In just a span of two years, we have witnessed the reputation of well-known Christian leaders get tainted with much controversy. What’s worse is that these controversies have been proven true and have affected the faith of many genuine believers.
All Christians, no matter the size of one’s influence, are called to be the salt and light of the world. We both have the calling and the privilege to be used by God to make a lasting difference that will have an eternal impact on the people around us.
But as noble as our calling may be, we are not spared from sin and the fallenness of the world. There are times when our sinful nature and the fallen world bring out the worst in us. And to top it all off, this can be magnified by the watching world through social media.
While the issue of fallen leaders is a serious matter for every church organization to attend to, we have to remind ourselves that leaders who fall into sin are not something new. This is not to waterdown the serious effects of a leader’s sin, but to view the issue in light of God’s truth and grace.
The Bible is filled with spiritual leaders who either have fallen into sin or have exhibited bad behavior because of their pride and selfishness. Amazingly, God is not surprised and He is not hindered by our sinfulness to accomplish His plans and purpose for our lives. Ever since the fall of man in Genesis 3, God reminds through history and our own personal stories that He does not reject a fallen leader, instead He restores them, and we can help with this, too.
How can we help restore a fallen leader?
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
In this letter, Paul instructed Titus to rebuke and exhort those who are not living according to God’s will and ways. He was not to rebuke people for the sake of just rebuking them or to rebuke without exhorting them to live obedient lives. He was instructed to do both for people who committed the sin of rebellion after professing faith in Jesus Christ.
In the same way, we are to do both. Rebuke makes a person see the seriousness of his or her sin. It makes us see our sin the way God sees it. Exhorting or rebuilding a person’s spirit makes a person see the tenderness of God’s grace and love. Both are needed in restoring a leader.
If we only rebuke a fallen leader, we endanger that person’s faith by making him think that his or her guilt and shame cannot be taken away and that the forgiveness of God is not powerful enough to work in the deepest recesses of his or her heart. The act of rebuking must not push a person deeper into guilt and shame but rather pull him or her out of the dread and darkness of sin.
However, if we only encourage or exhort without rebuking fallen leaders, they may fail to realize the seriousness of their sin against God. We also endanger their faith by making them think that they can commit a sin without bearing the consequences of dishonoring God.
Rebuke expresses the loving discipline of God, while the act of rebuilding is an expression of the grace of God.
The apostle Peter is well-known for denying Jesus while Jesus was being tortured by the Romans. He is known for making bold declarations about his loyalty to Jesus before the other disciples only to find himself cowering before common people who have identified him as one of Jesus’ followers. Those of us who know Peter’s story would admit that his story is ours as well.
After Peter denied Jesus three times, he was reinstated by Jesus three times as well. Jesus knows very well that falling into sin or making a big blunder has the potential to make us forget who we are in Him and that’s why He had to remind and reassure Peter of certain truths about himself.
Years after his reinstatement, he embraced this truth with all his strength that it led him to say the same truths to the persecuted, suffering, and weakened church:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9–10
We must remind and reassure any fallen leader with these powerful truths:
Identity and value in Christ. One of the most profound effects of sin in our lives is that we tend to forget our identity and worth in Christ. That is why we need to hear it again and again, most importantly when we fall into sin. We are to restore anyone who has fallen into sin by reminding them that they are in Christ a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.
Before any role or function of being a leader, we are first God’s children.
Purpose and calling from Christ. While falling into sin definitely has damaging effects to our souls, it is not powerful enough to change God’s mind when He gives us a purpose and a calling. His purpose of using us to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light did not change just because someone fell into sin.
Before any calling to a specific ministry, industry, or company, God has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.
Ongoing work of Christ. A leader who responds in repentance after falling into sin must be reminded that though the process of repentance was painful, it is not yet done. Our path as Christians is laid out with steps of repentance. God’s ongoing work in our lives is not just an expression of grace but also of mercy, because He didn’t want to leave us the same after going through a painful experience of falling into sin.
Reminding and reassuring a fallen leader with the unshakeable truths about our identity, calling, purpose, and Christ’s ongoing work in our lives will greatly help in the restoration process.
Helping restore a fallen leader does not only require a lot of time and energy, but more importantly requires a lot of heart and humility from church community. Just as no man can build himself alone, no man can restore himself to the fellowship of believers without God’s grace at work through the community of believers.
One of the effects of sin to a leader’s life is feeling the need for isolation. It is like the feeling of being excommunicated from the people that you not only share work but also share life with.
The apostle Paul, in one of his missionary journeys, experienced being abandoned by a disciple named Mark and because of this, he had a difficult time trusting Mark and working with him. But God did not stop working in their relationship. Though it was not clear how the two got along together, we can see that towards the end of Paul’s life, he wanted to see Mark and even commended him for being useful in the ministry.
Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.
2 Timothy 4:11
Scripture does not say how Mark was restored after abandoning and deserting Paul, but we can see that God’s grace works through people like Barnabas who took him in despite the doubts of Paul. He stayed with Mark so that he can reconnect and re-establish him not just in the faith, but also in church community.
One of the greatest lies of sin thrown at fallen leaders is that no one would accept them or believe in them anymore. This lie is dispelled through the help of the church community. If a leader has fallen into a great and public sin, he or she must run first to His Savior then to the church.
The biblical teachings on restoring a fallen leader serve as a warning and an encouragement. It is a warning because it will make us see how sin can damage a person and all that he has in this life. We are not to take sin and temptation lightly. It serves an encouragement because it reminds us that no one is too far from God’s restoring grace.
We know the Christmas message to be a message of hope and joy for those in need of a Savior, but it is also a message of grace that qualifies the unqualified for God’s plans and purpose. When we read the accounts of Jesus Christ’s birth and take a closer look at the characters involved, we come to a realization that, even though these men and women responded in faith, at some point, they felt unqualified to respond to God’s calling.
When I worked as a recruitment associate in the call center industry, one of my main tasks was to conduct applicants’ initial interviews to see if they are qualified for the position they applied for. One of the hardest parts of my job is to decline an applicant in spite of his efforts and enthusiasm in the interview. Why? Simply because he or she didn’t meet the standard. The applicant wasn’t qualified for the job.
A big part of our lives revolves around trying to meet standards. We may not be fully aware of it, but we adhere to certain standards that greatly influence the way we live. If you are a student, I’m sure it’s very difficult to meet the requirements of a teacher or professor if you don’t know his or her grading system. If you are a working professional, it would be difficult to stay in an organization that doesn’t have clear standards for promotions and incentives.
God has standards as well. His standard is not just a passing grade or an above-average performance. His standard is perfection. In the Bible, God is very clear about what’s acceptable and what is not acceptable to Him. Our greatest problem is not God’s standard. It’s our inability to meet it.
For this reason, Christmas had to happen. The message of Christmas is about how the grace of God works to qualify the unqualified without compromising His standards.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
God became man in Jesus Christ so that man could become like God in righteousness. Instead of lowering His perfect standards, God lifted us up in Christ so that we could meet His standards.
How does this qualifying grace work deeply in our hearts?
Necessary Condition. For us to experience the gracious work of God in our lives, there is a condition to meet. It is a “necessary” condition because apart from this, there is no other way to experience the grace of God that qualifies.
Unlike the rest of the worldly system, where you have to earn or prove your worth by having a good track record, the necessary condition for God’s grace to be poured out in our life is to “receive and believe” in Jesus Christ—that is, to willfully submit to His Lordship over your life.
Christmas is a reminder that it is only by faith in Jesus Christ, who has met God’s qualifications for us, that we can meet God’s demand for perfection.
New Character. For us to better appreciate our new character brought about by the grace of God, we have to understand that we were enemies of God before we experienced His grace (Romans 5:10). We were not “lesser” children of God apart from His grace—rather, we were not His children at all apart from His grace. Furthermore, we were His enemies, willfully rebelling against Him.
God’s grace qualifies us by giving us a new character and a new identity. John said He gave us “the right to become children of God.”
You are not just a better version of your old self or simply a more morally upright version of it. You are a totally different person, who is perfectly upright and righteous because of Christ, and therefore has met the standard of God. Because of His grace, you are now His child and the co-heir of Jesus Christ.
You no longer have to live your life like a slave trying to please your master by doing good works. Instead, you get to enjoy and delight in God and live the full life He has intended for His children.
Noble Calling. Those who have “seen His glory” cannot help but show His glory to others. The nobility of our calling is not based on who is doing what, but on who called whom. The grace of God did not just cause us to meet His standards but also qualifies us to do His purpose.
This noble calling was not given without a cost. This means our great calling comes with a great responsibility to continue to depend on God for wisdom and strength. It is true that we are qualified solely by God’s grace, but His grace did not stop after qualifying us to be His children. It continues to work so that we can live out His calling to give glory to His name, to serve others, and to reconcile the world to Him.
While God’s grace gives us rest from chasing after the standards of the world, it does not translate to mediocrity and laziness in our lives. In fact, the confidence of our identity as children of God puts the desire to be excellent in our hearts, so that we can serve the rest of the world as God meant us to.
God’s grace qualifies us, not by our good works; yet it is the same grace that inspires us to do good works for His glory.
Just like Paul said in one of his letters to the church in Corinth:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I,
but the grace of God that is with me.
