Sunday, November 17, 2013

When Christian Leaders Fall

A few weeks ago, a Christian leader that I had a lot of respect for confessed to an emotional affair with another woman. It came as such a shock, because he was the last person I would have expected to do something like this. At first, I was very angry. I thought, "How could he do that? Doesn't he know how important his ministry is? Doesn't he know how many people look to him for spiritual guidance? How could he do that to his wife and children?" Though I have no relation to this man, his sin hurt me. Yet my anger was soon replaced with sorrow as I thought about the pain he and his family must be experiencing. He has broken trust with the people closest to him, and though they may offer him forgiveness, it's possible they may never have the same level of faith in him that they did before his betrayal. His wife may always wonder, in some quiet and remote part of her mind, if her husband can be trusted. Many people fail to count the cost when they make their decisions, and there is no escaping the consequences of our actions in the end.

It is not uncommon these days to see a news story about a religious leader falling into sin. We turn on the television or browse the internet and see the media exposing pedophile priests, pastors caught up in extramarital affairs, or church staff members stealing from the offering plate. Almost as soon as these stories air, the ugliness starts. Christian and non-Christian alike jump at the opportunity to tear the person down. As I spent some time online this week, I somehow stumbled upon a woman's Twitter feed, and she was discussing the same person that I had respected for so many years. She claimed to be a Christian, yet every post I read was dripping with cynicism and hate. In fact, every one of her posts was tearing down one Christian leader or another. This woman showed no mercy, and it seemed like she fed off the scandals of other Christians. More than that, every person who commented on her posts displayed the same kind of poison in what they wrote. Not a single person that I saw had anything loving or gracious to say.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is not how it should be. I understand how it makes you feel when people in authority - people that may inspire you or give you hope - make the wrong choice.  It can be devastating, and the natural response is to spew venom while we sit behind our Bibles and lick our wounds. But as we should know by now, the natural response is not always the right response.

Often, we Christians will respond to these situations on one end of two extremes. We either act like everything is fine, quoting Scripture about the love of God and forgiveness of Christ and failing to offer loving, biblical reproof, or we storm through the streets, throwing stones and shouting "Crucify them!" while forgetting that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). If neither of these responses are correct, how should we respond when Christian leaders fall?

Step 1: Remember that you are a sinner just like they are. Many times, we get so focused on the sins of others, that we forget we have sinned and fallen short of God's glory as well. None of us are without sin, and ultimately God hates all sin. Regardless of whether it's "big" or "small" in our eyes, it's all wicked in His.
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." -Romans 3:23

Step 2: Make sure you are not guilty of the same sin. I think we tend to jump the gun when it comes to the sins of others, and many times fail to examine our own hearts. Or if we do examine them, we don't look closely enough. Sometimes the same sin can manifest itself in different ways, so it's very easy to disapprove of someone's sin while committing that very sin at the same time. A good thing to do is to ask people around you if they see evidence of a sin in your life, and give them permission to answer honestly. Those closest to us can often see sin in our lives that we cannot see. If you discover that you struggle with the same sin, repent and spend time talking to God about it.
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." -Matthew 7:3-5

Step 3: Adjust your attitude. When the leader I respected fell into sin, my first response was to be angry. Anger is a breeding ground for sin, and if I hadn't looked at the situation from a different perspective, I easily could have said ugly things about that person. At that point, I would have been guilty of sin myself. The turning point for me was when I put myself in the other person's shoes. I thought about what their life must be like right now, and what they and their family members must be thinking and feeling. When we picture what it would be like for us to go through that experience, it can be humbling, and it makes us more aware of our need for discerning words and actions.
"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." -James 1:19-20
"Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep." -Romans 12:15 

Step 4: Focus on the facts. When I was reading the angry woman's Twitter feed, I saw many instances where she and her commenters said, "I'll bet they ______________." It would be like me talking about the Christian leader I looked up to and saying something like, "I'll bet he was caught cheating, and that he would have continued to cheat if he hadn't been found out." That statement is not grounded in truth. It's speculation, and that leads to gossip and slander. Make sure you know the truth, and that you only speak the truth if the situation is discussed. Don't spend lots of time talking about it with a bunch of other people either, because the person you tell may tell someone else, and get their facts wrong. That's gossip, and God's Word says that it is not fitting for Christians to engage in that kind of behavior.
"Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind." -1 Peter 2:1
"Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down." -Proverbs 26:20

Step 5: Watch your words and actions carefully. The Christian leader that falls into sin is an ambassador of Christ, but we are too. How we act and what we say about another person (regardless of what kind of lifestyle they are living) paints a picture of Christ to a lost world. We may be the only picture of the Lord that some people ever see, so it's crucial that we display the love of Christ. This doesn't mean that we shrug off the wrong choices of other Christians or say things like, "Oh, it's no big deal. God will forgive them." He will, of course, but we should avoid making light of behavior that is serious to our Creator.
 "No rotten talk should come from your mouth, but only what is good for the building up of someone in need, in order to give grace to those who hear." -Ephesians 4:29
"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone's eyes." -Romans 12:17
"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ's behalf, 'Be reconciled to God.'" -2 Corinthians 5:20

Step 6: Pray for them. Sin can have really heavy consequences, and fellow Christ-followers need our prayers. Pray that God will open their eyes to sin, and that they will respond to biblical reproof - whether it's from you or someone else. Pray that Satan's strongholds would be destroyed in their life. Pray that God would draw them closer to Himself. Pray that the Lord would comfort the people they have hurt as a result of their wrong choices. Pray without ceasing, because prayer is the most effective and powerful weapon we have to use against our enemies.
"Pray constantly." -1 Thessalonians 5:17 
 "With every prayer and request, pray at all times in the Spirit, and stay alert in this, with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints." -Ephesians 6:18
"Be sober! Be on the alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour." -1 Peter 5:8

Let's not allow the sin of other Christians to cause us to sin, too. If we take these steps to remain unified in Christ and encourage our fellow believers, it will do far more good than we can imagine.

What Do You Think?
  • Have you ever looked up to another Christian that ended up falling into sin later on in their life? How did that make you feel? How did you respond?
  • How important is our response to the sins of other Christians?
  • Are there other ways we should respond in these situations? If so, what are they, and why is that response necessary?