Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Leaders Who Fall: And What Can We Do to Prevent Falling Ourselves

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Recently, another high-profile pastor has fallen, causing much harm to the church, the body and bride of Christ. Over the past few years we have heard about a number of pastors falling, and I’m sure that there have been many more that we have not heard about. Some of these falls have been a result of sexual infidelity, such as Tullian Tchividjian, a pastor in the denomination I belong to. But others have tended to be pastors who founded their churches, such as Mark Driscoll, Bill Hybels and more recently James MacDonald. Their falls are a result of what I would call an ego problem. These pastors started their churches which later grew in size and influence. Each man then became what is referred to as a “celebrity pastor”, writing best-selling books and speaking at conferences. It’s not hard to see how someone in that situation could end up with an ego problem. But let’s face it, this problem is not limited to pastors, but can afflict a leader in any sphere.I am not writing to throw stones at these men. All of us are sinners, and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). As Alistair Begg often says (though he was not the first), “The best of men are men at best”. Still, each of these men will have to stand before God for what they have done as a leader of God’s people. The Bible tells us about the importance of a man leading a congregation:
~ Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Acts 20:28
~ Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  James 3:1
Here are two things that I think are needed for a leader to protect them from falling as these men have:

  1. Let’s face it, it’s easy for a leader to have a big ego. After all, they are “in charge”. They are “the boss”. Their followers have to pretty much do as they say. It’s easy for them to have, as my mentor would often call it, “an elevated sense of self-importance”. But Jim Collins, author of the business classic Good to Great, tells us that humility is a key attribute of the best leaders. He writes “Level 5 leadership is a concept developed in the book Good to Great. Level 5 leaders display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They’re incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organization and its purpose, not themselves. While Level 5 leaders can come in many personality packages, they are often self-effacing, quiet, reserved, and even shy.” Does it surprise you to read that the best leaders have humility as a key trait? That is contrary to what I’ve seen as a trend with pastors who fall. For example, MacDonald was recently fired for “Engaging in conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.” The board of overseers at Mars Hill Church said that Mark Driscoll had been “guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner”. Carey Nieuwhof, in his helpful book Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences writes “Nothing kills pride like humility does. Only humility can get you out of what pride got you into.” Having a good dose of humility will guard you from falling as a leader.
  2. Given that leaders have a tendency to have large egos, they need to be held accountable, both personally and organizationally. Personally, they should align themselves with good mentors (not “yes men”), who can both help them to grow as leaders, and also speak truth into their lives. Organizationally, I believe an elder-led church is the best system for maintaining accountability. This will hopefully result in a team of church leaders working together, rather than one powerful pastor dominating. Now this won’t always work, as in the case of Tchividjian, when an elder became aware of the pastor’s first affair, but didn’t report it to the other elders, but I still believe it is the best organizational model for a church.

Unfortunately, because leaders are sinful just like the rest of us, we will continue to be grieved by pastors who fall. I believe leaders who consistently demonstrate humility and set up accountability are giving themselves the best chance of not falling.
What else would you add to a leader’s humility and accountability?

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Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence ~ married to my best friend for more than 38 years and a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Before retiring I served as a manager at a Fortune 50 company; I'm a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary and in leadership at my local church. I enjoy speaking about calling, vocation and work. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop to their fullest potential and to utilize their strengths more fully. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinders themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony and Achiever, and my two StandOut strengths roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book and 2 Corinthians 5:21 my favorite verse. Some of my other favorite books are Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, The Prodigal Son (originally titled A Tale of Two Sons) by John MacArthur and Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I enjoy Christian hip-hop/rap music, with Lecrae, Trip Lee and Andy Mineo being some of favorite artists.

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