What Can We Learn From Fallen Christian Leaders?

Respond to Fallen Leaders With Love, Grace, and Forgiveness

Fallen Christian Leaders
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When I first heard the news that Ted Haggard, the former senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, had resigned amidst accusations of sexual misconduct and for purchasing illegal drugs, my heart was grieved. I was so upset I didn't dare speak or even write about it.

As the accusations proved to be true, I continued to grieve. I grieved for Ted, his family and his congregation of over 14,000. I grieved for the Body of Christ, and for myself. I knew this scandal would affect the entire Christian community. You see, Ted Haggard was also the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He was well-known and often quoted by the media. Christians everywhere were hard hit with the news. Fragile Christians would be devastated and certainly skeptics would turn away from Christianity.

When a high-profile Christian leader falls or fails, the effects are far-reaching.

For a while I felt anger at Ted for not getting help sooner. I was angry at Satan for devouring another Christian testimony. I felt sadness for the pain this scandal would cause Ted's family and his large sphere of influence. I felt sadness for the gays, prostitutes, and drug abusers focused on by this scandal. I felt embarrassment for the name of Christ and for his church. This would be one more opportunity for mocking Christians, for pointing out the hypocrisy within the church. And then I felt ashamed for judging my brother, for overlooking my own hidden sin, my own failures and short comings.

Something like this can happen to anyone of us if we do not remain vigilant in our walk with Christ.

When anger and shame subsided I felt some comfort, too. For I know when sin is kept hidden in darkness, it flourishes, entangling and blinding as it grows in strength. But once exposed, once confessed and ready to be dealt with, sin loses its grip, and a prisoner goes free.

Psalm 32:3-5
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, "I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD"—
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

I asked God to help me learn from this terrible tragedy in Ted Haggard's life--to keep me from ever experiencing a crushing fall. During my time of contemplation, I was inspired to write this practical reflection of what we as believers can learn from fallen Christian leaders.

Respond to Fallen Leaders With Love, Grace, and Forgiveness

First, we can learn to respond with love, grace, and forgiveness. But how does that look in the practical sense?

1. Pray for Fallen Leaders

We all have hidden sin, we all fall short. We all are capable of failing. Leaders make enticing targets for the devil's schemes because the greater the leader's influence, the greater the fall. The overwhelming consequences of the fall create greater destructive power for the enemy. So our leaders need our prayers.

When a Christian leader falls, pray that God will wholly restore, heal and rebuild the leader, their family and every person affected by the fall. Pray that through the devastation, God's purpose will be completely accomplished, that God will receive greater glory in the end, and that God's people will be strengthened.

2. Extend Forgiveness to Fallen Leaders

A leader's sin is no worse than my own. The blood of Christ covers and cleanses it all.

Romans 3:23
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (NLT)

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (NIV)

3. Guard Yourself Against Judging Fallen Leaders

Be careful not to judge, lest you be judged also.

Matthew 7:1-2
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged... (NIV)

4. Extend Grace to Fallen Leaders

The Bible says that love covers sins and offenses (Proverbs 10:12; Proverbs 17:9; 1 Peter 4:8). Love and grace will encourage you to keep quiet instead of speculating about the circumstances and gossiping about the fallen brother or sister. Imagine yourself in the situation and think about the leader as you would want others considering you in the same position. You will prevent the devil from wreaking further havoc as a result of the sin if you simply keep quiet and cover that person with love and grace.

Proverbs 10:19
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. (NIV)

What Else Can We Learn From Fallen Christian Leaders?

Leaders should not be placed on pedestals.

Leaders should not live on pedestals, either of their own making or built by their followers. Leaders are men and women, too, made of flesh and blood. They are vulnerable in every way you and I are. When you place a leader on a pedestal, you can be sure that someday, somehow they will disappoint you.

Whether leading or following, each of us must come to God in humility and dependence on a daily basis. If we begin to think we are above this, we will drift from God. We will open ourselves up to sin and pride.

Proverbs 16:18
Pride goes before destruction,
and haughtiness before a fall.

So, don't place yourself or your leaders on a pedestal.

Sin that destroys a leader's reputation does not happen overnight.

Sin begins with a thought or an innocent look. When we dwell on the thought or we revisit with a second glance, we invite sin to grow. Little by little we go deeper and deeper until we are so entangled in sin we don't even want to be freed. I have no doubt this is how a leader like Ted Haggard eventually found himself caught in sin.

James 1:14-15
Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. (NLT)

So, don't let sin entice you. Flee from the first sign of temptation.

A leader's sin does not offer a license for you to sin.

Don't let someone else's sin encourage you to continue in your own sin. Let the terrible consequences they are suffering cause you to confess your sin and get help now, before your situation gets any worse. Sin is not something to play around with. If your heart is truly set to follow God, he will do what is necessary to expose your sin.

Numbers 32:23
...be sure your sin will find you out. (NASB)

Having sin exposed is the best thing for a leader.

Although the horrible aftermath of the fallen leader's scandal may seem like the worst possible circumstance with no positive outcome, don't despair. Remember God is still in control. Most likely he is allowing the sin to be exposed so that repentance and restoration can come into the person's life. What seems like a victory for the devil may actually be God's hand of mercy, saving a sinner from further destruction.

Romans 8:28
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (KJV)

In closing, it's important to keep in mind that all of God's chosen leaders in the Bible, the great ones and the not-so-well-known ones, were imperfect men and women. Moses and David committed murder--Moses, before God called him, and David, after God called him into service.

Jacob was a cheater, Solomon and Samson had problems with women. God used prostitutes and thieves and every kind of sinner imaginable to prove that man's fallen condition is not what matters in God's eyes. It is God's greatness--his power to forgive and restore--that should make us bow down in worship and wonder. We should always be in awe of his importance and his desire to use someone like you, someone like me. In spite of our fallen condition, God sees us as valuable--each and every one of us.