By Major Clarence Bradbury, D.Min.
A simple comment can sometimes stop you dead in your tracks. In October, as one by one the Chilean miners emerged from their underground cocoon where they were trapped for months, a CNN reporter focused on a man who was about to be greeted by two women. One was the miner’s wife and the other, his secret lover. The reporter concluded his commentary with “I guess nobody’s perfect”. How true. I’ve heard it countless times and I’ve used it far too often to excuse some failure on my part. Like Hannah Montana’s reference in her song, “Nobody’s Perfect”. Here’s a sample, “Everybody makes mistakes, nobody’s perfect – 1, 2, 3, 4! Nobody’s perfect, you live and you learn it… sometimes I’m in a jam, I’ve gotta make a plan; it might be crazy, I do it anyway… if I mess it up sometimes, nobody’s perfect.” Then there’s the ESPN headline in reference to the monumentally bad call by umpire Jim Joyce in an important baseball game last season – it said, “Nobody’s perfect, except maybe Jesus”. It was the CNN reporter’s comment that got me thinking, because it epitomizes the spirit of our culture. While we need to acknowledge the truth that nobody is perfect except Jesus, we who are Christian leaders cannot appeal to that premise to contract our call to holiness and integrity.
As leaders, we are called to a higher road than the general population. What is excusable or acceptable in the culture at large is totally unacceptable in the community of faith, more especially among its leaders.
The apostle James wrote, “Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” That is the goal toward which we strive, not a “nobody’s perfect”, “I did my best”, “I’m as good as anybody else” attitude. The bible also issues these penetrating words of Jesus – “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect”. Wow! Reminds me of a book I stumbled on recently. Written by Dean Shriver, it’s called, “Nobody’s Perfect but you have to be”. That is precisely our calling as Christian leaders – we are not perfect but we are called and privileged toward completeness in Christ. And in His book, that’s perfection, a perfection that is attainable, not by working harder at it or goofing up fewer times than others, but by growing more intimate with Him until our whole being is permeated by his character to the extent that it shows in our outward behavior. This requires great patience with one another in a holiness movement such as ours where the struggle to perform brings temptation to wear a mask of piety in public while we succumb to a shadow life in private. Creating safe spaces in our relationships enables us to be more authentic, more understanding of one another’s failures, more supportive of each other’s spiritual growth.
God uses our daily scenarios of temptation and difficulty to test our integrity, “to encourage us to follow through on a promise or vow, to ensure that we have a true burden for a ministry or vision, to confirm an inner character strength, to build faith, to establish inner values important for later challenges, to teach submission and to warn others of the seriousness of obeying God [J. Robert Clinton, Leadership Emergence Theory (Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1989), 125].
So, while it is a fact that nobody’s perfect, the Christian leader understands that temptations check our convictions, a test of our values makes us choose which ones are most important and a test of our loyalty challenges our ultimate allegiance. Passing these tests in the daily grind builds character, honors our calling and, most importantly, pleases God.
How is this attainable? By choosing to swim against the stream of culture, including church culture, by trusting the Holy Spirit to refine us, communing deeply with Jesus, practicing accountability with one another without falling into legalism, and by pursuing the godly disciplines that produce good conduct.
To nurture such thriving spirituality, I recommend a regular diet of two perfect classics: The Bible – it’s amazing how much light it sheds on the commentaries (!) and Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. Sanders’ direct approach is bathed in scripture, full of Salvation Army illustrations and refreshingly readable. I read it as a cadet in 1970 and I’m still gripped by its impact on my journey with Christ.