Should leaders publically confess their sins?

Someone said, “If Mr. Wu [formerly of Willow Creek Church] was truly repentant he would reveal his sin so that others could learn from his indiscretion. Others may be tempted by Satan and wonder how mignt they recognize his inticements and then refuse them. If someone who has professed that he has given himself totally to the Lord can err, then what hope is there for the rest of us? Mr. Wu only compounds his sin and the Willow Creek leadership abets his crime against God.”

I thought that these were rather harsh statements, so I set about to see what I could find that relates to this matter in scripture.

From what I can tell, the only times we are to reveal our sins are:

1) to have people pray for us (James 5:16);

2) we are told to confess our sins but there is no indication it was to be to man (1 John 1:9);

3) if we are rebuked for sinning we need to change (Luke 17:3-4). In fact, we are told to show a brother his sin in private (Matt 18:15), and only if he does not repent should two or threee witnesses be brought to him to be rebuked of his sin (Matt 18:16). At THAT point, if he still does not repent, THEN the matter can be brought to the public attention of the assembly (Matt 18:17).

As for whether some leader who has devoted himself to God can sin, I see Paul spoke of having a thorne in his side (2 Corinthians 12:7), and that he did what he did not want to do and did not do things that he wanted to do (Romans 7:15-24).  But no where do I see an explanation of what these things were (other than the thorn was a messensger from satan).

If Paul was a sinner, why would anyone else not be (Romans 3:23)? Of course leader can fail, otherwise there would be no need for regulation concerning how to bring charges against leaders (1 Timothy 5:19-20). This is not such an uncommon thing, apparently, since Paul provided regulation for such a thing.

So, no.  Leaders have no need to confess their sins publically. In fact discretion is called for even when calling someone to task for sinning, unless that person does not change. And then one should only invovled two or three others unless even that does not cause the person in question to change. It is only after going to the person at least twice, once alone and once with two or three others, that the matter should become public.

As leaders, we CAN choose to use ourselves as examples. And this often makes excellent lesson material. However, we are not required to do so.


13 Responses

  1. James 5.16 seems to speak about confessing our sins one to another – granted, I do not think that it necessarily means to large groups, but perhaps to those above us, or if ministers, equal to us. Maybe I misunderstood. I agree, we do not need to do so publicly, all the time. In the case of sexual immorality, it does more harm than good to do so publicly. However, if it is a public sin, then it should be handled publicly – say as stealing money from the treasury.

    • Leviticus 5:1-5 speaks of confessing in what way a person has sinned. But this does not necessarily mean the details, nor does it mean to everyone – just the priests.

      I think 1 John 1:9 is speaking of us confessing our sins to God. Although it may be in Matthew 3:6 that the confession of sin was a public thing, it does not necessarily mean to enumerate them. See Nehemiah 1:6-7 for what I mean.

      James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins in order that we may be prayed for. I believe this does not mean to any and everyone. I think it is talking about to people you can trust to not gossip or hurt you, and people who will not be hurt or caused to stumble by the telling of your sins.

      It may be that confessing to our leaders and people in the same level of authority IS what is being discussed. I DO think we need to be careful who we choose to share our faults with, but I don’t think we need to limit our prayer warriors to those people only. I think we should use God’s guidance and discernment to decide to whom we should share our faults to pick people who will pray for us instead of endanger us.

      I think if a sin becomes public, in terms of someone not being willing to stop when the sin is brought to them and the need to bring the sin to the church, then there is no confessing aloud that needs to occur (as it has become public by having to tell the church), just confessing to God and repentance from the sin towards God. However, if a sin is pointed out to the sinner and he repents, then there is no need to make it public.

      If a sin is public, like stealing from the treasury, I still do not think there is a need to make the sin public unless the person does not repent. Scripture says to bring it to the person first, then to two or three others if there is no repentance, then to the church – it does not say to do so unless it is a sin against church.

