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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Sinful Leaders

There is only one kind of leader.


I’ve often told folks at Meck that a sinner has to lead the church, so I might as well be honest about it, and to make sure they know that’s what they’ve got. To fail to do so would only add “deceit” to my list of sins.

Now, by “sinful” I don’t mean disqualifying patterns of public sin. Yet non-disqualifying sin abounds.

Don’t get me wrong. 

The vast majority of pastors are good people. 

Very good people. 

They have deep consciences and wrestle with their sins and inadequacies more than anyone needs to point out for their benefit. 

But yes, they are sinful.

Which means sinful people have to lead the church. Not formerly sinful, but currently sinful. 

So what does that mean for the health and well-being of the church?

Four things come to mind:

1 – You need to be a sinful leader who is continually seeking forgiveness and striving for repentance. The Bible is full of habitual sinners, often in the same areas over and over again, but what marked God’s ability to use them tended to be their equally habitual contrition.

2 – You need to be a sinful leader who does not boast about things you have neither achieved nor maintained. Notice my language. Every leader will have to teach biblical truth about virtues they do not maintain. What is key is that there is not the heartbeat of hypocrisy which boasts as if you are above the fray.

3 – You need to be a sinful leader who works diligently to protect your life from the kinds of public sins that would shame the church and hurt her witness. Ask the family of any pastor to name that pastor’s sins, and they could. And no pastor would ask that such sins be excused. But what is essential is that the sins of that pastor are not the kind that will find their way into the news. I’m not talking about a cover-up, I’m talking about a wise-up. To be “above reproach” does not mean to be “above sin.” It means to live in such a way that you fight the hardest, and are disciplined the most, against the sins that are most prone for public display. And you do it not for the sake of your reputation, but for the sake of the church. 

4 – You need to be a sinful leader who knows that it is only by the grace of God you are able to sustain another day of leadership. So you lean on God, depend on God, drink deeply from God. You know you are a sin-stained, sin-soaked person, so you pray like a drowning man to God for rescue. In other words, your sin leaves a deep mark of humility.

So let’s recap:

You have a sinful leader.

Pray they are the kind of sinful leader God wants.

James Emery White

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.