Another question I sometimes ask people in ministry, the right context, is: ‘What sins of ministry are you killing today?’
When I ask it, I always allow time for a stunned silence, and then say, ‘I don’t want to know what they are, I just want to know that you are doing it.’ That allows some colour to return to the cheeks of the person I am talking with, and the conversation continues.
I ask that question, because we are so often thinking about what ministry to do, and so busy doing it, that we neglect the crucial questions, ‘How am I doing this ministry? And ‘Why am I doing this ministry?’ Yet the ‘How?’ and the ‘Why?’ are important to God, and they are often covered in sins.
I may be pushing through with this program. But I may also be doing so in an ungodly way and for ungodly reasons.
So for example, I may be pushing through with this building/ evangelism/ growth/ training/ study/ fund-raising program. But I may be doing so in an ungodly way (How) and for ungodly reasons (Why).
There are many common sins of ministry, all of which I have committed—many habitually! They are:
- laziness, avoiding difficult tasks, people, or situations;
- ineffective busyness;
- doing too much or too little administration.
- lack of direction;
- failure to delegate, micro-management of others;
- using people for my purposes;
- insufficient time to prepare for ministry;
- insufficient time to reflect and plan wisely for long-term ministry;
- avoiding difficult Bible passages and issues;
- unrealistic ideas, unworkable planning;
- failing to communicate and inform and negotiate with others;
- ignoring good advice or rebukes from others;
- choosing the easy option in continuing the same patterns of ministry;
- ignoring those outside the church, running a club for church members;
- failing to take part in God’s global gospel plan;
- failing to support people in their ministries;
- failing to train people for their present ministries;
- failing to pray for and help raise up gospel workers for Australia and the world;
- careless use of the Bible;
- neglecting to shape my ministry by Biblical prioirities;
- avoiding conflict, or causing conflict;
- demanding too much of people;
- feeling infallible, feeling omniscient, feeling irreplaceable;
- envy and jealousy of the gifts and opportunities of others in ministry;
- wanting human approval, not doing ministry for God’s glory;
- insufficient love, patience, truth, integrity, Biblical obedience;
- loving people I have to serve and then being impatient with my family (well dogs, actually), etc.
More Ministry, More Sin
People sometimes say to me, ‘it must be wonderful to do Christian ministry as your job, because it must keep you free of sin.’
Ministry increases temptation and opportunity for sin, and opens up many more possible sins to commit.
I reply, ‘actually, it increases temptation and opportunity for sin, and opens up many more possible sins to commit. It also increases responsibility not to sin, because we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ (James 3:1)!
If you found that unconvincing, you might like to think on the fact that many of our strengths and gifts carry with them potential sins.
- You have the gift of organisation. Wonderful! Watch out for the sin of impatience with others, and also for sin of putting too much time and trust into organisation, and not doing enough ministry, and not enough praying and trusting God.
- You are a people-person. Wonderful! Watch out for the sins of using other people to meet you needs, valuing their approval too much, and looking for praise from people, and not from God.
- You are theologically rigorous. Wonderful! Watch out for the sins of despising those who are not, of assessing people only on their theology, and so giving people ministries beyond their personal and ministry capabilities, and beware of a pattern of ministry which thinks that getting people’s theology right ensures their sanctification.
- You have a gift of preaching. Wonderful! Beware of using the gift for your self-fulfilment, beware of focussing too much on your performance, and forgetting to serve the people to whom you minister. Some preachers say to me, ‘ I love preaching’. I ask them, ‘Do you love people?’ Because ministry without love is fruitless and futile.
- You have a gift of communication Wonderful! But beware of trusting the package and neglecting the content, of loving the gift and failing to honour and trust the giver, and so don’t forget to pray earnestly, fervently and often!
’What sins of ministry are you currently killing?’
Changing Your Life?
As a supplementary question, I sometimes ask ministers: ‘How long is it since you have changed the way you live or that way you do your ministry because of something you have read in the Bible?’
How remarkable to expect other people to change, and not change yourself!
I was preaching at a church a few years ago, and the person leading the service kindly offered to pray for me after I had preached. He asked me, ‘What would you like prayer for?’ He knew I was about to go overseas on a speaking tour, and I suppose he expected me to ask for prayer for that ministry.
Instead I said, ‘When I was young, I had the energy to do exciting sins, like torching police cars and putting rocks on railway lines. Now I am old, all I can manage is envy, unforgiveness, intolerance, grumpiness and self-pity. I am so sick of these sins. Please pray that I stop doing them’. (The first part of this answer was not truthful, but the second part was painfully true!)
When I was young, I had the energy to do exciting sins, Now I am old, all I can manage is envy, unforgiveness, intolerance, grumpiness and self-pity. I am so sick of these sins.
How amazing to preach and sing about the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, and not be a person whose life and ministry is transformed by the power of that death and that resurrection! How amazing to have the atonement at the centre of our theology and not die to sin!
Here are some Biblical encouragements to act.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal … I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).
Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1).
The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2:12-14).
’What sins of ministry are you killing today?’
More on why our sins are invisible to us.
Another reason we fail to see our sins is that we tend to keep our eyes half closed. We have too narrow a view of sin. Here are some examples:
- We may have a self-centred view of sin, which limits us to focus entirely on what we fail to achieve, or what we do wrong, or how our sins damage us, and not be aware of how our sins affect other people.
