Everyone has seen a political or religious leader implode, and often the failure is sexual in nature. Recent political history has many examples from men like Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer. In the Church it’s been guys like Ted Haggard and Doug Phillips. Of course, biblical examples include men like King David and his son, Solomon. It seems there is a potential curse, of sorts, on those who lead.
Tragically, I have way too many friends who have fallen as well . . .
A mentor in ministry who committed adultery many years ago.
A good friend who lost his church and wife due to a pornography addiction.
A fellow pastor in town who now is in prison for the use of and distribution of child porn.
Frankly, it’s happened so often to so many that I find myself bouncing between depression and anger.
How could he do that to his wife?
Why would he risk everything for the temporary pleasure of sexual sin?
What possible reason could he have for risking all and losing so much?
But then . . .
I turn on the television, and the normalization of the abnormal and the promotion of illicit sex is everywhere.
I open up an emailed link from a friend of a friend (it looks interesting and innocent) and the next thing I know I’m re-directed to a porn site.
I drive by the local high school, and I see girls (who don’t look their age) dressed provocatively in clothes that used to get young ladies sent home from school.
Then I wonder in frustration, “How is it possible to survive in a sex-crazed culture of rationalized immorality?”
Trust me, I’m not standing on the mountain casting despicable looks of superiority down on my fellow leaders. I make no effort to pretend like I’m beyond and above temptation. I’m not.
Every day I wrestle (yes, every single day) with eyes prone to wandering, with a mind given at times to fantasy, and with a heart that drifts from who I am in Christ. If you’re a woman, you may not understand that reality. If you’re a guy, you do. We are visual, and sex matters to us. A lot. And everywhere we go, from the billboards on Main Street, to the Victoria Secret commercials on TV, to the way some women dress . . . we’re assaulted with images that make it difficult to remain pure.
Relax. I’m not addicted to anything. I haven’t molested anyone. I’m not cheating on my wife. I’m not holding on to any sexual secrets worthy of termination as a pastor.
And I’m not saying I fail every day; I’m saying I struggle with the flesh . . . every day.
However, in the battle, I’ve learned a few things along the way:
I can walk wisely and avoid the traps.
The problem with “kings” is they tend to think more highly of themselves than they ought (Romans 12:3). They buy the lie that they’re special. They excuse bad behavior as minuscule compared to all the “good” they do for others. They tend to cross healthy boundaries, both emotional and physical ones, in their quest for more. They forget that the bigger they are, the bigger the target on their backs—from the enemy and from others who want to see them fail. And worst of all, they too often forget that the short-term pleasures of sin are never worth the long-term costs.
King David should have been at war and with his troops, but instead he grew lazy in his success, and it cost him dearly. The lesson: Don’t be where you’re not supposed to be and you probably won’t do what you’re not supposed to do.
I can be honest and practice accountability.
Kings don’t typically like to submit to anyone. They fear the compromise of their leadership authority if they admit weakness. Certainly, when it suits them they can feign humility, but they too often avoid transparency in fear of being knocked off their pedestal. If and when challenged by someone “lesser” regarding their purity or integrity, they arrogantly dismiss the questions rather than own their humanity.
Being tempted isn’t the problem. Jesus was tempted (Hebrews 4:15). However, being stubborn, independent, and arrogant will bite you every time. I need men in my life who are not afraid to ask me the tough questions and who challenge me to walk in the light. So do you. Secrets kill. Accountability heals.
I can be a really good repenter.
Sin makes us stupid and stupid kings abound. However, only a very stupid king refuses to repent (think Saul versus David). A wise king owns it and changes. Being a sinful leader does not automatically disqualify you from leadership; being an unrepentant liar does.
James Emery White recently wrote, “You need to be a sinful leader who is continually seeking forgiveness and striving for repentance. The Bible is full of habitual sinners, often in the same areas over and over again, but what marked God’s ability to use them tended to be their equally habitual contrition.”
A humble and contrite heart is always a good thing and the mark of a good leader.
So be careful . . .
In a world where Fifty Shades of Grey (an erotic romance novel about BDSM) has sold well over 100 million copies and will soon be released as a major motion picture (on Valentine’s Day, go figure) leaders must walk carefully. We cannot afford to pretend that our position, our ministry, or even our assumed spiritual maturity is enough to keep us on the narrow road. In fact, those very things can too easily lead to catastrophic failure unless we are humble and wise.
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV)