Premise 1: All of us sin. We are fallen creatures who have inherited Adam's sin nature, and so when we read passages like Romans 3:23, "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God", we immediately understand that we are in that boat. Further, when we read of Paul's continual struggle with sin in Romans 7, it strikes a chord of familiarity in our own hearts. It's not just that sin is a thing of the past, it is a thing of the present. We daily struggle with sin. But for church leaders, this produces conflict with Premise 2. Premise 2: Church leaders are to be 'above reproach' (1 Timothy 3:2). That phrase, "above reproach", seems to indicate that those who exercise leadership and authority in a church must not have any sinful public stain against their names.
I remember the first time I put these two premises together in my own thinking. "Does that mean that elders just have to be good at hiding their sin?", I asked my pastor at the time. "Of course not!", he replied, but I still was not convinced. How was it possible for a man to be above reproach unless he concealed his sin. Being a publicly prideful and arrogant so-and-so is not being above reproach. Openly engaging in fits of anger, the outpourings of lust, greed, faithlessness, or anything else like that would immediately cause such a man to cease from being 'above reproach'. And yet it was possible that he could maintain a decent public face if he kept those things on the down-low.
Now, fast-forward to my own experience as an elder/overseer. Do I stuggle daily with sin? Absolutely! I hate it, but it's here all the same. Often I feel like Paul in Romans 7:24, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" I find pride in my heart. I find anger, lust, greed, and faithlessness. They all come at different times and in different measures, but they are all there. Generally, no one sees them, but am I still above reproach?
Surely, it must be better to keep those things privately in check rather than letting them loose in public?
But here's an interesting bit of Scriptural wisdom to throw into the mix: Proverbs 28:13, "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy."
It's absolutely right to hold a tight reign on the sin that indwells us. It is completely proper to not let it rage in public. But that does not mean that it has to be secret in private. There is a difference between publicly consorting with prostitutes and confessing a private lust. In a sense, both actions make the sin public knowledge, but in the first case, there is no repentance, while in the second case, there is an attempt to forsake the sin.
Since this seems to be the case, I do not see how the elder/overseer can continue to be 'above reproach' unless he makes regular public confession and repentance of his sin. The problem is that so many church leaders - myself included - fear that if we make our private sin known, that we will no longer be fit for ministry. Here's a newsflash: there are no sinless ministers! Even our greatest heroes of the faith struggled with powerful wickedness. In a sense, we are all certainly 'unfit' for ministry. It is Christ's blood and calling that fits us for the task, though, not our own perfection.
Therefore, we ought not to be so scared of what our people may think of us that we neglect the spiritual discipline of confession and repentance. We cannot afford to do so, since the one who conceals his transgressions "will not prosper". We want to prosper in the ministry, so we have to regularly open up those stale, dark places in our hearts and let some light and fresh air in. It will not ruin us as church leaders. Apparently, it will allow us to prosper.