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My husband and co-pastor, Tony, and I have taken to quoting Dr. Becky, psychotherapist and parenting expert, who says, “Good parents aren’t perfect. Good parents repair.”

Tony and I have extended the quote to other areas of life, “Good Christians aren’t perfect. Good Christians repair.” “Good pastors aren’t perfect. Good pastors repair.”

I have come to believe that for those who are leading (paid or not) a community of sinners who are struggling toward holiness, our mistakes and failings are actually vital for our leadership. So perhaps we could say, “Good leaders aren’t perfect. God has given the church the gift of repair.” It’s not quite as pithy, but you get it. 

A couple of caveats before I move on. First, I am not talking about abuse. And second, what follows is not an excuse to minimize or be flippant with the ways that we harm people. I want to help us to hold our mistakes and our sin in a way that is more helpful for the communities we serve. I want us to understand the seriousness of our offenses, while also accepting that they will happen and finding a way forward. 

Caveats aside, the point remains the same: A church leader’s failings are a vital part of their ministry. That may not be true in any other professional capacity, but it is true in the church. 

We are not leading perfect people. We are all constantly wrestling with a tension between our sinfulness and our call to holiness. The call to holiness comes in the starkest terms, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), but we are also assured that we all still sin (1 John 1:5). That seems to be an impossible bind for anyone, but we manage the tension through confession. We repent and move forward. 

But sin is sin because it harms those things that God loves, especially other people. So to deal with this tension in community, we need more than our joint confession on a Sunday morning (which is still somewhat individualistic). We need to learn to make things right with one another. Embodying confession together requires that we engage in repair.

We are, after all, a reconciled and reconciling community. We are a people who claim the Good News that when we broke our relationship with God, God did everything necessary to make peace with us, making it possible for us to be at peace with the rest of creation, including one another. At this point in the story of redemption, while we are still sinners. Peace with one another requires that we do the hard work of repair. 

And here’s the kicker: A community cannot learn to embody their confession from a leader who does not fail (read: hides or ignores their failings) or does not know how to make it right. A “perfect” leader cannot lead a confessing community. 

At best, a “perfect” pastor or leader will teach a community how to pretend their holiness, how to wring their hands about doing right and then wallow in shame when they fail, how to give up in despair, or how to participate in and/or hate the hypocrisy of the church. 

Our witness to the world is tainted by it too. The church is largely seen by those outside its walls as holier-than-thou, judgmental, two-faced, and phony. At least part of that is because we spend so much time insisting on our own goodness and hiding our failings. We often hide because we don’t know what else to do when we fail. The church needs leaders who will fail, confess, and make things right so that the rest of the community can also learn to fail, confess, and make things right. 

Not everyone will be open to the hard work required for repair. We are so practiced in perfectionism, downplaying (“it’s fine”), avoidance, and reactivity. A leader who lets their mistakes be seen will be particularly vulnerable. But that’s why there are church leaders, to model committed discipleship, even in the mess, even when it doesn’t turn out the way you want. You’ve got to start somewhere. Maybe with your next mistake.

Jen Holmes Curran

Jen Holmes Curran is a pastor at Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She co-pastors and co-parents with her husband Tony.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Good news, and wise. Thank you.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr says:

    Thanks, it helps explain why we can love and learn from the Psalms of David, who was certainly a sinner. Also the words of the Publican, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” vs the Pharisee who said he was “perfect.” I went to a church that was always pointing a finger of judgment at others, but now I lead a fellowship that is more open about its own failures, doubts, frustrations, etc. and it is a much better atmosphere there.

  • Al Mulder says:

    Thank you, Jen. A willingness to repair also contibutes to a readiness to learn and grow and risk.

  • Ben Dykstra says:

    Pope Francis recently embodied the spirit of this blog when he made a homophobic slur but then acknowledged his sin, apologized and asked for forgiveness.

  • David E Stravers says:

    Thanks for this great advice.

  • David Warners says:

    Wonderful reminder to all of us and beautifully expressed. But I’m not sure about these lines: “A church leader’s failings are a vital part of their ministry. That may not be true in any other professional capacity . . .” Maybe I just fail a lot but I think they are a vital part of the ministry of professors too . . . and parents for sure. Maybe especially church leaders but not exclusively church leaders?

  • RZ says:

    This is so good on so many levels. Thank You!

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