God did not save you because He has good taste.
You know that, right? So why do we labor to create the illusion that we were really a great marketing move on God’s part? I know that I have done that, and have seen countless others doing the exact same thing.
The stages for us, as pastors, are high. One slip up and we may see it in the all-important tithes and offerings, or worse yet, we may see it reflected in attendance. That’s just if we say something offensive, or we cut someone off in traffic. So, what will they do if they find out that we actually—you know—sin? The pressure is intense—screw up and you will lose your job and the confidence of the people.
It’s so easy to boast in our achievements and attendance numbers. When the question is asked, as it always is, “How’s your church?” We immediately slip into a talk about our attendance numbers and the new building campaign. All too often this is to present a veneer of success and an illusion of having it all together as leaders. We flex our ministry muscles as if we are in a competition.
Current ministry drop-out rates hint that more is going on beneath the mask.
Do you fall into that pattern? Do you boast in your achievements and try to present yourself as a great role model to anyone who will listen? I fear that many of us fall into the same trap that the Socratic teachers did in Corinth.
We have allowed the standard to become perfection because we like the idea of our people thinking that we really are just that wonderful. In a culture that values celebrity, and personalities as brands, we carefully cultivate our own images that in turn have become unachievable standards. The pressure of maintaining the mask is exhausting, isn’t it?
We believe that our people need this type of example of how to “be Christians.” We somehow think that if they don’t see us as wonderful, and nearly perfect, that they won’t have a standard at which to aim. This all makes great sense to us as leaders who know that image can make or break the offering on Sunday. We think, “I’ll do Christianity right.” But this is really “Christianity Lite.”
So, how do we handle Paul when he writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me”? It flies in the face of current ministry culture, doesn’t it?
Have you ever noticed that we tend to sanitize our leaders? We make the great pastors perfect, and when they die, we really go over the top with it. Take a look at the Reformers—all too often they are talked about with hushed tones of reverence. There’s little to no mention of their imperfections, let alone their sin.
Martin Luther looms large in my life. Have you ever really looked at his life? Talk about a sinner! He drank heavily, and his language could often have embarrassed a teamster. His anti-semitism is reprehensible, and he thought James’ epistle was heresy and should be removed from Scripture.
How could we call a man like this one of the great Christian leaders of all time? How could we make him an important figure?
Because he, like Paul, really got the gospel.
Listen to what he wrote to George Spalatin, a brother who worked with him during the Reformation:
My faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great and hardboiled sinners.
You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though he could be our helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal and childish sins. No. No! That would not be good for us.
He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total.
Read that again and let those words wash over you. You agree with that, don’t you?
Why don’t we preach like that?
Why don’t we lead like that?
Then why don’t we live like that?
Because it’s easier to believe that it is true for those people in the pews, but not the pulpit. It can’t be true for us, right? We fall for the lie of our enemy that says, “Hey, Pastor, you can’t be open about your current sins—it will undermine your position. The sheep may lose confidence that the Gospel really works.”
Once that becomes our mind-set then we have emasculated the Gospel and doomed our people to hollow lives with a hollowed-out Savior. Remember the words of Spurgeon? “If your sin is small, your savior is small, but if your sin is great, your Savior must be great.”
So tell me—since becoming a Christian, has your Savior been decreasing in size? If we, as pastors, have “small” sin then all we can really do is point people to a small savior who can really only save from those small sins. Your people need a big Savior, and they need to see that you need Him too. It can’t look like the Savior needs you. It is uninspiring, frustrating and discouraging to God’s people.
I constantly counsel people that come to me struggling with porn and sex, and when asked why they are not talking with their pastor, do you know what they say? “Oh, I could never tell him about this. He would be so disappointed and disgusted.”
On more than one occasion, a member of a church has told me this, not knowing that I am also counseling their pastor.
Do we believe in the power of this Gospel we preach? What if you let the people in your church see the sanctification process at work? I promise you—it is far more inspirational to other Christians to see the power of the Gospel at work in their pastor.
Quick—what work is Augustine best known for?
What about you?
We have cut James 5:16 out of the Bible from a practical standpoint, haven’t we? Confession is not the norm today. In too many places, there is no confession because safety and freedom have been replaced by judgment and rejection. This builds a church where no one can confess any sin—a church with an unnecessary Savior.
Was David allowed to keep his adultery a secret? Do you see how inspirational his story has been for thousands of years now? Why? You’ve preached it to encourage others by saying, “He was still a man after God’s own heart.” Why won’t you allow that to be applied to you, too?
Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:15 that he is the chief of all sinners. The verb tense is present active indicative—it’s present and ongoing with no conclusion.
Do you see what has happened as a result of our need for acceptance, and job security? We have doomed our people to a life of behavior modification and hiding their sin. This is not the Gospel! Do we believe Romans 8:1? Does it apply to us as pastors?
What if we changed it? What if we routinely confessed our sins? What if we led the way Paul teaches us in Scripture? What if we actually boasted in our weakness? None of us know for sure what Paul’s thorn was, but we do know why it was there. II Corinthians 12:7 tells us, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”
He pleaded for God to remove this thorn. You have too, right? But what is His response? “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Do you believe that?
What if you were the Chief of All Sinners at your church? What if you wore that mantle and let the people see your sin? The mess of your life and the glory and power of your Savior to love you anyway, and his power to forge you into the image of Christ? Is it possible?
Have you ever noticed how non-threatening a real sinner is? We love to put the testimonies up don’t we? Someone that got into some real trouble, and Jesus loved them and saved them. We love to hear the stories, and God usually uses those stories to convert and change many more hearts. What if you were non-threatening? What if you were that story in living 3-D every day?
This changes the Gospel from a walk down the aisle into a lifestyle for you and your people. Radical? Yes. Threatening? Yes. Biblical? Yes.
We like to talk in terms of giving people the “gift of going second.” When I tell people my story of 24 years addicted to porn and sex, something happens. The Holy Spirit takes that moment of vulnerability and transparency and reveals the truth of the Gospel to the people I’m talking to, and to me. It is simultaneously life-giving and life-changing for everyone in earshot, and he will do that for you, too.
I speak regularly to groups of pastors, and when I crucify my image and ego and tell my story, they are most often in tears. They routinely talk to me privately afterward, or they call or e-mail and wish they could do the same. You can! Philippians 4:8 is true, right? You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
The Gospel is not behavior modification—our behavior does not make us righteous before God, or the people in the church. Question 60 of the Heidelberg Catechism makes it clear:
How are you righteous before God?
A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.
Because this Gospel is true…
You can boast in your weakness.
You can give people the gift of going second.
You can be transparent.
You can get help.
You can recover.
You can, as Dan Allender writes, “Lead with a Limp.”
The only question is,
Will you let your people see the sanctification process in you?
Will you let your people see that God is chiseling you into the image of Christ?
Will you let your people see that your sin is great, and that your Savior is Greater?
Will you begin the process of ridding our churches of the hollowed out, emasculated Savior we have been worshipping for far too long?