Should leaders confess sins to followers?


Just came from a conference with pastors where we were talking about rethinking leadership in light of the cultural changes that force us back the biblical images rather than those pervasive in the church growth models. I’ll summarize a few take-aways tomorrow but wanted to highlight part of our discussion of humble leadership. I made some comments regarding the need to be leading by example in the area of repentance. I stole someone else’s line: Why is it that those who love the Reformed doctrine of depravity aren’t commonly willing to share their own depravity (and repentance!) with their sheep. One person asked the common question regarding the health of having pastors and christian leaders confess their sins. Couldn’t it harm other’s faith? Here’s some of my thoughts.

1. Sure, having the pastor confess on Sunday am that he just masturbated the night before isn’t a good idea. However, sometimes raising the obvious problem with leader confession causes us to avoid doing much at all in our present life. We might confess our old sins, but less likely our recent ones.
2. The motive for leader’s confession must be more than his/her own benefit. Leader communication should be pastoral to the hearers. This excludes narcissistic, “look at me” confession.
3. If leaders have sins that are too big to confess to their followers, its probable that they either failed to confess and be accountable to more appropriate audiences (mentors, supervisors, colleagues, etc.). We get to the bigger sins because we let the littler ones slide or we deny their presence to self and other.
4. Leaders should begin to confess the sins that everyone knows they have and not get caught up in whether or not to confess the more hidden ones. Your followers can see your failings. Did you promise something and yet fail to deliver (and then blame others for the failure)? Did you show defensiveness in the leadership meeting? Arrogance? Knee-jerk assessment or pastoral care? Did you write off a follower as unteachable without enough time? Did you neglect a follower’s gifts because they threatened yours?
5. These kind of confessions may cause some who want perfect leaders to lose heart. But, I would argue that if not this, something else will cause them to lose heart. The vast majority will feel they have a leader who understands their weaknesses and will be more ready to accept the care offered in the future.
6. Some confessions will lead to being removed from ministry for a season. There is grace in forgiveness and not having a mountain made out of a molehill AND their is grace in forgiveness and being held accountable. We leaders need to exemplify both to others and pray that others will do the same for us.

6 Comments

Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, ethics, Repentance, sin

6 responses to “Should leaders confess sins to followers?

  1. CB

    Wow. “Removed from ministry for a season”. Casually written, but pretty painful for a minister who might have kids/family as financial dependents. Not to mention the lovely vituperation that seems to accompany a public fall and, of course, the lack of future employment opportunities. Christians are not real forgiving of failures in their ministers. Nor are they inclined to hire those “removed for a season”. This would not be something for the faint-hearted.

  2. Nothing casual about this having walked with several who were. Unfortunately, I have found that churches are far too quick to hire those who were removed or to put back in the pulpit those they removed “for a season.” The more gifted the pastor, the greater the chance this will happen. Either the current church or the next church may be quick to decide that the problem was circumstantial and not a matter of the heart, thereby allowing the pastor to bypass the necessary self-examination and spiritual renewal. You are right, however, it is not for the faint of heart. A pastor caught in a public sin will carry a mark for life. Those who love to gossip and feel self-righteous will have a field day. It does come down to the decision of importance: career vs. spiritual health. The path of coverup leads to having God say “woe to you shepherds…” (Ezekiel). Much better to take the path of humiliation and renewal than the path of protection and judgment. And I can attest to the rich ministries of those who are willing to take that path. And the Lord will vindicate those who think that pastor’s sins are somehow worse than their own. Jeremiah’s Lament attests that we can both be repentant and yet angry at those who pile on just for the fun of it.

  3. rob

    hey thanks, curt pointed me to your blog. i agree that confessing the pecadillos isn’t important. i’m not even sure that confessing a previous life of drugs and crime is the main things – though it can give rise to some good stories! the main thing surely is to have a pastor who doesn’t give the impression that they are the second coming of christ without sin and conquering all. i read that this would be accompanied by lightening and riding on clouds! i think it’s more helpful to see a person who demonstrates that they are not all there yet. even paul saus ‘not that i have already attained all thits, yet….’ and that yet is vital to motivate people who know they are not perfect. this needs to be modelled, rob

  4. Agreed. It has to be modeled well. Confession for confession sake is usually mainly for the ego, just as looking perfect is mainly for the ego. If we are unable to admit our flaws and weaknesses and unable to show mercy to those who may admit even greater problems, then we’ll continue to have churches filled with Sunday smiles hiding Monday-Saturday despair.

  5. My pastor is faithful to “confess” that he struggles with sin just as much as the rest of us, and this is one of the aspects of his personal character and ministry to us that I am most grateful for. Sin that would be of more serious nature would be dealt with within the leadership team – all seasoned care group leaders- these checks and balances for a pastor we believe are crucial both for the pastor himself and for the church- and of course the accountability to the ministry our church is a branch from.
    I know that I can fire off an e-mail to my pastor and he would help me with any sin I have. He would not act indifferent. If it were a more personal sin of course he would refer me to his wife or an older and spiritually mature female in the church. We are a rich church because we are actually pastored, not entertained just on Sunday, and we have an ally in the fight against sin in our pastor.

  6. Pingback: Alone in Our Sin « Cavman Unleashed

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