Remember the pastor who had to plan out how to not give me a fake hug? Early on in the church plant, he started a weekly discipleship and accountability meeting with the staff. That sounds great doesn’t it? That’s definitely what church leaders should be doing. So in our first session, he says we need to confess our sins to each other and hold each other accountable. So around the room we go, each sharing about lust, anger issues, marital problems, and other sins we were dealing with. He, of course, went last. At this point, you may realize that this was a fishing expedition to find out the dirt on his staff and what skeletons are hiding in our closets, with no intention of sharing something real of his own. You would be right. So for his turn, he sat up straight and tall and confessed to us: “I just don’t spend enough time thinking about Jesus.”
I’ve sat in countless services where a pastor has attempted to relate to the congregation by revealing some flaw or struggle or sin so they can appear to be real and not sitting in an ivory tower. And some of them are genuine and transparent. Others, not so much. I heard one pastor talk about his addiction to diet coke. Wow, someone call Dr. Drew and get this guy in rehab. You’ll hear a pastor share a cute little story about a disagreement with their spouse that is the equivalent of a tickle fight, so that we can know their marriage isn’t perfect.
The Bible is full of stories that are messy and full of sin. It doesn’t hide anyone’s faults. Great leaders who were used for God’s purpose fell victim to horrible moral failures. There’s a long list of people who would never pass the interviews of our Pastoral Search Committees today. I think one of the reasons for many devastating moral failures is that too many pastors are afraid to be honest about their struggles with anyone. And congregations expect their leaders to be perfect and hold them to a high standard, and forget they are human.
Pastors often don’t know who to talk to. If they open up too much, people will judge them and think they’re not holy enough. If they don’t share enough, they’re out of touch. People need to lift up and encourage their pastors and make them feel support. Deacons and elders and other leaders should be able to hear the confessions of their pastor and be a strong support system, instead of using it against them. We need to build an environment of grace, where anyone can share their struggles and receive love, encouragement, forgiveness and grace in return.
It’s not just pastors. Christians have battled this syndrome forever: wearing a mask to appear one way to others, while hiding so many scars. Yet we tell people, especially non-Christians, that God accepts us for who we are, and we’re all just broken people who are in need of God’s grace. The more we hide our struggles, we’re left alone to feel guilty and continue down the path of temptation. Confession frees us, gets the sin out in the open, allows others we trust to pray for us and give us accountability.
We’re not going to start standing up at the church pot luck and announce our worst sins to everyone. But we do need to find trusted brothers and sisters in Christ that we can share with.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16