Leadership Abuses: Private and Public Sins

“Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” – Martin Luther

“Church” can often be messy, especially when ongoing sins and improprieties begin to come to light – maybe even among our leaders. Yet God, I believe, is calling us all to a new level of collective integrity.

Incomplete ManSo how do we handle leadership failings, especially when they go beyond merely personal sin and involve an abuse of position or trust within a church, movement or mission, and hurts others?

Private Personal Offenses

In Matt. 18, Jesus tells us how to address private, personal offenses between believers.

In that passage, we are told to first approach the offending brother in private. If he doesn’t listen, we then take one or two others in private. If he still doesn’t repent, we go public by taking it before the whole congregation and, if there’s still no repentance, remove him from the church if necessary.

Public Leadership Sins

In contrast, I Tim. 5:19-21 tells us how to deal with leadership sins that amount to more than just an offense between two believers.

Often, such problems are so bad that outside intervention is needed – maybe because the local church failed to take corrective action out of loyalty or the offending leader has manipulated the process to prevent accountability.

When that happens, there is no effective repentance and the misconduct threatens others. For such offenses, Paul commands Timothy to publicly reprimand the church leader based on the confirming evidence of multiple witnesses.

Peace and Truth

When a church leader is accused of having abused his or her position of trust, tensions will often emerge.

Those who temperamentally value peace and relationships above all else will want things swept under the rug – even if it means avoiding truth.

Others, who temperamentally tend towards truth and justice, will want to rush in and set things straight without following proper Biblical procedures.

I’ve found over the years, however, that relationships and peace purchased at the expense of truth are never substantial or lasting.

Likewise, truth that wants to quickly confront misconduct in our leaders without following proper Biblical procedure can be like acid that burns and disfigures a community, while also running the risk of destroying reputations by improperly rushing to judgment.

Nonetheless, where a church leader has abused his or her position, and it is confirmed by multiple witnesses following a careful investigation, then truth must go public.

Silence Not Allowed

When it comes to church leaders who engage in disabling leadership sins, silence is not optional. In the New Testament, I Tim. 5 teaches this.

In the Old Testament, we also have the example of Nathan the prophet publicly confronting and exposing King David for his abuse of power and position – even though David clearly was God’s anointed leader! (See 2 Sam. 12:1-24 and Psalm 51.)

101126-72Any community of believers that values peace at the expense of truth – properly posited – will not survive. Eventually, cracks that have been hidden will open wide and the foundation will crumble. It is no mercy to let those cracks slowly bring down a church, movement or mission due to silence over disabling leadership sins.

Likewise, truth divorced from a motivation for real peace in the long run (as opposed to a false peace built on lies) will also destroy authentic community as leaders hold onto disabling sins or improprieties.

Sometimes, however, getting to Biblical peace requires that we first go through the messy process or open investigation, rebuke and warning – like we see throughout scripture and Paul commands of Timothy.

I am aware of NO instance where the Bible condones covering up the improprieties of those who claim to be leaders. In fact, the Biblical approach – Old and New Testament – is quite the opposite.

Furthermore, a truly repentant leader will not try to hide his leadership sins, but openly confess and publicly repent. Absent that, they remain a danger to all.

Investigate, Confirm, Rebuke

It’s naive to think some church leaders – including those we may personally find charming and inspiring – don’t secretly abuse their positions or those entrusted to their care.

Left unchecked, at best they become frauds whose public persona and teachings are contradicted by their private lives.

At worse, they become predators who thrive on secrecy, manipulation, lies and misplaced loyalty.

That’s why God gives us proper procedures in 1 Tim. 5 for confronting abusive church leaders – starting with investigation, confirming evidence and eventually escalating to the point of a public reprimand and warning to others.

Nonetheless, God cautions us on our attitudes when confronting the sins of others. But he never tells us to turn away from truth – even though there may be pain and conflict involved – nor does he ever give us the option of sweeping the disabling sins of church leaders under the rug.


The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) also applies.

