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Why Do Christian Ministers Fail?
Mal Fletcher

Posted: 20 August 2008

Why do Christian leaders and ministers fail?

This morning, I received a call telling me that a young minister friend of mine, a man who has influenced thousands of young people for good, has confessed to living a lie for the past two years.

Pastor Michael Guglielmucci had claimed to be battling a deadly form of cancer. He has now confessed that these claims were untrue. Even his mother and father - close personal friends of my wife and I - were unaware of the truth of the situation.

I have known Michael since he was a little boy and have always loved him - I still do. Our hearts, of course, go out to those closest to him.

Though Michael's is not a household name, his music gift and speaking talent, along with his very charismatic personality, have made a major impact on many young lives, in a number of nations.

I write about this here, with some discomfort, because some regular readers of this editorial will know Michael and will be trying to understand the situation.

I write also because the issues here are bigger than this individual case. From time to time, Christian ministers and leaders will fall. People of faith must be able to face the inevitable question: 'How can this happen - and how should we respond?'

We must learn what we can lessons from these situations, for our own sakes and for the sake of the wonderful message of hope that we represent.

Perhaps the first thing we must take from the fall of a leader is the fact that the frailty of the messenger does not negate the authority or truth of the message.

Every faithful believer and church leader should continue to share the Christian message without fear or cant. Though God's messengers may sometimes fail (and haven't we all, though perhaps in less public ways?) the message remains as hopeful, reliable, trustworthy and life-enhancing as ever.

In fact, it is often only when we see the scale of human frailty laid bare before us that we can appreciate the true power of redemption.

And the failure of a particular key figure should not taint our picture of all Christian leaders. (In fact, I know personally that some of the people closest to Michael are among the finest Christian leaders you will ever meet.)

As Billy Graham poignantly noted some years ago, in reference to the moral problems of certain American televangelists, thousands of aircraft land safely at the world's airports every day - but the only time the media will take an interest is when one crashes.

Secondly, we need to remind ourselves of the importance of keeping a close circle of friends and counsellors; people who know us well enough to spot trouble before it arrives.

Of course, this won't necessarily prevent us from hiding our problems - human beings have a special talent for that.

But if we build around us an inner circle of wise and responsible friends, to whom we've given the right to speak honestly at all times, we can be open without losing our sense of dignity.

A third lesson, particularly for leaders, has to do with the dangers of seeking public affirmation.

Personally, I often find it easier to crave the love of the crowd than the love of God. At times, the crowd can seem quicker to respond and easier to find, while God can sometimes feel so distant.

Yet, while the acclaim and affirmation of people are valuable - we can't live without encouragement - our first calling is not to please people. We are living for something bigger than our own reputation.

People's deference to gift and talent can be both a blessing and a curse for a leader.

It's a blessing because it breeds respect for the message and vision, which allows the leader to lead. It can be a curse because it can set the individual up for a fall -- people start expecting leaders to be saints without flaws rather than flesh-and-blood human beings.

Finally, I think, when a minister falls we are presented with a marvellous opportunity to demonstrate the meaning of grace, that most precious of all divine gifts.

Many people will look at the fall of a leader or prominent voice and feel great disappointment and even anger. That's to be expected. That, however, is grace's opportunity to shine.

Grace signifies the inclusion of people who were previously excluded, which is the core of the Christian faith.

The fall of an individual leader is very regrettable, and wrongdoing will not go unanswered, but his or her past achievements are not wiped out for all time. Their credibility may be shredded, but God keeps the works of faith they've entrusted to him.

Whether or not you know my friend Michael, I ask you to pray for his wonderful family, for the churches that are directly impacted and for the people who will be impacted most by these revelations.

His family are facing great personal pain - and if we are people of faith, we would do better to use our words to pray for him and for them, than talking to friends about the situation at every opportunity.

What the future holds for Michael, no one can say right now. His ministry credentials have been revoked and he is, apparently, seeking professional help.

But with personal repentance, a fundamental change of heart and direction, comes a time of spiritual cleansing. The mind and emotions of a damaged brother or sister can take a long time to heal - and the healing is no less important than healing of cancer.

In the end, there can be a new place of effectiveness for even the fallen ones, though perhaps not in the sphere they previously occupied.

If you've ever known a leader or prominent Christian who's fallen, keep yourself from bitterness which eats away at the soul. Determine in your heart that should you meet them, you would be able to say, 'I'm praying for you and for your family. God has a great future for you and it is good.'

The Biblical God is the God of a second chance - with accountability, healing and gradual restoration.

Mal Fletcher 2008

Postscript, 22/08/08: Video presentation released today:

Click here to stream/download the podcast of yesterday's interview between Mal and Jon Bellamy of Cross Rhythms Radio.

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