This is something that came to mind as I’ve been working through Fitch’s chapter on leadership in The Great Giveaway.
If someone went to a typical pastor of a typical local church and asked that pastor “Is your church a safe place for me to work through my personal sins and grow in Christ?” that pastor would probably say, “Yes.”
I believe the best-intentioned pastors really try to build an organization that houses a safe Christ-centered community of healing and formation. They try to lead a community where people can come and safely engage in worship, confession, accountability, teaching, fellowship, discipleship, service, and mission with others so that they can grow out of their sins and further into Christlikeness within the life of the faith-community.
But here’s the catch: In that typical church, the pastor is exempt from that community. He or she organizes and leads the organization, but rarely participates in the healing life of the community. It’s a safe place for the average congregation member to confess sins and engage in the various ministries to discover deliverance from those sins within the community.
But what happens to the leader-pastor when he or she confesses depression, pornography, gambling, alcoholism, lust for another congregation member, eating disorder, pride, rage, or any other kind of socially unacceptable sin or addiction. Like it or not, it is presumed that the leader-pastor is above this. Sure, the leader-pastor can admit vague sins — I got angry at my spouse, I yelled at my kids, I got angry on the freeway. But unfortunately, confessing and dealing with the dirty stuff jeopardizes his or her ministry and job.
So the leader-pastor buries it and hides it for the sake of his or her ministry. Ironically, the leader-pastor cannot participate in the necessary healing and forming life of the community that he or she leads. They’re only course of action is an individualized, and therefore stunted, attempt at spiritual formation. And then everyone’s shocked when the leader-pastor’s sins become public. They never had a chance.