“God does not condemn you or me for our struggles, but he does want us to fight to live a holy life.”
It’s troubling to see a gifted and talented leader give up a lifetime of ministry for a moment of temptation. We all face temptation, and saying no is not always easy. None of us as leaders will escape this challenge. But how you handle your temptation will determine, to a great degree, the effectiveness and longevity of your ministry.
James 4:7-8 helps us know what to do:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.
Let’s begin with three important questions:
What is your greatest temptation? If you know it, you can fight against it.
Do you have a safe friend or two with whom you can be honest? Confession is good for the soul and accountability helps keep you honest.
Do you know that God is on your side? God does not condemn you or me for our struggles, but he does want us to fight to live a holy life.
I will admit that I’m not sure all temptation is from the devil. I’m not convinced it’s all spiritual warfare. I think some of this is part of being human and imperfect, and we can take credit for it ourselves. I don’t need to start a theological debate. If you prefer to make temptation a wholly spiritual issue by asserting that we are spiritual beings, I’m good with that. If you choose to make it fully a spiritual thing by taking it back to Genesis chapter 3, I can handle that, too. My purpose here is to offer practical helps.
Temptation seems to be naturally grouped into four categories for church leaders. If you know the potential temptation, you are more likely to see it coming and proactively resist what tempts you. That’s the goal here. Let’s name the temptations, own what is ours and intentionally resist.
1. Pressure Temptations
As your ministry grows and gains complexity and the demands increase, pressure rises. When pressure rises and your margin decreases, you can be an easy target for pressure temptations. Here are three common examples. Are any of these danger zones for you?
- Loss of integrity. For example, you can be tempted to exaggerate something in a message you teach. Or perhaps you might bend under financial pressure to use monies designated for one thing for a completely different purpose.
- Cutting corners. Time pressures, for example, might cause you to knock out a sermon on Saturday night and show up on Sunday morning soundly unprepared.
- Inappropriate anger. Pressure in your life can cause leaders to be impatient, harsh or even angry with others for no legitimate reason.
2. Power Temptations
I’m happy to say that this temptation seems to be less common in the local church than perhaps 20 years ago. That’s a good thing, but it still lurks about and is a real possibility for any of us. Here are three common examples. Are any of these traps for you?
- Manipulating people. Using authority or position to control or take advantage of people rather than serve them.
- Living under different standards. Rising “above the law” so that the leader lives by a different set of rules than others are held accountable to.
- Becoming a controlling person. All leaders exercise control for the good of the organization. This is very different than a leader becoming a controlling leader and holding people down or even getting dangerously close to oppressing the people.
3. Purity Temptations
It’s difficult to escape the dominant presence of the internet and all the temptations that lie within. Nearly anything is available with the ease of a click. This is a huge temptation. But not all purity temptations are online. The following are three common examples.
- Thought life not in check. Temptation begins in the mind. Scripture says to take every thought captive, but we know that is not always easy. In Philippians 4:8, Paul says: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
- Marital faithfulness in question. We all know stories of friends who have lost their marriages, and in many cases lost their ministry, too. It’s heartbreaking and can happen to anyone. This temptation is never worth it!
- “Innocent” flirting. A wise counselor once said to a group of us pastors, “Young men, beware of innocent flirting, for there is no such thing.” How true! What starts innocently, even while working together in ministry, can end in disaster.
4. People Temptations
This last category is not often included in the topic of temptation. It is therefore overlooked, even though it is likely among the most common of temptations that a church leader will face. We work with and serve people every day, and these common temptations are always with us. Here are three common examples:
- People pleasing. This often finds its origin in a genuine heart to serve others. But sometimes that can slowly slip into behavior that is less than genuine, and a performance-orientation can begin to take over, instead of being purpose driven.
- Critical spirit. Even the most loving of pastors and volunteer church leaders can lose perspective under all the demands of ministry. Then instead of loving, the heart becomes critical.
- Lack of forgiveness. Leaders get hurt. too. When hurt enough. the heart can become hardened and forgiveness is hard to find.
The good news in all this is that we can resist!
Though difficult, we can say no to temptation. We can get wisdom and encouragement from a friend. And we can rest knowing that when we slip, our Father in heaven is for us! Each day is a new day and a fresh start.
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. —Matthew 26:41