Scrolling through my Facebook feed this past week, I noticed one of my minister friends had gone forward and asked the congregation to pray for him as he struggles in life. There is no need to mention his name, nor his struggle. All that is necessary is to ask that you pray for him and his family.
As a minister, I have found myself in the same position from time to time. A few weeks ago, I stood in front of the congregation, my spiritual family, after my own lesson and asked them to pray for me. There are things that I struggle with constantly and I need the prayers of my righteous, congregational family. To stand before a congregation you have just spoken to and request their prayers is a humbling, pride swallowing and can be a terrifying experience.
For a minister, someone who is supposed to be one of the most holy people around, to acknowledge sins, faults, struggles and to request prayers can be viewed differently by many people.
Consider the “Minister Perception…”
Quick, when you heard that a minister went forward, what was your first thought? Was it, “Oh no, this must be BIG.” Maybe it was, “Well, another preacher has fallen.” Or maybe you started to pray for him even before he started talking. How did you respond to his response?
For the world, when they hear that a minister has asked for prayers, the likes of Jim Bakker come to mind from the 80’s. The drastic fall of television preachers has brought many views to minds that are not reality. Over the past year there are many megachurch preachers who have fallen because of deceit, alcohol and personal issues. Each of these men has struggled in a particular area or area in which many people constantly struggle. Just because a man is a minster does not mean his problems start; it might mean Satan tries harder to accelerate the battle against him.
The perception that a minister is perfect is a stereotype which is unreal in the spiritual world. While ministers, strive to be perfect, no one can be perfect without Christ and no one will fit the image of perfection while walking on this ball of dirt we call Earth. Life is filled with struggles, frustrations and difficulties; even for the minister.
There is a perception regarding ministers, that they are perfect and without sin. A “perfect minister” perception is completely wrong. This idea of constant perfection is overwhelming and frightening. Many times ministers will not go forward because they do not want people to think “less of them.” They believe if they ask for prayers it shows weakness and weakness for a minister means you are not doing your job. Ministers, after all, are to be the if not one of the strongest people in the congregation. They are not supposed to struggle, have personal issues or even sin. This stereotype of ministers is just…well, wrong.
When you think of a minister it brings a stereotype of not doing wrong, having done wrong or even struggle. The fact is, ministers struggle. We struggle in the same area as members. Why? Because ministers are human. Ministers are human just like the people of the Bible.
Consider the Old Testament Priests…
In the Old Testament, the Levities were to offer sacrifices for their own sins before they offered sacrifices for the people (Hebrews 7.27), this was something that Jesus did not need to do because He was sinless (Hebrews 4.15). The instructions for the sin offering also included a stipulation when the priest sinned (Leviticus 4.3ff). The Levites were people just like you and I. Even though their status was one of a priest, they were still men with desires that could lead to sin. (See Leviticus 10.1,2)
A quick read of Leviticus 4, the discussion of the sin offering under the Old Law, will lead one to read these words, “When a leader sins…” The implication is that even the leaders of the nation of Israel were men who would fall short (sin) during their life. Why do leaders sin? Simple, they are human with human desires. God’s words tell us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3.23)
Even the Old Testament priests, in their constant working to assist the people in staying true to God faltered. To think of what it must have been like to deal with millions of people and their faults, sins and personal problems, must have been overwhelming.
Consider the New Testament Preachers…
Already, you have thought of Peter. You know Peter, he is the one who’s mouth is shaped like his foot. I wonder if every time Peter stood to speak the rest of the apostles got nervous. Whether you like Peter or not, you must acknowledge his zeal for the life of following Christ. It was Peter to which Christ said, “Get behind me Satan…” (Matthew 16.23). Jesus calls Peter, “Satan” right after Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God; what many call the Good Confession. Peter sinned.
Remember when the rooster crowed? The moment the rooster crowed, the Lord turned and looked at Peter (Luke 22.61). Peter went out and wept because the words of Jesus were true…Peter did deny Christ. In fact, Peter’s denial of Christ was not just in words, but also in actions. When Peter was recognized as having been with Christ, he quickly denied the allegations by saying, “Woman I do not know Him.” (Luke 22.57). A few moments later, Peter denied Christ again by saying, “Man, I am not” after he was called out for being one of the followers of Christ (Luke 22.58).
The last denial of Christ from Peter was not just seen in his words, but his attitude. When recognized as being one of the followers of Christ and even his accent giving him away, Peter says, “I do not know the man.” (Matthew 26.74) Before saying those final words, Matthew records Peter invoked a curse upon himself and even began to swear. (Matthew 26.74)
Some believe the words “invoke a curse” can mean that Peter was calling upon God to strike Him if he was lying. Others believe the words mean,
“…but he cursed himself; “he began to imprecate himself”, as the Arabic version renders it; he made dreadful imprecations and wishes; wished that all the miseries and calamities he could think of might fall upon him, if he was one of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, or knew anything of him…” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible; Dr. John Gill (1690-1771); E-Sword Electronic Edition)
“Then began he to curse and to swear (tote ērxato katathematizein kai omnuein). He repeated his denial with the addition of profanity to prove that he was telling the truth instead of the lie that they all knew. His repeated denials gave him away still more, for he could not pronounce the Judean gutterals. He called down on himself (katathematizein) imprecations in his desperate irritation and loss of self-control at his exposure.” (A. T. Robertson; Word Pictures in the New Testament; E-Sword Electronic Edition)
“To curse (καταθεματίζειν) A new development of profanity. Hitherto he had merely sworn. Now he adds imprecation; invoking curses on himself if the case be not as he says.” (Vincent Word Studies; Marvin R. Vincent., D. D.; E-Sword Electronic Edition)
Peter, when pressed on the issue of knowing Christ, during a turbulent cultural time and being directly question, faltered. He messed up. He lied. He spoke against Christ. He failed. He sinned. It would later be the same man who stands on the Day of Pentecost and proclaims before the audience a risen Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Peter sinned as Christ was being tried, but he overcame the sin to proclaim Christ as risen Lord.
