This past summer, a well-known author and pastor made two very personal announcements on Instagram. One post told the social media world of his impending divorce, followed by a second public statement apparently renouncing his faith.
Only days later I read a post by John Cooper, lead singer for the rock band Skillet, who wrote a very heartfelt post after another public faith renunciation by a Hillsong songwriter. In his post Cooper wrote, “we must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or cool people … the most important people in Christendom. What we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value … the preeminence of the Word.” (cogentchristianity.com, Skillet’s John Cooper, Apostasy Among Young Christian Leaders.)
Was not valuing the preeminence of the Word the sole cause of these faith exits? Only God knows. I do know there is enormous pressure in public leadership. That is not new. What is new today is so many gaining those positions of importance and the accompanying “fame” in seasons of youth.
I find it interesting that the Old Testament priests were not allowed to begin their “ministry” in the temple until the age of 30. Jesus too began His ministry according to this Levitical law as our Great High Priest at 30. Does God perhaps know something about human weaknesses in our 20s?
Decades ago, when I first heard of older, more “mature believers” walking away from the faith, I was devastated. As a young, newly born-again believer, I felt frightened and wondered if my faith was secure, if I was safe. Could this happen to me?
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that these “apostate” decisions—turning away from the faith—are not made quickly. It appears to be an instant flip, but their faith was falsely supported for a long time. Only God knows what is in their hearts. I pray these will return to Him.
Like ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond, the fall of any faith role model of any age—whether well-known or not—shakes us. For some, the ripples are as life-altering as an earthquake. Even unbelievers take note with cynicism and conclude that, “This faith trip isn’t for me.”
Every faith renunciation or rejection of God’s truth is serious for all Christians. Their lives illustrate again the truth Jesus taught; we have an enemy whose name is the “father of lies” (John 8:44).
What are we missing today?
I fear modern Christianity has vastly underestimated Jesus’ frequent words and warnings about Satan as if he doesn’t exist. The entire New Testament is written on this assumption of a great cosmic battle happening daily on earth. The enemy of our souls targets everyone, but his special delight is the destruction of influential followers of Christ. He especially loves to kill their marriages and families. Satan is strategic. He knows the fallout is greater.
Those of us who write books, lead churches and ministries must be more diligent to please God and more resistant to sin. The apostle Paul wrote about this burden, this responsibility, too. It’s why I was fearful when the opportunity to do radio was before us in 1992; I was literally frightened of becoming known. I knew Satan would step up his attacks. Anonymity was safer, and I knew it.
Where is your hope?
All of us who look up to and admire certain faith leaders face the temptation to put our hope in the person, the book, the plan, the method and the many promises instead of hoping in God alone. Walking by faith is much harder.
Putting too much faith in people and their ideas is a subtle shift … at first.
We first love the ideas, the concepts, the steps offered in the book or sermon, but slowly over time we begin to depend on the program or plan rather than learning to listen for God’s still, quiet and patient voice to show us what He wants for us individually. The “plan” becomes an idol. A program is easier to follow than God. He takes too long and isn’t always clear.
Is your “hope built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” as the old hymn says?
What should we do when any leader we admire falls?
First, pray for that person and immediately after pray for yourself and your family to use this opportunity to evaluate your own hearts. Include your children in this conversation if they are aware of the circumstances. Remember fallen leaders is the story of the entire Old Testament. We too are fallen and broken. Our poor choices and mistakes are not the fault of an author or a pastor or a book. Our personal decisions will land fully at our own feet when we face God.
Jesus said, “I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak they shall render account for it in the day of judgment, (Matthew 12:26).
We are not all victims nor should we seek to cast blame first. Our responsibility as followers of Christ and members of His body is to humble ourselves before Him in reverence. Look within and ask Him what He sees in your heart.
A verse I love, 1 Peter 1:13-15, reminds me to make sure my hope is fixed completely on the grace that will be brought to me.” It also challenges me to be, “as obedient children of God … be holy in all your conduct.”
Who has your heart?
Have you surrendered to Jesus today? Not for salvation but for His Lordship over your life today? Surrender is not a one-and-done event for a believer, but a daily declaration of allegiance to be repeated over and over again for a lifetime.
I pray you will join me in this ongoing submission to Jesus. “All to Thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all.” Take the time to re-surrender to God Himself and His Lordship over your life.
It’s ultimately all about Who we will worship.