Last year I had the privilege (that’s how I felt at that time) to write an article on the life of Ravi Zacharias. He was a man I admired and looked up to for his defense of the faith and for the connection he made between our mind and our faith. I remember vividly one thing he said when I heard him speak which was that many people come to church and leave their minds at home.
Since his passing last year, allegations have come forth and have been confirmed that he was leading a secret sinful lifestyle. This lifestyle led to the abuse and pain of many victims. I was having a conversation with my wife because she knows how I admired him, and she asked me how I felt. I will admit my feelings are in no way comparable to the people he actually victimized, but all I could think of was how tragic this is. Tragic for those who were abused. Tragic for those who are in Ravi’s family and those who are left to pick up the pieces. Also for those who have attached their livelihood to this ministry and who were not in anyway complicit in these actions but who nevertheless suffer the consequences.
I wish I could say this is an isolated incident, but recently it feels like it is just one in a string of incidents of leaders who have fallen victim to sinful activity. The question that remains is where does that leave you? How do you respond when leaders fall? Don’t assume this can’t happen or won’t happen because I believe this is part of how we get to these places in the first place. For today I want to talk to those who often struggle and find it hard to deal with these realities.
The Disappointment of Expectation
The reason why these things are so damaging is because we naturally create expectations. We expect those who profess Jesus and preach or teach God’s Word to live a certain way. Some of these may be unrealistic, but it is not unrealistic in my opinion to expect integrity and truth in our leaders. I don’t know if you can follow someone if they don’t exhibit these characteristics.
However, it is this expectation that creates disappointment. This does not mean that we don’t hold leaders accountable because we should. Just acknowledge that the disappointment comes because we thought or had an expectation of something different.
This still leaves the question – what can we learn from these moments? What truths should we hold onto when the leader falls? I want to share with you three things to never forget about leaders. These things are true if the leader stands in true integrity or is overcome by sinful activity.
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1. Remember These Are Just Men
We are living in an age of social media influencers, where people have voices and can amass huge followings of people in relatively short periods of time. With the ability to reach someone with a message that can inspire or encourage, it is very easy to begin to elevate these people. When you do that you raise your expectation and understanding of who these people really are.
They are just men (and by men I mean human not male). They may be people who God uses. They may be people with extraordinary gifts, talents, or abilities, but they are still men. What makes them special is not their gift. What makes them special is Christ in them, and too often we look past that because we become so enamored with the gift. This leads to the lifting up of the individual. This is not unusual, look at what happened in the church in Corinth.
“You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:3-7).
The church in Corinth was acting worldly because they elevated their leaders to a place that the leaders didn’t belong. Leaders are important, but they are still just human. They struggle the way you struggle. They have issues and challenges the same way you do. I am not saying they are all struggling with secret sins because that is not true, but they all have challenges, because they are human. They are simply men and women whom God uses to plant and water.
When you make them more than that you set yourself up for disappointment. I am not saying leaders should not operate with integrity and accountability because they should. I am saying we need to stop making them more than what they are: simple men and women whom God uses to accomplish his work in the earth. Appreciate their ministry but give praise to the one from whom the source of their ministry flows.
2. Anchor Your Faith to Jesus
While it is normal to look up to leaders, you must recognize that ultimately they are not the anchor of your faith. Jesus is. Your Christianity is not determined by the actions of others. Whether you serve God or not, whether you follow Jesus or not should not be swayed by what people do. It can be discouraging, but it should not destroy your faith. When it is all said and done your hope should be in Christ alone and nothing or no one else. He is your anchor.
When you read the pages of Scripture, they are filled with the failings of imperfect men trying to carry out God’s perfect plan. What was true then is still true now. There was only one who followed God’s plan perfectly. There was only one who fulfilled every requirement of the law and who lived a sinless life. There is only one name by which all men can be saved. That one is Jesus. He will not disappoint and he is the one who can be fully trusted.
You should never pledge the allegiance you give to Jesus to anyone else because honestly they don’t deserve it. There is only one who went to the cross, paid the penalty for your sin and rose from the dead to give you the hope of eternal life. This is where your full allegiance needs to remain. I can promise you that through every hard place in life, Jesus will be with you through it all and will never let you down. Let this be the anchor for your faith and the anchor for your soul.
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3. Stay Humble in the Process
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1, NLT).
It is very easy to stand on the outside and say “how could you.” When these things happen, the inclination is to be ready to pass judgment. Trust me I get it. As much as you may want to judge, that is not the response you should have. Notice what the instruction Paul gave, gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. The right path for this person does not mean help them stay in ministry or keep their position of authority and influence. The right path means to help them overcome their sin and restore their relationships, with God first and with anyone who has been hurt by their actions.
The goal should not be to get them back to a position of ministry as quickly as possible. The truth is some might be better off away from public ministry altogether. The goal should be to get them back to a healthy relationship with God which is why they were saved in the first place. This is most important. When you fix that, then they are in position to fix any of the other broken relationships and damage they may have caused.
The other reason to stay humble is to recognize your own humanity. In both of these verses Paul says be careful that you don’t fall. If you think you would never do that or that won’t happen to you, be careful. If you think you are above these types of temptations be careful. It is not enough to recognize their humanity, you must keep yours front and center as well. Remember you and the leaders are the same and given the same set of circumstances you might react the same way. Don’t be the one who brings the gavel, be the one who brings the grace. You never know when you might need it.
I don’t know who the next person in leadership will be that will fall victim to their sinful nature. I do know that we need to stay humble, pray for those in leadership and walk close to Jesus. He is the one that can keep you from falling, but that only happens if he is the rock that you build your life upon.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.