Recently, the personal sins of my church leaders have been brought to my attention. For some of them I have seen them for a while, while others I have only just come to see. The reason it has struck me lately is because I can count something wrong with nearly all of them by now. Shocking I know! My leaders are not perfect!
This is probably the time to mention that the sins I am talking about here are not breaking my countries laws, nor are they all against me that the sins have been committed. Some of them have affected me, but not in a way that requires me to leave my church. If you are in a situation that is different this article on leaving a church may help.
So, moving on, the question I am addressing here is what do you do when your leaders sin? The Bible says to make sure your leaders are above reproach (1 Timothy chapter 3). Can I still follow these leaders? If yes how should I relate to them? Should I confront them? Or should I expose them and ask them all to stand down until they have their lives sorted out?
The Bible says that everyone sins and falls short of God’s standard (Romans chapter 3, verse 10–12). My husband, James, is always quick to remind me that if we see a Christian stuff up that it shouldn’t surprise us. This extends to our leaders as well. They are imperfect human beings that will one day be transformed into heavenly creatures, just like every Christian!
In the meantime 1 Peter chapter 5 and the last chapter of Hebrews also exhort Christians to submit to their leaders. Hebrews makes it clear that it is no advantage to us if we make mischief for them, as God has put them there for our good. We are also to pray for them.
So how should I relate to my leaders?
Above I showed the Bible exhorts me to obey my leaders, so as to make their job (which is for the church’s good) a joy. This means I respect my leaders. I do not go about slandering them by sharing my knowledge of their personal lives. For the most part they are all godly people who share the gospel with others. I want this to continue. If I begin meddling with things they will be distracted from sharing the gospel.
Now, I am a lay person in my church. I am not a fellow leader in a church context, nor do I have a very close relationship with any of them. If either of these things were different then perhaps I would point out to my elder an area of their lives which they need to pray about. However, as a lay person I do not know their whole story. What I perceive as sinful may not be or they may have been working on that area of their lives for the past decade!
I need to be careful not to judge too harshly or hastily.
Another way I am to relate to my leaders is with humility, treating their shortfalls as a warning. These men and women are godly. Most of them read their Bibles and pray every day. They have a vibrant relationship with Jesus. Despite this they managed to fall, and this at times has affected the church.
I am a leader at Christian Union. This means that if I could sin and have it affect the rest of the community negatively. I need to be prayerful that this doesn’t happen, especially as I can see my own sinful tendencies doing this very quickly if not kept in check.
I mentioned that leaders sinning can affect the church negatively, which for me has incurred grief. When a person dies you grieve the loss of that person, and so I now grieve the loss in our church. Our congregation can’t go back to the way it was.
However, in this grief there is also rejoicing. New ministries have been formed because of what happened and people are becoming Christians. This just shows God will use our weak and feeble efforts for his own purposes. He knows what He’s doing.
Lastly, we are to entrust all things to God.
In 1 Peter chapter 4, verse 19 it says ‘Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.’ The context is Christians suffering for being Christians. My context is slightly similar, in the sense that if I were not a Christian I wouldn’t be suffering, because I would probably say ‘good riddance’ and find something else to do. But because I’m a Christian I’m not going to do that. I entrust myself to God instead, knowing that he is good and faithful. He has been running the world since time began and he will continue running it until time ends. He knows best. I trust him.
So if you find yourself in a situation where your leaders have sinned against you or others I hope you find this article encouraging. Don’t leave straight away, although in some cases that may be the wise thing to do. Try to work things out, while being respectful, humble, perhaps grieving a loss and entrusting your soul to our Creator.
First published December 23, 2016
Rachel Bartlett lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband James and her puppy Pip. She works part-time as a staff worker for Christian Union at Canterbury University and loves playing board games.
Rachel Bartlett's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/Rachel-Bartlett.html