"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Preachers Who Act As If They Have No Personal Sin Preach a Milquetoast, Powerless Gospel

For a long time now I have tried to put my finger on a problem I find difficult to articulate. It's one of those problems that I can feel in my own life, sense in the writings and preaching of others, but have a hard time explaining.

In essence, the problem is a pretense of spirituality that borders on being fake. It is the covering of what one really feels (anger, bitterness, resentment, envy, etc . . .) by using 'Christian' words or a spiritual lingo that gives off an air of holiness or godliness, but just beneath the surface something else can be sensed bubbling to get out. We pretend to have it all together and lose sight of our need of God's mercy.

All of us know that the word 'hypocrite' comes from the ancient theater and described the actor who used masks to pretend to be someone he wasn't on stage. I sense too many of us in ministry hide behind spiritual masks of our making.

Preachers struggle with transparancy.

I wish we would resolve to take off our masks and let people see who we really are - including our sins and stumblingblocks. I wish that instead of forcing everyone to act as if they don't have problems, we would create an environment where people freely shared their struggles without fear of retribution or recrimination. I wish that we could use the straightforward language of Luther when we see something that bothers us, or manifest the kind of direct rebukes Calvin deployed in dealing with Servitus, or speak our minds like our 18th Century Baptist forefathers did when they opposed the Socinians and Universalists of their day - while at the same time declaring to the world our own sins.

I guess what I'm saying is this: It is refreshing to be around people who say what they mean, mean what they say, and make no apology for saying it -- all the while freely acknowledging - and confessing to others - their own humanness, frailties, and sins. In other words, I long for the day when we preachers speak specifically and directly about the sins of others -- but at the same time freely speaking specifically and clearly of our own gross and multiple sins -- in order to remind everyone that Christ died for sinners -- not saints.

For those of you who have a hard time understanding what I've just said, read the following quote of 16th Century Reformer Martin Luther. His words may make you even more confused -- but they speak to my soul and articulate what I've been feeling.

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

Let Your Sins Be Strong:
A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon
Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, From the Wartburg
Translated by
Erika Bullmann Flores
from: _Dr. Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften_
Dr, Johannes Georg Walch, Ed.
(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.),
Vol. 15,cols. 2585-2590.


jack said...

"Outwardly I was not as other men… Meanwhile, however, I constantly fostered mistrust, doubt, fear, hatred, and blasphemy of God with this sort of sanctity and self-confidence. And this righteousness of mine was nothing but a dunghill and a realm most pleasing to the devil. For Satan loves such saints and regards with the greatest delight.”


Bill Scott said...

Isaiah 6:4-8 (King James Version)

4And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

5Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

6Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:

7And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

8Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Alan Paul said...


What of those preachers have been transparent and honest, but then had folks in their congregations who don't like him for whatever reason, turn right around and use that information against him in some way? It has happened and that preacher is not likely to share so openly again - at least not from the pulpit.

SBC pastor said...

Excellent post.

God bless!

Bob Cleveland said...

This one preaches FROM the pew, as well as TO the pew.

Where the standard is let your "yes" be "yes" and your "no" be "no", we have entirely too much "maybe".

Alan: I cannot really speak to that question as one from the pulpit, but I don't have much use for preachers who tickle itching ears, and I have MUCH less respect for folks in the pew who'll use what they don't like, against the preacher, in the manner you mention.

greg.w.h said...

Great post, Wade. It's why the charge of hypocrisy tends to stick. And the lack of willingness to admit to sinfulness is an obvious source of spiritual pride (I say that as a layman that recognizes the problem in himself.)

In response to Alan: perhaps this is part of the meaning of the verse where God warns us that if we have the applause of men we have our reward?

volfan007 said...


this was a great post. i agree wholeheartedly with you. amen and amen!


peter lumpkins said...

Dear Wade

A much needed reminder that no one is above correction nor attains such a spiritual level that temptation cannot melt his resistance.

