When Christian Leaders Fall
Is your heart weeping with mine over leaders who have fallen?
Recently, someone we trusted, respected and admired turned out to be something other than what we thought. When a leader falls, it is easy to give up and say, “I will no longer look for godly examples around me. I am tired of trusting someone only to be disappointed.”
So what is going on with leaders anyway? Is it possible to find a trustworthy leader these days who won’t let me down? I want to encourage you to hold steady and not give up on people. (After all, you are one, too.) And don’t give up on the Lord and His Church! Jesus never fails even though people sometimes do. So how do I reconcile the dilemma?
REASONS WHY LEADERS FAIL
In our culture, we tend to elevate our leaders to superstar status. This is a form of idolatry. We have only one true Leader and one King, Jesus, the Son of God. He is pure integrity. All human leaders have feet of clay. We need to ask the Lord if we have been guilty of elevating a leader too high and have thereby set ourselves up for disappointment.
Imagine you are a leader who is admired by thousands, even millions of people. What if you have a problem that you can’t handle on your own? God never intended any Christian to be able to handle everything alone. He placed us in a body and made us interdependent on each other. But what if this problem is so embarrassing that solving it would lead to public exposure? How can you shatter the faith of followers who expect you to be perfect? It is easy to dismiss the issue with, “Well, that leader should come down off his pedestal and be like everyone else!”
It is not so easy. What if that leader oversees a vast Christian ministry with hundreds of jobs on the line? Even though it shouldn’t be this way, the welfare of thousands depends on his ability to keep up the deception of perfection. Even if you are willing to get help, who can you trust to be your friend and see you through the healing process with truth and grace enough to help you? I hope you can see the problem with mercy.
MINISTRY DEMANDS MORAL INTEGRITY
But on the other hand, it is reasonable and biblical to expect that leaders be godly examples of the nature of Jesus Christ. That is why New Testament writers clearly lay out standards for Christian leaders. I believe that a person’s character is even more important than his gift, but God wants both in every believer.
I thank God for the leaders I looked up to as a young Christian who were mightily anointed but who also demonstrated integrity and walked the walk as well as talked the talk. Now there is a new crop of young Christian leaders who are desperate for godly role models. They need to learn from those who operate powerfully in the gifts of the Spirit but who are also women and men of great integrity.
John Wimber once put it this way. “It is not wrong to follow a man. It is wrong to follow the wrong man!” We need to follow leaders, because all of us need to keep learning. And let’s face it, sometimes you cannot tell who is headed for a fall. Good people with wonderful leadership qualities sometimes fail. They did not start out to be deceivers. They were good men and women with the best intentions. Yet they yielded to temptation. Many of them had no accountability and fewer still ever received healing for the significant issues of the heart.
A FALLEN LEADER CAN RECOVER IF...
The Apostle Paul admonished the Church on the matter of Christians who fall into temptation in his letter to the Galatians. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”
The Church needs to have a process of restoration for leaders who fall which includes a period of time off from the pressure of ministry. During this period the fallen leader needs to be surrounded by those who will “love him or her back to life.” They need time to stop the busyness in order to begin to feel the pain and face the problem. They may not receive an instantaneous healing, but rather, be healed through a process of receiving godly counseling which uncovers the root of the sin and its underlying ungodly beliefs. Like recovering from major physical surgery, it takes time to learn to function again without resorting to old patterns.
Bad habits of any kind take time to break especially ones that control a life. By the way, have you recognized your own need for emotional healing? Or are you saying, “All of that was done at the cross...?” Physical healing was done at the cross as well. Does that mean that we don’t need to pray for people to be healed or teach about physical healing? Of course not; we still need to pray with faith for the sick, to believe God for them so that miracles happen and freedom comes. So why can’t emotional healing come in the very same way?