If there’s been an abusive situation with a church leader, ask this question: Was it of such a nature that you would have wanted to be warned and thus protected by others who were aware of the problem, before becoming involved with them or their teachings?

Or, instead, would you want others to place you and your family at risk by remaining silent over leadership abuses, whether the malfeasance involved an abuse of funds, relationships, power, position or whatever?

Conflict sometimes is unavoidable when a church, movement or mission wants to protect or hide leadership improprieties in the manipulative name of “peace”. It can get messy.

But shouldn’t we raise a warning that we ourselves wish others had raised (following proper Biblical procedures, of course)?

Walk in Integrity

This is especially true when a leader has violated his position of trust or authority, or otherwise poses a risk to others. In such cases, efforts to maintain peace at any price threaten the health of the community more than any season of conflict that may arise from properly investigating, rebuking and warning others about that leader’s past abuse.

Certainly Paul, in the New Testament, tried to achieve peace when possible. But he never sacrificed the need to directly speak to problems to achieve real peace rooted in truth. Paul, unlike many today, was willing to accept conflict if that was necessary to properly to get to truth and also protect God’s people.

Likewise, Jesus was uncharacteristically harsh in truthfully condemning the religious leaders of his day who put their own interests above those of the people.

Speaking Truth to Power

Let’s pursue peace, but not at the expense of properly pursing truth and public accountability. Otherwise, we have only an illusion of peace, relationships and community – especially where it involves a leader who has abused his or her position by engaged in disabling leadership sins.

Eventually, the need to speak truth to power – properly yet firmly – can’t be ignored if we want to achieve authentic peace and unity (even if it means passing through a season of conflict to get there), to emerge healthy, to bring healing to victims, and to protect others.

Some may decide they don’t want that, preferring instead an illusion of peace and unity rooted in false, lie-based relationships. So be it.

But I side with Jesus, Paul and Nathan, and chose the better way . . .

~ Jim


For a good article by a respected church leader on dealing with disqualifying sins among pastors, I recommend Should Fallen Pastors Be Restored by John McArthur.

23 responses

  1. As we are mostly still church structures which have the models of the leader on the pedestal, and the sheep as secondary citizens, I have seen it become a very paralyzing and disabling event to deal with sins within leadership. For mutliple reasons, including the fact that shame is such a potent emotion and the fear of loss attached to it. First you must hopefully have extremely skilled individuals aware of the issue in its reality and able to deal with it step by step as you have outlined. However, even then often it is near imposssible to contend with without damage in some c apacity among the body. Even at that ,the outcome may not be as it should be. And I do believe that there are often many other complicating factors that play into each individual setting.


  2. I have to ask:

    What is redemptive or restorative about your blog(s)?
    Who set you up as the “spiritual leader” (judge & jury) of all these pastors/churches?
    What are your motives for these recent blogs?

    Condescension & supercilliousness (in this very public forum) do not serve the body of Christ well. I would encourage you, rather, to promote unity by walking in peace and speak in love.

    “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

    Honestly Jim? You do sound like an angry man with bones to pick…

    (If you are talking about your current pastor — and I certainly hope you are not — then you clearly have issues with him and your church. If you are this disgruntled and disillusioned, I recommend you dust off the soles of your shoes and move on….

    “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity…”


  3. My, my, my, but you do go on, don’t you? You’ve been harping on this same thing for days. Have you considered professional intervention for your rage issues? Try to relax, Jimbo. You’re sounding a little frayed around the edges.


  4. Jim, if you were speaking generically — generally — I might not have so much issue with your blog. However, you are casting stones at specific churches (and not so thinly veiled, frankly) in a public forum. Therefore, it’s my perception you are being disingenuous.


