Today I listened to one of the most important, timely podcast episodes I have heard in a long time. The episode is “Leaders Who Won’t Flame Out” with Paul Tripp, the most recent installment of the Gospelbound with Collin Hansen.
Tripp has a new book releasing Lead: 12 Gospels Principles for Leadership in the Church. In the episode, he describes the book as a followup to his book Dangerous Calling. This earlier book was a huge hit among pastors when it released in 2013. One of the things Tripp draws attention to is the initial endorsements for the book on the back cover.
Those endorsements include Tullian Tchividjian and James MacDonald. Both are now out of ministry, having been publicly disgraced for the very kind of prideful and domineering spirit that the book encourages against. They are two of many high profile pastors to disqualify themselves from ministry in recent years.
Tripp says that when he wrote the initial work, he would have pointed at the pastor when you asked him why a certain leader had a “fall from grace”, whether sexual promiscuity, abuse, abuse of power, pride, etc. The issue was something in their heart. Now he looks somewhere different for early signs. Tripp says he would instead ask about the community around the pastor. Are those who should be holding the pastor accountable and protecting him from his own sin and the temptations that leaders face now his chief defenders? Is the most seasoned pastor that everyone looks up to a 40 year old? Does anyone have the ability to call the leader to repent if he engages in sinful behavior in a meeting? In Lead, Tripp says he discusses these principles and more, providing recommendations for how to create healthy churches and healthy church cultures.
My heart was moved listening to Tripp articulate what a healthy gospel community looks like, both for pastors and those who they shepherd or lead. It is impossible for me not to see this crisis of character in our church leadership culture. As a young man, one of my Sunday School teachers went to prison for sexual abuse. The pastor who was preacher when God first began to call me to ministry was outed for a multi-decade adulterous affair. One of the first ministry conferences I attended was headlined by 3 pastors who are no longer in ministry due to their sinful actions in leadership. Over the span of the next decade, I can name at least 15 leaders who I have admired, known, or looked to as a model have disqualified themselves due to sexual sin, sinful abuse of authority, or various manifestations of pride. My spiritual “family tree” is littered with destruction such that I can not look back on any major period of spiritual growth in my life without experiencing grief over the fallen leaders who ministered to me then but are gone now.
I can not say why it happened to each of them. But here’s what I know: every time it has happened, it has caused me to grieve and question myself. It should not be this way. Young men like myself should not have a spiritual graveyard full of their former role models.
How do we prevent this?
Tripp says, “The key to longevity is spiritual health…the key to spiritual health is gospel community. There’s the book.”
I can not recommend this podcast enough. You can listen to the whole thing by clicking below for iTunes or Spotify, or listen to the YouTube embed above.