It Starts with Repentance
I grieve every time someone accuses a church leader of some disqualifying action. It hurts for three reasons. First, it brings reproach on the integrity of God’s family. Second, it usually includes taking advantage of a vulnerable person. Third, it hurts because I know every church leader is susceptible to sin’s effects. We are only a step away from moral catastrophe. When we think we have strength over temptation, we’re most weak. We have to admit that sin crouches at the local church’s door, and it desires to rule over every church leader (Gen. 4:7).
Last week an investigation revealed that another ministry leader fell, bringing up three questions for me.
1. What Do We Know?
External investigators looked at partial records of the late Ravi Zacharias. It’s painful to read. Their documents revealed an immense amount of sexual abuse. He preyed on vulnerable women, with some of it facilitated by ministry funds.
Before this incident, we have had other Christian leaders disqualify themselves. A church leader is a person of trust. It demands greater accountability for our actions.
God speaks about how disgraceful it is for a shepherd to misuse their roles and hurt the sheep. He points out how these “shepherds” preyed on their sheep for the leader's benefit (Ezek. 34:2-5).
2. Will Safeguards Prevent This from Happening Again?
Integrity is the most critical asset of a church leader. Without integrity, leaders are tools of Satan inside the ministry.
I have heard suggestions to apply the Billy Graham Rule to avoid sexual immorality. Adherents do not travel, meet or eat alone with a person of the opposite gender other than their spouse.
Some suggest regular monitoring of leaders’ electronics. Zacharias refused to have accountability with his electronic devices. The investigation found over 200 images of young women, some that showed the women naked.
We can’t count on external “safeguards” to heal inner wickedness. Jesus says, “The evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). An evil heart and mind, indiscernible to the external eye, will do wrong things. External tools will only deter honest leaders.
Leaders dive headfirst down a steep moral cliff when they sin without repentance. That will end in brokenness and shame. A leader’s sin does not always need public exposure. We pray a single broken relationship or sinful act can trigger repentance. A leader’s sin always hurts others.
3. What is the Gospel Application?
Hiding sin is not self-management; it is self-deception. But we don’t have to remain in shame and guilt. We can turn through repentance and receive the cleansing of our heart and renewal of our spirit. David began to lead others after he had a clean heart (Ps. 51:1-13). Without a clear conscience, we cannot teach others with power.
Satan is a roaring lion seeking to devour church leaders (1 Peter 5:8). Jesus says, Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter (Matt. 26:31). The more significant deterrent to a leader's sin is not Covenant Eyes but a holy heart.
Holiness is the ability to submit mind, will, and emotions to the Spirit’s desires and not to the flesh’s desires (Gal. 5:16-26). Holy leaders allow the gospel to shape them over time (Phil. 1:27) through the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:4-11) as they confess their sins and acknowledge their weaknesses (1 John 1:7-9). Holy leaders strive to renew their minds that lead to transformed lives (Rom. 12:1-2). Holy leaders confess their sins to one another resulting in gospel-shaped healing (James 5:16).
We need a new way of leading our churches and ministries. It starts with repentance.
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