By Vince Antonucci
“DO YOU LET SINNERS SERVE IN YOUR CHURCH?”
This is one of most frequent questions I get from other pastors. It’s not typically worded this way, and it almost always is asked with the best of intentions.
Usually it’s more like, “So would you let a stripper volunteer in your children’s ministry?” Or there was the pastor with a guy in his congregation who was a bondage photographer and a blogger (don’t google that one) who asked, “Should I let this guy serve? I want him to be connected and involved, but I know there are also standards.”
It’s a question we wrestle with all of the time at our church. Here are 7 things to consider about letting sinners serve in your church.
- It’s a painful question because it creates a lot of tension. You want to show love and let this person belong in every way you can, but there are also standards. God does call us to holiness but what about the example this person may be setting?
The question is legitimate, but it’s also important for us to remember that we’re all sinners.
We must tread very carefully. The Bible says in Galatians 6:1-2,
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
The question usually asked is “Where is this person serving?” but the BETTER question is, “Where is this person going?”
Instead of simply looking at the person’s situation and degree of personal holiness as a static element, we tend to look more closely at their trajectory. I’ve known people who were living with higher morals primarily because of where they had come from, yet they were still moving in the wrong direction. I'd rather have someone who was still morally growing but moving steadily in the right direction.
Consider the issue of struggle and repentance.
Let’s say you have two people who both have had a sin with its claws in them for a long time. Person A has this sin, and hates having it. He has repented of it, and desperately wants to put it behind him. He struggles with it, but has asked for accountability. Person B also has this sin but doesn’t view it as a big deal. He realizes he struggles with it and shouldn’t continue to sin, but he hasn’t repented, confessed, or asked for accountability.
Do you treat those two people the same? Do you make the same decisions even if they currently have an identical amount of sin in their life?
It’s not just about CAN they serve, but WHERE can they serve?
In other words, all volunteer positions are not created equal. None of this is black and white, but it seems to me that there’s probably a difference between:
-Coming in during the week to help make copies in the office, versus being the first person people see on Sunday morning as they walk in because you’re the official greeter.
-Changing the diapers of babies in the nursery, versus teaching fifth graders the Bible.
-Being on the facilities team, versus leading the facilities team.
-Strumming a guitar in the worship band, versus leading the congregation in singing that Jesus is Lord.
"If this person serves in this position, will they be leading others?"
There’s a higher standard for leaders.
"If this person serves in this position, will they be viewed as someone our church is holding up as an example?"
It's important to recognize the value in ALL people. Jesus never sacrificed an opportunity to give someone a second chance by making them feel disqualified. The bottom line is that we all fall short in some way and at some time in life yet. Some of the most influential leaders have overcome sin and risen from personal failure because they were given another chance.