top of page

Leaders Who Fall

This week I learned of another pastor who had an extramarital affair with what was reported as a “vulnerable parishioner”. 


I was acquainted with him and had appreciated his resources on discipleship. But every time this occurs, I’m left to wonder: what happened?


Years ago I was talking with a fellow pastor of a large church who over a period of five or six years had four pastoral associates on his 100+ person staff exit because of affairs. He was reeling and revisiting everything from his care systems, to leader development, to hiring practices, to his own blind spots, to, well, everything—trying to find what was missing. His last pastor to step down was a brilliant teacher and led a pastoral/leadership training program. His love for and Biblical grasp of worship was enviable. When my pastor friend asked him how he found himself in an affair, he shook his head and answered, “I don’t know. I thought I was bulletproof.”


Mentors from afar, authors who have taught me, and various pastoral acquaintances who have fallen have all had the same effect on me: disbelief that so-and-so could have done this, somehow mixed with a jaundiced recollection of any perceived tell-tale signs or flaws in their behaviors. It’s the troubling unspoken juxtaposition of “how did that happen?” with “I’ve always suspected.”

Honestly, I hate myself for that.


But what’s most painful is the denigration of everything they’ve ever preached, published, or promoted—especially as it related to any prior messaging on “affair-proofing” marriage, or maintaining intimacy with God, or relational health, or effective leadership. Apparently it didn’t work for them…so what does that tell their followers? It inevitably causes me to wonder about the unseemly hypocrisy and discombobulation between their words and actions followed by a dark inner judgement on my part.


And again, I hate myself for that.


But that’s my problem. What I want, though, is an answer for those who are trying to get it right: then what actually works? Some of these leaders I knew were ostensibly honest and  vulnerable. Some had, at least as an outside observer, spiritual disciplines. And all talked about Jesus as the nucleus and driver of their life. They may even promoted that beloved Christian word: accountability.


I wish I could finish this with an answer. You should expect one if you’ve read this far, but alas, I’m stumped; I had heard all of these leaders give the pat answers prior to their affair, or even worse, before abusing their power. I do know this: accountability isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be and here’s why; we’re only as accountable as we want to be.


Of course there’s forgiveness. That’s the beauty of the kind of Father we serve.


But still, what are the ramifications of our actions? What is the effect on our followers and the possible dismissiveness of everything we’ve taught? What have we communicated to those closest to us—children, family, friends? And then let’s think cosmically: what dent did we create in the Kingdom—or at least perceptions of the expression of that: the Church?


Leaders, for those of us with a high grasp of grace, mercy, and the power of forgiveness, I think there’s still some beneficial contrapuntal wrestling we need to do with the famous proverb: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  PROVERBS 9:10 



Dave Workman | The Elemental Group


The Elemental Churches Inventory guides your leadership team through a multi-faceted review of strengths and opportunities in four vital elements of your church’s life: Integrity (systems, processes, infrastructure), Passion (commitment to the mission), Servanthood (outward-focus), and Imagination (innovation, openness to change). And because of its unique web-based and curriculum approach, it’s a third of the cost of typical consulting!


  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
bottom of page