Beware misplaced devotion. Christians remain flawed people. We’re not immune to personality quirks, pride, greed, lapses in judgment. Christian leaders are no exception.
The very best of us, no matter how sincere and well-meaning, can go astray. That’s why Paul advised the church to follow his example, but only as he followed the example of Christ. (I Cor 11:1)
I’ve spent enough time in Christian circles to know that the local church can become a personality cult where leadership can do no wrong. People in the pews make allowances for the leaders’ missteps and slip into blind loyalty. Questions are summarily dismissed as the grumblings of cranks and silenced with recitations of “touch not mine anointed and do my prophet no harm.” (Psalm 105:15)
It’s risky to conclude that God is pleased with what leaders do because the attendance and the offerings remain high. The PTL ministry imploded in the 1980s while millions were watching the PTL Club television show, flocking to the Heritage USA theme park, buying lifetime partnerships and attending lavish outdoor dramas. (Yep, I went!)
Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker eventually were exposed as frauds who paid hush money to cover up a sex scandal and evaded paying income taxes followed by prison and divorce. The Bakkers, Jimmy Swaggarts, Robert Tiltons, Earl Paulks, Carlton Pearsons and Ted Haggards are just the wayward leaders who made national headlines.
Amazingly, people still trusted Christ for salvation through these ministries — proof that God honors His word even when the preacher doesn’t.
Biblical accountability is a safeguard against leaders losing their way in a fog of pride and self-worship. When they do miss the mark, from what I read in the Bible, God confronts them. And He sometimes speaks through other people.
King David sinned with Bathsheba. The prophet Nathan was sent to confront him. Peter acted hypocritically — refusing to eat with his Gentile friends because kosher Jewish guests had come. Paul opposed him. Sadly, today many Christian leaders refuse correction. They make the messenger the problem.
Am I encouraging rebellion against church leadership? Absolutely not! I’m saying two things:
- Just because someone is in leadership doesn’t mean God sanctions whatever they happen to do.
- Each of us should examine ourselves to see if we truly are in the faith — and not just in the good graces of leadership.
Christ alone died and rose again for our salvation. He alone deserves our highest allegiance. Keep following Him, no matter who takes a detour.