Perhaps the biggest lie we have told ourselves in the past two decades is that there is no such thing as personal sin. We have convinced ourselves that whatever our behavior is that it is ok. This is especially true when we think our sinful behavior is a victimless crime. According to Patrick Means, a survey found that 63% of pastors struggle “with with sexual addiction or sexual compulsion including, but not limited to, the use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, or other secret sexual activity.”
Pastors especially need to understand that sin is real. Among all sinners we have a tendency to be some of the biggest hypocrites. I have served three churches that have had former ministers involved in affairs while serving the church. One church had TWO different ministers within a 10 year span involved in extramarital affairs. Do you know what this does to the local church? Do you know the damage this inflicts on our witness? Strong and vital congregations are suddenly ripped apart by sin. In fact I would guess that most of our local churches have had some instance of involvement in sin by their leadership staff, whether that staff be pastoral or laity. Sin is alive and well in the local church and the problem is growing because of the lie.
Every single year I go to Annual Conference and it seems like every single year we vote to remove the credentials of another pastor. We don’t talk about it as a group. We just wordlessly raise our hands and another minister is no longer a minister. We pretend that everything is ok when everything is not ok. Former colleagues disappear without a trace, and another pastor is left to pick up the pieces of a broken congregation. Recently, prominent megachurch pastor, author, and grandson of Billy Graham, Tullian Tchividjan, wrote about his struggles with affairs, blame, and thoughts about suicide. He writes,
I never pretended to have it all together. In fact, one of the reasons people listened to my sermons and read my books and came out to hear me speak when I was traveling is because I was honest about my brokenness and the amazing grace of God that covers us at our worst. I was known for saying that God loves bad people because bad people are all that there are. So I knew I was bad. I just didn’t know I was THAT bad.
We are great pretenders. M. Scott Peck writes, “Since the primary motive of the evil is disguise, one of the places evil people are most likely to be found is within the church. What better way to conceal one’s evil from oneself as well as from others than to be a deacon or some other highly visible form of Christian within our culture.” We wear masks that protect our true identities. We reason away our sin as not that bad. Tullian remarks, “We are very good lawyers when it comes to our own mistakes, but very good judges when it comes to the mistakes of others.” Sin is something that other people do, not us. We deserve to have this extra relationship because our life is difficult. We deserve to drink this or eat that. We deserve this extra money that no one knows about. We reason away our behaviors a thousand different ways, but at the end of the day it is still sin. Those pastors who show up on the news or names that are voted out are just the ones who got caught.
Sin is real. We all are sinners, but there is real hope.
So what can we do?
- Confession. There is a reason that the Christian church has practiced confession since the very beginning. Confession is good for the soul. Confession allows us to come clean about our failures, our mistakes, and our sins. There is something about naming our sin that frees us from it.
- Counseling. I am currently in counseling and studying counseling. Spiritual and mental counseling are important to our soul. If you are in any type of helper profession you need to be in some sort of counseling.
- Covenant. Find a group of people that undergird you spiritually, emotionally and physically. Everyone needs a support network. Spiritual friends that you can talk to and help feed your spirit.
So will these three things solve all our problems? Nope. However, they have helped me see my struggle and provided me a better way of self care.
If you are struggling right now I would encourage you to seek help. Find a friend. Call a counselor. Talk to somebody about what is going on.