When a Leader Falls, Keep Your Eyes On Christ: Stephanie Roberts
This has been a painful, yet vital time in the life of the SBC as we have experienced many leaders falling morally and some theologically in recent days. With that in mind I want to explore for a moment how a leader’s failure can affect us spiritually.
When a leader falls it effects a broad audience; from those closest to them to those in their circle that are unbelievers who mark the failure up as another reason not to believe. We could talk about many areas that a leader’s failure affects us but the one I want to focus on is our personal relationship with Christ. There is a sin that happens too often within the church walls that we don't usually recognize; idolizing a human leader. It often times takes failure on their part for us to recognize it as sin.
I have personally gone through a very trying time when someone who was a leader in the church failed morally. My father, who was a pastor and church planter had an affair with a woman in our church. It destroyed the church and negatively impacted a lot of lives. But it wasn't until this happened that I realized my view of God was skewed; I had transferred all of my feelings about my dad, who had been my spiritual leader onto my heavenly Father. And it wrecked me spiritually; to the point I was ready to leave the church and my faith behind.
It was in the midst of the darkness and pain that God showed me a few things about my response to the situation; things that I think are very applicable in the life of an SBC member right now.
It was probably 3-4 months into my parent’s separation before I realized that I had made an idol out of my father; I wasn't just respecting him as my father and loving him as my dad but instead had put him on a pedestal where even though I knew in my head he wasn't perfect, he could do no wrong. I think often times we do this with our spiritual leaders; pastors, teachers, bible study authors, etc. without even realizing it. We put them on pedestals and take their word as gospel. Yes, they should be held to high standards but they are still human. We need to recognize that they are not 'special' just because of their ministry and position. When we put anyone in a place where we are idolizing them; when they disappoint us (and they will), it scars us spiritually. We equate them with God. I know I did that with my dad. My belief in God was so tied up in who my dad was to me that when he left, I began to believe maybe God would leave me too. We skew the truth of scripture; the truth of who God is, with a human being's actions.
Another thing I realized almost a full year after my parents separation was that my faith was not my own. I was a believer but I had a very shallow faith. The minute God didn't answer my prayers about my parents’ marriage the way I wanted Him to, I was ready to leave my faith in the dust. I knew the truth but I didn't care. I was angry at God so I was done with God. But God met me where I was and brought me to a crossroads in my faith. He put the choice before me; step out in true faith for probably the first time in my life, or turn my back on everything I knew to be true. In that moment I couldn't turn my back and I chose to step out in faith.
No matter what a person in your life does; this does not reflect on God's character. This was one of the hardest things I had to learn. To separate how I looked at my dad from how I viewed God. It started first with recognizing I had put my dad in God's place in my life. Even once I repented of that and moved past it; I still had and have sometimes trouble with reminding myself of God's character and faithfulness. But He is faithful. In the midst of it all, He was there. But God. Always. No exceptions. It didn't mean things were easy or that my life was suddenly perfect. Instead of looking at all the ways people had failed me, I started looking at all the ways God had been faithful. And it was a long, long list. Lamentations 3:21-23 "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." God reminded me over and over how true this was.
Always, always test everything by God's Word. Cling to His promises. No matter what another person tells you about Scripture or faith or Christianity; always hold it up against God's Word to see if it measures up. Even the greatest of teachers can get it wrong. And many have fallen into a trap of heresy by following man's words instead of The Word. Psalm 119: 105 tells us that "Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path." John 17:17 says, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth." We must test everything by the truth of His word. It will keep us steadfast both theologically and morally.
This is a time for much prayer, repentance, and accountability in the SBC and maybe in your personal life and relationships. Hebrews 12:1-2 encourages us to lay aside our sins and look to Christ to finish the race well. Don't let man skew your view of God or throw you into the path of despair and broken faith. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ. He will never forsake, abuse, or mislead you.
Stephanie Roberts is a gift records specialist at Davidson College. She is the women's ministry director at Denver Baptist Church and is working on her master of arts at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She loves to read, write, and teach.