Here I am, only six months since the last article I wrote on mighty cedars falling to the earth1 (aka Jerry Falwell, Jr.), and now I’m writing another on the fall of Ravi Zacharias.2 It’s hard not to get cynical about famous male evangelical leaders. Ravi’s fall hits the evangelical church particularly hard because he was admired internationally. I’ve been reading soul-searching responses from all over the world. Ravi had a huge following of young leaders who listened to, were inspired by, and imitated his apologetic approach to evangelism. Now his organization and leaders worldwide are trying to pick up the pieces.
There are three lessons that any church or Christian organization trying to serve faithfully in this Hollywood macho culture of Christian leaders needs to learn:
Leaders must care more about deepening their character than spreading their message and growing their churches or organizations. We are called to be holy. We are called to put the interests of others above our own. We are called to be an acceptable offering in the very sight of God. Our message is our embodied Christ-likeness. It is not our words. If our Christlikeness crumbles, our words have little spiritual legacy. They will be interpreted through the fire of our sinfulness.
Therefore leaders, yoke yourself to your spouse, your friend, your Christ, so that when you are tempted to pull in a different field, you will be called back to reality. Seemingly small choices to serve one’s baser needs for adoration and sexual attention can result in stumbles and eventually a massive fall. And to be clear, we all must do this. We are all capable of sin. None of us is immune, but all of us have God’s grace and the Holy Spirit to guide us into all holiness. Therefore leaders, yoke yourself to your spouse, your friend, your Christ, so that when you are tempted to pull in a different field, you will be called back to reality. Click To Tweet
Remember your power and influence are resources for the saving of the world, not for the promoting of your specialness. Your influence fills a thimble compared to the omnipotence of God throughout all time and space.
Women’s Voices Matter
Women leaders must be at the top. A completely male-normed culture will become toxic. We were designed by the Creator to have each other’s backs. Genesis 1 speaks of male and female mutual identity and authority. Genesis 2 describes the special role of females to protect [helper] males. She is so strong, she can stand “as if in front of the male,” and I would suggest vice versa. We need each other. This mutual benefit was lost at the fall and regained at the resurrection. Yet the church continues to promote male leaders who don’t have this covering.
I remember seeing Ravi at large conference events. I was cautious around him. Many women have an antenna for a predator. Our bodies recognize the quiet unseen signals of danger. Yet the church trivializes and marginalizes women. Thus, the mess. Many women have an antenna for a predator. Our bodies recognize the quiet unseen signals of danger. Yet the church trivializes and marginalizes women. Thus, the mess. Click To Tweet
If your church or organization doesn’t believe in women in leadership, I suggest that the Holy Spirit is knocking at your door. Christians for Biblical Equality International has all the evangelical and biblical resources you need to explore your questions.
Boards and elders must hold leaders accountable. The vice president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Tammy Dunahoo, alerted me to a recent study about pastors and narcissists. The study found that pastors are 5-30 percent more likely to be narcissists than the rest of the population. So, there should be no surprise when charismatic solo leaders slip and fall. If you hired him or her, your work is to hold them accountable, for the sake of that leader, your organization, and the very image of Christ to a lost world.
It is not enough to ask pastors about their goals and successes, new initiatives and challenges. Boards and elders need to consider the holy obligation of coming alongside a leader and ensuring that his or her personal, relational, and spiritual worlds are healthy. This isn’t discerned through a form. It takes thought, time, and prayer. Pastoring and leading ministries are some of the most difficult vocations with high stress, burnout, marriage and family problems, addictions, and sexual temptations. Why would evil make it easy to bring light to the world?
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ, let’s not just lament the loss of another voice for the kingdom because of scandal. Let’s do something about it. For the sake of the gospel. For the sake of the world. For the lifting up as holy the power of our Lord to change lives.