And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Not only are none of us perfect, but God does His best work in our imperfections. To believe that we can only do ministry if our lives are perfect (or even close to perfect) sets us up for despair and failure. It also has the dangerous additional effect of us retreating in fear and silence, afraid to confide in others when we fall short.
However, are there struggles or sins that should disqualify us from ministry? We often hear reports from people in ministry who suffer alone in silence with various relationship crises or other struggles. They are afraid that they are alone in their struggle and ashamed to tell anyone. They dare not go to the church for fear of condemnation or being outed as a terrible Christian. They fear that if they tell ministry leaders, they will be required to leave the work they feel God has called them to. The only way to counter this silence and fear is to be open about what potential issues could disqualify us from ministry and address the issue head on.
What Disqualifies From Ministry
- Unrepentant sin
- Rebellious heart
- Ongoing sin, especially immorality
We will all struggle when we are serving in a demanding ministry. Sometimes, Satan attacks and it has nothing to do with us being in sin. Oftentimes, Satan is attacking a weak link … like our children who are most vulnerable in their faith. But sometimes, the struggles are the result of sin. It is very important that we first identify if we are ‘struggling well’ with the issues in life and doing all we can as well as we can … OR …are we in sin?
Some sins are definitely more dangerous depending on the type of ministry. In sidewalk ministry where the major cause of abortion is sexual sin, Satan will eat us alive if we are personally involved in sexual sin. A comprehensive list of what are “disqualifying sins” does not exist, however, there are clear scriptural guidelines.
1 Cor 6:18—”Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”
Sexual sin is clearly presented as distinct and of great danger. Anyone in sidewalk ministry should clearly NOT be involved in immorality, or sexual sin. Jesus blasts the religious leaders of the time most passionately over hypocrisy. None of us should be preaching to others what we ourselves are unable to follow.
What Qualifies Us
- Broken, contrite spirit
- Importance of heart inclined to God
- Outward appearance not nearly as important in inward character
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalms 51:17)
One of the themes that runs throughout the gospels is the importance of the heart as opposed to outward appearance. God reminds us throughout scripture that it is the heart that God looks at and the willingness of the person to yield his heart to God. Being broken does not disqualify us, and in fact may increase our effectiveness in service to others as we can empathize more humbly with their struggles. If our heart is right with God, we may still struggle, but if we are struggling well, we can often remain in ministry with even greater effectiveness as we yield to God in our weakness.
- Marital struggle
- Financial struggle
- Past sins of infidelity, lust, or other sexual sins and the consequences
- Rebellious children
One of the most famous adulterers in the Bible, King David, was known as a “man after God’s own heart.” David wrote most of the beautiful psalms, filled with his adoration and humble praise of God. Yet not only did he commit adultery, but murder. How could such a man continue to serve God?
God spoke to the prophet Samuel by saying, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature. Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
David sinned horrifically against God and others. However, when confronted with his sin, he was immediately broken and repentant. He recognized that his sin had been not only towards Bathsheba and her husband, but against God Himself. There were some terrible consequences, including the death of his child by Bathsheba. However, God redeemed and restored David. The sin is not minimized, but the grace and mercy of God toward repentant sinners are magnified.
Does this mean that we should welcome adulterers and murderers into our ministry? Assuredly NO if they are actively engaged in sin, or unrepentant, or rationalizing sins. There is clearly a time when they need to step away, get help and counsel, and turn from any evil.
Make no mistake: God is clear that people can be redeemed and restored and forgiven. It may be up to wise leaders to determine if there has been enough time that has passed from a deep and grievous sin for the person to be ready to return from ministry. It is also possible that some past sins would make that person’s usefulness in ministry more of a hindrance, depending on the ministry. For example, wisdom may dictate that someone who struggled with pedophilia or rape should not be in a position ministering to vulnerable women and children.
What about those struggling in marriage, or those with rebellious children? Do those struggles prove they are unfit for ministry? In the biblical qualifications for elders and deacons, this issue is directly addressed:
“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.” (1 Timothy 3:1-12)
This is as complete a list of ministry qualification as any found in scripture. Above reproach, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, gentle, managing children and household well, one spouse, good reputation, and not a new convert to name a few of the characteristics of those in ministry leadership.
In an article from crosswalk.com, the author makes an interesting point about these verses:
“Few questions have plagued the church like the one swirling around the issue of leadership qualifications (I Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9), and few of these have been more misused than the ones related to the leader and his children.
The reasons for this vary. The belief that parenting guarantees or determines a child’s behavior is behind much of it. There is also the “fear of man” which “bringeth a snare.” Furthermore many have never been “fully persuaded” in the “own mind,” but have naively embraced the opinions of others.”
The author goes on to say that perfect marriages and perfect children can erroneously become the expected standard, driving many good people out of ministry. It is critical to remember in marriage and in parenting, other people are involved. Those other people may be making decisions to rebel against God no matter how Godly the spouse or parents may be. An excellent example of this is God Himself, whose own two children, Adam and Eve, rebelled. God, the perfect parent, did not have perfect children. Neither will we. Adam and Eve, perfectly created by God for each other in marriage almost immediately fell into blaming each other for their sin. It was not exactly a marriage made in heaven…though in fact…it sort of was…The Garden of Eden was as close to heaven as humans have ever been, yet that marriage had cracks at the seams from the get-go!
Satan attacks where it hurts the most. Oftentimes, that is the family. He is crafty and dangerous, and often attacks the weakest link: the children. Spiritual attack can be devastating to those in ministry, and even more so to those who are effective in ministry.
This is not to say that spouses and parents should not examine themselves and take action for sins that may be contributing to any breakdown in the family. But it is also very important to remember that one person cannot heal the sins of another. Nor can one person force another to walk righteously with God. Struggles in marriage or parenting may mean sometimes it is best to step back for a time from ministry to give time to healing relationships. However, that is sometimes not what is best, particularly if that is the very aim of a spiritual attack. These issues require wisdom, prayer, and Biblical counsel of trusted Godly friends/leaders.
Safeguards To Avoid Struggles Becoming Destructive
Support systems in the Christian community are critical in remaining open and honest in our struggles. Having an accountability partner helps us avoid isolation due to dread of admitting our shortcomings.
Confession of Sin
We are told to confess our sin, one to another. What this does is help us to stop sin in its tracks. Hidden sin is very damaging not only to our relationship with God but also in our relationship with others. As we bring the darkness of sin to light, that immediately begins to defuse the power of sin. It also helps us to repent before God. “A humble and contrite heart He will not despise.”
We need to be very careful to bring all the issues and struggles we face continually before God. There are some things we are responsible for, but there are some things in which we are doing our best and have no control over the damage others may cause. It is essential that we turn those over to God, for whom “nothing is impossible”.
Possible need for time away
It is possible that some sin or struggle has become so serious and intractable that the best thing to do is to step away from ministry for a period of time. It may mean ultimately having to step out of ministry altogether if there is no resolution. However, most of the great heroes of the faith had significant issues of sin that had to be overcome…yet in most cases God did NOT disqualify them from ministry altogether.
In summary, what disqualifies one from ministry? It depends; but never forget the power of God to heal and use broken vessels. ALL of us are broken vessels.