When Leaders Fail Us

When Leaders Fail Us

For the second time in my life, I’ve been watching from the periphery as a pastor I admired has resigned over moral failings.  Having learned some lessons about how to handle things when leaders fail us, I thought it might be helpful to share these lessons with those who may be struggling to reconcile their feelings about leadership failures.

Let’s face it: leaders fail us all the time. 

It’s harder when the leaders are church leaders as compared to business or political leaders.  The reason it’s harder is that church leaders are supposed to stand for God, speak to us on His behalf, teach us what the Word says, and to model what godly living is all about.  Moral failings cut to the heart of each of those functions.

Fraud versus Flawed: When religious leaders fail us, we must distinguish between a leader being flawed and one who is a fraud.  Satan (and yes, I believe he’s real) relishes both the flawed and the fraud leaders who fail us.

A fraud is someone who is not and has not been a Christ-follower at all.  A wolf in sheep’s clothing.  A false teacher.  The frauds of this world fake it for the sake of personal gain and power.  (2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them– bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.)  Satan likes leaders who teach wrong things and cause us to believe lies about God.  The false teacher, the false prophet, and the leader who is a fraud can carry many people down a path of lies.

But when a leader fails us, it doesn’t mean that person has been a fraud. 
It means he or she has been flawed. 

All leaders are flawed in some manner or another.  We all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Being flawed doesn’t make us frauds.  It makes us human.  That said, claiming humanity will not excuse what we have done, but it will illuminate the process going forward.  We cannot hit the rewind button on our lives and get a do-over, but we can hit stop or pause and make different decisions, ones that honor God for the future.

Satan likes flawed leaders because it’s the easiest way of stopping the forward progress of the church.  Target one, take down many.  The bigger the target, the greater the take-down.  If Satan can get us disillusioned with one another in the church, particularly leaders–because we’re all flawed–it can get us down the same path of lies.  It can convince us that Christians are nothing but a pack of liars, cheats, and hypocrites.  That is the lie Satan wants us to believe because the only thing Satan hates almost as much as he hates God is Jesus’ Church (because it belongs to God).   What flawed leaders ought to teach us is that God’s grace is greater than all our sin.

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (1 Timothy 1:15).

Consequences of Fraud and Flawed:  The consequence of being a fraud, refusing to repent, and denying God is ultimately destruction.  Being an unrepentant false teacher is a dangerous place to be.  The accountability one pays for preaching a different gospel than the one handed down to us is severe because the punishment is commensurate with the number of people led astray.  The bigger the ministry following, the greater the fall because the same number of people you could have blessed (if you had been telling the truth) is the same number you harm when you’re a fraud and lead others straight into sin.

Being simply flawed has consequences too.  King David was flawed, fell from grace, yet he repented and we are reminded that he was still called a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).  This doesn’t mean that he didn’t experience consequences to his sins, however.

Genuine leaders must have authority, credibility, and authenticity. 

Falling from grace removes those three important characteristics and therefore the leader must relinquish the position of leadership.  God can restore authority and credibility and even authenticity over time.  But one cannot continue to lead effectively and for the sake of the Church, the leader must resign.  The Church must accept this and not try to reinstitute the fallen leader before God has fully restored those 3 functions of authority, credibility, and authenticity.  Many fallen leaders will never be restored to a ministry position.  Some parishioners, including quite a few seminary professors and theologians, believe a ministry leader who falls can never be restored to a place of leadership.

I remember the first time I was forced to confront my feelings on this as a parishioner.  I was sitting in the balcony of a mid-size church’s sanctuary.  You could have heard a pin drop in the silence of the moments before the pastor confessed openly.  I was in seminary at the time and the Holy Spirit made it very clear that the Christian’s response to this is prayer, forgiveness, grace, justice, and steadfastness.

That could just as easily be you,” the Holy Spirit admonished, as God caused me to think deeply about this topic.

You see, no one wakes up in the morning and decides willingly to fall from grace, but rather the decision typically takes the form of a million drops of water that fill the bucket and the accumulated weight eventually tips the scale.  One drop makes the difference between a bucket known only to you and God…and a spilled bucket suddenly being known to everyone else.  Both you and God have known since the first drop dripped.   In some cases, however, we are so self-preoccupied and self-deceived we are not even aware of the first drop until after it happens.  Sin is insidious in that way.

The responses of the parishioner facing a leader’s fall from grace should include prayer, forgiveness, grace, justice, and steadfastness.

Pray that God will protect the person who fell from grace and his/her family from hatred and condemnation.  Pray that God will preserve the family unit and comfort each of them as they grieve the consequences of sin.  Pray for their marriage if they were married.  Pray for their extended families (children, parents, siblings, etc.) since it can be humiliating to admit that your parents or children, brothers or sisters, fell into sin.  Pray that betrayal doesn’t turn to bitterness.  Pray for the leadership of the church that remains behind.  Pray that the leadership remnant will seek God’s direction to fill the void and be patient while God works His miracle of healing.  Pray that people will not abandon the faith on account of it.  Pray against the evil one (Satan) and any havoc he might want to gain.  Pray that no one among the parishioners will have a stumbling block to their faith.  Pray that the witness of the church will be holiness (not whitewashing the sin), truth (admitting the failings and the process for dealing with them), and restorative (since even sin we regret cannot separate a man or woman from the love of God).  Pray that unbelievers can see the unconditional love and unmerited favor of God in the church as people talk and respond, and that God can redeem even this to His glory. Pray that the sheep will not be scattered.  Pray that God will bring glory to Himself in each person’s reaction.

