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The sage Eugene H. Peterson writes to pastors in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant: “Every congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren’t bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors.”

This quote is conveying a difficult truth: We are sinners, and we are going to make mistakes as pastors and leaders. You and I will eventually hurt, disappoint or sadden someone to whom we have committed our lives. We will do so willfully or unintentionally; but, have no illusions, we will do it. This should not come as a shock; in fact, it is to be expected.

If you and I were the perfect pastors, we wouldn’t be here because we would be seated at the right hand of the Father. This truth implies that we are good pastors and terrible Jesuses, that we are sinners just like everyone else in our churches. The only difference is that our great and sovereign King has called us to be the “first among equals.” He has placed upon us the burden of personal responsibility for the spiritual health and the—dare I say it—eternal destiny of the souls of our people. He has given us both the gift and the challenge that is embodied in our congregations.

What if it goes bad? What do we do when we (or someone on our staff) drop the ball, and we learn that our actions or inactions have hurt a member of our flock? Whether it was intentional or not, you and I really only have one biblical option: We have to own it. All of it. It’s ours to own because we’re leaders, perpetual models of servanthood and children of God. The blame is ours to claim because we are the shepherds, and we cover our sheep.

How can this be done? What makes it possible? Certainly not our own strength of will or bootstrapped righteousness. What makes the act of owning the brokenness possible is that the brokenness was already owned by someone else—Jesus. We are instructed in James 5:16, “Confess your sins one to another … so that you may be healed.” In the Latin, com means “together” and fateri, “to profess or admit.” To confess is to “profess together” with God and our congregation. To confess is to agree with the offended in what they already know. We are sinners. We are all Jonah under the water.

Could it be possible that, all along, such circumstances were to be used by God to grow us into more humble and empathetic shepherds? Could Jesus have known about the broken areas of our hearts for a long time, and has He been waiting for the right time to bring them to light? Let us surrender and allow Him to work in us, to heal us and to bless our people with the shepherd that God has given them. Jesus picked us, and He didn’t make a mistake, even when we fall short.

Prayer Points

  • Father, would you grow in me a heart of humility to serve you and your people?
  • Father, would you reveal to me areas of blindness where I may have hurt your people and not noticed?
  • Father, would you consistently remind me that I am your child and just as loved and forgiven as the people of my congregation?

is the senior pastor of Living Word Fellowship (Oak Harbor II Foursquare Church) in Oak Harbor, Wash.