Leaders can fail and fall.

These days, a scandal involving a pastor or theologian is becoming a common occurrence. Before we point fingers at them, it would be wise for us to acknowledge that we too are capable of violating the same biblical standards that we expect our leaders to meet. It would be wiser to learn lessons from the failures of Christian leaders and apply them to our lives so that we can be aware of our shortcomings, proactively root out sin, and maintain a high regard for God’s grace and mercy.

Matt Chandler, the pastor of the Village Church, made the headlines for stepping down from his leadership role on account of an inappropriate online relationship with a woman. Read about the incident here.

From my research, I gathered that a lady approached Chandler one Sunday after church and told him that the DMs (direct messages) between him and a friend of hers were inappropriate. The pastor brought the matter to the attention of the elders of his church who determined that though the texts were not romantic or sexual in nature they were “unguarded and unwise.” They thought Chandler not only had violated the church’s social media policy but also had fallen short of the moral requirements for pastors.

What baffles me is that while a lay woman and the elders of the church were convinced that the pastor had indulged in behavior unbecoming of a Christian leader, Chandler himself did not see anything wrong with his actions. It seemed as if he was humbly willing to be corrected by the church out of an abundance of caution and not necessarily out of remorse or guilt.

I wonder how long Chandler’s “inappropriate” texting with the woman through social media would have continued had the lady from his church not confronted him. How far would he have gone before he realized he was way too deep in sin? Would he have told anyone about his indiscretion?

We may not relate specifically to Chandler’s situation, but his misstep can teach us important lessons.

Identify your blind spots

God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David about his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Only after Nathan openly declared that David had done evil in the Lord’s eyes and pronounced God’s judgement on his sin did David repent, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (1 Samuel 12:13).

We can be unaware of our own transgressions. We may live in denial and try to make excuses for continuing to sin. Or, we may not even see a particular attitude or action as displeasing to God.

But family members or close friends can, sometimes, throw light on our blind spots and lovingly lead us to repentance. Recently, on our drive back from a party, my husband brought to my notice that my conversation with a friend at the party was plain gossip. I denied it at first but eventually saw my error. I can count on two or three close friends to call me out on compromising behavior or unbiblical thinking.

Even if we don’t have confidants, the Holy Spirit living in us convicts us of ungodliness. The question is whether we are aware of His gentle rebuke, whether we have trained our ears to listen to His voice.

David wrote Psalm 51 after his encounter with Nathan. His words show his eagerness to root out evil from his life, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” (Psalm 51:3).

To be familiar with our own sins is the first step to confession and repentance. The practice of cultivating a healthy and holy awareness of our own filthiness leads to spiritual growth.

Meditating on God’s Word helps put the spotlight on the little and big thoughts, attitudes, and actions that displease God, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:23-24 NIV).

Confront your secret sins

When Jesus called out adultery in one’s thoughts as sin (Matthew 5:27-28), He set the bar for sin high and deep.

Jesus is concerned about what goes on in our minds when our spouse makes us angry, when we scan our friend’s international vacation pictures on Instagram, or when we watch an unexpected titillating scene on TV.

Jesus knows the heart is the seat of evil. Make no mistake, He sees all our sins, even the ones buried in our hearts that are hidden from others. Nothing about our humanness surprises Him. Because He loves us (anyway) and foresees the harmful effects of our failings, He wants us to purge our lives of uncleanness.

Since we cannot keep secrets from our all-knowing God, no sin is a secret. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking that secret sins are insignificant and inconsequential or that we don’t have to deal with them.

Sometimes, like Chandler, I tell myself that my action is not really unbiblical and that I don’t need to take it to the altar as a sin offering. How many times have I skirted the line between inappropriateness and immorality? How many times have my thoughts circled a particular sin at close proximity?

Some sins are best left hidden from others, as long as we can honestly wrestle with them and seek God’s help in uprooting the seed that could become a tree. When secret sins become a burden too heavy for us to bear, we can confide in a mature friend. We can remind ourselves that the Holy Spirit not only convicts us but empowers us to overcome sinful patterns of thought and behavior.

What surprised and scared me most as I researched the Matt Chandler incident is that I could relate to his shortcoming. He may be a famous preacher but he’s like the rest of us.

The failures of our leaders teach us not to take sin lightly but to make it a priority and a habit to keep our own sins always before us. Only when we gaze upon our sinfulness, can we ask God for mercy, receive undeserved and full forgiveness, and experience His precious grace.

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