Thank you. With that, I am...


Pastor Tony said...

Alan said: "folks in their congregations who don't like him for whatever reason, turn right around and use that information against him"

I have the scars of this exact situation. All I can say is that I still believe that transparency is the only way. I may be a little more cautious in how I say it, but I still say I am a sinner needing grace who is leading a flock of sinners who need grace. And when we all get that idea deep in our hearts and heads, we will be able to do more to impact this world for Jesus Christ.

Bezner said...

Wade, I agree. When one decides to openly share how the gospel changes one's life, people in the pew are bound to notice.

Darby Livingston said...

I think the transparency issue is fueled by and exacerbated by short pastoral stints at numerous churches. When one stays put in one church over the long haul, the people in the flock begin to see his heart, sinful and loving, frail and strong, and begin to value his love over his sin, and his strength over his frailty over time. Such ministry shows the willingness of the pastor to die for his flock, and unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Eventually he will win over the flock and naysayers will be dealt with from within the flock. The rare quality of humble transparency is one we need more of in our pastors.

Wade Burleson said...

Well said Darby.

Scott said...


Grammar/spelling police alert:

I think the word you should have used in your headline is "milquetoast" not "milk toast". :>)

I obviously have too much time on my hands this morning.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Darby. My current church has had its current pastor long enough that he trusts us by/with being transparent and it allows us to trust him. Another church I knew switched pastors biennially; his being totally transparent would have simply alerted the back-pew snipers to hit the phone lines.

Steve Austin
Hoptown, Ky.

Les Puryear said...


One of my pet peeves is a lack of transparency in Christians, including myself. I made this same statement yesterday on Outpost although much briefer.

Good post.


Wade Burleson said...

Thanks Scott!


Scott Gordon said...


Excellent post. Just recently God showed me the value of what you have said here. One of my people came up to me after the service and said, "I appreciated when you prayed for yourself during the invitation. It's good to know you struggle with obedience, too."

Also, being a Luther fan I appreciate the reminder of his sage wisdom.

Thanks again.


d-mc said...

I was talking a couple years ago to a self-proclaimed fully sanctified nazarene who claimed he hadnt sinned in 7 years.

I asked him if he was proud of that.

He said, "why yes, I am!"

I said, "Isnt pride a sin?"

he said, "Well, I, uh, yeah but, well, uh..."

d-mc said...

Alan said: "folks in their congregations who don't like him for whatever reason, turn right around and use that information against him"

there is a difference between transparency and full disclosure. your congregation does not need to know every grissly detail of your life. nor should they.

but you can be honest and open enough that they get the point: you are still a sinful man dependent upon the amazing grace of Christ.

Anonymous said...

To be honest I don't want to hear about my preacher's sins. I'd rather hear him tell me about ways to conquer my own sins. About scripture and how to be a better christian.

I know we're all frail humans, but sometimes what people need to hear is things to build them up. Not reminders that their preacher is just an old sinner like the rest of us. Sometimes we need hear about hope. And we need to hope that time spent in prayer and reading the word really does make a difference in how we live our lives.

Wayne Smith said...


You have just described how Bothers and Sister in Christ should be with one another. God gave all of us different Gifts to be used for his GLORY. We all fall short and need our Brother and Sisters to come aside for Correction and Support when the need arises. God does not want us to be narrow-minded and backbiters

In His Name
Wayne Smith

Darby Livingston said...

"To be honest I don't want to hear about my preacher's sins. I'd rather hear him tell me about ways to conquer my own sins. About scripture and how to be a better christian."

Fortunately, the same glorious gospel of grace is the only instrument to achieve both - the power to overcome our sins, and the forgiveness for the ones we still commit. At risk of speaking for Wade, (of which he's more than capable of doing himself) I don't think Wade's point is to have a bunch of sniveling, cry-baby, self-deprecating pastors. I think the point is to minister lovingly, yet boldly, knowing sin will interfere, and confess that Christ is bigger.

