Leadership is tough stuff. Especially when you’re new to it. Leading when you’re young, has never been easier AND more difficult than it is today.
The resources, opportunities and the need for it are in abundance. However, the complexity of issues, the increasing number of voices telling you what to do, and the temptations young church leaders face have never been stronger.
Being a young church leader myself, I’ve often looked to seasoned leaders (local and distant) for guidance and direction. More than wisdom on what to do, I’ve wanted to find a person worth emulating.
You can probably relate. Wanting to follow a person more than the strategies or ideas they possess. More than what any leader says or does, it’s their character that makes them a person worth following.
That’s what makes it so difficult when we see seasoned leaders fall morally. It becomes personal to us because we chose to trust more than their intellect. We chose to trust their heart.
When Christian leaders fall, the devastation is undeniable. People are hurt. The Church looks bad. And the world is watching. Especially young church leaders.
When those I’ve looked up to fail, the array of emotions come quickly. Disbelief, pain, and also anger.
However, the longer I’ve followed Jesus, the more He’s shown me that His heart is likely more broken than angry, when leaders fall. Scripture tells us that Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). His heart broke when His people chose what they desire more than trust what He says.
As I’ve experienced anger toward the hypocrisy I see, Christ is teaching me that my heart should break for His people more than experience anger towards them.
Anger has the power to change very little. A broken heart, God can do a lot with.
So today, I’m attempting to write this from a place of brokenness and desiring for us all to learn from the tragedy of seeing seasoned leaders fall. As a young leader, I want to be different. I want to learn from the mistakes of those who have come before me and beg God for a different outcome.
The truth is that it could happen to me. My church could be impacted by my moral failure. I could be the next news headline if I don’t spend the necessary time and effort developing my character.
Here are a few things I’m trying to remember as I pray for a different outcome.
1. Who I am becoming matters more than what I can do.
As I’ve witnessed seasoned Christians leaders fail morally, I’ve learned that it’s possible to succeed in ministry while becoming corrupt morally.
It’s completely possible to craft sermons and talks that touch the hearts of others while remaining barren in my own.
That should scare the crap out of us.
The reality that you and I can talk the talk and fail miserably in our walk.
This means that as leaders we must spend more time, energy, resources, focus, effort on becoming the right person… Instead of giving ourselves solely to what we do.
We must learn to give our best efforts to becoming first changed by Jesus before helping others in their pursuit.
We must allow the messages we craft to first become buried in our hearts and fruitful in our lives before teaching it to others.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Francis Chan on the podcast and asked him how he would encourage us to develop our heart. His answer has stuck with me for weeks.
Humility and intimacy with God.
As leaders, pride is cancer. God cannot use a leader who believes it’s about them when it’s all about Him. And intimacy with God is everything because your proximity to Jesus will dictate the formation of your heart. The reality is that,
2. Right motives can never replace wise boundaries.
Ministry involves people and people are messy.
They have baggage, agendas, temptations, deep hurt, ambitions, joys, hopes and dreams. As people struggle, they will often look to church leaders for help.
Unfortunately, church leaders who want to help often use pure motives to validate crossing wise boundaries.
Someone is experiencing a crisis, so you meet with them, maybe disregarding healthy boundaries of setting, time, or person. Someone is unbelievably lonely… so you send an encouraging text here and there to provide some comfort, but quickly things get personal, people get attached, and before long the relationship has crossed a line.
Often church leaders want to help, so they push past or neglect to form wise boundaries in relationships.
As leaders, we must learn that the right motives can never replace wise boundaries because you never know what might happen in the wrong setting, or what could happen in your heart over the course of time. I’ve never known anyone getting married who said, “One day, I’m planning to cheat on my spouse.”
Recently, Vice President Mike Pence said he wouldn’t meet alone with a woman of the opposite sex who wasn’t his wife. The media had a field day with him in the headlines. Calling into question his standards. Saying he’s making women sexual objects and some calling him a prude.
I would say that it’s better to be called a prude than an adulterer. It’s better to have people who don’t understand your boundaries than to have the possibility of a much more unflattering headline in your future.
3. Accountability requires digging.
When a leader fails morally, one of the most common things I hear is… How did no one know what was happening?
I believe there are four big possibilities (likely more)…
- The leader didn’t have anyone holding them accountable.
- The leader wasn’t honest with the person holding them accountable.
- The leader confessed sin but refused to repent from it.
- Both parties didn’t dig deeper into the leader’s heart to see what was happening.
Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”
Many leaders don’t know and maybe even don’t want to know what is going on in their heart. We all carry within us a cesspool of impure motives that, left unchecked and unsearched, will eventually rise to the surface.
In accountability, I don’t have to be a Pharisee but I do need to be an explorer. God ultimately searches the heart and has the grace to show us what we need to see when we need to see it.
Leaders who have failed morally likely neglected to dig deeper and allow others into this process. Don’t make that mistake. Get accountability and dig deep. We’ve all got stuff to deal with.
If you need help being convinced that accountability is necessary and unsure how to get it, check out this post.
4. The mistakes I make today could impact me 20 years from now.
The mistakes of today might not have any consequences for some time. That’s how sin works.
The Bible tells us that Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Not just your today, but for your lifetime. He plays the long game. Every flirt, every google search, every lie, he builds upon the other. He knows that destruction takes time and he’s willing to invest it.
