Finishing well in ministry really matters to me.
Especially since I now have more ministry years behind me than in front of me.
I want every day of my ministry life to matter. And I want to end it having brought honor to Christ, his church and my family.
This has become even more important as I have watched so many pastors leave the ministry under a cloud of suspicion or outright guilt, sometimes in what was already going to be their final years.
Too many times we’re seeing decades of great ministry irreparably tainted by credible accusations of moral indiscretion.
Wanting to finish well is not the main reason I’m determined to behave morally. It should never be for any of us.
Why We Must Behave Well
In all the recent heartbreaking news about immoral, sometimes criminal behavior by clergy, many of my fellow pastors are responding with “it’s a shame to have so many years of great ministry end like that.”
While I agree with their sentiment, it’s a problem when the loss of reputation by the church leader is so high on our list of concerns – sometimes getting more expressions of grief than our concern for the victims.
This betrays a problem of priorities that may be one of the reasons behind a lot of the bad behavior that’s coming to light lately.
The reason we need to behave morally is the same as it’s always been – because it’s the right thing to do.
Loving God and others is called the first and great commandment for a reason. The Bible’s more-than-reasonable rules for treating others with love, care and respect constantly show themselves to be the only way to behave like a decent human being.
Like everyone else, pastors need to behave morally not so we can keep our reputations intact, but because hurting other people is wrong. Always wrong. Especially for followers of Jesus. Even more so for church leaders.
When we stand in a position of spiritual leadership and ecclesiastical authority, what we do carries a great weight. Pastors are in a position to do great good or, with one bad action or a series of bad actions, cause great harm.
Then, when we cover up those behaviors to preserve reputations, the problem is multiplied and the victims are hurt again..
A Higher Responsibility
Here are two reasons why “I want to finish well” must never be the main reason we choose to behave morally:
First, it takes the focus off the people who are hurt by the moral failings of powerful people.
Certainly, when a pastor or other spiritual leader fails, we need to reach out to them with grace, healing and restoration. But that must never take priority over two other things: offering healing to those they have hurt, and following through on whatever ecclesiastical, behavioral and legal consequences that must be faced by the offender.
We can’t shortcut the necessity to confront immorality and/or prosecute crimes. Justice and healing for the victims must always come first.
Second, when we think first about “finishing well”, it keeps the focus in the wrong place – on our reputations and institutions. Often, protecting those reputations and institutions is what has driven many church leaders to cover up immoral and criminal acts instead of exposing them to the light of day.
We have to do this better. Including having a fair and impartial assessment of every accusation to determine their validity – outside the glare of the spotlight if at all possible, which is why I haven’t mentioned any names in this article.
But when it is found that a minister has behaved immorally and/or illegally, offering hope, sympathy and (whenever possible) justice for victims must always be our first priority.
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