Recently I’ve had occasion to wonder about whether people should expect more from their leaders – in government, business and public service, but especially in the church. We all know of leaders who have failed to be the people of integrity we had imagined them to be. No doubt it was their reputation for honesty that was a key factor in enabling those persons to become leaders in their respective spheres of influence. Perhaps in addition to their leadership skills it was their commitment to moral principle that led to our own sense of admiration and support. So I think most of us would agree that integrity is a factor that actually helps define leadership.
No doubt this explains the sense of disappointment we feel when a leader does something dishonest, is inconsistent, or experiences some kind of moral failure. It seems especially repugnant when this happens in the life of a church leader whose work is defined by preaching and teaching the way of righteousness. Yet it happens. Anyone of us reading this might be a leader who at one time or another has fallen prey to temptation and serious failure. There is a sense in which none of us is immune to sins of one kind or another. All of us are sinners. All of us are in need of God’s grace.
But is there a sense in which it’s proper to have higher expectations of those who are leaders simply because they are in the public eye and live as examples of what others should follow? Does God expect more from leaders in the church and do these have a greater responsibility for living out the way of righteousness consistently?
Well, I know none of us like to be put on a pedestal in which the expectation is that failure is never possible. We don’t like to think of ourselves as being any different from others and often shy away from the public attention that leadership receives. We are especially sensitive to seeing our spouses and families put into this position as well. It isn’t like they had much of a choice for being thrust into the limelight to be scrutinized by their peers and others. Families of leaders often suffer a great deal because of an inordinate amount of expectation. On the other hand, leaders tend to like the challenge of setting high standards of achievement for their families.
From the Bible it is clear that there is indeed a greater onus of responsibility upon those who lead. Jesus defined leadership in terms of the extent to which one is willing to be a servant of others (Mark 10:41-45). He himself demonstrated how leadership works in becoming the servant of all – even to the extent of dying. Paul distinguished leaders of the church in First Timothy 3 by writing that this was a noble calling. He then goes on to describe the characteristics of one who is called to lead. It’s been said that it was not his intention to classify two kinds of Christians but merely to put into words what all Christians should aspire to become. James qualifies teachers in the church by saying that they will be judged with greater strictness (3:1). And Peter has a comment on expectations and rewards for elders in the church (1 Peter 5:1-4). There are also a variety of other references about the seriousness of false accusation against elders and the need to give them honour. (i.e. See 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Timothy 5:17-19, Hebrews 13:7, 17.)
So it is that both Scripture and experience point to the fact that leaders bear a larger responsibility for moral excellence. When they fall, more people are affected by their failure than happens when such occurs in the life of one who is little known. So when it does happen, as it often does, the road to restoration may require more than an average amount of time and discipline. Thankfully the mercy and grace of God is large enough to cover the sin and provide for the restoration of the worst offender if it is desired.