Later in Peter’s life he faltered again. This time he faltered on a cultural elevation of status among the brothers in Galatia. Peter chose to avoid certain men because of fear. Peter was scared. Even Paul acknowledges Peter’s fear when he says,
“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” (Galatians 2:11-13 ESV)
Peter had a human desire to be liked and as a result, he had an influence on the people around him, including Barnabas. Earlier in the text, Paul mentions Peter’s name as a person who seemed to be a pillar (Galatians 2.9). Peter was a strong-willed person, but his human side was much like ours. Peter had his issues which hindered him spiritually just as ministers, and others, do today.
Even the strong men throughout the Bible messed up. They faltered. They fell short. They sinned.
Because they are human. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2.16) are from the world and they are current struggles with many today; whether ministers or members. Paul struggled throughout his life as he says in 1 Corinthians 9.27,
“But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Paul knew the struggles and knew what it was like to be in the world, persecuting Christians and then to stand before them and proclaim the risen Lord. Paul knew his weaknesses and his strengths, but Paul still struggled. He even struggled with the continual thought of being the chief of sinners. (1 Timothy 1.15)
How Does a Congregation Respond When the Minister Goes Forward?
If your minister comes forward, he does so because he trusts you. Over my short time in ministry, I have seen a handful of ministers go forward and ask for the prayers of the congregation. The perceptions to be a perfect minister are a great, but they need to know what no matter the issue, you have their back.
First, remember your minister is not Jesus. He is not perfect; he is a man trying to live the same life as you live and make it to heaven. The same struggles you have are the same struggles he has weekly, monthly and yearly. He is trying. He is not lording his perfection over you, but he is trying to help you. As he helps you, he will need help himself. Why? Because he is human.
Second, remember he is part of your family; he is not an employee. Just because he is supported as a minister does not mean he is to be treated like an employee; he is a brother in Christ and should be treated as such. God wants those who are spiritual to bear the burdens of those who are week (Romans 15.1,2) and to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6.1,2). God wants use to depend on one another as the body depends on itself (1 Corinthians 12.12-34)
Third, pray for him. Our society is one where words can be mentioned but no actions are done. It is easy to say the words, “We will pray for you” but it is another thing to do it. Spend time praying for him. As with anyone responding, pray for them immediately, then pray for them continually.
Fourth, realize he is forgiven. If he has brought his struggles, faults and sins before you, God has already forgiven him. He needs you to forgive him as well. He needs your forgiveness as a “regular member” needs your forgiveness. The forgiveness shown to a minister is sometimes different and it need not be. He is a leader, he is a servant and he has been forgiven, just as you have. If we bring our sins to God, He forgives us (1 John 1.9).
Fifth, support him. He has brought a need before his spiritual family, because they are his spiritual family. He could have easily moved on to a different location, but he needs you to support him. He needs your love, your care and your concern for his life and his work.
Sixth, keep checking up on him. As ministers know, there are things we know and burdens we help bear that we will take to our grave and no one will ever know. There are things shared in confidence and people helped that many people never realize. Ministers need your continual prayers.
A Side Note for Ministers…
It is ok to respond and many times we need to ask for prayers. As we have shed tears over others responses, we need to shed tears for our own. We need to humble ourselves. Leadership is not about being perfect; it is about being real.
Stop holding yourself to the perfect model of a preacher and beating yourself up when you fail. Ministers are their own worst critics and they need to realize the same forgiving, loving and merciful God they proclaim to others is the same God who has given His Son to save their lives as well. The same forgiveness God offers to members is the same forgiveness God offers to ministers.
The scene played out like a Hollywood movie, but this was real. A woman stood with no friends but enemies. Those around her waited for the signal to bring down her punishment with crushing blows. The leaders were proclaiming her guilt by proclaiming only half of the truth. They had examined and judged her sin without considering the harshness of their own. Her name is one no one will ever know, but her account is one we all remember.
Jesus bent over and wrote on the ground. Head down, finger in the dirt and almost acting as if they were not there. Slowly he rises to his feet and speaks.
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
After speaking, Jesus bends down and writes on the ground again. What he writes, like the woman’s name, will never be known.
As the hate filled, punishing ready accusers heard the words, they walked away. From the oldest to the youngest, they turned from Jesus, and the woman, and they walked away. They were not ready to help; they were there to hurt. Their own anger had callused their hearts to the truth, the whole truth.
The law called for both parties to be brought (Deuteronomy 22.22) but they only brought one. They wanted to hate someone, but Jesus wanted them to realize their imperfection of judgement. The scribes and Pharisees were after personal glory, not the glory of God.
When someone brings to use their sins, are you ready to punish or are you ready to serve?
Let us, as a saved people, seek to save others through the message of a loving, merciful God who first loved us.
Just some thoughts,