I have been thinking lately about how difficult it must be to serve actively in a church as a layperson. It isn’t the demand on one’s time that is the hardest thing but the more challenging demand on one’s heart. To serve a local body of believers is to inevitably be exposed to both the best and the worst in others. The layperson actively involved in ministry to the Body of Christ will see extraordinary acts of kindness and even self-sacrifice. But often, perhaps more often, what is observed is pettiness, gossip, and appalling acts of selfishness. Adding insult to injury the layperson soon realizes that their pastors are sinners as well.
Of course everyone knows that pastors are sinners. What is difficult, however, is to actually see the sins of your own pastor on full display. Perhaps he is jealous or insecure. Maybe he struggles with anger, pride, depression, or a critical spirit. Seeing these things in one’s pastor can be a heavy burden to bear. As a pastor I know what it is to disappoint people that I care about. I know what it is to go home feeling miserable because some of the ugliness in my heart escaped in the site of people I am called to shepherd. In those times I say with Paul, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).
This is not false humility on the part of the apostle. Neither are we to surmise that Paul committed more heinous sins than anyone who ever walked the face of the earth. I am pretty sure that the point Paul is making is that he is the worst sinner he knows. This displays the default position that all Christians should embrace: “Knowing the condition of my heart in a way that I cannot know yours, I can only safely conclude that I am in worse shape than you.” This doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to our brother’s sin. Indeed, we are to hold each other accountable in a loving, but if necessary, firm way. However, the wickedness in my own heart ought to always be a greater source of concern to me than the wickedness present in anyone else.
So, I am a sinful pastor. I sometimes wear my sins and flaws on my sleeve for all to see. Very often, perhaps more often than not, I fail to live up to my confession. As far as I know, my heart is in worse condition than that of any of my brothers and sisters. So I will endeavor to take my own sin more seriously than yours. I will try to be more offended by my own sin than by yours. I will, by God’s grace, always be ready to receive the loving correction of my fellows in Christ. This, I believe will guard me from the pessimism and cynicism that so easily accompany service to the church. I hope you will join me in this.