One of most frequent questions I get from other pastors is, “Do you let sinners serve in your church?” Now it’s not typically worded this way, and it almost always comes from a good place. Usually it’s more like, “So would you let a stripper volunteer in your children’s ministry?” Or the pastor who has a guy who is a bondage photographer and blogger (don’t google that one) and 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 painful question. There is so much tension. You want to show love and let this person belong in every way you can, but there are standards, and God does call us to holiness, and what about the example this person is setting?
It’s a painful question, and it’s a question we wrestle with all of the time at Verve. So here are some of our thoughts…
First, the question is legitimate, but it’s also important for us to remember that we’re all sinners. And so we need to 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.”
Second, the question asked is “Where is this person at?” but usually 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’s lives are a bit more moral currently, in large part because of where they’re coming from, but have been (and are still) moving in the wrong direction. I’d rather have the person who is a bit less moral currently, in large part because of where they’re coming from, but is moving steadily in the right direction.
This gets to issues 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. (By the way, it’s interesting how no one ever asks, “So, Vince, if you have someone who struggles with the sin of being a joyless crotchety old Christian lady, can she serve in our nursery?” or “Vince, can a guy who struggles with pride because he’s become puffed up with knowledge serve as a Sunday School teacher?” Nope, never get that. Apparently we’re only concerned with sexual sins. Weird.) So Person A has this sin, and hates the sin. They have repented of it, and desperately want to put it behind them. They’re struggling, but have asked for accountability. Person B has this sin, and doesn’t view it as a big deal. They realize they probably shouldn’t, but haven’t repented, confessed it, 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?
Third, 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, and 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, and teaching fifth graders the Bible.
- Being on the facilities team, and leading the facilities team.
- Strumming a guitar in the worship band, and leading the congregation in singing that Jesus is Lord.
The two big questions we ask are: If this person serves in this position, will they be leading others? There’s a higher standard for leaders. And: If this person serves in this position, will they be viewed as someone our church is holding up as an example?
So do we let sinners serve in our church? Should you? Not an easy question. And the answer is: Well, it’s complicated.