Every fall hurts. A fall may have temporary, permanent and, sometimes, fatal consequences. And, in case of a moral fall, the repercussions may not necessarily be limited to the individual concerned, but also affect—directly or indirectly—teams, groups or larger social entities. When the mighty fall or prominent leaders fail, the pain ripples through not only their immediate family and circle of friends but also society at large, depending on the height from which they fall.
In a culture dominated by ‘honour’ and ‘shame’, the fear of losing face, social standing, career opportunities and future prospects, etc., deepens the complexity between moral failure and the way out of it.
However, bearing the brunt of disgraceful leaders is not a novel phenomenon that demands ‘panic-management gear’—something we experienced at the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic! Genesis 3 has repeated warnings of leaders’ ‘moral failure’ having no less than ‘cosmic’ perils.
The year 2020 too had damaging stories of ‘celebrity’ leaders falling from grace, as if to supply the missing piece of an incomplete puzzle—the identity of the ‘you’ in Isaiah 52:5: “God’s name is blasphemed among the nations because of you”.
But why does this fall happen time and again? The warning signs had been in place since ages: ‘Caution—accident-prone area! Follow lane discipline’! Proverbs 6:16–19 is one among the many versions of such cautionary messages: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers”. If this doesn’t say it all, what else would constitute the draft of ‘failed leaders’?
Another announcement to ‘fasten your seat belts’ appears in Proverbs 4:23–27: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; keep your foot from evil”.
Jesus embodied such wisdom of the sages in person. He demonstrated the way of the wise as “seeking the Kingdom of God and its righteousness”. Christian leadership is a call to follow the greatest leader—Jesus Christ. A commitment to learn from him how to embody virtue in a world of compromises, while living in bodies and minds that are vulnerable to temptations. It is the total abandonment of the frail self to the grace of God that is perfected in weakness. Leaders emerge out of the ordinary when they take ‘calculated risks’ and navigate through rough waters where even angels fear to tread.
But leadership can be patterned after Jesus only with ‘disciplined creativity’. It cannot waver from the fear of God. It is a cadre of commitment to Christ and the unshakeable ethics of the Kingdom of God.
Unfortunately, not all stories of success told and retold in Christian circles establish this legacy—of unconditional commitment to the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. Euphoria of winning strategies tempts leaders to expand into areas they are not designed to navigate. Leaders often make wrong choices; they are ill advised by a coterie whose vision is not directed by ‘the true north’. The clique entices their leader into self-deception by projecting his larger-than-life cut outs. With strategic employment of media and image makers, the leaders’ markets enlarge. Leaders fall in love with their artificial images. Hubris gets a free entry with paid courtiers competing with each other to make their paeans about the leader heard louder and clearer. Success gets measured in revenue accumulation!
The infection or moral corruption, listed in Proverbs 6:16–19, finds an easy entry in the minds of ambitious leaders where it lodges itself in stealth. Above all, it is hubris that intoxicates a ‘driver’ making the road ahead a slippery slope. Mega leaders are often not held accountable to structures which they anyhow manipulate with power and prominence. Even well-structured historic institutions engage in cover-ups that lead to infamy which could have been prevented had their own inbuilt systems of correction been allowed to function in fairness. The condition becomes similar to auto-immune disorders where the body’s inbuilt systems become the agents of death!
James C Collins, in his How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In (2011) charts the predictable stages in the decline of companies that once were mystic stories of greatness. Collins’ research into corporate life cycles traces the steps to the netherworld as: ‘hubris born of success, undisciplined pursuit of more, denial of risk and peril, grasping for salvation, and capitulation to irrelevance or death’. These stages appear to be a commentary on the Proverbs cited above. Collins’ stories of the downfall of corporates rhymes with the prophetic laments on the fall of empires found in Isaiah 14:3–25, Ezekiel 28:1–19 and Revelations 18:1–24. These are stories of Adam redivivus. The only exception and its cycle-breaker is Christ, the image of God (Mt 4:1–10; 26:36–42; Rom 5:12–21). Scripture and our corporate culture teach in concert, those with ears, to hear: “Pride goes before a fall”!
So what do we do? First, it calls for those that are led or attracted by stories of leaders to pray for them. Pray for meekness, to remain within the fear of God and love him ultimately by following Jesus. Pray for an accountability structure; that they will be responsible to a local body of believers. Pray that any attempt to outsmart and outgrow others will be kept in check by the larger body of Christ. This is prayer for the bodily function of all ministers and ministries as envisaged in Ephesians 4:1–16.
Second, we need to train leaders to be bearers of the virtues of the kingdom. We need to make everyone hear clearly the scripture’s call for checks and balances as found in 1 Sam 8:11–18, Dt 17:14–20, Mk 8:34–38; 10:41–44; Jn 13:1–17 among others. Christian leadership becomes authentic when it follows the way of the Lord. If not, it becomes Satanic (Mk 8:33).
The vestiges of tragic accidents—fall of prominent Christian leaders—that we see scattered along our highways should call our attention to the words of Apostle Paul: “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor 10:12). So, ‘let us examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith: test ourselves…to realise that Christ Jesus lives in us…” (adapted from 2 Cor 13:5).