Lin said...

Friends this is related in a way I think will edify the article: Not too long ago I heard something astonishing when I listened to testimony of the wife of a missionary and itinerant preacher. They had met in the mission field and married. She had given of herself totally spreading the Gospel in the jungles of SA for many years.

After years of marriage and ministering, she confessed to her husband that she was not really saved.

I will not go into what all happened but she became saved and instead of hiding this very embarrassing fact...they do just the opposite. They proclaim HIS Mercy and Grace in her salvation openly. Her testimony is more powerful than just about any sermon I have ever heard.

I say, Praise God for REAL Christians who are transparent!

Debbie Kaufman said...

Amen Lin(the Baptist in me is showing isn't it.) That is a terrific example. If more were transparent, I think we would find the Holy Spirit moving in a way we cannot fathom. I think many of the messes we now have would begin to clear themselves up.

Wade, this post is so needed especially today.

Stacy said...

I've always referred to it as "the Scripted Life" and yes I know what you mean. It's discouraging to not see genuineness in ministry. Thanks for the genuine post.

Corey said...

This post made me think of Craig Groeschel's book, "Confessions of a Pastor."

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this topic has a generational aspect to it as well. I read Anonymous's comment about not wanting to hear about his/her preacher's sins and this was not the first time I had heard that sort of sentiment.

I am probably about 25-30 years younger than one of the church people I was speaking with. This man told me simply that he wished the pastor would stop mentioning his struggle with sin so much. Why didn't he just deal with it, fix it and move on. From the conversation I saw that this man was in some way wishing for a "holier" pastor, someone he thought he could look up to for spiritual leadership, I think he said.

I replied that I admired a pastor who was real about his struggles and such was the type of pastor who I could trust to lead. If a pastor does not admit the weaknesses in his life, but merely gives a holy facade, then I wonder what sinister darkness is hiding beneath just waiting to embarrass the church in a press release someday. It was refreshing to me to have a pastor say something like "look, this is who I am, these are my struggles, I am human just like the rest of you. So let's get into the scriptures and continue in the path of God's sanctification process in our lives."

I could tell this other church member was not convinced. So I wonder if it is a generational matter. He wanted a pastor that seemed to carry an aura of greater spiritual achievement than himself. I am from a more relational generation, we expect the truth served straight up and gut-level real. When the pastor struggles with sin but yet is daily seeking to grow in Christlikeness, and shares the journey with the church, I can identify with that. When the pastor seems perfect or blandly neutral even, I get suspicious.

Brad said...

Excellent post. I think it goes well with the statement you made to me regarding how people are unable to comprehend the grace of God if they think their pastor is superman.


Kerygma said...

Witness the blogs from Bellevue Baptist in Memphis, where the children in the "Pastor's Pit Crew" are taught to pray for the pastor and ask God to let them be like him. It sounds harmless until you read the material they're publishing. It's downright cultic.

CB Scott said...


This post should be taught as one day's topic in every ethics class in every Bible college and seminary.

Well done.


Hershael W York said...


If you ever fire Ben, he'll make your sins known for you so you don't have to!


Rex Ray said...

I like your idea of being able to ‘look up’ to the pastor. He should be our example in following Christ.
If that puts more ‘pressure’ on him to be ‘good’, then so be it.

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

I don’t want a pastor that is like the son that told his mother, “I don44’t want to go to church this Sunday”, and she replied, “You got to; you’re the preacher.”

The more sin I know of a preacher or anyone, the less I like them, especially if their sin is ‘worse’ than mine.

A pastor should be the ‘hero’ that wins the ballgame with a homerun, and not the one that loses by striking out.

Wayne Smith said...

Why would you expect more from your Pastor than you would expect from any Born Again Christian Brother or Sister?

In His Name
Wayne Smith

Kerygma said...

