Dealing with Disappointment In Christian Leaders
I will never forget one Mother’s Day Sunday, many years ago, when I was a teenager. We drove to our church early, as usual, but the day was different. My dad took time with us in the car to explain that our Senior Pastor, a man I had always looked up to, had cheated on his wife with several women he counseled, and had been fired. This shocking news would be announced to the congregation that morning. It Is difficult to explain such deep disappointment unless you have experienced the fall of a personal hero. Within the next couple of years my youth minister left his wife and eventually left the faith, as well as the worship minister left the church which caused a painful church split. Wound after wound from God’s people. In recent weeks, these old wounds were reopened by the famous Christian author Ravi Zacharias, the founder of RZIM, one of the largest Christian apologetics ministries in the world. In a report released by the ministry he founded, an investigation revealed there was significant evidence that the now deceased Ravi Zacharias hid a longstanding pattern of sexual misconduct, with one woman even accusing him of raping her. I never met Ravi, but after reading many of his books and watching many of his videos, I can say he had a real, substantial influence on me. As a Christian, how do we react when a professed Christian leader morally crashes and burns?
First, we lift our eyes from any human leader to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only one who perfectly lived a life of integrity. Jesus is ultimately the only one who is worthy of complete trust. Most famous leaders in the Scripture had dark episodes and moments of deep disobedience in their lives. Abraham used a female servant to father a child. Moses killed a man. Solomon had hundreds of wives and sometimes worshipped idols. Samson was a sexual train wreck. Peter denied Jesus Christ, the man he pledged his very life to follow. The painful disappointment of my teen years taught me to trust Jesus in a way that I trusted no one else.
Second, we need to understand that there are complete frauds and deceivers. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing. While only God makes the decision on whether or not Ravi was saved, or if it was all an elaborate deception, this case could easily be an example of when Jesus mentioned that he will say to certain “believers,” who had done much for the kingdom, “I never knew you.” This is what I think Ravi heard when he stood before Christ at his death. Jesus is gracious but He is also holy and dearly loves every woman that Ravi took advantage of and He will exact justice.
Third, we must be clear that talent and intellect do not guarantee character. Ravi was a remarkable thinker, speaker, debater, and writer. These positive traits were true and admirable. But he was not authentic or trustworthy which is much more important. Character should trump talent in any assessment of those we choose to influence us.
Fourth, it is ok to grieve. When a leader falls acknowledge the disappointment and hurt. Ask the Holy Spirit to fulfill His role as the great comforter. Jesus once said, “blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”
Fifth, pray. Pray for the family of a fallen leader. There is usually a hurting spouse and children who are grieving at a level that those of us in the crowd can barely comprehend. Pray for those who work in the church or organization of the fallen leader, as their jobs may now disappear. They are in for a very stressful and difficult season.
Sixth, repent. The fall of a trusted leader is a painful reminder that each of us has a deep brokenness that could be our downfall. Take some time with your accountability partner to look at any areas in your life that could unravel. At my ordination, my father, who had to clean up much of the mess left by the fallen leaders of my teen years said, “Derek live a holy life. We don’t need another disappointment.” I have never forgotten it. King David committed some terrible sins but when confronted, he repented. This could have been a costly repentance because under the law both adultery and murder were capital crimes. Repentance is the key to surviving moral failure. One woman did step forward before Ravi’s death. He actively slandered her character. The cost of repentance for Ravi would have been high, but it could have made a massive difference in his legacy.
Celebrate and thank those in your life who have modeled faithfulness. My parents are steady and true. I have so many in my home church who were my youth sponsors, Sunday School teachers, mentors and friends who have lived well. THANK THEM.
I hope each of us will recommit ourselves and someday hear from the Lord, “well done good and faithful servant”(Matthew 25:23). That is the ultimate goal. “Success” and accolades are encouraging but authentic faithfulness is supreme.
Pastor Derek Dickinson
Journey Christian Church