Are you hiding something so big that it could destroy your life, your family, and even your ministry? Here’s how to overcome the sins that could ruin your ministry.
Charges of priests sexually molesting children have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in recent years. Famous evangelists have fueled a media frenzy with their soap-opera-style lives. And no one even knows the number of children who may have been hurt by children’s ministers who harbor secret sins.
It’s tempting to shake our heads in judgment of these people, but let the one “who is without sin” be the one to cast the first stone. Each of us is prone to sin. While we may regret this tendency, sins are a fact of human nature. “If we say that we have no sin,” the Apostle John writes in 1 John 1:8, “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
As someone who works with children, you’re more than likely free of gross public sins. The danger comes with “closet” sins, those indiscretions that are carefully hidden from public scrutiny yet insidiously affect the children you’re trying to help.
Any sin is a transgression of God’s law and, apart from the blood of Christ, leads to condemnation. Some sins, however, pose more of a threat than others, carrying consequences that can destroy lives and wreck the effectiveness of your ministry.
Every Christian leader must practice continual self-evaluation. Periodically, at a time and in a place where you won’t be disturbed, take time to honestly evaluate your life. Ask yourself these questions:
- What are the areas I would most like to keep from public view? Avoid self-deception. We can fool other people, and we can fool ourselves, but we can never fool God. Hebrews 4:13 reminds us that “all things are naked and open to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
- Do I have inappropriate thoughts and attitudes? Pride is often a difficulty for those of us entrusted with public ministry. Anger and prejudice can also limit our effectiveness in the Lord’s work. Covetousness is a sin that can include materialism or sexual lust. Ask God to reveal dangerous thoughts and attitudes. Then deal with them.
Avoid two extremes when analyzing your sins. First, remember the difference between temptation and sin.
Overly sensitive individuals may feel unworthy for ministry because they’re tempted. However, temptation is universal. Jesus was tempted in every way, yet he remained perfect. Our response to temptation is what makes the difference.
Some people, however, have grown so insensitive to mental impurity that they feel any thought is appropriate as long as no physical action follows. We must never treat our thought lives lightly. Jesus clearly taught the need for vigilance in maintaining purity of thought.
Deal with your thought life, but as long as the battle is fought on the level of thoughts and desires, effective ministry is still possible. When wrong thinking leads to wrong action, the situation is more serious.
Obviously, every Christian sins in thought as well as in deed, and sinful acts must be evaluated carefully. For example, if you lose your temper, there’s a difference between verbal and physical abuse. Both are wrong, but physical abuse will bring an effective children’s ministry to an end immediately. If you’re verbally abusive, your ministry’s demise may be more gradual. Giving in to covetousness might cause one person to not contribute money generously to the work of the Lord. Covetousness may lead another person to steal. Obviously, the severity of consequences differ.
In evaluating your sinful acts, focus on the effect they have on the children who you minister to. Anything that’ll emotionally, physically, or spiritually harm a child must be viewed with great concern and dealt with drastically.
The question of influence is also important. Not only your example, which is a template for young lives, but your credibility with parents and other adults is on the line. If adults involved with your ministry don’t have complete confidence in your integrity, your program’s effectiveness will be fatally compromised.
Equally important is your own position before God. Don’t be guilty of living a lie-teaching holiness to others but harboring a secret life of sin.
If it’s been difficult for you to clean out your “closet,” try these ideas:
Anyone enslaved to sin should seek freedom in Jesus Christ. First, honesty before God is an absolute requisite. You must be willing to confess your sins and pray for his strength in fighting them. Without this initial humility, spiritual healing isn’t possible.
Spend time with God.
Once you gain God’s forgiveness and strength, nurture spiritual disciplines. Daily prayer and Bible study are a necessity. Regular meditation on the scriptures has a way of drawing us to God and away from sin.
Find individuals to be accountable to. Ideally, a spiritual mentor is a more mature Christian who knows you well and earnestly desires your good. Yet this person should be distant enough from your immediate situation to maintain a degree of objectivity. If you have no one to confide in, a professional counselor would be of tremendous help. Select such a professional with great care. Once you’ve established a trusting, professional relationship with a Christian counselor, you can honestly explore the roots of your sinful behavior and plan strategies for overcoming it.
Take a break.
Depending on the severity of the sin involved, you may need time away from ministry. Often this is a difficult decision for Christians because we tend to define ourselves and even our relationships with God by what we do. However, if your sin presents danger to children, to the effectiveness of your ministry, or to your spiritual well being, you have no option. You must disengage, at least for a time, from direct ministry. In some situations, it might never be appropriate to return to the same sort of ministry, such as when the danger of physical or sexual abuse is involved. The risk is too great. Explore other avenues of ministry that can bring glory to God without jeopardizing the innocent.
Finally, never let your sinfulness destroy you. While life on this earth is a series of triumphs and defeats, the ultimate victory is assured.
As the Apostle Paul writes, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57, NIV).
So whatever your ministry, and especially if it involves impressionable children, clean out your closet regularly. We must make sure that we aren’t merely “talking a good game” of religion but that spirituality really does permeate our lives.
It’s imperative for your spiritual well-being. And it’s crucial for the children you’ve been entrusted with in your ministry.
Neil Anderson is president of Gospel Advocate Company and author of The Bondage Breaker (Harvest House).