Why Do Christian Leaders Fall?

Why Do Christian Leaders Fall?

Hearing stories about Christian leaders who’ve faced a moral breakdown is far too familiar. We often place unreasonable demands on these leaders or expect them to maintain an image of perfection. The reality is that it’s not uncommon for church leaders to wrestle with burdening personal matters or deep spiritual struggles.

A few years ago, a man by the name of Dr. Robert Clinton, studied the lives of 3,500 Christian leaders. He discovered a growing trend of leaders who were unable to finish and finish well. Among his findings, Clinton found that the majority of these leaders:

  • Experienced a plateau in their leadership
  • Felt their passion and effectiveness slowly subsided
  • Dropped out of leadership due to burnout or a moral failing
  • Struggled with their health and individual growth

If Dr. Clinton recalculated his research today, the numbers would be far worse. We’ve seen a rash of Christian leaders disqualify themselves in the last couple of years due to sexual affairs, addiction to alcohol or drugs, mistreatment of employees, abuse of power, and burnout.

Interestingly, this crisis in leadership isn’t a new issue. Mr. Clinton identified 49 leaders in the Bible for whom we have enough data to evaluate their entire lives, and out of all of them, only 13 finished well.

So Why Do Christian Leaders Fall?

Christian leaders are held to a higher standard because Christ-followers should be exceptions, not examples, of moral failings in leadership. The barrage of stories about Christian leaders falling makes you wonder WHY. We could answer, “because we’re all sinful” and leave it at that, but it’s not that simple. Yes, we all do have a sinful side but believers in Christ also have the Holy Spirit.

Some leaders resist the advice and direction of mentors. They avoid being vulnerable and transparent because they’re focused on influencing others. People become impressed with them, so they give them deference. This mindset can make leaders feel like they’ve “arrived.”

Our direction and leadership should primarily come from God. In Romans 8:14, Jesus calls us to follow Him and be guided by the Holy Spirit. However, if a leader stops feeling desperate for God’s leading, they may be traveling down the wrong road.

Leaders can easily succumb to pressures from serving in a leadership role. Success, notoriety, and wealth each have a dark side. Some leaders become narcissistic, believing they deserve something better than others, or that the rules don’t apply to them.

Some leaders lack boundaries and are always accommodating. While that may be commendable, it’s not wise. This often leads to burnout, resentment, and discourages the leader from making his marriage and kids a priority. Even more damaging, it pulls the leader away from making God their top priority.

Leaders can be so focused on ministering to others that they neglect their relationship with God. If anyone overlooks their relationship with God, they’re in danger of becoming a withered branch that ends up thrown away.

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:5-6).

 
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How Can Leaders Avoid Falling?

Some Christian leaders bounce between over-confidence and arrogance when it comes to living out their faith. But our confidence shouldn’t come from ourselves or our ministry. Our confidence should come only from Jesus, who he is, and what he did for us.

Other leaders are tempted to justify their decisions. As a result, their values drift down a slippery slope. Most Christian leaders start out possessing solid and clear ethics. Over time, they rationalize their integrity and the things that were once black and white slowly take on hues of grey. Unfortunately, it’s even worse when the leader believes they are above the scrutiny of peers.

Many things can lure a leader to the edge of a slippery slope. Knowing that this potential exists begs a critical question. How can we stay off a path of destruction and maintain healthy and forward momentum?

The answer is abiding in Jesus and only Jesus.

The Characteristics of a Christian Leader

In his research, Dr. Clinton found specific characteristics that were foundational in Christian leaders who remained faithful to God and finished strong. Let’s take a closer look at some of these foundational characteristics.

Maintain a Vibrant Relationship With God:

The Bible paints the picture of a war that rages within each one of us. “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They conflict with each other so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:16-17)

Our only hope for overcoming our flesh desires is to “walk by the Spirit.” We will fall if we’re left to try living in our own strength. As a result, it’s vital for us to practice and prioritize the spiritual disciplines that connect us to God.

Trust God and Only God:

After the media poured over the fall of yet another major church leader, Beth Moore, a beloved and trusted Christian leader, wrote a great article titled, “My Five Keys to Accountability.”

She confidently asserted that she has no confidence in herself, nor does she trust others. Her approach here is very wise. God tells us in the Bible that our hearts are deceitful. Paul even wrote about how easy it was for him to do what he didn’t want to do. We can’t trust ourselves.

My wife and I set a rule for ourselves after we became engaged. We agreed that we would never be alone. It was awkward and inconvenient. It meant never going into each other’s apartments. It meant complicated plans on how we could spend time together. But we were never alone. Why? Because if you don’t trust yourself, you stay away from tempting situations.

John 2:24-25 sums this up by saying, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”
 
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Maintain Strong and Healthy Relationships:

Jimmy Dodd is the founder of PastorServe, a ministry that seeks to strengthen pastors and help restore them when they’ve been struggling. In his book, SURVIVE OR THRIVE, Dodd walks through three relationships that every pastor needs to thrive. These three relationships are with a counselor, a mentor, and a friend.

Ministry can be very lonely. Most pastors are afraid to be authentic or vulnerable, feeling that they have to maintain a perfect image. Loneliness and keeping secrets tend to lead pastors to dangerous places. That’s why every pastor needs a:

  1. Counselor: A trusted counselor can provide a different perspective. A pastor needs to have someone with whom he can talk about wounds he’s received and receive wise counsel that can lead to healing.
  2. Mentor: Life is complicated and confusing. Ministry is cumbersome and confusing. Sometimes we need someone to turn to and ask questions. We need someone who has been there and done that, and who can help us when we’re there and doing that.
  3. Friend: Of course, we’d all say we have friends, but I’m not talking about someone who asks, “How are you doing?” and you smile at and say, “Fine.”

I’m talking about the kind of friend the Bible repeatedly highlights.

  • “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)
  • Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
  • Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
  • Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Watch For Early Warning Signals

When we hear about a Christian leader who has fallen, we’re always surprised. However, if we knew the person, I think there would be no surprise at all. Each of us is on a path, and that path will lead to an inevitable conclusion.

The question is: Which path do you walk? Are you on a track that will keep you faithful and leads you to finish well? Or, are you on a road that will lead to a fall that will surprise everyone?

Don't Give Up Resources by Kyle Idleman
There are times in life when the giants seem too big and game gets too intense. We want to throw in the towel, preserve ourselves, and hide. But we are called to more! In Don’t Give Up, Pastor Kyle Idleman explores the seasons of life where we feel as if we are hanging by a thread. Through relatable stories and Biblical encouragement, he encourages us to cast our concerns on God, trust in his love and timing, pray for patience and strength, and seek out support in the family of God. Don’t Give Up is available for preorder now!

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