This is Part One of the transcript of a conversation on Preventing Disqualifying Sins in Ministry between Kevin Halloran and John Eichholz.
KH: John, can you explain why preventing disqualifying sins is so important for pastors and ministry leaders?
JE: I’d be glad to comment on that. First of all, I think these kinds of sins really wreak havoc in ministry. We brought it up with our staff because our guys are traveling all the time, and there’s also heightened spiritual risk when an organization or a key leader is doing well. We need to be constantly alert and watchful. Also, Kevin, you had mentioned our current climate in the culture. . . . The Me Too movement – but even the Kavanaugh hearings – shows us that people are really sensitive to leadership overstepping its bounds. It’s hypocritical in the culture, but for Christians I think it’s an opportunity when we walk closely with the Lord and our life shows that we are following the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a great testimony. When a leader defaults – and obviously when it ends up in the newspaper, as you’ve mentioned – it really causes shame on the name of Christ and the organization. I’ve seen many times in ministry that when someone defaults, it follows that leader for years. It affects those he has been shepherding. There often are devastating consequences. Sometimes people walk away from the faith for a time because of that leader’s hypocrisy.
KH: What you mentioned reminds me of 1 Peter 5:8, that says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (NIV). And those words, be sober minded and be watchful should always be on the mind of every Christian but, I think, especially of leaders, considering some of the things you just mentioned.
JE: I appreciate your bringing that up. And 1 Peter 5 is in the context of Peter exhorting elders and undershepherds of the Lord Jesus and is very appropriate.
KH: It’s easy to think that these types of sins sneak up on us. It’s easy to think, How could that have happened to that person? Often there’s a longer road that gradually leads to devastating sins. Can you explain what some of the warning signs might be in the life of a pastor, telling him that maybe he’s heading down a bad road?
JE: Sure. There are a number of those things, but there are basic categories of patterns. I think you’ve already mentioned one is being lax in a spiritual battle. The text that you already quoted talks about being sober minded, being watchful. That’s really the Christian life. I think we are in a spiritual battle; we need to be aware of what’s going on around our own lives, our families, our churches. I think sometimes we are lulled to sleep. Things are going well, there are no major problems, and we are not as diligent as we ought to be.
I think it’s interesting that Christ is warning His disciples as they are following Him to Jerusalem, and they’re not heeding the warning. They’re not understanding where they’re going and what’s about to happen. Obviously, as He goes to prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, He tells them to watch and pray. That should be our stance at all times in the Christian life, when things are going well, and things are difficult.
Also, the leaders I’ve worked with in the past, some who have defaulted from ministry, have sometimes had a sense of self-sufficiency: I’m strong. I can do this. I’ve worked with men who also have a sense of independence. They don’t really want to cooperate closely or share their lives openly. There’s maybe not an accountability. There’s a lack of dependence on Christ because they feel strong and capable, but that self-sufficiency is a warning sign to me. Sometimes guys think, Sexual sins? I love my wife. We have a good relationship; that won’t happen to me. Yet they are feeding the flesh in other areas, maybe pornography or a subtle playing with things in the mind or a subtle relationship they’re coddling behind the scenes but are not dealing with.
KH: One of the scary things about this topic and the nature of sin, is just how deceitful sin can be. Hebrews 3:13 says, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (NIV), and so often in these cases there is deceit. Maybe deceiving others, trying to hide certain actions or certain thoughts, but ultimately, sin deceives us. That’s scary, because we don’t realize we’re headed down a wrong path. We’re disobeying God, and it’s blinding us to reality. That’s something for every pastor and every Christian to be very careful about. Am I telling the truth about my personal life, about sin that may be in my life? Am I rationalizing it? Or am I holding up God’s Word as a mirror, looking into it, and being honest with myself?
John, some of what you said reminded me of a study that Howard Hendricks did. He studied 246 men who had disqualified themselves. After interviewing them, he found four characteristics that seemed to sum up just about everybody.
That points to what you said about self-sufficiency in the life of a pastor: “Hey, this can’t happen to me.” But we must remember what Scripture says: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (see James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34) and pride comes before a fall (see Proverbs 16:18).
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