The mistakes you’ve already made probably aren’t life-altering, career-ending, relationship destroying mistakes, but they probably are mistakes that could impact you 20 years from now because sins left unchecked, left un-repented, build upon each other and become bigger issues later.
Unchecked anger turns into rage.
Unchecked lies turn into manipulation.
Unchecked lust turns into adultery.
Who I am becoming now will impact who I will be years from now.
5. Growing in wisdom is not the same as training my heart.
As a leader, you’ve probably grown in knowing the wise thing to say, but it doesn’t mean you’ve trained your heart to obey.
For most leaders out there, wisdom has become this fountain of gold. One to seek after above all else. However, the pursuit of Godly knowledge is not equal to Godly surrender.
As a leader, I need to pray more than ever that the wisdom of God reaches deeper and deeper into my heart.
Over the years I’ve become less concerned with how far the wisdom God gives me reaches the masses, and more concerned about how deep it becomes buried in my heart.
The world we live in today needs fewer wise tweets to share, but more lives to emulate. I don’t need another comment to like. As a young leader, I need a person worth following.
This demands that leaders grow in their ability to train their hearts to obey Christ. I can’t pretend to know how to do that perfectly. That’s why we started YoungChurchLeaders.org. It’s dedicated to helping leaders make tangible heart development. It’s messy. It complicated. It’s personal. But it’s essential.
6. What Christ knows is more important than what the world believes.
Honestly, when seasoned leaders fall, I don’t know what to believe. I want to hold onto hope and believe the best about everyone involved. Especially as all situations are unique, messy, and usually void of my personal experience with them.
However, whether all, some or none of the allegations are true for these leaders…the reality is, God knows.
If nothing ever came out about leaders failing morally, God would still know. What Christ knows is more important than what the world believes. I’m sure there are many leaders who have done unspeakable things that no one knows about. Yet many probably see them as upstanding and worthy to be followed.
But Jesus knows. The good and bad. The truth or the lies. He knows and He alone is judge. We should learn from the mistakes of others, but we would be remiss to believe we are above the possibility of committing them ourselves.
We all have a list of regrettable decisions we’ve made.
That’s why we need a savior. Not to excuse our actions, but to know that repentance has a savior on the other side. There is hope in the person of Jesus.
In our world today, if you aren’t careful, you can begin to buy into what others say about you. You can convince yourself that what social media, your fans, your congregation, and your friends think is ultimately true. Good or bad.
However, God sees the heart. He judges it. He knows the real us and there is freedom and fear wrapped up in that reality.
This reality demands that we train our hearts to go to Him as our moral compass. Not the world. Not our fans. Not social media. No matter how much they clap for us or put up praise hand emojis… What Jesus knows about your heart trumps all.
7. What I say today could be the headline tomorrow.
Every tweet, Facebook post, picture shared, video uploaded, and probably every talk you’ve given can likely be found.
Which means if you become a hypocrite, the world has a sound bite to attach.
I need to be careful what I say, but more importantly how I live. The truth I speak publically today, void of internal transformation, will likely be used against me later. And rightly so.
This doesn’t mean we should stop speaking God’s word so we can sin without being called a hypocrite. As we’ve already discussed, God knows anyway.
However, if you’ve found yourself in a season of deep sin. One that is masked by false humility and covered up by passionate displays of spirituality, you’d be wise to step down for a season and get your crap together. Repent and learn to be changed by Jesus.
Scripture makes it clear that those who proclaim to be teachers will be held more accountable (James 3:1) by God and for sure by the world.
8. There is no restoration without repentance.
Time cannot heal what only repentance can fix. Your sin, left unconfessed, empty of public remorse, even if no-one knows… cannot get better simply with time.
There can be no restoration without repentance. Trying harder next time doesn’t fix the depravity of your heart, which is the issue.
The wickedness of my heart requires exposure to the light of Christ to have His way. Your sin, my sin, will remain hidden, burdened with constant shame, and regret… until it is exposed to the redeeming work of Christ.
When your sin is confessed and repented of, it might result in momentary shame, but it will end with everlasting grace. That is what Christ offers. Forgiveness for the unforgivable. Total acceptance to the unacceptable. That’s how good He is.
The grace and forgiveness you need is just the other side of repentance.
9. My sin is not worth what it will cost my family and friends.
What I do in private impacts the public life of those I love.
When the leader fails, their families are devasted. Their friends are broken. Their businesses, churches, and organizations are severely affected.
My sin is not worth what it will cost my family and friends. So I need to be proactive. I can’t believe it won’t happen to me. and you can’t believe it won’t happen to you.
So we must get accountability. We must do whatever we can to grow in our intimacy with Jesus.
Only He can change our heart. Our role will be to pursue His.
10. Keep following & praying for my leaders
Sometimes when high profile Christian leaders fail morally, it confuses us regarding following our own. Especially in the world we live in today, it can feel like distant leaders are closer than they really are.
Conferences and social media alone allow distant leaders to invest in us and so it becomes personal when they fall.
However, they are likely not your leaders, so don’t put their consequences on yours. Don’t let what happened to someone else influence how you follow your own leader.
If anything, be thankful that your leader has done his/ her best to be a leader worth following. Yet also realize they are a person in need of prayer. They need more than your service, they need you to go to God on their behalf.
Today I’m thankful more than ever for those who lead me. They walk with integrity, and that is something to be cherished and continuously pursued in prayer.