Recently those of us who are involved in the church world were saddened to learn of the failures of some of our well known and celebrated leaders. Some of the news was disappointing and some of the news was shocking.
These public leaders experience very public failure and then very public ridicule. When the news breaks the Social Media Sanhedrin convenes a swift tribunal and brings strong condemnation on them, their church, and any church that has similarity to them. Entire churches, ministries, and movements are discredited by the finger shaking Twitter tribunal.
It’s sad to hear for sure. You sometimes grieve for the local church that is affected, the family of the fallen always comes to my mind, and of course the person who fell. The disappointment and hurt is almost unimaginable in some instances. With all the pain that is caused many times healing and restoration isn’t a first thought or maybe even a thought at all. Today, when a leader falls it unfortunately seems we resort to the best public relations methods instead of the biblical prescription of healing and restoration.
On one hand I understand the shock. It’s not that we don’t understand leaders can fall, it’s just often not the ones we expected. We tend to put leaders on a pedestal. Put them on some higher plane than ourselves. As I was pondering the path of one of my heroes that is before our modern day Sanhedrin I had a thought.
Moses was in the wilderness too.
Often we want our leaders to already be in the Promiseland. Already to a place of perfection beyond us. They are already across the finish line and beckoning us forward. The reality is that there is only one leader that we can look to who truly fulfills that job description. His name is Jesus by the way. The head of the church and the one who calls us forward. The rest of our leaders aren’t in the Promiseland they are here with us in our struggles too. Moses would be in the same wilderness he was trying to lead a nation through. They failed, murmured, complained, built idols, and lost faith. Moses kept faithfully leading them on. The only difference between him and the people was God called him, gifted him with leadership, and spoke to him the vision. Otherwise, his tent was next to theirs. His life was filled with family drama and the frustrations of trying to persuade a few million people to trust and believe in God. Ultimately, he would fail God by disobeying his word. God told him to speak to a rock in the wilderness and instead he struck it. The faithful God still provided water for undeserving people, but it was a huge failure. It cost him by never being able to finally put a sandal on the sand of God’s promises.
Moses failed because he was in the wilderness too. David failed. A bathing beauty and the man after God’s own heart was a man after Bathsheba’s own body. Peter failed. Under the pressure of history’s most important moment his character caved like a bounce house when the party’s over. He denied the Lord Jesus. Yet, each of these men are revered from pulpits today for being faithful leaders and champions of the faith. Even those currently crucifying modern day leaders herald them faithful and heroic. Peter is probably glad that there weren’t a dozen IPhone’s on him recording the curses that were coming from his mouth. He would have been a meme all the way through the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Scripture recording it is probably enough. Each of these are major failures that carried real world hurt. But thankfully by God’s great mercy their stories weren’t finished.
How should we respond when we hear of a leaders failure? First, we could avoid public faux devastation. It’s not shocking to understand a person can fail, it’s shocking when someone we’ve looked up to fails. However, if we are familiar with our sin we shouldn’t be overly surprised by the sin of others. If you are overly horrified and dramatically shocked by a failure you may be self righteous and it may have been awhile since you had to fall at the feet of a gracious God and ask for forgiveness. Yes, I’m fully aware that some sins are bigger than others by consequence. Losing your temper with your spouse isn’t the same as cheating on your spouse in consequence. However, if we are prone to fail, and are aware of our own failures, maybe we could avoid the faux devastation when we find out that the leader we loved was in the same wilderness we are.
Second, we should pray for them, their families, and church family. What’s not seen on social media is the storm that’s raging in living rooms, on phone calls, and church conference rooms. It’s painful, brutal, and exhausting. Lifelong friends can become a foe overnight, families can be splintered, and there is an enemy that loves every minute of the ugly sight. Those of us who aren’t in it should say a prayer for grace and strength for those that are.
Third, we should follow the Biblical commandment of restoration. Restoration isn’t overlooking a person’s fall. It’s a pathway of healing back to effectiveness and ministry after the fall. It first begins with healing the individual, the family, other relationships, and lastly serving God in some capacity. To be sure there have been churches that mistook restoration for just trying to cover up a situation. This just isn’t acceptable. Restoration is messier and a longer road, but the end is health and healing. Covering up a fall only leads to perpetuating sin and the pain it causes. We need to remember God didn’t call churches to be good at public relations, but restoration. Nothing against trying to navigate the situation to the public world, but the mission should never be confused.
Lastly, let’s remember that our ultimate leader is beckoning us forward. Jesus is the head of the church. It hurts when an individual member of the body causes pain, but the church isn’t in trouble. Let’s remember that one leader falling isn’t an indictment on every other leader. Let’s remember the way we should treat others is the way we would like to be treated. I never want to fall and cause that kind of pain. But God help me if I do, to fall into the gentle hands of grace.
How in the world could he have struck that rock twice?! Because Moses was in the wilderness too.