Sealing The Cracks
In the wake of yet another wave of moral failures being reported within the Christian church, I’ve been thinking more and more about character; my own character in particular.
When scandals erupt and leaders fall, many of the online conversations center around how to better structure organizations so these things can’t happen again. While I believe deeply in the importance of operating our churches according to Biblical guidelines, I just don’t know if I believe that failed structure is the biggest problem.
We should certainly agonize over our understanding of how God’s Word calls us to structure local churches, but…
Do we really believe a particular leadership model, no matter how Biblical, will safeguard our churches from these issues that continue to poison us?
I’m absolutely open to the possibility that I’m wrong, but I just find this so hard to believe.
It seems to me that character is the crux of the issue.
A church can have the perfect leadership structure, but if the leaders who fill it lack Biblical character, the church is doomed. A plurality of pastor/elders isn’t very helpful if they don’t embody the baseline Biblical maturity outlined in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Furthermore, I keep thinking that the character issues that continue to capsize ministries don’t appear overnight. They are typically the result of cracks in a leader’s character that have been ignored, justified, or downplayed over an extended period of time.
The cracks turn into crevices.
The crevices turn into canyons that swallow a life, a marriage, a family, and a ministry.
This means if we’re to have any hope of making it in ministry for the long haul, if we’re going to follow Jesus faithfully for the entirety of our lives, we have to seal the cracks in our character. Paul was nothing if not direct in Romans 8:13 when he said, “…if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Putting sin to death seals these character cracks that continue to plague the Church.
Here are a few ways I think we can work to do just that:
1. Use God’s Word to examine your heart and life daily.
One of the most critical questions we can and should ask ourselves when we read the Bible is, “What sin in my heart does this passage reveal?” It’s a basic question preachers push people to ask themselves, but then often fail to ask in their own lives. One of the many gifts of God’s Word is that it reveals the indwelling sin bent on destroying us. So we use it like a microscope in search of even the tiniest expression of sin in our hearts.
2. Live a life marked by constant repentance.
To be aware of sin is important, but repenting of it is paramount. Repentance is a change of mind, heart, and behavior. First, we choose to think the way God thinks about our sin. We don’t justify or ignore it. We call it what it is — rebellion against God. Second, we ask to feel the way God feels about our sin. As God transforms the way we see our sin, we beg His Holy Spirit to help us feel differently about it. We ask Him to break our hearts for the sin the way it breaks His. Finally, we choose a new direction. Rather than continue to go our own way, we choose to go God’s way. If you’re a pastor, or Christian leader in some capacity, my guess is none of that is new information. If that’s the case, the question is less about us understanding repentance and more about us practicing it.
3. Build genuine friendships.
To paraphrase Jesus’ model for challenging conventional understanding, “You have heard it said that leadership is lonely, but I say to you, you should really have some friends.”
Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be all the time. Maybe if we borrowed less from political and business leadership models marked by lone ranger-ism and instead bent our knees to the shared leadership described in Scripture, we wouldn’t be so lonely all the time. You, Pastor, need genuine, Biblical friendships in your life. That means making yourself vulnerable. That means being truly transparent. That means inviting a few people into all parts of your life. Genuine friends don’t just see the parts of life you choose to reveal. Genuine friends will be close enough to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of your life. That may be unnerving, but it’s necessary and here’s why . . .
4. Invite trusted friends to speak to the cracks in your character.
When was the last time you sat with someone you trusted — a person you knew loved you not because of your role, but because of a real relationship with you — and asked them, “What cracks do you see in my character?” If you’re like me, the very idea of that is uncomfortable. No one wants to invite another person to point out sin in their life. But when you follow the narrative of many who fall in ministry, you find a lack of relationship with trusted others who could have spoken truth without fear of retribution. Build some genuine friendships with people who are encouraged to speak truth to you. Don’t make excuses and don’t get defensive. Just listen, thank them, and repent where you need to.
5. Get help when and where it’s necessary.
Some of us may have deep emotional wounds. Some of us may get angry in ways that are out of control. Some of us may be dependent on a substance or habit to survive the day. Some of us may lack the tools to deal with what we’ve been through or what we’re feeling. That’s called being human. Sometimes pastors need help, too. Not just from blogs, books, and podcasts, but from someone skilled in helping us untangle the knots in our hearts and minds. If you think there is even a possibility you need this in your own life, have the courage and humility to ask for some help. You’re not Jesus and you’re no one’s messiah. Your church doesn’t need you to be perfect, they need you to be humble and healthy.
I don’t know about you, but when I read the stories of Christian leaders losing their ministries due to sin, it sobers me. That could be me. I’m always just a few bad decisions away from the same fate, and so are you. Yes, we need to carefully structure our churches in a way that reflects the Biblical description of local church leadership, but that’s not enough.
No leadership model can make up for a lack of character. Let’s link arms and have the courage to seal up the cracks in our character. Let’s kill our sin, before it kills us.