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When Christian Leaders Sin in Public

Carola is a Christian writer and author of several books. She writes about Christian living, relationships, and other related topics.

Ravi Zacharias, Christian apologist and author

Ravi Zacharias, Christian apologist and author

“Church creative director resigns after sending volunteer explicit photos”
“Pastor misuses church funds on luxury items”
“Church leader had multiple affairs”
“Priests accused of molesting young children”
“Church leader embezzled church funds”

Headlines with the sins of Christian leaders are popping up in the media with alarming regularity. Church members are shocked to discover that leaders such as the late apologist and author Ravi Zacharias have been accused of spiritual abuse and sexual crimes. This news can challenge the faith of Christians and cause disillusionment, mistrust, and anger.

What the Bible Says About Leadership

The apostle Paul explained the qualities Christian leaders should have to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-10, 12-13). Here are the characteristics he described:

Has teaching ability
A good reputation and is above reproach both inside and outside the church
Worthy of respect
Mature in the faith
Self-controlled and temperate, not violent or quarrelsome
Gentle toward others
Not given to drunkenness
Faithful to their spouse
Can manage their own family
Is not a lover of money

Leaders face more temptations than their followers. The praise and adoration of others may turn their heads. They can be lead astray by opportunities to take advantage of people. Leaders and pastors may be overworked, burned out, and have neglected their prayer life. Self-pity may drive them to seek the wrong kind of comfort from the opposite sex.

All that being said, Christian religious leaders are human beings just like us. All people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Biblical leaders such as Abraham, Noah, Moses, and David had major failings and made serious mistakes. However, we should not use biblical examples to excuse leaders' and pastors' behavior. These people did pay a price for their sins.

Our Response to Leadership Sins and Mistakes
So how do we respond when leaders sin in public? When we first hear about others’ failings, we feel sad, disappointed, and angry. They probably have lost our trust and respect. There are steps we can take in response to hurtful headlines and media stories.


We need to pray for so many people in this situation such as the transgressors, their families, their coworkers, their bosses, and the people they hurt. In addition, administrators need our prayers to make difficult decisions about leaders who sin.

Examine Ourselves

We must be careful not to become hardened and disillusioned by the news. If we react this way, we need to examine ourselves. We may have put leaders on a pedestal or had unrealistic expectations of them. All people fail and fall short. If we do not put them on a pedestal, they do not have as much space to fall. We should stop any hero-worshipping and may have to question some of their teachings.

We should look at all Christians, leaders or followers alike, as sinners who have the same human failings and weaknesses as us. Everyone will make mistakes, sin, and fail to do the right thing at some point (Romans 3:23).

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Our pride may be hurt when Christian leaders or pastors bring organizations we love into disrepute. Pride leads to destructive emotions such as rage and bitterness (Proverbs 16:18). We may feel ashamed and guilty because of our previous affiliation and participation in certain groups. We need to humbly admit that we made mistakes. In most situations, we can reassure ourselves that we joined with the best of intentions and were innocent of wrongdoing.

Do Not Be Judgmental and Condemning

We may be influenced by a world that is quick to pounce on leaders and celebrities who make mistakes. The media digs up old tweets, quotes, or questionable actions and shames celebrities with them. As a result, the transgressors may experience insults, criticism and may lose jobs or relationships.

Our anger can push us to criticize and condemn leaders when we talk to others. This stirs up righteous indignation and resentment that can escalate to bitterness. We need to watch our mouths and ensure that no unwholesome talk comes out (Ephesians 4:29). We should not vent on social media. We do not know all the facts or have enough information to make a fair judgment.

Other people will be grieved by the actions of leaders. They need words that help build them up so they can overcome their feelings of devastation and disillusionment. We should be careful how we talk about fallen people. If we need to vent, we should choose friends who can help us process our feelings and calm us down.

Extend Mercy and Forgiveness

As Christians, we are to extend mercy to others and forgive them. Holding on to anger and righteous indignation will hurt us, not them.

Remember That They Are Accountable

Forgiveness is not a free pass to continue hurting other people. Sin has negative consequences. Christian leaders are accountable for their actions, especially if they break the laws of man as well as God’s standards.

Administrators and leaders are under the authority of a church, a religious organization, or the criminal justice system, who will determine the fate of leaders who sinned. We should trust that the authorities will make wise decisions about how to handle individuals or groups who have sinned.

Do Not Allow The Words and Actions of a Few To Turn You Against Your Faith

It is true that some leaders manipulated others for their own benefit and committed horrific crimes, including every type of abuse. It is also true that some religious institutions and ministries may have covered up the sins of leadership, tolerated bad behavior, or were complicit in transgressions. However, in many cases, other leaders and members of the congregation are innocent of wrongdoing. We should not allow the sins of a few to influence us to stop having faith in people. Their transgressions do not necessarily negate any good they may have done.

Some leaders, pastors, churches, and religious organizations will acknowledge what they have done, apologize, and will commit to making necessary changes. Whatever happens, God is still God, and his justice will prevail.


The Holy Bible, New International Version
How to handle someone's sin in public, The Christian Post, Kelly Williams
John Piper: Ravi Zacharias turned 'position of power' into 'neediness and woundedness,' Christian Post, Leah Marieann Klett
When a Leader Falls: How Christians Can Get Back Up, Lifeway Research, Aaron Earls
Responding to Moral Failure in Church Leaders, Christianity Today, Kevin Harney


Expressing-Myself on June 28, 2021:

Really enjoyed this! Thanks for sharing

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