5 Reasons Leaders Stumble and Fall

The Church is a powerful force for good and the hope of the world. That has always been true. Yes, the Church is flawed, but it hasn’t and can’t fail.

The Church is imperfect because people are imperfect, but the living, breathing body of believers focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ ultimately can’t fail because God can’t fail.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Matthew 16:18

Notice two things:

  • Jesus will build His Church
  • The gates of hell will not overcome the Church

When I take an honest look at the New Testament Church, I see the reality of miraculous life change and community transformation. Yet, at the same time, I also know the reality of daily problems.

The same is true today. 

This is in no way an excuse for sin or disingenuous leadership.

It’s a reminder of who we are and who we’re meant to be: The Church. The literal Community of God and the hope of redemption.

The Church is the ordained instrument of redemption designed by God and fulfilled in His Son Jesus.

  • We are called to love and worship God. (Matt 22:37-39)
  • We are commissioned to reach others for redemption in Christ. (Matt 28:19-20)
  • We are challenged to treat others as we would treat ourselves. (Matt 7:12)

So, where does this beautiful plan break down?

Something happens.

Something changes.

There are many factors, but when we consider responsibility, we must at least start with leadership.

The problems that leaders must solve are unending, the demands are unrelenting, and sometimes the line between right and wrong becomes blurred.

I’m writing this post with the assumption that church leaders begin with redemptive intent. I’ve never met a leader who started in ministry intending to hurt anyone or damage the reputation of a church.

Further, the overwhelming majority of those who lead in a local church are working hard and serving well.

But that doesn’t prevent the disheartening situations we encounter.

The key is to catch it early while there is still time to make course corrections.

These five points should help us accomplish that.

When we are aware of what causes us to stumble and eventually fall, we can be watchful, accountable, and make better decisions. 

5 Reasons Leaders Stumble and Fall

1) When the pressures of growth crowd out the promises of God.   

There are two kinds of pressure related to the growth of a church. The inner pressure a leader feels to be a catalyst for growth and the outward pressure that comes in responding to that growth.

When these unrelenting pressures are allowed to crowd out the promises of God, trouble will eventually follow.

The promises of God include that He is always with us, He alone has the power to change lives, and He will build His Church.

When we try to lead the church in our own strength, running ahead of God (because we don’t think He’s doing things fast enough) or lagging behind God (because of doubt), we forsake the power of His promises.

Pressure will always be with us, so we must lean into God’s gracious promises, power, and presence.

We must first be humble followers and allow God to lead.

2) When human temptations are stronger than healthy habits.

We cannot escape the realities of our humanity, but they must never become an excuse (or permission) for giving in to temptation.

What is your great temptation? What is your leadership Kryptonite?

It’s important that you know so you can resist.

However, saying no to our greatest temptations rarely works by itself; we also need to replace them (crowd them out) with healthy habits.

What three healthy habits do you have that protect against your top temptations?

In general, healthy habits include practices such as daily prayer, genuine accountability within an authentic community, and margin for things like Sabbath, rest, and play.

But we can also employ specific good habits to overcome particular temptations.

For example, the practice of daily gratitude helps overcome the temptation of comparison, envy, entitlement, and focusing on what you don’t have.

3) When the loss of authentic community skews perspective and gives permission.

A long-standing occupational hazard for church leaders is to help get everyone else in the community, such as a small group, and fail to get the same experience for themselves.

Isolation is a great danger for any pastor, staff member, or church leader. The scary thing is that you can be among people but not really be with them. So we must open up and be transparent.

Our perspective of ministry, the church, culture, and life, in general, becomes skewed when left unchallenged and limited to our own thoughts.

Isolated and on our own, it’s easy for our thoughts to become small (lack of hope), spiral downward (feeling discouraged or defeated), and lose connection with truth and wisdom. Community is vital.

It then becomes easy to rationalize and justify (permission), which is an invitation to stumble and fall.

Can you name those in your close community where you have no secrets, and they lovingly but firmly hold you accountable? (We are in danger without this.)

4) When a spiritually dry season continues to a “didn’t see it coming” progression down a dead-end street.

A spiritually dry season is common and expected. The problem begins if you get stuck there — but there is a way out.

The whole sequence looks like this.

  • Dry spiritually – a short season where you don’t seem to be hearing from God
  • Drift from God – you don’t feel as close or the intimacy with God you once did
  • Discouragement sets in – dryness and drift cause discouragement, and you wonder what’s wrong?
  • Distance from God – danger zone here; you are living and leading apart from God
  • Disobedience – The dead end of the road is when you say no, to God.

Catch it early.

Here’s the way out:

First, don’t beat yourself up or give up for feeling spiritually dry. Keep going.

Second, introduce something new, positive, and healthy to your routine. For example, make a change to your devotional life that creates something new, fresh, and life-giving.

Third, talk to someone, a trusted friend or spiritual advisor. Do not try to navigate a spiritually dry season alone for more than a few weeks.

5) When passion for the mission turns to unhealthy ambition.

The hunger for more is a slippery slope.

It starts out good; to reach more people, see more baptisms, help more people break free from addiction, etc. But it can turn into a hunger for more authority, greater position, and more recognition.

Don’t be quick to judge anyone; it can happen to any of us.

Leadership gifting and drive is a good thing and necessary, as long as it doesn’t become unbridled and unhinged from biblical calling and accountability.

The warning sign is when “it’s never enough.”

No matter what you have, how big the church is, or how far the reach of your influence, it’s just not enough.” If you wrestle with that, I urge you to talk with a trusted advisor soon.

For all of us, a great practice that helps to keep us grounded is to:

Reflect on the price paid for your salvation, remember your calling, and recall your humble beginnings and the blessing of God’s grace that we get to do what we do!

6 thoughts on “5 Reasons Leaders Stumble and Fall”

  1. What a great post, pastor Reiland!
    Sometimes we tend to forget how powerful the Church is, and its crucial role in the world.
    Besides, everyone faces some kind of pressure in life but, when it comes to leaders, I think it really goes to another level, a more complex one.
    So, it’s really good to learn these useful tips and ways of dealing with leadership issues.
    Also, I truly believe we can enjoy our daily lives and rest, knowing that God understands us and our limitations.
    That’s why I think we should strive for excellence, not perfection, for the search for perfection can be really limiting.
    May God bless our week!

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