How are we supposed to act when a colleague sins?
It happens, and I’m not talking about the respectable sins with which we all struggle. I’m talking about the big ones – the ones that result in missionaries sent home from the field or pastors asked to leave their churches…
What are we to do? How are we supposed to act?
I know what sorts of behaviors and attitudes surface most naturally in me.
I criticize. Blame. Ostracize. Shame.
I want to gossip – even though I usually manage to restrain myself. I convince myself I could NEVER sin that sin – at least not the same way nor as sordidly as my colleague did… I sigh as I wonder how the ministry will ever weather the repercussions.
I want to disqualify that person from ever being part of “my team,” again. I might thank God for protecting me from such a wretched mistake, possibly praying, “Thank You, God, that I am not like those those who are unrighteous, who steal, those who commit <that really bad sin>… and Lord, especially that I’m not like____________” filling in the blank with the name of my “fallen” colleague.
Jesus had some pretty strong words for such an attitude:
[Jesus] told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (from Luke 18)
It hurts to see my own reflection so clearly in Scripture…
Sin has consequences and must be addressed: the guilty party accepting correction, seeking restitution, welcoming accountability, perhaps consenting to a disqualification from future ministry in a previous place of service, or never returning to the same genre of ministry in any location. Consequences often demand patience – years of patience – on the part of the sinner: to rebuild trust violated, to repair relationships broken, to rectify a reputation tarnished, to realize that one can never go back or undo what has been done. God forgives and forgets – casting all memory of forgiven sin as far as the east is from the west. Men, however, have a hard time forgiving. Forgetting is probably impossible.
Yet it bothers me that I came up with a list for what “that person” should expect after being caught in their sin and perhaps after having both life and ministry totally derailed as a consequence (all with a good attitude) so easily.
Developing a similar set of principles that I, their colleague and a sinner equally in need of grace, need to embrace proves more difficult.
What is my responsibility in such a situation?
- Recognize – I am my brother’s keeper and we all need mutual accountability. Seeking and offering this sort of accountability helps prevent moral failures.
- Remember – Jesus didn’t say to never judge. Instead, He exhorted that when we judge, we must judge correctly and with knowledge. We can expect the same standards we use to be applied to us. Supernatural discernment and grace must be present to judge correctly.
- Realize – Sin will be uncovered. I cannot pretend it never happened.
- Rupture – Sin ruptures relationships. My heart should ache, even break, for the sinner, for those wounded by their sin, and for the Savior who already paid a terrible penalty for that sin.
- Require gentle and kind confrontation, motivated by the best for my brother or colleague. Confrontation should never be manipulative, neither for my convenience nor preference, It certainly should not exhibit hatefulness, arrogance or vengeance.
- Resist hanging on to past failures. I need to forgive, completely – and repeatedly.
- Release – God is a god of second… third… even seventy times seven chances. I need to be like Him.
- Restore – God’s love, mercy, grace and glory flows liberally through broken and forgiven vessels. Broken sinners being spilled out are amazing tools in the hands of a powerful God. Thankfully, sin does not disqualify from all future service or ministry.
- Rebuild – When past failure necessitates a change in ministry, encourage and support my colleague on that journey, even helping him/her to find new ways and different opportunities to serve.
I appreciate this (paraphrased) testimony of a Christian worker who sinned, grievously.
He was convinced God would never use him again; his previous ministry essentially said the same. In the initial weeks after his sin was uncovered, he found himself reading Jeremiah. The Lord gave him the example of Jeremiah 29 – what God could and would do if he remained patient, humble, teachable, accountable and faithful in the small, daily things, including whatever ministry opportunities – no matter how mundane – God opened to him. The words “I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” sustained him through long seasons of feeling he’d been placed on a shelf. Then this worker shared of those colleagues who persisted, encouraging him and trusting him with new opportunity. His faith deepened and he tried things that he might have never considered before had he remained in that new ministry. He learned he had other giftings. Those colleagues strengthened him with their friendship. He said it took decades, literally, but God did finally open doors (and hearts) returning his original place of service. How he serves now looks quite different from how he used to serve, but he has been welcomed and God has been glorified.
Do you agree or disagree that we are our brothers’ keepers in the sense of mutual accountability? Why or why not?
Have you ever had the opportunity to encourage or exhort a colleague who was making wrong choices? What motivated your decision to confront? (Please share, but don’t allow comments to become a place to air dirty laundry. Allow kindness and a desire to protect the dignity of others to be the rule of the day.)
What would you add to the above list of responsibilities we have regarding our colleagues who have sinned?