8 Reasons the Fall of a Church Leader Is Always Devastating

The fall of a church leader can prove devastating to many people. (Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash)

Seldom does a week go by that I don't learn about a church leader who has fallen. I want to be merciful toward those who fall, but we also need to know how much pain such a fall causes.

Perhaps remembering these realities will help all of us fight harder for holiness. Here are eight reasons the fall of a church leader hurts so badly:

  1. We never expect church leaders to fall. We know it happens, but never to the people we love. Not to the leaders we know and love. When it does, we're caught seriously off-guard.
  2. We genuinely love our leaders. Somehow, even in the largest churches where our interaction with the leaders is limited, we still grow to love the folks who bring the Word of God to us each week. That love increases the pain when a fall happens.
  3. We watch a leader's family suffer. We love them, too. Sometimes, we've watched the kids grow up. Now, we agonize on behalf of that family, often having no idea what to do or say. The awkwardness of the situation keeps us from reaching out—and the pain just deepens.
  4. We watch a church grieve. Some are angry or embarrassed. Others weep deeply. Still, others choose not to believe the truth, instead defending the leader to the end. Some members will likely leave the church. The future suddenly feels uncertain, and a congregation hurts corporately.
  5. We know it's not a good witness. Nobody likes for the enemy to win, even temporarily. The fall of a leader makes the work of the church harder, and members most concerned about the gospel recognize that.
  6. A fall can create a faith crisis for others. To whom do we turn if our spiritual leaders cannot be trusted? Why would God allow a beloved leader to fall into sin? For some members—particularly newer believers and those on the fringes—the crisis can lead to their departure.
  7. It makes us feel vulnerable. If pastors can fall, it can surely happen to me. That's frightening. Most of us don't want the reminder that we, too, could fall.
  8. It feels like it will never end. When a fall does happen, people tend to talk about others who've fallen in the past. Those conversations make it feel like falls are becoming the norm—and that's defeating and discouraging.

Church leaders, let's challenge one another to stay faithful. Our love for God and for our congregations demands it.

Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is team leader for theological education strategists for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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