty rather than ‘the minister’s public confession time’.

    So it’s something I try pretty hard to do, especially in mentoring relationships – to share examples of my own failing, whether that’s been on a personal level or something that I feel has stuffed up ministry or something I’m working on in relationships. It’s less for the sake of simply ‘confessing’ and more for the sake of giving others a model of a person who is broken yet reliant on the grace of God.

    I included personal Bible reading and praying not because I think they’re ‘sins’ but because I think they’re often raised to that level. I also think it’s one of the things ministers are most reluctant to admit. I’ve been reading Petersen, Piper and Barbara and Kent Hughes on pastoral ministry at the moment and they all stress that a minister who’s not reading the Bible / praying every day for a certain amount of time is being unfaithful.

  3. Yeah right, sounds good! more grace, less pretending.

    Bible reading/prayer (i.e. the ‘quiet time’): Do you think they should be raised to that level? I am hesitant to legislate piety of a certain kind personally…

  4. Hey Reuben

    Yeah, I don’t think we should legislate piety of a certain kind either. In theory. In practice, I think Christians have used the ‘personal quiet time’ thing as a mark of a healthy spiritual life for hundreds of years. So I suspect that not doing it functions in much the same way in our minds to passive sins – the ‘left undone what we ought to have done’.

    I find this a tricky one to work out how to approach. I want to have and encourage others to have their lives saturated by the Bible and prayer but I suspect that we don’t have good strategies for thinking about that other than ‘have a quiet time every day’.

  5. It is a tricky one to approach! Bring back morning and even-song?! :-)

    Having the word of Christ dwell richly in you is the right goal. I’m with you there but think there are a variety of ways to express it practically.

    I don’t think it’s so much evidence of a sin of omission. I guess i’m not with you on the ‘ought’ of quiet times… but not desiring that Christ’s word would dwell richly certainly points to misdirection of what our hearts want.

    If that’s right, the way to address it is not by establishing ‘oughts’ that we then fail to meet and hence feel (more and more) guilty. That undermines the grace your post is about!

    Instead I’d want to put front and center that we are loved by a God who deals with us graciously, bringing about our salvation and everlasting life as a gift. Such unmerited grace ought lead to thankfulness and a desire to love him. And as one practical expression of that love for God, a desire to know him through his word.
    That’s how i’d approach it anyway…

    I’m wrestling with Jonathan Edward’s ‘religious affections’ for an essay at the moment. That’s what’s got me interested in this particularity..so forgive me for taking you off topic. i’m enjoying the discussion though.
    Random piece of information: Aristotle is reponsible for the idea that virtue can be achieved by practice or habit…!

  6. Hey Reuben

    Ah yes, I’m familiar with the Aristotle thing. John Piper critiques it extensively in ‘Desiring God’.

    Yes, I agree. I was thinking of the ‘oughts’ that I perceive exist in the consciousness of the Christian community, not my own. So I think you’re right. Bible reading flows out of love for God because of the grace shown to us in Christ. And the ways the word of Christ dwells in us richly, I suspect will also vary according to personality type e.g. discussing a passage with a friend vs. personal prayer and meditation.

    But I feel like helping people to understand that is like turning a big ship. For so long, the read your Bible and pray every day, on your own, in a certain way has been the staple of application in preaching that even if you’re convinced of the theory, saying there’s a different way can seem soft.

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