What Happens When a Spiritual Leader Sins? How Do I Recover?
When church leaders serve the living Christ in love, aggressive faith, and prayerful humility, the people who live under their anointing become rich in the presence of God. Conversely, when a leader blatantly sins or is led into deception, the heartache of his downfall is absorbed into the spirits of those following him.
This precept, that a leader’s sin carries consequences which affect people negatively is seen in all facets of life. Do you remember what you felt when you heard of past leader’s sins? Former President Clinton’s sins? Or when famous evangelist Jimmy Swaggert fell? Consider the distress that crushes a family when a parent falls in to serious iniquity.
Unless it is remedied, the impact of these events is similar to that of a curse upon one’s life.
Another example is seen when David ordered Joab, a general, to take a census of Israel. Joab begged the king, “Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?” (1 Chr 21:3 NIV) David’s sin brought “guilt on Israel” and a plague struck killing thousands. The Lord provides a means to deal with both the leader’s sin and its subsequent effect upon people. He says, “If the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the Lord a bull without defect as a sin offering” (Lev 4:3).
Guilt is that terrible mixture of fear, shame, apprehension and anger. It is a state of being that exists outside of the blessedness of a right relationship with God. The “guilt on the people” does not mean that they have sinned, but that the effect of sin has positioned them in an “unblessable state of being.” This “unblessed state,” be it anger or heartache, as legitimate as they seem, is now a “guilt on the people” which must be acknowledged and atoned for.
As much as they wish it were otherwise, wounded congregations often carry a discernible cloud of heaviness upon them; for years, the influence of their wounding surfaces in conversations, attitudes of cynicism or in fearful anticipations. Worse, their shared, unremedied pain becomes a bee hive of demonic exploitation, where human attitudes of mistrust, anger and confusion remain vulnerable to demonic manipulation.
The Amplified Bible, speaking of the effects, or the dwelling place, of unexpiated sin, gives us an insight into this demonic infestation. It reads, “the shades of the dead are there [specters haunting the scene of past transgressions]” (Prov 9:18). That understanding, that “specters haunt . . . the scene of past transgressions,” tells us that when we pass through the disappointment and heartache caused by another’s sin, if we do not find a way to react as Christ, our human reactions can become a magnet for ongoing warfare. Thus, to move into the blessed future, we must be cleansed of the unredeemed past.
What is especially unfortunate is that the unredeemed past can be transferred to individuals who join a church, yet were never partakers of the original wounding. New believers come to churches where mistrust of leadership has residence. Soon, though the osmosis of human relationships, the same fears, mistrust and suspicions that were resident in the old Christians surface in the life of the new Christian. Simply replacing pastors will not bring healing; what needs replacing is the cloud of heaviness that remains in that church. For, not only did the fallen leader need forgiveness, cleansing and renewal in Christ but, as we stated, what was transferred to the people must be cleansed as well. Perhaps we are tempted to think, “So what?
Leaders come and go. I walk with God. Their fall doesn’t affect me.” Individually, you may indeed be blessed; but you will never know the descent of the Lord’s corporate blessing on a church until you experience renewal. If we fail to deal with the effect fallen leadership has had on us, it is possible that our future relationships with church leaders will be colored with fear and suspicion.
Remember, the Lord’s promise is that He will raise up,”‘Shepherds over [His people] and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing” (Jer 23:4). Unless we are cleansed of the effect of our negative experience, the filter of our mistrust might disqualify us from seeing godly leaders when the Lord brings us to them. You see, there is a corporate blessing coming to the church which is greater than the individual blessing. The corporate blessing is greater for it carries a unique reward to those who overcome offenses and persevere in faith for each other and their leaders.
This is the Pentecost anointing that was in the 120 who were able to overcome the failings of the original twelve. Here is where God touches multitudes, turns cities, and empowers His people with the life of heaven. You may say, “Ours is a new church; our leaders have not fallen in sin.” Locally, your church may be clean, but the tremors caused when national leaders fall have impacted churches also. And, one does not have to be a church historian to recall how many major spiritual leaders have fallen in recent years.
Each time one fell, the “mistrust level” toward all church leaders increased. The cumulative effect of moral failure, both on a national and local level, has smothered the fire in many Christian hearts. If you are a pastor and you are wondering why people do not respond to your teaching as you would hope, it might be they are carrying woundedness from a previous leader. Among regular church attenders, this woundedness has been translated into a polite, yet numbing attitude of unbelief and suspicion a filter of mistrust.
They may not hear you because of they have distanced themselves from the memory of pain; and distance hinders hearing. The Cleansing River of Forgiveness The antidote for a leader’s sin in the Old Testament was to “offer to the Lord a bull without defect as a sin offering.” Of course, we have a Sacrifice for sins greater than the blood of bulls and goats, but until we apply Christ’s sacrifice to this need, it remains, affecting us negatively.
Indeed, one of the great graces of the Christian faith is that, as we yield to God, He makes all things new. On a personal level, this renewal work is as effective as our ability to forgive those who hurt us and let go of the past. It is a profound opportunity, but we can be delivered from being old, hardened wineskins and face the future trusting God for new beginnings!
Thus, to facilitate this new grace, let me speak for all leaders who have failed you. Forgive us. For every leader who stumbled badly, remember there are a hundred still climbing the mountain of God. Release that man or woman who, in their immaturity, misused spiritual authority or betrayed the solemn responsibilities entrusted to them and fell in sin. Again, I ask you to forgive leaders who have fallen or failed your expectations. Let us also take up our positions to intercede for our leaders.
God never intended that congregations would not participate in their leaders protection and inspiration. Your leadership reflects, at least in part, the answer to your prayers. Unprayed for pastors are vulnerable to the battle in unique ways. If you haven’t stood in intercession, perhaps you are, at least in part, a contributor to his stumbling.
No one knows how long it shall be before Christ returns and is fully glorified in His saints. Until then, God calls us to an ever renewing work of grace, one which takes us glory to glory. Inevitably, we shall return many times to this process of forgiving, cleansing and renewal. In truth, God shall remove every wrinkle from our past and present to His Son a church without the defects of sin or the reactions of heartache, a bride without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
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