He spoke only a few words and I knew something was wrong…desperately wrong. When my phone rang and I saw who it was, I was happy. Ken (not his real name) was a faithful friend and pastor of a local church in our community. I had known him for about a decade and I respected him greatly.
“Can I come over to your office and talk?” he asked. I let him know my schedule was full, but maybe we could set up a lunch the next week. With a stern voice he responded, “I have to come over and talk to you right now.”
My heart sank and I could feel a knot forming in my stomach. I cleared my schedule and awaited his arrival. When he walked into my office, he was without his normal smile and energy. He walked to a chair in the corner and sat down. He never made eye contact.
“I made a mistake…a big one. It could cost me my ministry, my marriage, and maybe my family.” Over the next hour we talked, prayed, and cried together. The specifics of his crash are not relevant for this blog, but he was absolutely right. The series of decisions he had made and the actions he had taken cost him his ministry. By God’s grace, his marriage did not end. But for five years he invested a great deal of time and energy in rebuilding trust and restoring love.
What struck me as I watched my friend and his family journey through almost five years of hellish pain and struggle was that he could have avoided it all with a few simple decisions. I am not saying these decisions would have been easy, but they are quite simple. Here are some ways a Christian leader can make a decision to save his or her ministry before he or she loses it.
Have at least one faithful mentor who will keep you accountable.
In James 5:16 we read, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed…” A wise leader has at least one mentor who will listen to gut-wrenching confession and call them to repentance. This person needs to exhibit grace and also bold strength.
This mentor should listen, pray, speak truth, and even exercise leverage to call you to holiness and godly living. If you don’t have a person in your life who will do this, pray for one and do the work of nurturing this kind of relationship. If you do have a mentor, thank God and commit to be painfully honest with him or her.
Do consistent soul self-examinations.
King David, who knew a fair deal about temptations and struggle, wrote, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). A leader who wants to stand strong for a lifetime, will learn to invite the Holy Spirit to search his or her heart and soul.
The leader will look at his or her choices, habits, motives, and secret struggles, and face them honestly. When we see your soul shriveling under the weight of sin, we will learn to run to the arms of God and turn from patterns and actions that dishonor Him.
Address compromise when it is small!
A wise leader repents and battles sin when it is still small. Better to cut off a ‘harmless’ flirtation with a volunteer at your church than to deal with the repercussion of an affair. Better to repent of using the church credit card for a personal lunch than to be caught having embezzled thousands of dollars from the offerings of God’s people. Identify small areas of compromise and crush them before they grow into a massive monster.
Learn to run away.
The Apostle Paul instructs his protégée, Timothy, to “Flee the evil desires of youth…” (2 Timothy 2:22). Sometimes the best way to deal with mounting temptation is to run away. This is not an act of cowardice, but courage! Early in my ministry I found myself inappropriately attracted to a woman who volunteered in one of our ministries. When I recognized this was growing in my heart, I told my wife and I made sure I never lingered around this woman. In a short time, the attraction melted away in the light of truth and accountability.
Blow the whistle on yourself.
If you can’t develop habits of discipline that overcome a growing area of temptation, blow the whistle! Tell your spouse, a pastor friend, even a trusted leader on your church board. It is always better to admit your struggle than to get caught as you are seeking to cover it up. King David spent a lot of time and energy seeking to cover up his affair with Bathsheba. In his efforts to hide his sin, he heaped up more damage and mayhem. In the end, God knew and sent the prophet Nathan to call David to repentance (2 Samuel 11-12). A wise leader does not wait for God to send a messenger to uncover his or her sin.
No one who travels the road of ministry leadership will journey far without facing temptation. Our Lord Jesus, God in human flesh, was the target of Satan’s enticements (Luke 4, Matthew 4). Who are we to think that we won’t face the same kind of battles? What we need to do is stay alert, identify the tactics of the enemy, admit our own human weaknesses, and decide to fight back. Let’s not wait until we are caught to face our sins and admit our weaknesses. Make a decision to save your ministry before you lose it!
For more information on this topic, check out the book Leadership from the Inside Out.