  5. you know what – i agree with you Jim!
    the problem as i see it is SIN needs to be EXPOSED in the church – through the leadership. Doesn’t Paul talk about this in the new testament = that those in leadership should have their lives in order so they can better minister to
    the flock?
    I reallly believe accountability is lacking in our church – as an intercessor (in training!!) i feel that pastors, elders, deacons, church leaders, etc. and their families need covering in prayer.
    i believe in the restoration of church leaders, the bible says that
    the church would be judged first.
    look at the Lakeland revival that happened in Florida.
    Todd bentley – messed up, divorced and remarried and now is going
    through restoration with Rick Joyner.
    do i agree with this? not necessarily – he alone is accountable to his flock
    his family. the thing with sin is that it has it’s consequences, he is paying for it here. It is between him and the Lord and I have no idea what is in store for him through Rick Joyner. But – i believe that it is much better to save
    this person from Hell and restore his soul than it is to throw him out.
    i don’t agree that he should be pastoring or counseling people/
    i know the devil pleasures in sowing discord and all kinds of evil in the church.
    All i know is that to pray and fast – allow God to work to restore pastors, leaders, elders – but to use wisdom, discretion to allow them to pastor the flock once again, and it has happened – i have seen first hand pastors broken down by divorce – all things are fixable through the Lord. Look how many
    times DAVID messed up – yet God called him a servant after his own heart.
    I read a book by John Bevere – called Victory in the Wilderness, what a great book to read, go to amazon.com and you can read part of this book.
    the reason i bring it up is that as i read it – and rereading it because its so fascinating, it touches on areas that you have wrote about.


  6. Keep going, Jim. I wish some of those who are critical of your approach, which I think is quite biblical, could minister to the elderly in nursing homes as I do and try to reach the hard hearts of these dying precious ones. Hard because of abuse such as you are addressing. I think we all need to humble ourselves before God and thank Him for the prophetic insight that He uses to bring correction that produces a glorious church without spot or wrinkle. As a church leader for many years, my life and ministry has and still is being changed by people like you who have spoken truth into my life. To me that is the ultimate in love!


  7. **A Note To all “confronting” Jim in accordance with the “MANDATE” of Matthew 18:**
    Stop arguing with this crazy, old man. Leave him to God’s judgment for the discord and contention he has stirred within the Body of Christ.


  8. Jim :

    I don’t think you are a crazy old man! You made good sense to me. I do not know what situation(s) – apparently in your local area – that other commentators are referring to, so I have no dog in that particular hunt.

    Your position seems to me to be thus: (A) Pastors and elders should be held to the 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 standards, (B) Matthew 18 should be followed, but (C) leaders who do not repent from disqualifying behavior and attitudes after private confrontation and counselling should be publicly rebuked (1 Tim 5:19-20). This seems perfectly in line with the Bible to me.


  9. Some who were most troubled about my blog and posted comments above have recently contacted me in private after learning more of the underlying facts (even though I never discussed those facts myself but limited my blog to general principles). In those private communictionas, they have said they now understand and agree with the need to deal with leadership abuses. To you all — thanks.

    I dream of the day when folks are no confronted by the “leadership” bullying they see directed at others, and find the courage to express their thoughts and concerns publicly so that others may be warned and protected (after trying to address those issues privately — which few folks are willing to do because of the intimidation and “circling the wagons” that’s common from those holding church office who are questioned about apparent improprieties).

    I believe that the age of the “rulers” — who dominate, manipulate and act out of a spirit of entitlement as they fleece their flocks and protect their own self interests — is finally coming to a close in the annals of church history. Unfortunately, there will be birth pangs as God births something that is new for our age, but also truly New Testament.


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  11. Great article. Biblical truth! I don’t see any axe to grind here (what are your critics talking about?) I pray people would fear the Lord and not man and do things God’s way. His ways ARE the way!


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  14. preach it. this silence and enabling is a disease spread throughout the church worldwide. Being labelled a troublemaker or as someone with an agenda or unforgiveness when you speak up is just par for the course. In all my years I have never heard a single sermone on how to deal with sin in leadership and i’ve been to all manner of churches… presumably because its none of the members business. Leave leadership alone to deal with leadership issues is what we’re told.


