I remember the moment vividly. I was sitting in the congregation being served communion by my husband, the Pastor of our church, and I knew that I needed to let the cup pass.
My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing, questions were floating in my head a mile a minute. I knew that I had been delighting in and treasuring things more deeply than Christ. I felt guilty, stained, shameful and filthy. Echoes of past hurtful comments like “you’re the pastor’s wife, you of all people should know better” flooded my mind and stung my soul.
In one sense the hurtful comments were true, I knew better. I am and was well-acquainted with scripture. If we have the Holy Spirit in us, then we most certainly know when we are playing too close to the electric fence. However, the status of “pastor’s wife” didn’t and doesn’t make me immune to sin. Whatever title you hold in this world you don’t bring with you into the heavenly gates.
Approach the Table with Reverence
The sin that I was passing the cup over wasn’t trivial. Let me be clear that when we approach the table with humility, awe and reverence and we repent of our lousy week, we can still freely take the cup and drink the bread in a worthy manner.
That is what is so beautiful and glorious about the Eucharist!
It is the thanksgiving meal that we partake in because of Jesus’ perfect work on the cross. The difference this day was that I was battling a reoccurring sin; a sin that I would repent of from time to time, but still treat like a pet. In the words of Jen Wilkin, “sin is not a pet, it’s a predator”.
If we are habitually coming back to the same sin, with little regard for the Lord, or loving our sin more than we love Christ than we are in trouble – our predator has gripped us deeply. Sometimes, even leaders, cling to sin. None of us are immune to sin, and often when we pretend that we are or act like we are, we find ourselves knee deep in it. A wise friend of mine always reminds me “we are 24 hours away from the same sins that grip the people that we counsel”.
It is good to remember how prone our own hearts are to wander. In addition to this, anyone serving in a leadership position in the church needs to take sin deadly seriously. People are watching regardless of whether we want them to or not. We cannot cause others to stumble.
Approach the Gospel anew
Once the cup had passed, and I sank into my chair crying, the worship team began singing the beautiful hymn There Is A Fountain written by William Cowper:
“And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains
And there have I, though vile as he, Washed all my sins away
Till all the ransomed church of God, Are saved, to sin no more
Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save”
These lyrics were exactly what my soul needed. We as leaders need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. Sometimes we forget how much we need gospel reminders too. Each verse of the song was a beautiful picture of the gospel. Jesus took my guilty stains, and washed them away. The redemptive work on the cross means that I no longer have to carry that sin anymore; I am not a slave to sin.
The King’s redeeming love is the theme of my life, and I cannot lose sight of His victory over sin. When we see and savour the beauty of the gospel afresh it changes us. It causes us to sing in our hearts of the power that Christ has over sin—even the sins that grip deeply. The gospel is for leaders too.
Approach The Sin Head On
In this difficult season, there were some helpful things that I needed to remember and do in the trenches that I wanted to share with other leaders who may feel alone in their sin right now:
- Identify the sin – Oftentimes it is difficult to overcome a sin when we are struggling to identify the sin. What is at the depth of what you are struggling with? Can you put your finger on it? Or can you ask someone you love to help you identify it if it’s not clear? Usually our sins are glaringly obvious, but sometimes they can stem from deep wounds or hurts that we haven’t addressed in the past, or they can be hidden in a less obvious sin.
- Repent – The Bible tells us to prioritize repentance: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When we sin, we sin against the Lord (and oftentimes many others). Repentance doesn’t involve shame or guilt, but it does involve taking ownership. We need to see that we are sinners who sin. We cannot excuse away our sin (especially in today’s victim culture). If we have sinned and fallen short (which we do and we will) then we need to be willing to own up to that sin and repent of it to the Lord. We need to turn from the sin, and turn to the Father. We cannot overcome any sin without His strength. Not only that, but we need to hate sin! We need to ask the Lord to help us to abhor the sins we are clinging to. We should be grieving over our sin.
- Accountability – “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Whenever I have invited accountability via my husband or a fellow sister in Christ, the triumph over sin has been quicker. There is something about confessing our sin to another person that helps us to move on from that sin. Ask for weekly or daily check ins, ask that person to pray with you regularly about that sin, or read a book of the Bible or another book that addresses that sin with them. Sometimes we need our brother or sister in Christ to fix our gaze on the Lord afresh.
- Make drastic changes if you need to – “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:30). Sometimes you may need to flee from sin. This may mean ending an unhealthy friendship, leaving a job, getting rid of social media, or throwing away a computer or phone. Usually it is easy to identify the thing you need to let go of. Do whatever you need to do or set whatever boundary you need to in order to let go of the sin you are battling.
- Cling to the spiritual disciplines – Often when we are battling sin we hide from the Lord. This means that our Bibles get dusty, our prayer life is minimal, our worship is lifeless, we stop serving in the local church, and our evangelism and witness to the watching world become stagnant or non-existent. Instead of running from the Lord, it’s important to keep doing the things we need to do to have intimacy with the Lord even when it is hard. Don’t allow the devil to have a foothold during your darkest times. Cling to scripture, be on your knees in prayer, listen to podcasts and Christian music, surround yourself with strong Christian friends, be in the corporate worship gathering, saturate your life with spiritual disciplines for the sake of your wandering soul.
- Don’t render yourself useless for Kingdom work – Depending on the sin we are wrestling with, sometimes we do need to take a step back from ministry and get some help (if you aren’t sure, you can talk to a pastor, elder, or elder’s wife in your local church). However, if we are leaning in, repenting, praying, and making the necessary changes, albeit we are still struggling we don’t need to render ourselves useless for the Lord’s work. As Christians we will never be sinless until we die. We will always wrestle with the grip of sin. Don’t take yourself out of the game because you feel like a hypocrite. The Lord can still use you, and sometimes places you in a position of leadership to refine and purify you. Take an inventory of the men and women the Lord used in the Bible, were they perfect? Certainly not. We must also remember that our own personal battles can also make us more compassionate and empathetic to those we are shepherding.
- Wage war – John Owen said “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you”. Don’t take sin lightly. God is a Holy God. He cares deeply about what we say, do, and think. As leaders we have an even greater responsibility to be watchful of our sin. Verses like Luke 12:48, Acts 20:28, and James 3:1 are deeply convicting. Whether we want to admit it or not, leaders are held to a higher standard. It is helpful for us, then, to not just “manage” sin but to “slay” it in the words of Jen Wilkin. Far too often we can compartmentalize our sin, or put it on the back burner or excuse it away. Our management of sin will destroy our faith walk. We must slay sin! There is a reason why the Bible tells us we need to put on the whole armour of God.
Approach Your Ministry with Confidence
The responsibility of being a leader can be overwhelming and wearisome at times. Someday I will have to stand before the Lord with my bad conduct and counsel to others and the thought of leading someone astray is daunting. Although I have struggled with feeling disqualified, and have been tempted to abandon my calling, I need to remember the distinction is: am I pursuing sin or doing everything possible to flee from it? One disqualifies and one qualifies.
Obviously this list and this article is not exhaustive, and there are many other things we can do in our battle against sin, but maybe one big takeaway from all of this is that leader, you are not alone. The Bible says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). None of us are sinless, and yet the gospel is still a precious gift for us. His redeeming love will be our theme until eternity, and until our race has ended we must sing of His power to save even when we feel the grip of sin. We know who ultimately has the victory; praise the King!