When our own Christian journey has been significantly impacted by a leader who fails, it can leave us reeling. Here’s six ways we can process the pain while hanging onto our faith and looking to Jesus
As we grow and learn along our spiritual journey, many of us can gain an incredible amount of insight, encouragement and inspiration from Christian leaders. We read their books, listen to their podcasts, attend their conferences and follow them online. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that. They are leaders; they’re supposed to lead us, inspire us, share their wisdom, knowledge and anointing for the benefit of the body of Christ.
So when news of a leader’s moral, ethical or illegal failings surfaces, it can have a profound effect on us as those who trusted them and opened ourselves up to their teaching in good faith. It can cause us to feel confused, discouraged, angry or disappointed. It can cause us to question our own judgement, the validity of our faith or become suspicious of leaders in general.
Your relationship with God is not invalidated by the failings of those who led you to him
If this is something that has affected you, figuring out how to respond can be complex. So, let us share some thoughts that might help you as you process:
1. Validate your emotions
The first step in navigating this challenging terrain is to acknowledge and give space to your emotions. Feelings of doubt, anger, upset, disappointment and questioning are entirely valid. Even if you have never met the leader in person, their influence on your faith journey can be profound. These emotions may take time to process, and that’s OK. Take a moment to reflect on what you have learned and how it impacts your personal memories and experiences.
2. Share your reflections
Sometimes, the weight of these emotions can be too heavy to bear alone. Consider sharing your reflections with a trusted and safe person who can help you process what you are feeling. It can be a close friend, a family member or a spiritual mentor. Sharing your thoughts and emotions can provide clarity and comfort in times of confusion and distress. Having said that, it’s not always helpful to process these things in public or on social media, as you can’t control how others might react and what comments you might be inviting by opening up on a public forum. If you do want to say something publicly, give yourself time to process exactly how you feel and then enter into a public forum, rather than allowing the public forum to be what shapes your thoughts.
3. Release forgiveness
Once we have spent time understanding the impact these failings have had on us and our faith, what do we do then? We need to start the journey of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a feeling, it’s a choice. It’s not choosing to forget or minimise. It’s choosing to work through a process that takes the sharp edges off the hurt we are feeling, and the strength of emotion towards the person who has inflicted the hurt. It’s choosing to hand our hurt to the ultimate judge, Jesus, so that we can use our empty hands to grab hold of healing instead. It is not an easy choice, and the journey of properly understanding what we need to forgive can be painful and daunting. But it’s a journey worth travelling. When we choose to forgive, we choose life, freedom and hope.
Feelings of doubt, anger, upset, disappointment and questioning are entirely valid
4. Pray for those directly affected
When news finally breaks of a leader’s failings, it’s often because those that have been hurt can’t stay quiet any longer. There are often lives, careers, families and communities that have been badly damaged. It’s natural to want to question and understand the revelations, especially if you hear about them on the grapevine, and it’s important to allow proper processes to be followed. But we need to remember the courage it takes to speak out, and the impact of these issues being dragged into such a public spotlight. The aftershocks from these revelations can be as powerful and destructive as the original earthquake, so we need to keep lifting up those who are standing close to the epicentre. Pray for grace, healing, strength, courage and that divine peace that transcends all understanding.
5. Seek support and resources
Remember that you are not alone in your journey. Many others have faced similar struggles when confronted with the failings of Christian leaders they admire. There are organisations and ministries with expertise in this area that can offer guidance and support. Here are some resources to consider:
- ThirtyOneEight Safeguarding
- Mind and Soul Foundation
- Association of Christian Counsellors
- British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
- Mercy UK
6. Your faith is valid
Above all, it’s crucial to understand that your relationship with God is not invalidated by the failings of those who led you to him. Your faith is a personal journey, and it remains intact even when individuals who played a role in nurturing it stumble. Try not to confuse who God is and how he behaves with who his people are and how they behave - there’s a big difference. Yes, it can be complicated sometimes to know how to manage the tension between divine faith and human failings, so let’s allow the story in Luke 22 to encourage us. Jesus is being arrested by soldiers when Peter, in anger and while apparently representing Jesus, cuts off a servant’s ear with his sword. Though the damage was inflicted by Peter - he did not possess the power to heal it. Only Jesus could do that. And he did…
There is no excuse for abuse of any kind, and no place for it within our churches. If you have been a victim of abuse and need support, help is available via the above links, or via your own denominational safeguarding team