Our public leadership is only as solid as our private lives are godly, and for this reason leaders must be ready to explain their personal decisions.
While we may be tempted to think that what we do with our own time, talent and treasure is our own business and not a matter for public scrutiny, the truth is that every area of our lives is open for critique, as those we lead will have questions about our personal habits.
Of course, this is true for every believer to a certain degree, but it is true to a much larger degree for pastors. Spiritual leaders are to “set an example” (1 Timothy 4:12), which means we do not have the luxury of living the unexamined life.
- When questioned on our personal habits, we need to be able to give a reasoned response for our behavior.
For example, alcohol consumption is often a topic that tempts us toward bifurcation—that is a desire to separate our personal decisions from our public influence. In fact, I was recently asked why I drink alcohol when so many Christians, and non-Christians alike, struggle with addiction to the substance. Someone suggested that if I wanted to drink alcohol that I should do it in the privacy of my own home, implying that who I am in private can be different from who I am in public. I quickly explained the importance of integrity in the life of a leader (i.e. public and private lives being integrated realities), and then explained that Scripture doesn’t call for abstinence from alcohol, but rather for moderation.
The short of it is that I enjoy the taste of alcohol, but avoid drunkenness. All things were created by God to be enjoyed, as long as we receive them with thanksgiving and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-6). In other words, we can enjoy all that God has given us if what is created is received with a posture of thankfulness and submitted to God’s leadership in our lives.
My goal with substances such as alcohol is to avoid license (i.e. living like Hell, simply because Heaven is my home), as well as legalism (i.e. believing that I have merited heaven). We are to be mastered by nothing (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), but neither are we to pretend that we are saved by anything we master (Galatians 2:16). Make no mistake, abstaining from alcohol is not required by the gospel, and it could easily become an attempt to earn salvation.
You may disagree with me on the topic of whether or not to drink alcohol, but being able to offer this type of reasoned response for personal habits is an important part of setting an example as a leader.