It’s happened again. Another prominent Christian leader has fallen. Every time this happens …
I get embarrassed. I’m identified as a Christian leader, and when other Christian leaders commit grievous sin, I don’t want to be lumped into the same category. For the moment, I’m embarrassed for others to know I’m in the same vocation.
I get angry. The actions of these leaders obviously harm their witness and ministry, but they can give a black eye to the rest of the church. Those in leadership roles are seen as the more spiritually mature, the ones who lead others to a closer walk with Jesus, but when a leader sins it waves a giant red flag of hypocrisy before a watching world. And that makes me mad.
I get judgmental. C’mon, you knew better. Why would you jeopardize your marriage, your witness, your ministry unless you really didn’t value these things? Was it all just a game to you?
But then …
I get introspective. I know some of these men. I know their hearts. They love Jesus. They care about righteousness and morality—just like me.
So how is it they blundered but I haven’t? I’m hesitant to claim a deeper or more mature walk with Christ. David, the man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and murder. Moses was called to lead a whole nation, yet he had a major meltdown and bout with anger (Num. 20:2-12). Peter denied even knowing Jesus, even after Jesus warned him (Luke 22:31-34).
It’s through Peter I spot the problem—and the solution. While praying in the garden before His arrest, Jesus called on the disciples to also pray. Instead, Peter slept. Peter was confident he could stand no matter what. He let his guard down simply because he saw no need to have his guard up.
Peter failed, but Peter came back. He was restored by Jesus (John 21:15-19) and years later he wrote:
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Pet. 5:8).
I know I can stand if—and only if—I stand in Christ. My sinful human nature yearns to be resuscitated. I must always live in the truth that my old nature is dead, but I am alive and empowered by Christ (Rom. 6:11). I do not have to give in to sin. And I also do not need to place myself in situations where temptation is strong.
These fallen Christian leaders know this too. but they let their guard down. I don’t know why, but they chose to follow sin and self. And now they’re facing the consequences. A failed ministry. A failed marriage. A failed reputation.
These three responses lead me to ways we all need to respond:
We can hold them accountable. I don’t mean that in a judgmental sense. but we should call them to repent and deal appropriately and biblically with their failures.
“But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning” (1 Tim. 5:20).
We should expect them to be contrite and honest. No excuses. No justification for their actions. Just true repentance. Without that, we cannot allow them to continue in roles of Christian leadership. But if they repent …
We can restore. This one is tricky. Restore them to what?
After Paul called the Corinthian church to deal with an immoral church member and after he repented, Paul then called the church to restore the man to the fellowship of the church.
“The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
We can forgive and help the fallen leader move forward. I refuse to be legalistic and say he can never lead again, but a fallen leader needs to focus on His walk with Christ and restoring whatever damage his actions caused. That takes precedent over stepping back into any kind of leadership.
We can model grace. Our human nature likes to shoot the wounded, and unfortunately, we do that way too often in the church. How we handle the failures of our leaders speaks volumes to the watching world. Jesus said we would be known as His followers by our love for one another (John 13:35), but the way we often treat fellow believers gives others the impression we have not been transformed by the love of Christ.
What would it say to the world if we loved the fallen leader? We don’t excuse their behavior; in fact, we should grieve over their sin while graciously calling them to repentance and restoration. I can’t help but think that Christ-honoring response just might draw other broken people to Christ.
We can pray. Let’s pray for our leaders. Pray for those who lead your church, and pray for those who have a larger, national platform. Pray that those who lead us will stand with integrity and authenticity. Pray that when people look on these leaders, they see the image of Christ.
And while we’re at it, let’s pray others would see the image of Christ in us. You may not have a national platform, but there is someone watching you. Be the image-bearer of Christ who lives with integrity—and shows grace and compassion to our fallen.