  15. I hope this article gets to many church leaders. I’m bookmarking it as a good reference tool – thanks! Dr. George Simon Jr posted an article recently for church leaders to help them discern true contrition versus simple regret or remorse at http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/how-to-recognize-true-and-false-contrition-by-dr-george-simon-jr/

    In my past experience as a church leader (not a senior pastor) when a sinful leader admitted he was in bondage to a certain (big) sin, such as sexual immorality, child molestation, etc… I have personally witnessed the standard of measure being said, “As long as they are taking steps forward…” they remain in leadership.

    Accountability systems, in my experience, have never really worked. Some of these leaders know exactly how to evade questions and how to give the appearance of getting help.

    What I really like about your article, Jim, is that you have outlined both personal, individual steps as well as a church’s steps for reconciliation. It’s a process and I’m so glad to read here that you are helping us to avoid two extremes: jumping in too quickly with judgement… and not acting decisively enough, for the sake of peacekeeping.

    Peacekeeping and peacemaking are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The first is concerned for keeping the surface waters calm and often involves sweeping sin under the carpet. And the last is concerned about confronting justly in love.

    I cannot thank you enough for this article and for the wealth of wisdom on your site!


  16. Jim,
    Thank you for speaking the truth in love! My husband and I experienced abuse from church leadership for over 25 years from being bullied by their interpretation of scripture to being pursued by my pastor, that led to a sexual relationship. When my husband and I brought my relationship with my pastor to the elders and it became public knowledge, a ‘friend’ stated, “I can understand keeping this a secret in order to protect your children.” Unfortunately, I considered keeping my relationship with my pastor a secret to protect myself and my children. However, my husband gently encouraged me to take this to the elders because God requires honesty and repentance; restoration will then follow. Our ‘friend’ believed that keeping peace at all costs, even covering up our pastor’s sin, was better than speaking the truth. Because my husband and I took this to the elders, even though our pastor and his wife were doing everything in their power to keep it a secret, that we were blessed beyond measure. When we went to the elders and knew this would become public, we had no idea who would be upset with us, if our children would forgive us and if our lives would ever be ‘normal.’ God, who does more than we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, did amazing things for us! We have been blessed,financially, emotionally, and in our relationship. We’ve never been better. We have not lost one friend, but have been blessed with an out pouring of love and support. Our friends know we were abused and deeply betrayed by our pastor. Our former pastor (who’s ordination was revoked at my prompting) and his wife have not been so blessed. He is still trying to make a living through various online credit agencies and now real estate which he has no experience. Many members of the congregation have handed him over to God to deal with,and are no longer a part of his life. He never repented and he will never find peace or God’s blessings because keeping his sin a secret was more important to him than God’s truth.

    I so relate to this article and know the joy that comes from the truth. The church is very misled today in believing that forgiveness means allowing a person to continue in a ministry they deeply betrayed. God warns us to stay away from those who cause division, men who feed themselves. A pastor who betrays his sacred trusted position of authority can never be compared to David. David was a king first, not a priest or pastor. David repented. Pastors who are betraying their trusted positions are not repenting. My pastor behaved like Saul, not David. Also, Moses was forbidden to enter the Promised Land because of his failure to obey God. Compare these pastors to Moses, not David. If a treasurer is found to have stolen money from the church fund, we must not be quick to allow that person into that position again. And more importantly, if a man sexually abuses a child, he should never again be allowed to be alone with a child again. A pastor who uses a woman in his congregation to satisfy his own needs must never be in a trusted position again. Until the church wakes up to this sad truth, men of arrogance, pride, and self-seeking motives will continue to fill the pulpit, causing great damage to God’s family. Keeping silent is a killer. David murdered an innocent man to hide is sin. It was David’s cover up that God condemned more than his first sin of adultery.

    Thank you Jim, for your courage to speak God’s truth in the midst of such hostility. Praying God continues to strengthen you as you minister to the broken people of God….


  17. To those who want peace at any cost: what would you say, if you were a victim or your sister, your daughter, grandchild? And yet, all these victims are our sisters and daughters …
    Thanks, Jim, for speaking up for them. God blesses you.


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