Leaders Who Sin

Burning Question:  How do we decide what sins are “acceptable” or are sufficiently repented of in order for someone to lead in church (i.e., help with Vacation Bible School, teach Sunday School, sing in choir, etc.)?  Also, if sin is sin to God, aren’t our sins of impatience or losing our temper easily at home, gossiping, etc. just as bad, although more easily hidden?

Say a child disobeys his parents and the parents decide to discipline the child as a response.  We would all agree that the parents’ response is expected and necessary. However, the way the parent disciplines will be dependent upon the type of disobedience displayed by the child.  To take away privileges and rewards for two weeks may seem completely fitting for one type of disobedience but would be dramatic overkill for a lesser offense.  All disobedience is equal in the eyes of the parent in that no disobedience is ever good, yet the consequences of disobedience are determined by the specific, individual nature of each act of disobedience.

Now take all of this, and apply it to the Burning Question above.  Within the context of church ministry, all leaders are hardened sinners with a long history of offenses before God.  There is no leader in any ministry at any point on the globe that does not have a long track record of disobedience against God and man.  Yet God still offers redemption, forgiveness, and an offer to use the life fully yielded to Him.  With that being said, we have to be certain that we do not use our struggle against sin as an excuse for our sin.  We must be intentional about living a life of personal holiness that we might be glorifying to God and most useful to Him (2 Timothy 2:15).

Leadership in the local church carries tremendous responsibility and is not to be taken lightly.  Yet some areas of leadership and service carry such great responsibility that grave sin can result in enormous consequences for the one who sins and the church, as well. Therefore, it would seem to be wise for churches to consider the personal walks of those who seek to lead.  In my opinion, there is a difference between service and leadership . . . all believers are called to serve God and He has even prepared good works in advance for us to carry out (Ephesians 2:10).  But leadership is not automatic and is not a “right” for any and every believer.  Perhaps this is why so much emphasis is given to those who serve as pastors and deacons, that their walks with God be proven in advance (1 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Timothy 3:10).

Some areas of leadership and service simply create greater opportunity to benefit others when handled properly, or greater opportunity to hurt others when handled poorly.  At the end of the day, any sin in the life of one who claims to follow Jesus hurts themselves and others.  But just as some crimes today are considered minor in offense and others major, so some sin also carries the capacity to be minor in its consequence, and other sin more major in its consequence in the lives of others.

Maybe the following considerations would be helpful when action is considered in the life of a church leader who has embraced sin:

  • Has the leader sufficiently repented of and addressed the specific sin?
  • Is the sin dealt with specifically in Scripture?  If so, would the same response be acceptable in the present case?
  • How many people are affected negatively by the nature of the leader’s sin . . . will they be caused to stumble or to become confused by what is acceptable for a follower of Christ (Romans 14:13)?  How greatly is the name of Christ and His church brought into reproach because of the leader’s sin?

There is no clear formula in Scripture that dictates the proper church response to any and every sin in the life of a leader.  Humility, prayer, seeking wise counsel, and dependence upon Scripture and the leadership of the Holy Spirit are all important in responding properly when sin invades a leader’s life.  In light of all that is at stake, may our aim be that of          1 Peter 1:16 . . . to be holy, as He is holy.

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