- We may have a horizontal view of sin, so we are well aware of how our lives and our sins effect other people, but forget that the main effect of our sin is on our holy God. We may evaluate ourselves by what other people think, and forget to evaluate ourselves by what God requires and expects of us. (This then distorts our view of Christ’s atoning death; it makes is a horizontal action, and fails to see that it is firstly a God-directed action). Our primary relationship is with God. The first and great commandment is ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and with all your strength’ (Mark 12:30).
- We may judge our sins and our state of sinfulness by how we feel about ourselves. This is likely to be distorted: we will either feel bad about ourselves in appropriately, or feel that we are rather better than we are!
- As we have seen, we may focus too much on what wrong things we have done, and not see what good things we ought to have done.
- We forget that we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ on the last day, and that our ministry will either survive, or be burnt up (2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Corinthians 3:14,15). We tend to think if we get away with our sins in this life, we will be OK. Speaking for myself, there are some sins—including some sins of ministry—which are so powerful, that it is only the fear of facing Christ’s judgment that stops me committing them.
- We fail to recognise sins of complicity. These are sins we do not do ourselves, but the sins of others, or of our community, our family, our friends, our nation or our world, which we participate in by our actions or words, and our failure to protest and object and work to change.
- The last example of this needs a rather longer explanation! A realistic and Biblical view of sin needs to includes three essential elements:
- The person who does the action (or does not do it): what were the motivations or intentions?
- The action itself: was it objectively good or bad?
- The context and consequences of the action: what were the short and long term effects on others?
Motives and Consequences
Conservative people tend to focus on the person doing the action. Did I have good intentions or motivations? And we tend to focus on the action itself. Was it a good and right thing to do? We tend to neglect taking responsibility for the consequences of the action. What were the effects on other people?
But we have a moral duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure that our words and actions, our silence and our inaction are productive and not destructive. For the second great commandment is to ‘Love our neighbour as ourselves’ (Mark 12:31). If we do not think of context and consequences, then that is a failure of love. What we do may have been right in another context or another time, or with another person, or different audience. But in the context in which we did it, it is was destructive, not constructive. We did not love enough to think of how people would hear or understand our words or actions, and what impact they would have.
How to kill sin, and live to righteousness
Here are some habits you need to adopt:
- As you read the Bible, ask God to show you your sins.
- As you read the Bible, ask God to show you your sinfulness.
- Ask God to help you repent.
- Welcome the rebukes of others, and consider them carefully, asking God to show you your sins.
- Remind yourself that the power to change comes not from you, but from the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the power of the Spirit.
- Repent of your sin, acknowledge that it is a sin, and ask God to forgive you.
- Repent of the pleasure or comfort or ease that the sin brought you.
- Believe that ‘the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses from all sin’ (1 John 1:7).
- Thank and praise God for his free forgiveness and cleansing.
- Ask God to alert you next time you are about to commit that sin, ask his help to kill it, and resolve to do so.
- When you are tempted, kill the sin: don’t do the sin: run from it, stab it, strangle it.
- If you fail to do this, don’t despair. Ask God’s forgiveness and he will forgive you again.
- Cut yourself off from situations in which you are likely to fall. For example, if you need to: Alcohol only brought into the house for guests; computer access only at work; no unobserved counselling sessions.
- Prepare yourself for situations in which you are likely to fall. Pray for and thank God for people who have hurt you before you meet them. Prepare positive things to say rather than gossip or grumbling. Prepare to be open and honest rather than competitive. Thank God for his mercy in Christ rather than looking for human approval.
- Create encouragements for yourself. Ask for people to pray that you would put to death and repent of specific sins, and to pray for specific growth in holiness. Don’t just ask for prayer for your ministry or your happiness. Ask people to pray for specific growth in your holiness.
- Look for gradual progress over a week, a month, or longer. The more habitual the sin, the more personal it is, the harder it is to break the pattern of behaviour.
- Look for opportunities to do the opposite of the sin. If you used people, resolve to serve them. If you put them down, build them up. If you hated people, learn to love them. If you have been greedy, become generous. If you have been trying to get all your happiness in this life, start to contemplate bring with Christ forever.
- If you are finding change slow and discouraging, find a trusted person and make yourself accountable to them. Report your progress, report your failures, and ask them to check on you regularly.
- Remember that you will need daily vigilance, daily killing, daily repentance, and daily forgiveness for the rest of your life. Do not be discouraged: in this life we have to cope with our sinfulness, sin’s strength, and Satan’s power. These will only be finally dealt with by our death, and our resurrection.
- Praise God continually for his daily grace, kindness, compassion, faithfulness, persistence and transforming power.
Remember that the power to change does not come from you, but from Christ and the power of his mighty death and resurrection (Romans 6), communicated to us by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:5-13 = the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-25).
John Owen wrote:
The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts, with its sin-killing power; for by the Spirit are we baptised into the death of Christ.
For Paul wrote:
We were buried with him in baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life … We know that our old self was crucified with Christ, so that the body ruled by sin should be done away with, so that we should no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:4,6).
Owen comments on this phrase ‘crucified with Christ’:
…not in respect of time but of causality: we are crucified with him meritoriously (by his merits), in that he procured the Spirit for us to mortify sin, efficiently (by this means), in that from his death virtue (power) comes forth for our crucifying; in the way of a representation and exemplar; we shall assuredly be crucified unto sin, as he was for our sin.
Here are two final words from the Holy Spirit in the Bible,
Wash your hands, you sinners and cleanse your hearts, you double-minded … humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:8,10).
Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh (Romans 13:14).
And here is a prayer in response:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.
 I am grateful to Graham Cole for this insight.
 Owen, 175.
 Owen, 173.
 A M Toplady.