The need for pastors and pastors' spouses to be "role models" we can "look up to" says more about our celebrity-obsessed culture than it does about authentic Christianity. Most church advertisements trumpet the pastor as the significant "draw" to prospective worshipers. "Come hear our preacher!"

It also reveals the deep-seated conflict we still evidence over the whole "ordained" and "unordained" division within the Body of Christ.

Debbie Kaufman said...

We should never look to a human being as a role model or put them on a pedestal, we should always have Christ as our role model, we cannot do anything except through the power of the Holy Spirit. Human beings will fail us, they are after all human, but Christ will never fail.

Darby Livingston said...

In saying that pastors should confess their sin, I don't think it's wise to make the jump to saying that pastors are just like everyone else. The Bible clearly holds pastors to higher standards than the rest of the flock, even though pastors are also sheep. Martin Luther, while arguing for authenticity and bold ministry, would not espouse anything less than an all out battle with sin. I don't think we're suggesting replacing mortification with confession. We're talking both/and.

d-mc said...

I dont thinking anyone is advocating unconfessed sin.

The question might be "Who do we confess to?"

The congregation? Lord, I hope not.

Rex Ray said...

I expect more from my Pastor than I would expect from other Born Again Christians because he is suppose to know the Word of God better than us. He is suppose to ‘lead’ by example. He can’t say, “Do what I say but not as I do.”

If being the ‘spokesman’ for God, doesn’t make him any better than us, how can we trust what he says?

I don’t want to hear how a pastor broke an item and took it back to the store for a ‘refund’ (saying we all do it), and later confessed to the store. He should keep his sins between him and the Lord—I’m not a Catholic priest.

Alan Paul said...

Are pastors human??? If they are, they absolutely are just like us - regardless of the standards God holds them to.

Wayne Smith said...

Brother Rex,
I say any one who hold a Pastor to a higher standard them self is a ( HYPOCRITES ).

We are all Accountable to God and His Standard alone.

In His Name
Wayne Smith

Lin said...

The question might be "Who do we confess to?"

The congregation? Lord, I hope not.

19 August, 2007 18:08

Now that is scary.

WatchingHISstory said...

Years ago I read that translated quote from Luther as: "Sin and sin boldly" It roused my curiosity and stayed with me and last year I came across it after watching the "Luther" movie.

Thanks, Wade, a great post!!

Charles Page

Anonymous said...


Then you have to take issue with the Apostle Paul...who claimed to be the "chief of sinners" (I wonder if he ever unpacked that statement in front of congegation....I bet he did).

I have served under pastors who were not tranparent...and I have seen some fall because they bought into the lie that they had to be (or were) better than those in their congregation...it is bad enough when they believe the lie..it is even worse with some in the congregation promote it.

If you hold your pastor to a higher standard... If you truly believe that he should be closer to the Lord than you...then why won't you accept his spiritual authority over you and the church if he demands it?...after all he is supposed to be a Super Saint...right?

The issues you rant and rave about at a certain church in the metroplex were created partially by people in the pews who believed they had a pastor who was a Super Saint and partially by a pastor who believed that he was a Super Saint...

So Rex what would you rather have?...a pastor that recognizes his shortcomings and frailities...and sometimes even talks about them in public...or on the podium? Yet because of God grace...he seeks to lead shepherd his congregation with grace and humility

Or a pastor that says "listen" to me I have all the answers...I am better than you?

Would you rather have a pastor that takes sin seriously, confession seriously, and hope seriously because he knows the damage sin can cause and the traps it can lay...firsthand...yet he also knows the transforming power of the HS and the fathomless grace of God?

Or would you rather have a pastor that paints a unrealisitc version of redemption...that is formulaic and santitized?...

Redemption is messy. We do ourselves and those we witness to...a disservice to pretend otherwise

If this offend your sensibilities... take it up with Scripture...for this is the Gospel.

If this bothers you... take it up with your Savior who died bruised, bleeding, naked, and humiliated, and nailed to a cross...for the sins of your pastor as well as the rest of the world.

Maybe your pastor seeks to understand that Christ is glorified more in his weakness than in his strength.

Maybe he is starting to recognize his total spiritual poverty apart from the presence, power, purpose of God.

Maybe he continues to realizes that the gospel is a stumbling block to some, a stench to others...but salvation to those who dare to believe in the crazy truth...that God actually really loves people despite their sin and shame...so much that He sent his Son to rescue them....something he knows firsthand...because Jesus rescued (and continues to rescue) him.


Anonymous said...

I am just reading this on Monday morning, but it is right on time for me today. Thanks again.

Danny C.

Rex Ray said...

You guys, you guys, are missing the whole point. I’m sorry I have misled you to thinking I implied the Christian in the pew can commit sins that the Pastor can’t.

The main point revolves around the old saying, “To whom much is given, much is expected”, and the Scripture that says, “Woe be the nation that has a child as its king.”

RMS, you said, “Redemption is messy.” I’m sure you mean something other than what it sounds like.

To be redeemed by God is the best thing that ever happened in my life. How is his saving power messy?

Anonymous said...


What I mean when I say redemption is messy is this....

it is not just some magic formula or pretty little transaction. It was was bloody and painful and humiliating for Christ.

For those of us who are recipients of grace....the process that God brings us to that point is often painful, difficult, and yes even humiliating.

The result of redemption is wonderful (the word itself is a financial/ legal term that denotes a transaction between God and us).

In fact...most of us would never want to go back into the mess that Jesus rescued us from....but as humans we do have a tendency like a dog...to return back to our own vomit....

Therefore each of us must glory only in the grace of God.

We must watch our lives and doctrine closely.

We must remember except for God's grace there goes each of us.

We must never forget what God has saved us from and for.

We must celebrate our victories and acknowlege our struggles while living transparent lives

Most importantly, when we remember the price that was paid...we should remain humble and grateful for Gods indescribable gift.

Oh and by the way... the idea of who"m much is given/much is required" and the realization that those of us who teach/lead God's church are held/judged at higher standard...gives me the goal to be spirit led/God pleasing and ground in humility, authenticity, and scripture. Even when this is not accomplished perfectly....it is still my desire with everything I say or do.


Rex Ray said...

If I could say this in a nice soft tone of voice, I would, but as been noted before, words on a blog can’t do that.

With that said, I’ll say that your explanation of why you said “redemption is messy” is messy.

The reason being; if redemption is messy, then ‘God is love’ is messy, because his love is what redeemed us.

“Redeemed, oh how I love to proclaim it,
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb,
Redeemed by his infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am.”

That song is not a quote from Scripture, but it portrays it very well.

You said one of your goals was to be “ground in humility.” So here would be a good time to try it by saying your words was a mistake. In my opinion, to do otherwise would be because of pride.

Back to the subject: ‘should dirty laundry be aired from the pulpit?’ You said you bet Paul did.

All we know from the Bible is that Paul preached the Gospel from the pulpit.
Being on trial, he split the counsel by saying he was being tried because he believed in the resurrection of the dead.

Paul knew he was being tried because he preached Jesus, and in a way his words would have made a rooster crow if one had been around.

So he confessed this ‘dirty laundry’ to the Governor Felix in Acts 24:21, but it was not from a pulpit.

The main purpose of the pulpit is to lift up Jesus. A pulpit has something in common with a stage. People on stages want a reaction from the crowd.
Comedians get it by laughs. Modern singers and bands get it by people standing and waving their arms with their cheers and screams.

Preachers love ‘Amen.’ How many times have you heard, “Good morning…well that’s not good enough…lets try it again”?

There is a proper balance between a stage and a pulpit, but when the pulpit becomes a stage only, the message or entertaining talk will be me, me, me, and more me.

That’s what I heard from the pastor that caused me to “rant and rave” when he kicked out good Christians before he was fired.