Sometimes it seems like every time we turn around, there’s another church leader admitting moral failure. On the one hand, this shouldn’t surprise us. We’re each fallen human beings, one rebellious step away from making a decision like the Prodigal Son—to do it our way instead of God’s.
At the same time, it can feel disappointing when we’ve admired someone, looked up to them, or put our trust in them and they choose to break that trust.
If you’ve never had this experience, count yourself blessed, but also know this: someone you trust will, at some point, sin in a way that hurts their witness, breaks their trust with you, and makes you question their leadership.
So how should we respond when this happens?
First, I have to say there are a few ways we should absolutely not respond. I won’t cover those here, but Rob Hoskins wrote a great post about it, which I recommend you read. In this post I want to focus on positive ways to respond.
1. Faith in human leaders is misplaced faith
We often place our trust in strong leaders, and in many ways, there’s nothing wrong with this. They’re out in front of us, leading the way, and we pay attention to what they say, as well as what they do, to help us understand how we should live.
Let me reiterate: there’s nothing wrong with this. But ultimately, our trust should be in Jesus. When we find ourselves feeling angry with a leader who falls, or bitter, or losing our faith in God altogether, we have to ask ourselves, “Was I really trusting Jesus to lead me and guide me, or was I trusting this leader?”
Earthly leaders will fail without fail. Some will fail in bigger or more public ways than others, but they will each fail, nonetheless. When they do, it’s a good time for us to reevaluate where we’ve truly put our faith.
Jesus will never fail, never change, never give up, and never disappoint.
2. Jesus is restorative, redemptive and reparative
Sometimes circumstances are so bad it feels like all is lost. In other words, it seems like this leader’s mistake has destroyed all the good, all the community, all the witness and all the benefit his or her leadership built up. But remind yourself that God is in the business of using even our worst mistakes to his advantage.
Ask yourself how you can participate with God in bring restoration, redemption, and reparations to this circumstance. What can you do? Where can you serve? What can you say that will bring grace and peace and truth?
How can you join God in taking what the enemy meant for evil, and using it for good?
3. There’s a difference between honesty and gossip
Of course, there will be feelings of anger, frustration, bitterness, betrayal and disappointment. Don’t ignore these feelings or push them aside, but use discernment about where and how to process them. Finding a safe, neutral place to process these feelings will help you avoid gossip.
While you process these feelings in private, in public, focus in appropriate ways on the positive. This doesn’t mean ignoring sin, or lying about feelings.
This takes strong discernment to decipher the difference between “public” and “private” (Where is it appropriate to share, what?). Be in constant prayer, and community, asking God and others to demonstrate what words to use.
When in doubt, focus on what it says in Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Justin Lathrop serves as Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for Southeastern University, and is the author of The Likeable Christian.