When Church Leaders Fall

“If anyone thinks he stands…take heed”
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”
First Corinthians 10:12-14 NIVUK

I have been thinking about the countless people we trust to lead us in the life of the body of Christ. In the world there must be millions of such leaders, serving both small and large numbers of believers.

We appreciate them. We attend their classes or services. We recommend them. We learn from them. We may financially support them. If they rise in popularity, it feels affirming to us. And if they attain some high level of recognition, we share the accolades by proxy because now everyone knows what we have known; they are “the real deal”. They can be trusted to have the limelight. And we’re glad we stand with them under the banner of the Gospel.

But for far too many of us, the day comes when our confidence is shattered by the news that our faithful and true leader was not true or faithful at all. And it breaks our hearts. The list of Christ’s servants whose lives and ministries were destroyed by their sin is long. And the length of that list is a witness to how short the steps can be from integrity to corruption.

The truth is that none of us are more than a few errant decisions away from bringing death to our ministry, or marriage or any dimension of life and service to God. Temptation to sin is a reality of the human condition. Someone said, “we aren’t sinners because we sin. We sin because we’re sinners.” A famous comic (George Burns) once quipped; “I can resist anything but temptation.”
And as sinners, our default spiritual condition is separation from God; “dead in trespasses and sins”. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

In 1 Corinthians 10 the apostle Paul reminds us of temptation’s commonality. And James in his epistle explains temptation’s process, “…each person is tempted when by their own desire they are being drawn away and enticed. Then the desire, having conceived, gives birth to sin. And the sin, having been fully formed, brings forth death. Do not be deceived!” (James 1:14-16)
However, when we come to faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the grace of God that made that faith possible begins a new and re-creative work in us. The Spirit of Christ starts forming the Image of Christ in us. The temptations still exist, but now we have decisive power to say “no”. We don’t have to yield to sin.

But in order to be successfully and consistently unyielding, we need each other. It’s true that sanctification is a deeply individual quest. If I have Christ in me, I have a personal hunger for holiness. But the church isn’t called to be a population of ironclad individuals under Christ. We’re called to be a community. And as a community of faith in Jesus Christ, our safeguards against temptation to sin are communal and Christ-like. They are;

  • Love for one another
  • Truth in speech and action
  • Accountability to scriptural authority
  • Humility in our hearts
  • Transparency in our living
  • Confession to each other when we sin
  • Restoration in a spirit of humility
  • Prayer for each other for wholeness
  • Compassion in bearing others burdens

The church is by nature a “body” and as such we are called to actively share these qualities among ourselves for our corporate health because together they consist of a “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13) from the temptations that seize and overtake us.

So may we all take heed unless, in our pride of “standing”, we fall. When Christian leaders fail, it’s appropriate that we are shocked, dismayed and heartbroken. But it’s completely wrong to point our finger and say, ‘Whew, I’m glad I am not like that. I am far more in tune with The Spirit than to do those horrible things.’ Instead, let’s search our hearts, our thoughts, motives and actions. Let’s do all we can to establish the boundaries and safeguards we all need to protect against sin. And let’s all pray:
“Lord, save us from our pride, our arrogance, our high mindedness, our self-righteousness, and the deceptions of our own hearts.
Lord save me, a sinner saved by Your Grace. Search me, and shed Your Light on every wicked way in me, that I may repent and be open to the Spirit who is conforming me to the image of Your Son. Through Christ my Lord, Amen.

3 thoughts on “When Church Leaders Fall

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