Newsflash: your pastor’s a sinner.
Yup. The pastor you love, esteem, and admire not only makes mistakes but at times intentionally commits wrong, rebellious, and harmful actions. I’m not saying he endorses that kind of behavior. I bet he can’t stand the fact he struggles with certain sins. Maybe he’s the pastor who gets too angry and says hurtful things, or engages regularly in lustful thoughts, or finds it hard not to eat in a gluttonous fashion. Whatever his struggles, the failures only demonstrate that he is all but human, and a sinful one at that. Indeed, your pastor is just like you.
This doesn’t mean a church leader shouldn’t be kept accountable for his actions. He should. That bears repeating. A pastor should most definitely, absolutely, unequivocally be held accountable for a life that is “above reproach.” (1 Tim. 3:2) The Bible is clear on the qualifications of an elder or pastor. Passages like 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 revolve around an individual’s character. However, none of the lists include the adjective “perfect.” On the contrary, to look at the biblical “heroes” of the faith is to witness many a sinner.
- Moses murdered a man in anger and directly disobeyed God to the point he was refused entrance into the Promised Land
- David, whom the Bible declares was a man “after God’s own heart,” was an adulterer who plotted the murder of his lover’s husband
- Paul rebuked Peter for acting in a prejudiced, if not racist, manner against Gentile Christians
- God chose Moses to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt, represent him to the people, and be the giver of the Law
- God made David the type that would be fulfilled in Christ as the True King whose Kingdom would last forever, Jesus is referred to as the Son of David
- God used Peter, along with Paul and others, to establish the New Testament church; and include some of his writings in Holy Scripture
Once again, repeating for emphasis, this doesn’t mean church leaders shouldn’t be held accountable. Most of the biblical individuals were chastened, disciplined, and rebuked for their sin. Sometimes it may even demand you forfeit your leadership. Still, the examples remind us that those who lead God’s people happen to be sinners too.
- Augustine approved coercing heretics to the faith, even by violent means.
- Luther gravitated toward anti-Semitic views.
- John Wesley neglected his marriage at the expense of his ministry. His wife left him repeatedly, then finally.
- Jonathan Edwards was a slave owner.
- God used Augustine as one of the greatest Early Church Fathers who turned the spotlight on God’s sovereignty
- God used Luther to rescue the Church from herself and bring her back to the gospel via the Protestant Reformation
- God used Wesley to heighten the need for evangelism and left a legacy of the Methodist church
- God used Edwards to bring revival to America and become one of the greatest theologians of all time
Want to look up to a leader who isn’t broken and failed in some way? You can’t. All leaders struggle against sin in one way or another. Including your favorite leader. But don’t be too dismayed. History is replete with God using crooked sticks to draw straight lines. Does this call us to be lax in our personal holiness or obedience to Jesus? Absolutely not! It should however,
- temper our sense of justice when we hear of leaders who have failed in one way or another.
- stir in us a desire for the restoration of those who have succumbed to their struggles.
- encourage us to guard our own heart against sins which easily entangle us.
- make us soberly grateful that God relates to us not through our sin but the finished, perfect work of Christ for our sin.
The Church of Jesus Christ has progressed, is progressing, and will progress through history using lives of broken people. People like you and me. People who may do great things for God but will always need great grace from God. So, when your pastor alights upon the pulpit to preach the Word of God, know he does so as a sinner. Just like you. It’s not a newsflash but a reality, one that should leave us in constant amazement at the goodness of a gospel that both redeems us to be loved by God and used by him as well.
Including your pastor.