Another day, another fallen leader, or so it seems. It feels like we’re constantly shocked by great and godly leaders who have imploded. Our hearts grieve as we hear of affairs, moral indiscretions, and significant lapses in integrity in coaches, politicians, marketplace leaders, and even pastors. Ministry leaders seem to garner the most public scrutiny as people rightly expect them to walk in holiness, be above reproach, and put into practice the sermons they deliver.
While it feels like an epidemic, we aren’t the only ones who have seen great leaders fall. While we think, I can’t believe this happened to him, imagine the surprise of those who knew of King David’s fall. He was known as “a man after God’s own heart,” he penned psalms, he conquered enemies, he united God’s people, and he received a promise from God that his throne would last forever.
Before he lived in the palace, he hid from the former king in caves and woke up the dawn with singing, rejoicing that God was his refuge (Ps. 57). Before he was king, he declared that “those who look to Him are radiant with joy” and encouraged others to “turn from evil and do what is good” (Ps. 34).
But not one night on the palace roof.
On that fateful night David didn’t find his refuge in the Lord, but in the arms of a married woman. On that night he didn’t look to the Lord and turn away from evil, but looked to evil and turned away from the Lord. If only he had listened to his own sermons, to his own psalms. If only a myriad of leaders had listened to theirs.
A building that implodes looks tall and mighty from the outside while explosives are being strategically placed within to bring it down at just the right time. In the same way, there are explosive lies that take ministry leaders down from the inside. On the outside things look normal and good, even vibrant and thriving, but the explosives are there. It’s quite possible to grow a ministry while your heart for God grows cold.
Over the last several years I’ve thought a lot about fallen ministry leaders. I’ve seen godly leaders I love and respect implode, and I’ve observed explosive lies beneath the surface bring devastating fallout to friends, family, ministries, and a watching world.
These lies also brought about David’s fall, and their effect is just as destructive if we believe them today. Here are three of those lies.
Lie 1: “It’s lonely to be a leader, and that’s okay.”
The story of David’s fall begins with him in isolation after he sent Joab and his officers away to fight. Joab would later confront David over the census, but Joab was not there the night David strolled the palace roof. David had sent away the men who could have held him accountable. The people in the palace were impressed with him and unwilling to tell him the truth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right that “sin demands to have a man by himself.”
The cliché that it’s lonely to be a leader can easily pull a leader from community and into isolation.
The pain of life and ministry can tempt us to surround ourselves with people who validate our thinking, who are impressed with us, and who will get us anything we ask for. Ministry leaders can often preach on community and build structures for community while living in isolation. And this is not okay.
Leaders must risk community, because isolation is riskier. When David imploded, he did so in isolation. When he repented, he did so in community.
Lie # 2: “Boredom is just a phase.”
I can’t keep track of the times ministry leaders have confessed they “aren’t challenged” or are “in a boring season.” I used to shrug off the confession, but now I see boredom as an alarming signal.
David was restless and bored on the roof. David, who earlier saw God as his refuge and his cup of blessing, was no longer satisfied in God as he rose from his bed and looked for something else to satisfy him.
Boredom isn’t just a phase; it’s a departure from looking to the One who never bores. And when our hearts lose awe and wonder for Him, we wander from Him to things that will destroy us.
Lie # 3: “Because I’m the leader, I deserve these things.”
David learned that Bathsheba was married to one of his own men who was fighting for him on the battlefield. He sent for her anyway, essentially saying, “I am the king, and I get anything I want.” David surely felt entitled because of his victories, approval ratings, and accomplishments. He felt he was owed this. When Nathan confronted David, he pointed out David’s ingratitude for all the Lord had given him.
Whenever a leader feels that he or she is owed something, the leader has forgotten that we only have what we’ve received, only by His grace (1 Cor. 4:7). As entitlement increases, gratitude for grace always decreases. And as gratitude for grace decreases, the likelihood of falling is exponentially greater.
Isolation, boredom, and pride are not sins to tame, but sins that must be slain. They are destroying others. They can destroy us, too.