When a Christian leader you’d looked up to and learned from screws up royally (and unfortunately it’s not a matter of if but when you’ll experience this), I know what you’ll want to do. You’ll want to block them on Facebook and delete their pictures on your Instagram account and burn their books and reject every truth they ever taught you but apparently didn’t live themselves.
A flood of emotions will bombard you from all sides—anger, disbelief, revulsion, guilt for not having seen through their hypocrisy. Your stomach will hurt, your head will ache, you’ll feel like throwing up. You won’t be able to understand how they could’ve preached against the very thing they were doing in secret.
When that happens, go ahead and weep. Let it tear you up. God’s glory is at stake. Pour out all your emotions to God like David does in the Psalms. In fact, that might be a great book of the Bible to camp out in for a while!
Always remember that anything good you see in a Christian leader—if it truly is good—is only a result of Jesus Christ making His home in them.
While your emotions are churning, though, it’s important to remember that your emotions are tied to your thoughts and beliefs. When a Christian leader you looked up to screws up royally, here are six truths to remember that will help tame your wild emotions:
- Only God is good. Jesus said it Himself in Mark 10:18: "No one is good except God alone." Boy, we forget this all the time, don’t we? We set men and women up on pedestals and follow them rather than following the God to whom they’re pointing. Always remember that anything good you see in a Christian leader—if it truly is good—is only a result of Jesus Christ making His home in them.
- Truth is still truth, whether they lived it or not. Romans 1:18 doesn’t say man’s unrighteousness disproves the truth—He says it suppresses the truth. This is why God’s wrath is revealed from heaven, because He takes the truth very seriously! Truth is still truth—even if it’s hard to distinguish it through the lie of their life.
It’s also entirely possible that they twisted the truth. Open your Bible, and search out truth for yourself. Don’t just do this when a leader fails but anytime a leader teaches or writes or preaches (Acts 17:11).
- "But for the grace of God, there go I.” Be careful if you think you’re above ever stooping to that level. We’re warned in 1 Corinthians 10, "Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man" (vv. 12–13). You will probably be tempted in a similar way someday. When that happens, God promises He’ll provide a way of escape (v. 13)—it’ll be up to you to take it. When that happens, run far, far away as fast as your little legs will take you. Don’t linger and dream about what it might be like to toy with sin just a little.
- God still loves them. Their sin hasn’t "chilled" God’s love for them. Remember, He died for them while they were still His enemies (Rom. 5:10)! The fact that their sin was discovered by others is actually God’s mercy. Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. If they don’t repent and trust in Christ’s righteousness on their behalf, you can be sure they’ll experience God’s wrath in the future (Rom. 2:5). But for now, He waits patiently, kindly, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
- Repentance is a process. If you’re like me, you’ll expect that leader to repent immediately. To confess their sin and bring it out into the light and turn from it back to the Lord. That’s certainly God’s desire, too! But this won’t always happen right away.
When King David (a man who genuinely loved God) had sex with another man’s wife and then had that man murdered in order to cover up his sin, it was at least nine months before he acknowledged, "I have sinned against the LORD" (2 Sam. 12:13). Pray that God would give the leader you looked up to godly sorrow leading to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10).
- Not everyone who claims to be a Christ-follower actually is one. First John 2:19 tells us that only the person who finishes well was actually ever saved: "If they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." Not that believers never stumble (remember King David!). But if they really are Christ-followers, you will see them repent and return to their original faith in Christ’s righteousness on their behalf.
If you’ve ever had a "Christian" leader fail big time, what other truths have you clung to? If it hasn’t happened to you yet, is there someone you need to take off your pedestal? Remember, no one but God is ultimately good.
And don’t forget to pray for your leaders. A great prayer is found at the end of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13: "Lead [them] not into temptation, but deliver [them] from evil." Which leader can you commit to praying for regularly?