1 Corinthians 15:10
So the next time you feel unqualified to do the purpose of God in your life, think about the story of Christmas and how His grace worked to qualify anyone. Remember that the very reason that Christ became man is to make it possible for us to live our lives as God originally intended us to.
Leadership is costly.
This is not to say that leadership has no rewards and benefits. There is certainly a level of satisfaction to seeing progress and growth as we serve in any capacity as a leader. But our tendency is to focus on the highlights rather than on the heavy lifting of leadership.
As leaders, we must learn to embrace the weight and responsibility of leadership. Leading in uncertainty is one of those times when we feel the reality of this weight. But we are also made aware of the responsibility when we lead with our sinful tendencies.
We know that there is grace for the unqualified leader—that despite a person’s lack of qualifications in terms of skill and character, God gives abundant grace for them to lead when they choose to obey in faith.
But we have to be reminded that this is the same grace that God pours out to the disqualified leader—that despite any mistake or sin a leader commits while leading, there is overflowing grace to allow them to lead again.
The grace that qualifies us to lead despite any lack is the same grace that qualifies us to lead again despite our blunders and errors.
“. . . for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.”—Proverbs 24:16
The Bible has clear guidelines on how to administer healing and restoration to leaders who committed a sin or made a mistake. In the process of restoration, God’s grace works through correction, community, abiding in Christ, and another chance to lead.
Grace through correction. Correction and rebuke are painful. But that doesn’t change the fact that both are acts of grace and both are necessary in restoring a leader.
I have been corrected countless times. There were times when I felt like the correction could have been done with more gentleness, but I couldn’t doubt that it was done with much grace.
Three years ago, I had a knee operation because of a torn ligament. It was necessary to have the operation in order to correct what was hindering me from using my entire leg properly and to fully enjoy activities like hiking and playing basketball. Though the operation was successful, I still had to go through therapy, which involved stretching exercises. My doctor told me that I would feel pain through the course of my therapy, but that was only because I was on my way to recovery.
Any leader who falls or stumbles while leading can be restored through gracious correction and rebuke. No one is ever too far from the reach of God’s restorative grace, but we should remember that though the process is filled with grace, it will involve some degree of pain.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.“—Hebrews 12:11
Grace through community. Just as sin aims to separate us from God, it also aims to separate us from the church community. That is why it is not surprising that a leader who falls into sin has a tendency to resort to isolation. However, we know that isolating ourselves could do us more harm than good. This is true for all leaders.
No one recovers alone. There is no doubt that God can work deeply in a leader’s heart through their time with Him, but God also works deeply in a different and necessary way through the help of other godly people.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”—James 5:16
When I was going through therapy, I realized that what helped me with my recovery was the support I received from friends and family. I wasn’t bedridden, but I was limited. I can’t take credit for my recovery, because I know it was the people in my life who helped me walk again.
No matter how strong we are as leaders, we cannot outgrow the importance of being in a community. When the guilt of our sin pulls us into condemnation and defeat, it is the grace of God through His people that pulls us back onto the path of our calling and destiny.
Grace through Christ. Who can best administer the grace of healing and restoration but the One who embodied it? Even so, because of the guilt of our sin, our tendency is to run away from Christ rather than to run toward Him.
I remember a conversation I had with myself, looking back at my fair share of mistakes and blunders in life and ministry.
“Why do you keep on rising up?”
“Because I am worshiping a Risen King.”
When I sin against God or make a mistake, I go to the cross. I ponder on it. I wrap my mind around it. I stay there for as long as I can.
Then after a while, I move on from the cross to the empty grave. Because grace does not only make us fall to our knees in repentance; it also lifts us to our feet, that we may walk with Him again.
Grace through another chance. One of the proofs of God’s grace in a leader’s life is having another chance at life and leadership. I realized that what hinders a leader from getting back up and leading again is not just the fear of committing the same mistake again, but also the pride of not accepting that he is capable of making such mistakes.
Having the confidence to accept another chance at leadership must not be motivated by the desire to prove ourselves or to show how much we have learned or improved, but rather it must be motivated by the desire to be used by God in whatever way possible.
“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” —Romans 11:29
Although the context of this verse addresses the disobedience of the nation of Israel as God’s chosen people, the principle behind it applies to everyone who has fallen into disobedience and has repented, ready to be used by God again.
God’s calling for all of us is to be messengers of the gospel. This means we are all called to lead others to Christ, in whatever capacity. He also has given us gifts for a specific calling. It is encouraging to know that that specific calling and our general calling as ambassadors of Christ are irrevocable. His word tells us that this remains to be our stewardship and our responsibility, regardless of past disobedience.
So take heart, world changer! As a leader who has truly experienced the grace of God despite having fallen into sin, know that the chance to lead again is not from your potential or talent, but because of the grace of God’s irrevocable calling in your life.