I was asked recently what I thought about non-Christians and Christians openly living in sin serving in a leadership capacity in church. Well, here are some of my thought from that.
First, let me say that the the central principle here is "come as you are, but don't stay that way." If we look at the teachings to the Israelites when they were coming out of Egypt and heading toward the promised land, we could come up with some pretty harsh rules that would get most of us struck by lightning. When we look at these passages though, we have to realize the audience and the purpose of the commands. The nation of Israel is not the church and we cannot expect the regulations or the blessings to automatically apply to the church. We do however see principles that help us understand God's expectations for man. For example, King David's sin would have gotten him stoned during the time of Moses. Adultery was still sin, but for some reason, God showed a different kind of grace during David's life and ultimately used David, for His glory.
Moving to the New Testament, there are 3 things to consider. There is the teaching to pastors in 1 Timothy, the general teaching to the church in Paul's letters, and the way that Jesus led his followers. For some positions in the church you could argue that the requirements in 1 Timothy should apply. This would certainly be the case for positions of spiritual leadership whether you are a paid pastor with a title or not. Positions, such as Worship leader, Youth and Children's leaders, head's of men's and women's ministries and just about anyone whom you might refer to as pastor. Most other places of service in the church would simply be following the teachings to the church such as those found in Ephesians chapters 4 and 5.
But what about unbelievers and Christians openly living in sin? Should we reject them completely from church service? There are a number of passages we could look at and some of them could probably be used for both leniency as well as hard line stances on the issue. I think Jesus own ministry example might be the best approach. He took in sinners, warts and all (sorry of you've got a wart or 2). He accepted a bunch of rowdy, cussing fisherman, tax cheats, and even a prostitute or two. He clearly used them to serve in various capacities in his ministry from very early days. But, you will also notice that he never sent them out as ministers until about 2 years later.
Jesus, reached out to those 'sinners' and gave them the love and acceptance they needed to become who he knew they could be. When you read through the gospels, you can see Jesus trusting them with a growing level of responsibility, until he felt they were ready to be ministers themselves. I think that this has got to be the best approach to using unbelievers in the church. You give them a place to belong, loving relationships, and a purpose in life as they begin to understand who Jesus is and respond to Him. But, Jesus spent years preparing them, before he allowed them to represent Him.
The same is probably also true for believers living openly in sin. They too need the loving relationship, and purpose in life to return to a deeper relationship with Jesus. But we cannot allow them to represent Jesus or his body, when they are openly living in sin. If anything, Jesus was harder on this group. If the church hopes to lead people out of sin so common in our messy, addicted culture, we cannot very well allow those openly living in sin to be the examples and teachers. It would send out a mixed message that we condone things, yet teach against them.
It is hard to know exactly where to draw the line as to what areas of service are acceptable for these 2 groups and what areas are not. But if we put someone whose life is not acceptable in a place where others see their appointment to certain roles as condoning their lifestyle, then we are torpedoing our own efforts to bring them to Jesus to experience real life change. On the other hand one of the best ways to draw people to Jesus is to find them a place to serve along side of people who have experienced radical life change themselves.