What Should Believers Do When Leaders Fall?

What Should Believers Do When Leaders Fall? June 17, 2024

This picture captures the shame and disappointment Christians fell when leaders fall as a man sits on train tracks in a black hoodie with his head down.
This picture captures the shame and disappointment Christians feel when leaders fall. A man sits on some train tracks in a black hoodie, pants, and shoes with his head down. Wicliff Thadeu took this picture on August 16, 2019. I downloaded this picture from Unsplash.com on June 16, 2024.

What should believers do when leaders fall? The recent news concerning Pastor Tony Evans’s decision to leave ministry due to unaddressed sin inspires this question.

Rather, its reactions and comments from Christians that prove how we handle a leader’s transgressions is a topic worth discussing.

What Do I Mean By the Term Fall?

Genesis 3

Providing an adequate definition of the term is appropriate before revealing what Christians should do when leaders fall.

In a biblical context, fall refers to the disruption of the relationship between God and a person (or people) when humans sin. We see this in Genesis 3:6 as Adam and Eve disobey God by eating fruit from a forbidden tree. 

Consequently, they are evicted from the Garden of Eden and lose the joy of dwelling in God’s presence (Genesis 3:23-24). They also experience a newfound harshness with labor, both in work and giving birth to a child.

This agony along with the magnitude of sin, chaos, and sickness are what make life as we know it today seem unbearable. 

Modern Usage 

In present times, a fall suggests a spiritual leader coming short of the standard they set for others by not practicing what they preach. This label is typically reserved for those who commit an egregious sin or live a habitual lifestyle of sin. 

But to God, humans come short of his glorious standard of holiness every time we sin (Romans 3:23). This is why the disciples urge us to repent quickly and confess our sins to others so we can be forgiven (1 John 1:9).

If repentance does not occur in private, we leave ourselves at risk of getting our sins exposed publicly. 

My Experiences with “Fallen” Leaders

The Year 2003

I witnessed the sins of my former pastor coming to light in 2003 at the age of eleven. As a child, the news was both shocking and devastating. 

The worst part was seeing how much dissension his choices caused among the congregation. He was voted out as pastor in December of 2003.

That same year, the sins of my elementary school principal were also brought to light. Since I attended a public school, I am unsure of her religious affiliation. 

However, I do know she must’ve had some belief in God as she was comfortable with several teachers playing Gospel music in their classrooms.

Similarly, 2003 also revealed the humanity of my favorite basketball player (who identified as Catholic). 

This evidence shows no matter the position or prestige a person may have, anyone can succumb to temptation.

Three Lessons I Learned

These examples from my childhood helped me learn three beneficial lessons for all believers. 

First, do not idolize authority figures regardless of their title or economic status. The reason why is that everyone has flaws and they are not God. This means we must wrestle with temptation and the daily decision not to willful sin.  

Second, all believers need an accountability system in their lives that can help them make wise choices. Proverbs 11:14 confirms this when saying a lack of counsel leads to a fall. However, with counsel, there is safety (Proverbs 11:14).

Scripture also supports this by mentioning how listening to wise counsel helps individuals become wiser and successful (Proverbs 13:10;15:22). 

Third, humble yourself and repent when you recognize you struggle with a particular sin or get caught in a transgression. 

Saul loses God’s favor in his life after making excuses for not destroying all the Amalekites and their possessions (1 Samuel 15:9-23). My former pastor also forfeited the opportunity to lead the church after refusing to repent for his conduct. 

This proves that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, English Standard Version).

What to Do When Leaders Fall?

External Action

Along with mentioning how God feels about the humble, scripture provides insight on how to respond when leaders fall.

Externally, there are various steps a church can take when an authority figure sins. However, there are three I believe are crucial to this matter.

First, have another leader they trust call them to repentance. The Prophet Nathan calls David to repentance after he commits adultery with Bathsheba and plots Uriah’s death (2 Samuel 11:2-17). 

Nathan’s call for repentance comes in an indirect manner, that helps David realize the error of his ways (2 Samuel 12:1-13). Some people require a direct approach, but either way, transgressors must be led to confession to experience restoration.

Second, accept their attempt to repent when they realize they are wrong. Judas tries to return the money to the temple after betraying Jesus but the officials reject his gesture (Matthew 27:3-5). 

While Judas’s conduct is a fulfillment of prophecy, I believe his suicidal death reveals the consequences of rejecting sincere repentance. If the officials offered a loving rebuke, Judas’s testimony could have been a beautiful restoration story instead of a tragedy.    

Restoration is the goal of confronting and urging authority figures to confess their faults. Therefore, encourage fallen leaders to begin afresh in their relationship with the Lord. 

Encourage them to return to the first works they were doing before falling into a backslidden state (Revelation 2:5). First works in Revelation 2:5 refer to what will help believers return to being consistently devoted to their faith.

Internal Examination

For those dealing with the shock of a fallen leader, they must not let the news shake their faith.  Christopher Ash maintains his faith by trusting in God and not princes (Psalm 146:3). 

One way to maintain one’s faith during a scandal is to pray for the fallen leader, the directly affected people, and their congregation. Prayer will help you focus on how God is teaching lessons and working to restore those who are hurting. 

Prayer will also keep you from sinning as gossip will not be a part of your dialogue about the situation. Talking with God also offers a safe way to handle the anger, grief, and other emotions you may feel when a leader falls.               

Interceding for a fallen leader also allows God to reveal or remind you of your transgressions. Being aware of your faults will help you deal with the log in your eye and prevent you from becoming self-righteous.

With no judgment in your perspective, you will be able to see God’s goodness in the worst situations.  

Do you have any words of wisdom on how to handle a fallen leader? I would love to hear your thoughts. Your feedback is greatly appreciated!   

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