Forgiveness is another response parishioners must have.  Forgiveness is not saying the sin did not happen or that it did not matter, but admitting the sin in all its destructiveness and then demonstrating the kind of forgiveness that God has shown to us.  Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  Matthew 6:14 “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Forgiveness will be among the greatest witnesses to the unbelieving population in the midst of this tragedy.  It will show that Christians aren’t perfect and that Christians aren’t sinless, but that Christians stand powerfully in the complete forgiveness of Christ, washed clean by His blood.

Grace is another response that parishioners will be wise to demonstrate.  It goes beyond forgiveness and adds blessing.  Grace is what God has shown to us and it is what we must show toward the sinner.  It likewise is a great witness.  How can the Christian show grace in these times?  Christians can send cards of encouragement to the sinner and let him/her know that prayers of support are ongoing.  Christians can provide meals or financial assistance to the family if there is hardship now that the leader’s employment is gone as a direct result of sin.  Parishioners can give emotional support and friendship if jail time is involved (both visiting in prison and being a friend to the family members).  Grace is also evident when those in the leadership remnant look out for the welfare of the weakest of the faith.  Grace gathers the scattered sheep and binds their wounds.  It is being very sensitive to how events like this can further wound the already wounded.  Ezekiel 34:16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.

Justice.  Grace and justice go hand in hand, however.  God will accomplish justice.  Grace does not stand in the way of genuine justice.  Ezekiel 34:16 “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”  Justice says that punishments outlined by law are followed.  Restitution to those harmed must be paid.  Damage to other people must be resolved.  Grace triumphs.  Justice is done.  In part, this is why leaders must resign and why parishioners must accept it–even if the leader was popular and beloved.  Difficult as the days ahead may be without that leader, it is justice that demands that we orient ourselves toward holiness.  The remnant of leadership will need your loving-kindness, encouragement, support, and above all, your prayers in order to stand firm and resolute toward God’s holiness.

Steadfastness.  A fifth response that parishioners can have is steadfastness.  Be on the lookout for those who are disillusioned and being scattered.  Befriend them and bring them back in.  It is a way of thwarting Satan’s purposes in all this evil.  Support those in the remnant leadership by not abandoning the church in search of another “better” church.  All churches have sinners.  Apart from Jesus Christ, the true Head of the Church, all church leaders are sinners.  There are many reasons to leave a church (e.g. moving out of the area, unfaithful teachings or unfaithful use of the body of Christ, God’s calling you to a place of employing your gifts for His glory, etc.).  Leaving a church because of one leader’s moral failings must be very carefully considered because it communicates things about your spiritual life.  It points to whether you were at the church because of Jesus or because of the leader.  It points to who you were worshiping.  It points to putting leaders on pedestals as if leaders are superior or demi-gods.  It also reflects your understanding of judgment, grace, and forgiveness.  Other people will watch your decision and—whether in or outside of the church—your steadfastness or lack of it will say much about your view of Jesus and His Church.  Leaving a church is a theologically powerful statement about you.  Leaving the church period is a victory for Satan.

If you’re currently grieving a leader’s fall from grace, it’s helpful to know that a fall like this doesn’t happen in isolation.  Everyone will feel the effects of it and will wrestle through it.  The insult that hits one part of the body of Christ affects it all.  1 Corinthians 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

At times like this, the Good Shepherd will shepherd His flock and ensure that Satan doesn’t get the last word.  The leadership remnant left behind will be in good hands.  God will not forsake His Church.  Be sure to take time to gather the scattered.  Pray and remain faithful.  In time, God will restore the community and healing will occur.  We can assist the healing process by our actions during these difficult times.  Historically the Church grows the most when it is under assault.  Therefore, let’s do our best to ensure that God will be glorified in our choices and may His presence be seen in our actions.

Fallen leaders must confess, repent, and resign.  A time for restoration and repentance will be part of the healing they will need as they seek reconciliation with God and with a family who feels betrayed.

Parishioners are wise to love one another by praying, offering forgiveness, showing grace, accepting justice, and promoting steadfastness.  This is a good way forward when leaders fail us.

Human leaders will fail us from time to time, but God is bigger than any of our failings.  His forgiveness is bigger, His grace is wider, and His love is deeper than problems of moral failings, even in the church.  Furthermore, the Church is His.  We belong to Him and He will purify us and make us into a presentable Bride for the King of Glory.  Inwardly we groan and that great day of salvation may seem to be slow in coming from our standpoint, but God is the leader we can always trust…even when human leaders fail us.

Jude 1 20to25

Categories Articles, Articles and Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on April 7, 2014

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