What to Do When a Leader Lets You Down


It is godly and appropriate to have heroes in the faith—mentors, examples, leaders who go out in front of us and help us see what it looks like to follow Christ. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). That’s an amazing statement. He could have simply said, “Follow Christ with me.” But insofar as Paul was following Christ, it was appropriate for him to say, “Follow me.”

But sometimes our leaders let us down. Whether it’s a moral failing, a leadership blind spot, a deficiency of wisdom, or some other weakness—at some point and in some way we will be disappointed by even our heroes. In fact, because we are all fallen and flawed human beings, it’s not a matter of whether our leaders will disappoint us—it’s a matter of when and how much.

When a leader lets down, it can be a profoundly disillusioning experience. Anyone who has been there knows that darkness, that pain. Especially when one of your ministry heroes hurts you personally or stumbles into a grievous sin, it can feel like your world is turned upside down, and it can make you question everything you are working toward.

How can we endure disappointment without becoming disillusioned? This article is not a comprehensive answer, but here are four principles from the book of Nehemiah that might be helpful. (See Courtney Reissig’s article for some further helpful advice.)

1. Fight against cynicism.

Some of the saddest corollaries to disillusionment are apathy and cynicism. When we have drawn the lines of good and evil in such a way that we have to realign them, we can start to question whether they can be drawn at all. If both the “good guys” and “bad guys” are flawed, is everything just a power grab?

When we are battling disillusionment and/or cynicism, we must take special care to remind ourselves that genuinely fighting for good is still possible. At the same time, we may recognize that the lines between good and evil are more complicated than we previously thought. Our leaders, our tribe, our own hearts are not an unadulterated, unmixed good, but even at their best stained with impurity.

Nonetheless, our lives and our causes still matter. In fact, as we study the annals of church history, we find that God has often been profoundly at work right amid all the mess and mire of human imperfection—even, at times, gross and grievous imperfection.

Even biblical revivals like that recounted in the book of Nehemiah are fraught with imperfection. God does a great work of renewal among his people, resulting in the walls being rebuilt (chapters 1-6) and covenant renewal and celebration among the people (chapters 7-12). But when Nehemiah returns from Susa in chapter 13, he finds the people have desecrated the temple (13:4-9) and the priesthood (13:10-14, 28); they have profaned the Sabbath (13:15-22); and they have married foreigners who have led their hearts astray (13:23-27).

Yet this sad and anticlimactic ending does not entail that the good work of chapters 1-12 is meaningless. God is at work even amid the mess and mire, both in Nehemiah’s ministry and ours.

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SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition
Gavin Ortlund

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