This is Part Two of the transcript of a conversation on Preventing Disqualifying Sins in Ministry between Kevin Halloran and John Eichholz.
John, let’s think practically for a minute. We’ve seen some of the things that can lead to this type of sin, but what are some strategies that a pastor might implement to prevent this in his life?
JE: Kevin, I appreciate you asking that. I should mention there are many things out there, different ministries have lots of resources. There are books. So, there’s no excuse for a pastor or ministry leader not to read about and put into place safeguards in their lives. I think it really starts with your relationship with the Lord Jesus. You can have accountability, you can have other things in place, but I always like to ask men in ministry, “How is your walk? What kind of relationship do you have with your Lord? Are you growing?” Guys have different answers to that. You can put prayer, Bible reading, and other regular habits in your life and still have a disconnect in the Christian walk. It’s really about growing in your relationship with the Lord Jesus and then, out of that relationship, growing with other people.
I like what John Piper says. “One reason lust reigns in so many of us is that Christ has so little appeal.” We default to deceit because we have little delight in Christ. I think for a pastor not to have that delight, not to savor that relationship, is a warning sign. If we don’t wake up in the morning and have joy in our salvation and want to meet with our Lord, spend time with Him, if we’re preparing messages and not finding joy, if we are not finding satisfaction in understanding the Scriptures and then preaching and teaching them to other people, we need to check ourselves. We need to ask people to pray for us.
“One reason lust reigns in so many of us is that Christ has so little appeal.” —John Piper
I am always astounded when I hear about or, in some cases, have seen pastors who preach day in and day out, every Sunday, midweek, and maybe for several years preach well, and yet something is going on in the background. There is a sinful relationship. I always ask, how can that disconnect take place? Men need to ask themselves, What is my relationship? What is my walk? It’s a lifelong commitment. We are called to follow Christ as disciples, which brings to mind Mark 8:34 where Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (NIV). Sometimes, when ministry becomes difficult, men look for an out, they look for a way to escape that’s not from the Lord. The Lord Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and if we’re playing fast and loose with those small things, those “small” sins in our lives . . . that’s a warning sign. I love what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:20, “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” A pastor should be able to tell if he’s really committed to his Lord through very difficult times, through the very joyful times, and if he’s not, he needs to ask some serious questions about what this does to his ministry or whether he needs help.
One other idea for those guys who are so confident that they don’t think that they can fall or stumble, is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,” and at the end of that phrase, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” There are things we need to examine in the Scriptures about our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. It’s really all about Him, and there are the two commands, two overarching things we need to accomplish as believers in our life: to love God and to love one another.
The second idea, besides looking at our own life and our relationship with Christ is looking at relational safeguards. Do we have those key relationships in our lives? Most of us in ministry are married. How are we doing with our wives? Are we nurturing that relationship? Even when that relationship is not bringing me satisfaction, am I committed sacrificially to my wife? If we can answer, “No, I’m not”, then we need to check that relationship. We also need to have one or more key men in our lives who we can check in with us regularly. They don’t always have to be on the same spiritual leadership plane as we are.
I’ve talked with men in churches who can’t find someone in their church as a sounding board because they feel that other guys are not as spiritual as they are. Well, maybe there’s someone else in the community, or maybe they need to humble themselves a little bit and just find a guy who is very honest and can speak into their life. Check your relationship with Christ, your relational safeguard., Who are the key people in your life that you’re regularly asking, “How am I doing? What do you think?” Invite them to speak honestly to you.
KH: I appreciate what you said, John, about relationships being a key part of this. Obviously, first our relationship with the Lord, abiding in Christ. Everything flows from that, but relationships with our wives and other people in the church are crucial.
One of the warning signs we’ve mentioned is isolation. That brings to mind Proverbs 18:1: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire, he breaks out against all sound judgment.” If we isolate ourselves, other sins can so easily creep in that other people may not be around to notice. Sin may be deceiving us, telling us that we’re okay. Douglas Wilson, author of Father Hunger, wrote, “Sins are like grapes; they come in bunches.” That’s his way of describing when we’re bearing the fruit of the flesh instead of the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:19–23). Having other people in your life who can speak God’s Word to you in an encouraging way but also when you need a rebuke is crucial.
JE: There was one other Scripture text that is good to bring alongside what you’ve just said: the idea of disciplining yourself and the cravings, the desires we have. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul says he disciplines his body and keeps it under control so that he won’t be disqualified as a minister of the Word. Our culture encourages us to feed the flesh, to relax, enjoy ourselves, and not take life so seriously. Pastors, spiritual leaders, ought to discipline themselves for the sake of those around them.
KH: One other attitude that we need to cultivate is a hatred of sin. I know a pastor who says that he prays every single day that he would hate sin more and more. I think that’s kind of two sides of the same coin as we talk about loving Christ, loving what He’s done for us. I think of John Owen and his book The Mortification of Sin and his famous quote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” [Hating sin should lead to] mortifying sin and not letting it grow—always trying to extinguish the presence and the appeal of sin in our hearts as soon as it comes up.
John, I think one of the tools that God gives us is what the Word says in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus about qualifications for elders. How might a pastor use those passages to fight the good fight of faith?
JE: That’s a great question, and this is a good text for anyone who is a leader in any spiritual ministry. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 says,
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
I like the way this starts: There is an overarching characteristic that the pastor or overseer must be above reproach, and that doesn’t mean without sin but rather that there are no obvious patterns of sin in the person’s life. Sometimes men default in an are of something like anger, and our society or even in churches at times allows leaders to do that, to even have explosive or ungodly anger issues because they are so good in other areas. They’re gifted.
KH: Or, “The church is growing, so we’ll let this slide.”
JE: Yes, we look at their giftedness but not their godliness. First Timothy 3 gives a list of how a man ought to look overall. This is an overarching characteristic. I like that the book of Acts says leaders are chosen who are full of the Spirit (Acts 6:3). That doesn’t mean that just occasionally the Holy Spirit fills them, but that’s the character of their life. They’re producing fruit. They are given to relying on the Spirit in their life and ministry, and that’s a characteristic that comes out. That’s what you need to really fulfill these things, the help of the Holy Spirit. There are categories of these many qualities. Some list them as twenty, some list thirty or more between these two passages (from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) and others, but I like to think of just basic categories, like the husband of one wife or a one-woman man. That goes along with managing your house well. If you’re not doing well at home, then Scripture asks ow will you do in the church of God? Managing for Him?
There’s another characteristic among the two lists, free from addictions, free from the love of money. Uncontentious, gentle, not violent, those things go together. Another one: self-controlled. And finally, a good reputation outside the church. That’s a good test. Sometimes guys can be very good in their own church context but outside maybe in business dealings or just snubbing people. Maybe the way we drive in traffic, can be tell tale of something disqualifying in our life.
KH: Good. One more thing I’ll say about hating sin, and it’s really a practical way to cultivate that in our hearts. It’s meditating on the consequences of sin. Randy Alcorn wrote an article called “Deterring Immorality by Counting Its Cost.” In it he includes a long list of things what would happen if he were to have an affair, to fall morally. He meditates on that to cultivate a hatred and a seriousness in his heart about what sin could lead to. That’s something that has helped me think through my own life and develop a hatred of sin.
Stay tuned for the final part of this interview, Establishing Transparent Ministry Teams.
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