  2. Let me define ‘confession’. I do not mean in the Catholic sense, but as if I had sinned, I came to you (the one another in James 5.16) and said, Brother, I am have sinned. Will you pray for me.

    Buy public, I mean that if a pastor stole from the treasury on the congregation, I would tend to think that it is something that should be made right, publically. Or at least in a business meeting.

    As always, I enjoy the blog.

    • I thought that was what you meant by confess (not in the catholic sense). But it may be profitable to be detailed with the person you ask to pray for you only in mentioning the area of weakness, without the details. Ie. “Brother, I have a problem with sexual thoughts, please pray for me.”

      In terms of dealing with the stealing from the treasury, I still think the issue can be dealt with circumspectly IF the pastor comes forward and admits/confesses his sin. However, if the pastor does not, then it will need to be told to the church once all avenues of rebuking the pastor have been exhausted. But If the pastor DOES come forward with his sin, the money can be paid back and the books marked indicating the issue without publicly condemning the pastor. However, I believe the pastor should still have to step down (until such a time as he deals with the sin in his life in such a way as to not be tempted to succumb to this temptation again) and steps put in place to avoid the same sort of sin occurring in the future. But this can occur without shaming the man, if he has admitted to the problem. I think the church leadership/board would have to be aware of the issue, so if a recommendation is requested, they would be aware of the issue and could speak to it or choose to not write such a recommendation. But it does not need to be made more public than that.

      Thanks for the kind words.

  3. I can see that, Wb. I do not think that Mr. Wu should be made to confess what he has done. The problem with that – is that it is liable to destroy another family besides his.

    I think the study is important and timely.

  4. I think it would depend on how public the sin is in the first place.

    There’s no need to bring out what isn’t already out … deal with the issue between the right people.

    If it’s already a public scandal, then there should be some kind of public apology and acknowledgment. In a case where the world at large doesn’t know the details, we don’t need to.

    I think that the need for people to confess has been blended with a kind of voyeurism, and the love of seeing people fall.

    • wickle,

      I would agree with you. I think the issue needs to remain at the appropriate level of knowledge with the appropriate people. I could not have put it better than you did.

      There should be nothing in dealing with people that causes us to act as gossips or encourage others to gossip. By keeping it at the appropriate level, we avoid this problem.

  5. I’m not sure if holding a press conference for certain sins is necessary. That’s what’s ruined many preachers of today. Paul was a murderer, and he converted. I do believe anyone can repent and still be an effective servant, but you also have to remember your reputation and whether people will listen to you or not. This is a very perplexing issue!

    You might like my new blog, comment it if you can!


    • I would agree – press conferences for our sins are not necessary. I don’t believe they are even helpful, and in many cases are harmful. This is not to say to cover up sin. But we should, as wickle put it, “deal with the issue between the right people.”

      I think God’s plan includes the fact that we will sin. As such, I believe that while our ministry might change or be put on pause (Moses had to wait a few years before God put him to use), God will still use us in ministry if we are repentant, in time. It might not look like what we think ministry is, it might not occur when we think it should, but I DO think God uses all of us where ever we are.

      I’ll check out your blog.

  6. The question I have is, if one of your leaders commit a public sin which can not be kept private, such a a pregnancy, I believe you owe the people you have been ministering to an explanation, a public repentance and to ask for forgiveness. These people believe in the calling that the Lord has placed in their lives and submit to their God giving authority. Leaders are examples in the body of Christ and therefore we are accountable to the body of believers that we minister too.

    • I also believe that this must be done in the spirit of love. The primary purpose is to restore such one as mention in Galatians 5.

    • Carl, I think I can understand your reasoning. And I said, leaders CAN use themselves as lesson material, confessing sins publically. But where in scripture is the mandate to do so?

      Certainly James 5:14-16 can be used to show confession is needed for healing of the sick. But I fail to see where it is something leaders are told to do.

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