On April 10th 2018 American Mega Church Pastor Bill Hybels resigned from Willow Creek Community Church under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations. This was surely not the way he hoped to finish his more than 40 year association with Willow Creek.
Hybels isn’t alone in crashing out of ministry. In recent times former Hillsong Pastor Carl Lentz and the late Ravi Zacharias have been in the headlines for their unholy misdeeds. It’s not just celebrity pastors who are brought down by scandal. It happens to unknown Christian leaders as well. How should we respond when Christian leaders stumble? What do we do with the failures of the faith?
There’s a tendency to treat Christian leaders like they’re infallible and invincible but we set ourselves up for disappointment when we do. It’s easy to allow somebody’s giftedness to blind us to their character flaws. Great preachers and bold evangelists can sometimes struggle with important virtues such as patience, gentleness and humility.
Sometimes leaders let success go to their heads and in so doing expose themselves to danger. The Bible talks about King Uzziah of Judah; who initially was a Godly King. 2 Chronicles 26:16 reads: But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.
Consider David. He held steadfastly to God during his years on the run from King Saul but he falls into temptation when surrounded by the success and the comfort of the palace.
Throw out your pedestals
All Christian leaders are vulnerable to sin and temptation. Any Christian leader no matter how devout is only one decision away from falling. Christians need to throw away their pedestals; Christian leaders should never be up there.
C.S Lewis wrote: “Never, never pin your whole faith on any human being: not if he is the best and wisest in the entire world. There are lots of nice things you can do with sand; but do not try building a house on it.”
When we place famous Christian leaders on pedestals we are building on sand. Jesus is the only leader who will never let us down or disappoint us. Our faith must rest in Jesus alone and not in any of our human leaders.
Be thankful where you can
Inevitably when a Christian leader fails, Christian publishers move fast to remove the fallen leaders’ books from circulation. Books deals get cancelled and previous works often are removed from shelves.
Obviously when a Christian leader fails morally their credibility is tarnished but does this mean I have nothing to learn from them? Is it possible to be thankful for a Pastors words in one area while being grieved by their behaviour in another?
Bill Hybels wrote many books on Christian leadership which helped me enormously to grow as a Christian leader. Likewise, many have been equipped by the apologetical teachings of Ravi Zacharias. I say be thankful for the blessings you received from fallen leaders whist also grieving their sin.
Remove your logs
It’s easy to read about the fall of celebrity pastors and become judgemental. Would we do any better if given their platform and their pressure? How would we have handled the fame and flattery of those around us?
How would we have coped with the scrutiny and the criticism? Perhaps we should thank God we’ve haven’t been given the limelight and the dangers that come with it. Christians should be more offended by our own sin than anyone else’s.
Christians should be so acutely aware of our own flawed nature that when believers hear of a pastor brought down by scandal our reaction should be humility not hatred.
Christians appear to be hypocrites when they teach one thing but secretly live another. Genuine Christianity, however, isn’t hypocritical at all because becoming a Christian is to admit our flawed nature. Christians are broken, failed and sinful and confess that we need a saviour.
The real hero of the Christian faith is Jesus, not celebrity pastors. Christianity is a movement of forgiven failures. God wants Christians to move towards him in our screw ups not hide away in secret shame.
We should pray for Christian leaders who fall, that whilst the devil would use scandal to humiliate, God would use it to redeem. Christians leaders may fall but we should pray that when leaders fall, they fall into the arms of Jesus and experience his mercy and grace like never before.
Travis Barnes lives in central Victoria with his wife and two daughters. He is a contributor for Christian Today and a sportswriter.