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5 Stumbling Blocks to Pastoral Honesty

What Silences Us?

Why isn’t humble candor more of a regular part of our ministry leadership culture? Why aren’t we more ready to confess spiritual discouragement or struggle? Why do we sit in silence as we watch fellow leaders drift away from the type of people God calls them to be? Why are too many of us more defensive than approachable? Why do we seem to be more concerned about and activated by the sin of others than we are by our own? What silences humble gospel candor in our leadership communities? Well, I want to suggest a few answers to these questions. My hope is that it will prompt community self-examination and discussion.

1. Pride of Personal Maturity

Pride is a huge issue for all ministry leaders. Knowledge gets to us, experience gets to us, success gets to us, position gets to us, increasing notoriety gets to us, and in so doing we are placed in spiritual danger. Pride is a temptation that every leadership community should be aware of and keep a watchful eye on. Sadly, way too many leaders change throughout the life of their ministry leadership. The humble, gracious, servant attitude wanes as knowledge, success, and prominence increase. We hear it in the way leaders talk about themselves and how they talk about and relate to others.

If ministry knowledge, experience, success, and position have begun to distort your sense of yourself, if they have caused you to forget who you really are and what you daily need, you will not be quick to admit your sin, weaknesses, and failures to yourself or to others. Pride and confession are enemies. They do not work in cooperation but in constant opposition. If ministry has come to define you, the gospel won’t. Perhaps many leaders are silent because they have fallen into the delusion that they don’t really have anything to confess or don’t see where they need the pastoral love and assistance of fellow leaders.

2. Ability to Minimize Sin

It is one of the most powerful aspects of the scary and destructive deceitfulness of sin. As long as sin is inside us, we all carry with us a dangerous ability to participate in our own spiritual blindness. It should be a warning to every leadership community everywhere that all members of your community are regularly tempted to think that their sin is something less than sin. We’re able to name our anger as zeal for what is right. We are skilled at calling our impatience a desire to move forward with gospel mission. We are tempted to call gossip the sharing of prayer concerns. Being power and control hungry gets recast as exercising God-given leadership gifts.

Lead

Paul David Tripp

Best-selling author Paul David Tripp offers 12 gospel-centered leadership principles for both aspiring leaders and weathered pastors as they navigate the challenging waters of pastoral ministry. This resource shows the vital role that the leadership community plays in molding leaders.

Every leadership community needs to pray together for grace to see sin as dark, despicable, destructive, and dishonoring to God as it actually is. Every leadership community needs to regularly cry out for help, admitting that sin doesn’t always look sinful. We need to seek divine rescue from our ability to erect self-atoning arguments for our righteousness that crush gospel grief and humble confession. Any leadership community that has become individually or corporately comfortable with minimizing sin is, because of that, in real and present spiritual danger.

3. Must Have the Respect of Others

It is my temptation, and if you’re a leader, it’s your temptation too: we care too much about what fellow leaders think of us. There are times when I give more of the concern of my heart to the opinion of a particular ministry colleague than to the view of my Lord. I want too much to be respected. I want too much to be liked. I am too concerned with being spoken well of. I overly desire that fellow leaders affirm my ideas and give weight to my plans. I am too attentive to how fellow leaders respond to me. I am greatly tempted, as is every leader in some way, to care too much about what others think of me.

Balanced relationships in a leadership community are a tricky thing for which we need much grace. On one hand, I am in hand-to-hand spiritual war with my fellow leaders, so we need to have a relationship of respect and trust. One the other hand, I cannot let their acceptance and respect be what controls how I relate to them. If I care too much about what they think of me, I will put forth my strengths while hiding my weaknesses and failures. If I have them in the appropriate place in my heart, I will see them as God-given tools of grace and be free to be candid with them about my real issues of heart and life. Every leadership community needs to pray for grace to get this balance right.

4. Identity in Ministry

If ministry leadership is your identity, then Christ isn’t, along with that life-changing catalog of comforts that are the result of his person and work. Ministry leadership identity produces fear and anxiety and will never produce the humility and courage that come with identity in Christ. Looking horizontally, as a leader, for your identity, meaning, purpose, and internal sense of well-being asks people, places, and position to do for you what only your Messiah can do. This will produce either pride in success or fear of failure but never the kind of humility and courage of heart that results in humble, willing, confessing approachability. Ministry as a source of identity will never result in healthy gospel-shaped relationships in your leadership community, the kind of relationships in which candor is encouraged, confession is greeted with grace, and bonds of love, appreciation, affection, understanding, and respect grow strong.

5. Functional Gospel Doubt

Yes, it is possible to be part of a leadership community that has the gospel as its central message and the spread of the gospel as its central mission but whose leaders are silenced by gospel doubt. Too many leaders struggling with issues in their hearts, lives, and relationships have their responses shaped more by a catalog of doubtful “what ifs” than by the hope-producing promises of the gospel. Leaders can’t imagine how their confession will turn out well, so they hide behind silence, denials, or nonanswers. Rather than being thankful for the ever-present grace that is theirs in Christ and the community of grace that surrounds them, they doubt rescuing and forgiving grace and fear the very people tasked with being tools of that grace.

It is only by his power that our fears are silenced and our mouths are filled with humility, hope, confession, and praise.

The gospel is laden with promises of forgiveness and restoration. The gospel offers us the comfort of fresh starts and new beginnings. The gospel promises us that the good things God calls us to will produce good in our lives, even if that good looks different from what we hoped for. The gospel reminds us that hardship in the hands of the Lord is a tool of rescuing, forgiving, transforming, and delivering grace. The gospel tells us that Jesus measured up in every way because we wouldn’t and that he took the Father’s rejection so we would never have to. Here’s what every leadership community needs to affirm: to come out of hiding produces good, to admit what you have denied produces good, to confess sin produces good, to own where you are weak produces good, and to say no to pride and cry out for help, even if there is wreckage along the way, produces good.

Will we allow ourselves to esteem ministry identity and position more than we esteem a humble and clean heart before the Lord and in relationship to the fellow leaders he has placed us near? Do we fear loss of a leadership position more than we fear giving sin room to do its evil work in our hearts and lives? Do we really believe that our Redeemer is kind, tender, loving, and good? Do we really believe that all his ways are right and true? Will we allow ourselves to think that his way is more dangerous than our way? Will we let functional gospel doubt silence us when our Savior is calling us to confess and be healed?

This has been tough and convicting to write. It has caused me to examine why it is hard for me in places to say, “I was wrong; please forgive me.” It has required me to ask myself why at times I find it hard to own my weaknesses and seek help. And it has deepened my longing to be in a robust gospel community with other leaders, where we know we are loved and will find grace, where we know we are needy, and where humble candor is the culture, not the exception. For this, every leader needs grace, and that grace is ours, operating now and secure because of the life, death, and resurrection of our fellow leader, companion, and friend—the Lamb, the Lord, the Savior, Jesus. It is only by his power that our fears are silenced and our mouths are filled with humility, hope, confession, and praise. May we rest in him, and in resting, come out of the hiding and speak. And in speaking, may we experience good things from him that are way better than the bad things we feared.

This article is adapted from Lead: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church by Paul David Tripp.



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