Mike Johnston (PLM) / 14 SEP 2014 – Seems like every few months we hear a story about yet another spiritual leader caught in sexual sin. We aren’t even shocked by it anymore, whether it’s a national figure or your local pastor.
While it’s tempting to view this phenomenon as peculiar to the modern American church, we see examples throughout church history of anointed leaders falling prey to a wide variety of temptations—including sexual sin.
While every believer faces temptation, it is worth noting that those who accept the responsibility of leadership become prime targets of our common enemy. One writer put it this way, “If Satan can foil the leaders, the bands are soon overcome; smite the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; cast down cedars, and they will crush many shrubs with their fall.”*
Much has been written in the last 15 years or so trying to explain why leaders fall and suggesting things they can do to avoid it. On the positive side, that which has focused on the importance of personal devotional times, prayer, separation from the world, service to others and the like, while no guarantee, is certainly critical in helping a faithful leader to stay on track.
Unfortunately, a lot of what has been written seems rather superficial; focusing more often than not on how much leaders are overworked or under-appreciated and defining the resulting problem as “burnout.” Don’t get me wrong, leadership can be wearisome—a fact only fully understood by those who carry the weight of it. Perplexing difficulties, disappointments, discouragement and loneliness are par for the course. But let me suggest that if you want to see what real “burnout” looks like, spend a few days reading the life of Paul (or Jesus for that matter) or reading through Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Having done so, most of us with our comparatively pampered, self-indulgent lives will have to confess our embarrassment for ever bringing the issue up.
The solutions also seem lacking; as if a weekend pastors’ retreat, a week in Hawaii, another round of golf or one more pastor appreciation day will take care of the problem. In truth, these cater primarily to the flesh and provide no real help for a leader in the fight against temptation. They can even make the situation worse!
Jesus, on the other hand, gets right to the point, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” (Matthew 15:19) The problem is the heart. The reason leaders fall is because something isn’t right in their heart and, unless those issues are dealt with, everything else will have limited effect.
At least one out of every four men entering the Pure Life Ministries Live-In Program comes to us from full-time ministry, including this writer. I entered the Program in 2003 following the collapse of my own 14-year national ministry. Our backgrounds and specific circumstances may vary widely but the root problem for all of us comes down to two critical heart issues.
The first concerns those who have lost, or never really had, a right view of themselves. Specifically, they have never come to terms with the true condition of their own heart. They know the Bible states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) But they don’t believe that to be an accurate description of themselves. Or, if they ever did believe it, they have made the tragic error of forgetting it. Often, convinced by virtue of their education, talents, accomplishments, position or perceived stature, they believe they have risen above temptation and sin.
Charles Spurgeon offered a sobering warning for those so deceived, “Let us receive a warning, first, against the deceivableness of sin, for whoever we may be, we may never reckon that, on account of our position or condition, we shall be free from the assaults of sin, or even certain of not being overcome by it. It might be worth considering that the angels who were in the very presence of God were not immune and fell with blazing speed.” In other words, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
As leaders, we must never stop walking in deep humility before the Lord. James reminds us, “‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:6-10)
The second issue concerns those who have lost, or never really had, a right view of God. Specifically, they have lost sight of His holiness. They know the scripture says, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written: ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16) But they have failed to apply the admonition to themselves and so lack a corresponding fear of God.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man…” (1 Corinthians 10:13a) Those who lack a fear of God will read Paul’s words and think to themselves, “Great! God won’t really mind that much if I have a few lapses here and there. After all, everybody struggles and He understands.”
Unlike the first group, who fail to see or acknowledge the corruption in their heart, this group simply excuses it by presuming on an erroneous view of God’s grace. For them, the commonality of the struggle becomes a plausible excuse for sin. This becomes especially evident when the weight of ministry becomes heavy, disappointments arise or difficulties in their personal lives cause their flesh to cry out for appeasement. And appease it they do, for the “God” they have created for themselves doesn’t demand holiness and winks at sin.
They would be wiser not to neglect what immediately follows in Paul’s point to the Corinthians, “…but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13b) And to the Galatians, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16) And to the Romans, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:11-14)
No matter how difficult the road we travel as a leader may be, to neglect our duty to live holy lives before God and man is to commit spiritual treason against the King who called us into His service. Again, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The enemy is ever on the watch to detect inconsistency in your conduct; be therefore very holy. Remember that the eyes of all are upon you, and that more is expected from you than from other men. Strive to give no occasion for blame. Let your goodness be the only fault they can discover in you.”
When my sin was exposed in 2002, I was forced to step down from my position and to close the doors on a work I had spent 14 years of my life building. I was fully aware that I had been running from God but was clueless as to how prideful and arrogant I had become along the way. To be sure, it didn’t happen overnight. As I gradually allowed sin to creep into my life, my heart became cold and increasingly callous to the Lord’s conviction.
It has been 11 years since I arrived at Pure Life Ministries. During that time, the Lord has mercifully allowed me to face the truth about the man I had become—and, by His Grace, the man he now desires for me to be. For all who have answered God’s call into positions of spiritual leadership, I want to encourage you to heed the truths I have shared with you here. Let my own testimony be one added reason to remember Paul’s warning, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
* – T. Taylor, The Biblical Illustrator
Source: Pure Life Ministries
Mike Johnston is the Director of Media Relations. He coordinates media relationships for the ministry and production of audio content including the podcast. Mike is also one of the ministry’s main speakers for our “A Call to Purity Weekends.”