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When Our Leaders Fall Morally

For the last several months, people have been talking about the situation involving well-known Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) pastors and authors C.J. Mahahey and Joshua Harris. SGM pastors have been accused of knowing about abuse within their church and not responding appropriately, with discipline. It’s easy to become jaded by the reoccurring stories like this one. But there are important lessons to keep in mind at these moments.

When issues like this emerge, it’s wise to take a few steps back and remember some things:

1. Assume the best as long as possible.

When we hear about a moral failure, it is best to initially assume the best about the person being accused. Instead of being quick to point the finger, we should be quick to hope there’s been some misunderstanding. Once the evidence is inescapable, we shift toward reconciliatory discipline. If a leader has fallen in sin, the best thing that can happen is confession of that sin, repentance and restoration to fellowship. We should pray toward that end, that God would somehow use this for good. Before we know the facts, we should assume the best as long as possible about our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

2. Remind yourself of your own frailty.

When we hear news like this, it’s easy to think, I’d never do something like that, or How could they be so stupid! But Scripture warns us to let the sins of others sober us, lest we should also be tempted (Galatians 6:1). We should recognize that we also have hearts that would betray us in a thousand similar ways. Until Christ appears, we, too, must regularly come to the foot of the cross with tears of repentance. Let public sins and failures stir up our own hatred for sin, especially that sin we find lingering in our own hearts.

3. Pray for your leaders.

God often commands us to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We are instructed to pray for those who govern our nation and those who lead our churches. When leaders fall, we can only wonder if people were holding them up in prayer. The Christian ministry is a difficult call with many trials and temptations. When leaders fall, we should be reminded our leaders need the prayers of their people. God is pleased when we pray for our leaders. As Paul himself pleaded, “Brothers, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:25).

4. Christ will perfectly judge all things.

There is a temptation when someone is found in sin to shrink back and think they somehow will get away with it. God is gracious and quick to forgive. But what if I was the one sinned against or it was my son who was abused by a youth pastor? I would want justice to roll down like waters. Is it OK to long for justice?

I believe the Bible does offer some comfort to those who have been sinned against with the hope that they will one day give an account to Jesus Christ. There is a day coming when Christ will judge all the living and the dead. No one will escape. On that day, every act of sin will be appropriately dealt with. No one gets away with anything in the end. All sin will either be dealt with on the cross or through eternal punishment. Such thoughts led Peter to conclude, “[W]hat sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11-12).

There is a sobering thread to the Christian life. For as much love, joy and grace God offers, He does require we pay close attention to His Word that we might live godly lives. When we hear of public failure, it should make us long for the coming kingdom where righteousness dwells. It should make us hate and fight against our own sin with greater diligence. It should make us long for the coming kingdom where we will live forever in the presence of Christ free from such sin, such suffering and such moral failure.  

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About the Author

Andrew Hess

Andrew Hess is a Sr. Communications Specialist at Compassion International. He formally served as the director of content at the White Horse Inn and editor of His writing has also been featured on the Gospel Coalition. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife Jen and their young son. Andrew and Jen met at the very first Boundless Pursuit conference at Focus on the Family in 2014.

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