The Unmaking of A Leader

They begin with noble intentions but, along the way, fame unhinged power and the weakness of flesh take over! Can the church rein in the Bad Boy Preachers?

Bad Boy Billionaires: India, the recent Netflix documentary series,attempts to give a sneak peek into the lives of three high-profile Indian business tycoons and recounts their journey of downfall. This series shows that all three had noble ambitions at the beginning of their careers but soon after tasting success, they started riding on the horse of greed, self-indulgence and global approval, and there was no turning back.

This documentary communicates a stark message: How the mighty fall and their debauchery results in a nightmare for common people.

Many of us have also been shocked and horrified at hearing the recent news of some prominent Christian leaders’ fall from grace—it would not be wrong to call them Bad Boy Preachers. These preachers, too, started well but digressed from their call. Shockingly, more and more such cases are tumbling out of closet in recent months. While you may want to throw your hands up in despair and say it’s unbelievable how minsters of repute and stature commit such blunders, it’s also time to think what steps should we, as a church, take to prevent this rot?

Apostle Paul, who practised rigorous self-control, very well knew that leaders like him were on the forefront of the battle and the downfall of a leader could do irreparable damage to rest of the ministry. He writes, “I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself” (1 Cor 9:26–27).

Successful leaders may find it difficult to submit to another authority or be answerable, but accountability is non-negotiable for a healthy spiritual life.

What should a preacher do?

People are lonelier than ever; their circle of friends is shrinking. And, in case of a leader, the loneliness at the top level is even more frustrating. The crushing ministry burden and expectations of the congregation sometimes distances a preacher from his people. In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons for a Christian leader’s fall. Many a time ministry is a lonely journey and therefore, the preacher must surround himself with a group of people who genuinely care for his spiritual and emotional health. Successful leaders may find it difficult to submit to another authority or be answerable, but accountability is non-negotiable for a healthy spiritual life. As a ministry grows, the accountability of—and prayers for—its leader should also grow.

No leader is safe from the schemes of Satan. Sin is always lurking at the door of our heart—to think that we have overcome its power completely is foolishness. There is rather strength in admitting our weakness. When there is absence of intimacy with God for months in the life of a preacher, public opinion—and not God’s word—gradually becomes the truth for him. The tendency of rationalising sin rather than repenting of it slowly creeps into life when a preacher does not preach to himself.

‘Running busy for God’ has become a badge of pride for us as it makes us feel that we matter, but the fact is that sometimes, in ministry, doing little is far better than doing too much. It cannot be emphasised enough that a senior minister of the church must, in fact, take the lead in showing repentance. Preaching the gospel of repentance to one’s own self is as important as to those we think are lost. Intimacy with God cannot and must not be substituted with anything else—no matter what comfort, meaning or satisfaction it brings to the preacher.  

However, it is not the responsibility of the leader alone to keep a check on self-deterioration. The church (people of God) should take every step to prevent the downfall of a leader. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child; similarly, it takes an entire godly community to keep the preacher true to his calling. Leaders are born, shaped, and nurtured in the context of a community. The preachers who fall from grace are mostly the ones who are too feared and respected; their word never questioned but received as direct revelation of God. Therefore, creating awareness and educating church members is vital to preventing a preacher’s downfall.

One hardly hears from the pulpit sermons on sexual abuse or exploitation. Sadly, the church finds such topics either a taboo or unhelpful in spiritual formation…

What should a church do?

First, there should be frequent preaching on issues of falling from grace, sexual exploitation and repentance in the congregation. One hardly hears from the pulpit sermons on sexual abuse or exploitation. Sadly, the church finds such topics either a taboo or unhelpful in spiritual formation of believers, while others outside the church have become the flagbearers of justice for such issues.  

Second, spiritual growth cannot happen by staying in the crowd. Smaller groups provide space for believers to reflect, share and grow together. People are more at ease to open their hearts and respond to probing questions when they find themselves in a warm and congenial group of people. Reflection and discussion on less-talked-about issues in a home group would provide more seriousness, awareness, and appropriateness to the shared truths. Members would be in a better position to respond to when such cases arise.     

Third, church leadership team (elders and deacons) should make it a point to be accessible to all members. At times, cases of sexual exploitation go unreported because the victim never gathers the courage to talk to the leadership team, which is either too judgmental or inaccessible. It cannot be denied that there is trust deficit in the church—people are judgmental and when personal matters are shared, at times, it becomes a point of gossip in the church. Extra effort should be taken to create an environment where people can share their struggles and challenges. There should be a significant number of female members in a leadership team to make it easier for women to share their fear or problem without any filter.

May this truth be imprinted on our conscience that Bad Boy Preachers are never created overnight—they are always the result of unchecked practices in a preacher’s life, deliberate laxity and reckless complacency of the church for months and years together. Checks and balances are critical to preventing the downfall of tall spiritual leaders. In the absence of these, not just the fallen leader but the entire church will continue to pay the price.

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