By Lisa Cherry
When a leader falls into sin, their actions cause a ripple effect, hurting not only their immediate family, but their friends, those in their church or ministry, and those that have watched and learned from this leader from afar.
Anger, hurt, confusion, anxiety, fear, and despair often overwhelm those struggling to make sense about the situation.
In recent years, the body of Christ has weathered so many of these scandalous storms that some would propose immorality among pastors is now an epidemic. I pray that is not true!
So the question becomes how do we as Christians function in an open-to-anything culture without growing complacent about immorality, cynical about hypocrisy, or insensitive to broken people?
None of us wants to make the mistake of hurting those who are already broken, humiliated and desperate for restoration. Ministry leaders are mere humans and are therefore subject to both error and sin.
We remember the sin of David and Bathsheba in the Bible. But unfortunately, simply recognizing that human frailty is nothing new doesn't fix the damaging effects both to the ministry of the fallen leader and the wider constituency of the body of Christ. (Then, of course, there is the damage of reputation in the world's eye that is fanned by the secular media!)
So how are we to respond when others fail?
1. We must be willing to face the truth. This first step is absolutely critical. When people refuse to believe something that is true, darkness can sometimes hide in our midst.
We dismiss the inner warnings of the Holy Spirit because we think "he/she is such a good person that they would never do that," or "I am sure I didn't see what I just saw."
We must have the courage to look truth in the eye for as Jesus says, “the truth will set us free!
2. We must be truth tellers. We must never participate in deceptive cover-ups or selective silence that is meant to "protect" whenever such a failure comes to light. And eventually, it will always come to light.
We can look around us and see the dangers of lies and deception. After personally living through the nightmare of one of my own children being sexually abused in a ministry setting, I have noticed that people often use denial as a way of escaping truth.
But denial of truth never works. In fact, it will only compound the pain we are facing and allow satan to gain further access to our lives. Sometimes wishing things away feels more comfortable. But when people refuse to believe that which is true, darkness wins.
3. We must keep our eyes on Jesus. People will often fail us, but Jesus never will. We must take our pain to Him in prayer.
He can handle even our tough emotions. He understands the feelings of betrayal. Remember Judas?
4. We must entrust ourselves to no man. Jesus said in John 2:24 that He entrusted Himself to no one while on earth, because He knew the heart of man.
We would do well to follow His example. But exactly what does that mean?
It means that Jesus knew better than to put men on a pedestal. It means that while He loved others, He put His ultimate trust in God.
Trusting is found in degrees. Not every situation merits the same level of trust.
I am not advocating a life of suspicion and isolation. Strong relationships and healthy fellowship are what we should strive for. But we need realistic expectations—like Jesus—that keep our perspectives in balance.
5. We must hold onto the revelations that are sound. When one of your leaders or mentors has imparted into your life about the ways of God, it can be very confusing to discover the leader’s life does not reflect what was taught.
But we must remember, God's word never changes. If the teaching or example was truly based upon scripture, it will stand even when men fall.
However, if a leader has fallen, It is appropriate and necessary to double check the scriptural foundation and accuracy of their teaching.
When ongoing sin exists in a leader, it can affect their theology and their doctrine. So don't be afraid to look at this issue.
The Holy Spirit leads us into truth when we ask Him. It is wise to take your time to seek His direction after we experience the initial disappointment of the fall of a leader.
We must be cautious about making decisions or changing direction based on the emotion of the moment that can cause us to lose our way.
6. We must be willing to help others. Our family and our friends will also wrestle with these disturbing breeches of trust. In our home, we have had many family meetings to talk openly with our children about ministry leaders that fall.
My husband and I want our kids to hear these stories from us so we can help them to process the facts. Teens and young adults can easily grow cynical when sin is revealed in leaders they trust.
In fact a recent Barna study of millennials who have dropped out of church lists hypocrisy and moral failures of leaders as two of their top three reasons for leaving.
As appropriate when helping our kids, we express our own adult feelings of sadness and shock. And then we look through the lens of scripture to see what we can all learn from others' tragic mistakes.
In addition to helping our children, sometimes pastors, youth workers, and Christian leaders need to help those in their realm of influence process their pain and disappointment.
Sensitive leadership that allows people to express raw emotions will pave the way for mature Christian responses that reflect the nature of God.
7. We must pray for the miracle of restoration. Thank God we serve the One who bestows second chances to all who will humble themselves and ask! He is able to take even our most horrible messes and build a message of His mercy and His grace.
No sin is too great for our God! He delights in restoring broken vessels. So we must respond to others as His heart responds and be the first to intercede with love and patience.
Those who are following us will be watching for our prayerful example. They will also notice how we define the concepts of true repentance and restoration.
Forgiveness should be granted immediately against an offender as an act of both mercy and faith. Restoration of trust and relationship is not the same as forgiveness and may be rebuilt quickly, or over time, …or maybe not at all in some cases.
The reinstating of leadership responsibilities with someone who has fallen into serious sin is even more complicated and would need to involve spiritual counsel, accountability, and godly wisdom.
8. We must stay out of bitterness. Hebrews 12:15 is an absolute promise. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
If we, who have been impacted by a leader's failure begin to allow unforgiveness to reign in our hearts, then we could cause more damage and defilement through our bitterness than the damage done by the leader's moral failure! And that is exactly what satan wants.
9. We must be fruit inspectors. In an age when many are rebelling against God and the climate in the world is moving toward lawlessness, some believers will not be able to stand. (See Matthew 24)
When others fall, it is vital that we do not follow them into error ourselves. And it is important we not follow the popular misconception that all "judging" is sin. We, according to John 7:24, are to learn to make right judgments.
Jesus taught us in Matthew 7 that we would know a tree by its fruit. In the same chapter, He said to beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.
Following leaders blindly without keeping these warnings in mind could be dangerous. The New Testament teaches us to qualify leaders. (1 Tim. 3) The fruit of men's lives tell the story!
10.We must be willing to check ourselves. Scripture warns us of the dangers of personal blind spots and pride.
Do I have a humble attitude? … Because Proverbs 16:18 says that pride goes before a fall.
Have I dealt with the plank in my own eye before attempting to help my brother with the speck in his eye? (Matthew 7:3-5)
Am I prepared to be gentle with the one caught in sin? (Galatians 6:1)
I must be willing to ponder my own vulnerability in light of these scriptural gems before I get carried away in finding fault with others!
As we stand together in the body of Christ, we must have the courage to deal with sin in the camp. Compassionately. Boldly. And with a heart to see righteousness proclaimed.
Our Heavenly Father is yearning for both His love and His holiness to be displayed for a dying world to see. We, as His ambassadors, will represent Him well when we maintain our integrity and purity.
Will you join me now in praying for those leaders around us who have fallen into sin? They need our prayers to receive God's grace to be able to arise.
Will you also join me in praying for those who must mop up their messes and continue to lead where they failed? Those family members and fellow leaders need wisdom, patience, and grace like never before. Many of them are not happy in the painful place they must now walk.
And finally, let's pray for those of us who are angry, hurt, confused and wounded in the crossfire, that we may turn to Him who can restore the soul.