In the 1980s, the world witnessed the public humiliation of several respected televangelists. As a young man, it troubled and embarrassed me because they were the sum total of what my non-Christian friends knew about Christianity.
Dispirited, I asked my grandfather, “How come so many people were saved through their ministry, even though they were privately wallowing in secret sin?”
I still remember Grandpa’s reply: “Because the Word of God never returns void. It wasn’t those men changing lives, it was God’s Word.”
A leader’s influence—and the impact of his or her failings—ripples to individuals and families, pastors and leaders, churches and organizations. The greater the influence, the wider the ripple.
Individuals and families
When a leader’s sin is exposed, it’s natural to question the value of our personal growth that happened under his or her watch. My teenage son experienced that when a pastor he looked up to confessed to an affair. As parents, we must listen and be helpfully available as our children struggle to re-build their beliefs. We need confidence in the ultimate mentor—the Spirit of God.
Being convinced it is God’s power that brings about lasting change, as experienced through Jesus and the Spirit, makes it easier to give space for our children, and ourselves, to wrestle with what is true. The good news: beliefs re-examined are often stronger because of the wrestling, because the foundation is no longer a mere leader, but Jesus.
A caution: do we knowingly or unknowingly exalt Christian personalities? Teaching children to have healthy respect for the pastor is one thing. Propagating a personality cult in the search for spiritual food is quite another. It’s a problem as old as the church.
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarrelling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul”, or “I follow Apollos”, or “I follow Cephas”, or “I follow Christ”. Is Christ divided? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13)
Rather than disciples fiercely following Jesus, we become no better than crazed fans who idolize sports, music, or political heroes.
As Joe Thorn reminds us in his little book, Note to Self, neither the church nor family needs any more fanboys or fangirls.
Point the way clearly
Thorn says we should point others to those who follow Christ well, but only to encourage them to see Christ more clearly.
“Link with like-minded men and women who are serious about God, gospel, and mission, but fight the temptation to let the group be your passion rather than its reason for existence.”
Looking past others to the rock-solid reliability of Jesus shows our children that Christ is the greatest treasure, the soul’s most reliable and steadfast anchor.
Read Part Two: When Faith Giants Fall
Bill McCaskell is the national director for One Hope Canada.