Jesus often suffers more from His friends than from His enemies.
In John Bunyan’s epic The Pilgrim’s Progress, one of Christian’s guides to the celestial city offers this wise counsel: “There are two things that they have need to possess who go on pilgrimage—courage and an unspotted life. If they have not courage, they can never hold on their way; and if their lives be loose, they will make the very name of the pilgrim stink.” The pandemic of spiritual leaders who have fallen morally in the last several years has weakened our collective influence. Even worse, it has left an undeniable stench in the nostrils of multitudes toward anything Christian.
Why do unbelievers care whether we live up to our profession? The answer is tucked away in the story of Jonah’s flight from his calling. As God judged the prophet’s disobedience with a violent storm, the sailors cried out to their false gods to save them but to no avail. Finally Jonah confessed, “I know that this great tempest is because of me” (Jon. 1:12).
Suddenly, a group of cursing, idolatrous mariners became holiness preachers—preaching to the backslidden prophet! “‘Why have you done this?’ they confronted Jonah. For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord” (v. 10). Could it be that a pagan world somehow perceives that our sins are imperiling them?
When I entered ministry in the mid-1960s, it was assumed that you could trust preachers. Today, the opposite is assumed. Into the foreseeable future, trust will be harder to gain,
Believe me, I know all too well the darkness my own heart and mind are capable of if I step outside Christ’s lordship.
We all feel the reverberations when a spiritual leader falls. Each new scandal should prompt us to mourn, humble ourselves, pray, search our own hearts, reflect and recognize our profound, constant need for the grace of God.
We can also build firewalls to help protect us against the barrages of the enemy. These firewalls will help us “walk worthy of the calling with which [we] are called” (Eph. 4:1). Here are some important ones:
First, keep short accounts with God. Repent immediately of all known sin. Don’t harbor any unconfessed sin, and don’t try to excuse it.
Second, establish real accountability. For 19 years, I’ve been in a serious accountability relationship with a trusted peer in ministry. We frequently meet and hold each other’s feet to the fire with penetrating questions.
Third, humble yourself before the Lord. Andrew Murray wrote, “Reckon humility to be indeed the mother-virtue, your very first duty before God, the one perpetual safeguard of the soul.”
Fourth, take the escape hatch! “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). God has provided an escape—but for every second we flirt with temptation, the exit sign grows dimmer.
Here are other important firewalls:
- Bracket your day with time in God’s presence
- Be filled with the Spirit and walk in the Spirit
- Develop a personal prayer team
- Restore fallen brothers and sisters
- Stay focused on your mission
- Don’t give anger a foothold
- Put on the whole armor of God
- Abide in the vine (Jesus)
- Pray for grace to wear favor well
- Hate sin and acknowledge sin
- Be sure your spouse knows where you are when you have “free time”
- Know who you are in Christ
- Know who you are (what the “natural man” is capable of) outside Christ
David Shibley founded Global Advance in 1990 and has equipped church leaders in 62 nations. Now serving as Global Advance’s international representative, he mentors young people called to Christian ministry through his Days With David encounters.