A lot has been said about pursuing the anointing. I believe that leaders should continually ask the Lord for more power to preach and demonstrate the truth of the Gospel. Likewise, a leader also needs to pursue Christ like character. How? By learning to practice Holy Spirit housekeeping, or rather “heart keeping.” Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”
If we need no inner healing, why does Paul say in 2 Corinthians 7:1, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God...?” There is a holiness that needs to be perfected. Filthiness of the flesh and the spirit needs to be cleansed from a Christian’s life.
"All of us need the ongoing work of sanctification."
Acts 8:9-24 tells the story of Simon the sorcerer. Simon himself believed and was baptized under the ministry of Philip (v.13), yet when he tried to buy the powerful anointing Peter had, Peter declared in verses 21 to 23 that his “heart was not right in the sight of God...you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” He said all this to a man who had believed and had been baptized in water. So clearly, he needed a further application of grace, even though he had been to the cross and had begun his Christian walk.
Surprise, but new Christians are not instantly perfect, body, soul and spirit! All of us need the ongoing work of sanctification. Salvation occurs when you go to the cross yourself and receive God’s gift of pardon for sin. In the present, salvation is an ongoing sanctifying work of becoming more Christ like, and also culminates in the future when one day “we shall be like Him as we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2)
James 5:16 is a good scripture to apply, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Even though we have been born again at the cross, we still need further healing from time to time, and that healing is both physical and emotional. Physical and emotional healing are not merely matters of self discipline, or study and prayer, but we need a supernatural touch of the power of God, a divine intervention.
In addition to divine intervention, God wants us to be self-disciplined and accountable to others. I think that Christian leaders need to be open and honest first with their own families and then with the leadership team of that church, even if they are in the role of Senior Pastor. A Senior Pastor needs to be accountable to his leadership team, as well as to other recognized leaders with whom he or she has relationship.
Beware when there is no one speaking into a leader’s life.
Study all the “one another” scriptures in the New Testament, and you will see what I mean. Loving one another involves caring enough about your brother and friend to call them to account.
Leaders, and indeed all of us, need to be full of God. An intimate relationship with Jesus and God, the Father, is perhaps the very best defense against falling into moral lapse. It is impossible to be very close to the Lord, deeply in love with him, and humbly submitting yourself to Him, yet at the same time living in a sinful lifestyle.
Find some fathers and mothers in the Kingdom from whom you are able to receive loving correction. A real father is someone older and wiser who is willing not only to love and affirm, but also to correct, admonish and rebuke if necessary. This is something each of us needs from time to time. It could just save your marriage, your ministry, your reputation or even your life. Young Christian, ask God to show you a father.
And while I am on the topic of fathers, I should say that one of the most pressing needs today in the body of Christ is fatherhood. We are a fatherless generation. How many have grown up without a biological father leading the family? Sometimes even when he was present physically, he was so dysfunctional that now the word “father” is negative. This is one of the great tragedies of our society. We all need the safety of a father’s loving affirmation and even loving discipline to give us healthy boundaries in life.
Having a godly father is a big pre-emptive strike against the enemy encroaching into a child’s life. Without being fathered, we start living like orphans, full of striving and self-centeredness, answering to no one, rather than living as sons who have security, purpose and a place in our father’s heart. Has your lack of fathering caused you to mistrust leaders and even God?
Unless a Christian receives a revelation of the fatherhood of God, we distrust Him, and we do not expect Him to be there for us, to go before us and come behind us. When God’s love becomes a very safe place for you, you will be able to bare your soul and seek His healing love when you hurt.
HOW TO FINISH WELL
Leaders need to finish well. Paul ended his life by saying in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” What a wonderful tribute to God, the Father. What a powerful testimony to the saving, keeping power of the Holy Spirit. What an encouragement to the next generation of leaders coming along after him!
How thankful we all are for fathers in the Kingdom today who have served the Body of Christ faithfully for many years.
How thankful we are for younger leaders in the body of Christ who are not yet elder statesmen, but who have been faithful in marriage and ministry for many years. The truth is that for everyone who falls, there are hundreds, even thousands of faithful pastors and leaders who are finishing well. It is no wonder that the media covers the ones who fall; it is so rare! Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter into the joy of the Lord.