When Leaders Fail

When leaders fail, it creates ripple effects far from the fall itself—like tossing a rock into a pond causes waves to circle out from the source until the whole pond is affected. It is impossible to measure the effects of the fall of a spiritual leader. Whether it happens to a small-church deacon, or to a mega-church pastor—it is catastrophic to the cause of Christ.

In May 2020, a celebrated, world-famous, Christian minister died of cancer. His ministry’s total revenue for 2015 was 25.7 million dollars. Prior to his death, social media and public requests for prayer were uncountable. Following his death there was an astounding 2.3 million expressions of thanks for his life on Twitter. Vice President Mike Pence attended his funeral, along with Tim Tebow, Lecrae, and many other celebrities. 

He died in May. By August, revelations of his secretly sinful, abusive and abominable lifestyle began to leak out. Much of the gruesome details came to light, not exposed by conscientious Christians who surrounded him, but was unearthed through the research of an atheist blogger, who questioned his extravagant lifestyle. How sad that is.

These revelations of abuse brought flashbacks of the moral implosions of other Christian celebrities of the past. But we are also reminded that, “to err is human; to forgive divine.” Every honest person understands that failing is part of the human condition. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), we all fail (Ecclesiastes 7:20), and we all need forgiveness (1 John 1:9). If that is so, why is it such a big deal when a leader fails?

To understand the impact when leaders fall, we need to know:

What God Expects of Leaders

God has no double standards. However, the Bible teaches that Christian pastors, deacons, leaders and teachers are held to a higher standard of conduct than others in the church family. For that reason, the Word says: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).

The Lord expects more from those who exercise authority over others. Jesus said, “unto whom much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). Spiritual leaders “keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). More responsibility leads to more accountability.

Paul put it this way: “Moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Stewardship requires faithfulness.

Why God’s Standards are Higher for Leaders

God’s work, above all work, is sacred. The Christian minister, deacon, teacher or leader, represents Him, and does His work. So, when a person engaged in ministry defies God’s holy standards, he brings reproach on His Master and shame to His cause.

In the Old Testament, Israel’s priests were to live according to a higher standard. Those men who served as priests wore sacred garments, worked around sacred furniture, read the sacred Scriptures and carried out sacred sacrifices. When priests failed to maintain holiness, they were removed by God or by His people. Moses wrote: “They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they present the offerings by fire to the LORD, the food of their God; so they shall be holy” (Leviticus 21:6). God’s human spokesmen had to be godly.

Likewise in the New Testament, God’s requirements for Pastors and Deacons were based on high standards (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5—2:15). God’s servants are to be all about God’s glory. His ministers are to lead to the church’s edification—they are, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).

What to do When Leaders Fail

First, pray for your leaders before they fall. “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men; for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). People are to, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). Thank the Lord for godly pastors, leaders, teachers and deacons, who overcome temptation and choose the holy path.

Second, realize all human beings fail in varying degrees. Only God is perfect; the rest of us are mere mortals, no matter our office or position. This is no excuse for sin, but is an honest and necessary step in dealing with the failure of leaders. God commands: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Restoration of the fallen is to be pursued, as the “spiritual” realize that nobody is exempt from sin’s temptation or the consequences that follow giving in to it.

Third, confront their failures. Praying for leaders does not mean ignoring falsehood or failure. It should be confronted. We should not turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of our leaders. The biblical standards for confrontation and forgiveness apply just as much as those for honesty and repentance. 

Fourth, stay open and in communication with your heavenly Father. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24). Confess your sins and keep your trust in Him.

Fifth, devote your life afresh to the service of Christ. Don’t let the sin and failure of others discourage you, slow your steps, weaken your knees, or lower your spirit. God is still holy, Jesus is still King, and the Holy Spirit still empowers.

No matter what others may do, keep on proclaiming the good news of Jesus, our only Savior!

Author: Larry E. Clements

Follower of Christ, fortunate to be husband to Pat, father of 5, grandfather of 12, writer, associate pastor of Pauline Baptist Church

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