Avoiding Ministry Failure
Recently there has been much made about prominent christian leaders failures and their struggles with sin. Some may be pride, control, or anger; others have been lust, infidelity, or greed. I struggle to find grace in my heart to extend to them, especially when I perceive (from the outside) a blatant heart of defiance and a lack of repentance. I want to stand and condemn them for their actions. I want to stand and judge them for how they have hurt others. I want to stand and rebuke them for their unwillingness to acknowledge their sin.
In the midst of my “righteous” anger I have to ask myself, “Why do I care?”
I would love to answer that I care so much because I want God’s glory to shine. I want a true witness to the greatness of our God to not be tarnished by those we look to.
But if I am honest with myself (and with you) this is a lie. You want to know why I care so much?
Because I see the same sin of idolatry that brought them down in my life.
It is far easier to rally against them, to point at them, to talk about their failures than it is to honestly look at my heart and deal with my sin.
You shall have no other gods before me.
In the first commandment we find the heart of our sinfulness, idolatry, constantly seeking to place our wants, wills, and glory above God’s. The first commandment was seen by Martin Luther as key since it is “the basic, the greatest, the best, from which all the others flow” (WA 6, 209).
It is idolatry that manifests itself in greed, pride, control, anger, lust, and infidelity; all the sins we see in fallen leaders are sins that manifest in ourselves in varying degrees. While we may not be as domineering as some we still find ways to manipulate others so our will be done. We may not be having an affair yet struggle with lust in our hearts. All of it points to a heart that idolizes self rather than worships God, so before I rally against others I need to look at my heart.
Seeing others public display of sin and struggles reminds me of four ways to avoid ministry failure.
Look to Christ
The initial shock to me was who had been struggling. These were individuals I looked up to, who I listened to, who I read. I had placed them on such a pedestal to the point of seeing them as invincible. So seeing them fall gave me a sense of disillusionment that responded first in denial then anger. If they can fall, cant I?
But this is just another form of idolatry in my life. Looking to others rather than God. Looking for my nourishment and stability from another rather than clinging to the Good Shepherd. Their fall reminds me that the only One, the only Savior, is Jesus.
Recognize Your Sin
In a way, I am thankful for those that have fallen. I know it sounds incredibly selfish of me, trust me, I get how I am coming off right now. I am not thankful for their sin or the public display of their struggles. I am thankful because it could just as easily be me. You wouldn't read about it or talk about it, but it could just as easily happen to any of us. What’s the difference? Maybe it’s timing, maybe opportunity, I don't really know. What I do know is the moment I start thinking I am above it and invincible is the moment I need to fear falling the most.
See Your Need
They remind me that I need grace and mercy. I do not deserve it, I have done nothing for it, but God has freely given. I do not receive the just condemnation that I deserve but the abundant love, mercy, reconciliation that I so desperately need. I am reminded to keep short accounts, to confess my sins, turn from sin, and to turn to Christ. I am humbled thinking that I can so easily stumble, which in turn softens my heart towards others who have stumbled and fallen.
Do Not Isolate
Finally, I am reminded that I need to avoid isolation. Because I can so easily succumb to these sins I need people in my life who will confront me in my sin, show me my blindspots, love me enough to be honest with me. This can be found in various ways.
You may call them another name but I think we know what we are talking about. The weekly gathering of individuals who pray, study, and invest in each others lives. It is a place where honesty and freedom can take place. Share your struggles (where appropriate) with others. Be truthful about your heart and the issues you are dealing with.
Above I mentioned to share your struggles where appropriate. Often, community groups are in mixed company. There are some struggles that are better discussed in a smaller group of same gender individuals. I am thankful for those men in the discipleship group I am a part of. This is a place where we are honest with each other and ask probing questions. I am thankful for friends like Joe and Pat, who I know I can go to, confess, and be loved, yet held accountable.
Those that have publicly been put on display are no different than you and me. It is just as easy for any of us to be dealing with the same issues and sin. The sin of idolatry may manifest itself in different ways, but nonetheless will manifest in my life if I am not careful. I must remember who truly is my Savior, my desire to sin, my need of grace, mercy, and safeguards.