One of the most difficult things a leader has to do is confront sin. This past week I preached on Joshua 7 where the sin of one man, Achan, brings “trouble” upon the entire community. In most sermons like this, mine being no exception, the main focus often rests with Achan–the man who hides his sin and destroys his family. What many who read this passage often ignore, the one thing the church planter needs to pay special attention to, is Joshua–the leader who has to deal with it.
If the biblical pattern for God’s leader’s is any sign, then the church planter should expect sin to rear its ugly head. It happened to Moses and Joshua in Israel and in happened in the early Church with Peter, James, and John (See Acts 4). The leader will have to decide whether or not they are going to confront the sin. Confronting sin means more than just pointing a finger at it; it means removing it. Joshua never hunted down the sin like some sort of “purity mercenary”, but when impurity revealed itself, he dealt with it with all impartiality. What I mean is, like Joshua, the sin needing confrontation rarely comes from critics outside the church, rather, it comes from within the family, often with dear friends, even other leaders. It is very difficult to confront sin, especially in those we love,, because we wrongly view confrontation as unloving. I would argue it is not only unloving to allow people to be comfortable in their sin, it does not glorify God. But we can also fail to glorify God in the confrontation itself. Below are five ways I have managed to screw this up as a leader:
1. Minimize the Sin: This is where the sin is not taken seriously. Instead of calling it what it is, the sin becomes “redefined” as an unfortunate character flaw but–anything but rebellion against God. If it isn’t truly rebellion, then it isn’t sin that needs to be confessed or repented of. It becomes behavior that can be managed…or not.
2. Excuse the Sin: This is when we justify sin by blaming it on something outside of the heart. This includes but is not limited to personality, experiences, circumstances, or a bad day. Excusing sin like this makes the individual out to be a victim, powerless to reform. Unfortunately, such an approach denies the power of the gospel to transform.
3. Ignore the Sin: This is when the leader pretends he doesn’t see the sin. I grew up with five dogs in our house. The dogs were “potty trained” but occasionally they would leave a present. The “rule” was whoever saw the poop cleaned up the poop. Strangely, no one ever saw the poop–we ignored it. Like poop, sin cannot be ignored and it cannot be wished away. Eventually it will stink and make you sick. Either clean up the mess now or clean up a bigger one later.
4. Mis-identify the Sin: Similar to minimizing sin, when you mis-identify sin, you fail to go beyond the surface of the behavior to the heart. Confronting someone like this usually goes very badly because you end up addressing something that might be irritating but not necessarily sinful. For example, a person failing to tithe may evidence selfishness OR simply ignorance of how the Bible calls them to sacrifice. While they may need to be confronted and coached, they may not need to confess and repent.
5. Over-exaggerate the Sin: This is when the leader overreacts to something sinful to the extent that we lose the forgiveness of the gospel. In other words, they fail to lead with the gospel when we ignore sin AND when we try not to. This leader must have a firm grip on gospel sanctification before confronting sin. Without this, you will view those you confront as hopeless sinners and they will view you as a helpless pastor.
Know that no leader can or should confront sin unless his own sin has been confronted. Jesus makes it clear that we cannot help anyone get a speck out of their eye until we remove the log from our own. But once it is removed, we are expected to perform surgery, to be brutal with sin and, as Jesus commands, to cut off that which causes us to stumble personally and corporately.