When a Leader Sins

By Francis Frangipane

Transferred Guilt
When church leaders serve the living Christ in love, aggressive faith, and prayerful humility, the people who live in harmony with their anointing become rich in the presence of God. Conversely, when a leader scandalizes a congregation by committing a major sin or is led into Christ-denying doctrinal deception, the heartache of his downfall is also absorbed into the perception and attitudes of those in relationship with him.

This precept, that a leader's sin carries negative consequences, is seen in other positions of authority as well. Do you remember how you felt when you heard the details of former President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky? Or consider the distress that crushes a family when a father or mother commits serious sin and ends up going to jail. Unless it is remedied, the impact of these events is similar to that of a curse upon one's life.

The Bible speaks of God "visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me" (Ex. 20:5). The oppressive consequence of serious sin is actually passed from the fathers to the children, and then beyond from one generation to the next. This oppression must be discerned and atoned for, or its effect will work against us trans-generationally.

"Guilt on the People"
David ordered Joab to take a census of Israel. Joab begged the king, "Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?" (1 Chr. 21:3 NIV). God forbade taking an unauthorized census. It could represent a shift in a leader’s heart from trusting God to trusting the strength and numbers of his people. David sinned, yet his actions brought "guilt on Israel," and a plague struck killing tens of thousands.

People positioned in places of authority sometimes think they are "special" and the rules of integrity do not apply to them. Yet, the fact is, there are more rules, not less. Leaders are to be judged by a stricter judgment. This is because the failure of a leader has greater consequences. For us in the church, the recent failures of Ted Haggard, Todd Bentley and others has opened a sewer from hell, pouring into the larger church a multitude of contaminating influences.

In the Old Testament the Lord provided a means to deal with both the leader's sin and its subsequent effect on those under that leader’s authority. Thus, the Lord says, "If the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the Lord a bull without defect as a sin offering" (Lev. 4:3).

"Guilt on the people" is the effect of the leader’s sin upon them. This resulting mixture of fear, shame, apprehension and anger is now the people’s sin. It is a state of being that exists outside of the blessedness of a right relationship with God. The "guilt on the people" does not mean that they have sinned in the manner of the leader, but that their reaction to the leader’s sin has them positioned in an "unblessable state" of being. This "unblessed state," be it from anger or heartache, as legitimate as these things seem, is now a "guilt on the people" which must be acknowledged and atoned for.

Demons Haunt the Scene of Past Transgressions
As much as they wish it were otherwise, wounded congregations often carry a discernible cloud of heaviness upon them. For years, the influence of their wounding surfaces in conversations, attitudes of cynicism or in fearful anticipations. Worse, their shared, unremedied pain becomes a beehive of demonic exploitation, where human attitudes of mistrust, anger and confusion remain vulnerable to demonic manipulation.

The Amplified Bible, speaking of the effects, or the dwelling place, of unexpiated sin, gives us an insight into this demonic infestation. It reads, "The shades of the dead are there [specters haunting the scene of past transgressions]" (Prov. 9:18).

That understanding, that "specters haunt . . . the scene of past transgressions," tells us that when we pass through the disappointment and heartache caused by another's sin, if we do not find a way to forgive and to react as Christ, our human reactions can become a magnet for ongoing warfare and oppression. Thus, to move into a future God can bless, we must be cleansed of the unredeemed past.

What is especially unfortunate is that the unredeemed past can be transferred to individuals who join a church, yet were never partakers of the original wounding. New believers come to churches where mistrust of leadership has residence. Soon, through the osmosis of human relationships, the same fears, mistrust and suspicions that were resident in the old Christians can surface in the life of the new Christian. Simply replacing pastors will not bring healing; what needs replacing is the cloud of heaviness that remains in that church. For, not only did the fallen leader need forgiveness, cleansing and renewal in Christ but, as we stated, what was transferred to the people must be cleansed as well.

Perhaps we are tempted to think, "So what? Leaders come and go. I walk with God. Their fall doesn't affect me." Individually, you may indeed be blessed; but, you will never know the descent of the Lord's corporate blessing on a church until you experience renewal.

If we fail to deal with the effect fallen leadership has had on us, it is possible that our future relationships with church leaders will be colored with fear and suspicion. Remember, the Lord's promise is that He will raise up "shepherds over [His people] and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing" (Jer. 23:4). Unless we are cleansed of the effect of our negative experience, the filter of our mistrust might disqualify us from seeing godly leaders when the Lord brings us to them.

You see, there is a corporate blessing coming to the church that is greater than the individual blessing. The corporate blessing carries a unique reward for those who overcome offenses and persevere in faith for each other and their leaders. This is the Pentecost anointing that was in the 120 who were able to overcome the failings of the original twelve. Here, in the corporate blessing, is where God pours out His Spirit and touches multitudes, turns cities, and empowers His people with the life of heaven.

On a local level, your leaders may be godly, but each time a national leader fell, for some the "mistrust level" toward all church leaders increased. The cumulative effect of moral failure, both on a national and local level, has smothered the fire in many Christian hearts. If you are a pastor and you are wondering why people have not responded to your teaching as you hoped, it is possible they are carrying woundedness from a previous leader in a former church. Among church attenders, this woundedness has been translated into a polite, yet numbing attitude of suspicion. They may not hear you because they have distanced themselves from the memory of pain; and distance hinders hearing.

The Cure
The antidote for a leader's sin in the Old Testament was to "offer to the Lord a bull without defect as a sin offering." Of course, we have a Sacrifice for sins greater than the blood of bulls and goats. Indeed, one of the great graces of the Christian faith is that, as we yield to God, as we forgive others, He promises to cleanse us as well. His love makes all things new. We can be delivered from being hardened wineskins.

Thus, to facilitate this new grace, let me speak for all leaders who have failed you. Forgive us. For every leader who has stumbled badly, remember there are a hundred still climbing the mountain of God. So, release that man or woman who misused their spiritual authority or betrayed the solemn responsibilities entrusted to them and fell in sin. Again, I ask you to forgive leaders who have fallen or failed your expectations.

Let us also take up our positions to intercede for our leaders. God never intended that congregations would not participate in their leaders protection and inspiration. Your leadership reflects, at least in part, the answer to your prayers. Pastors without prayer support are uniquely vulnerable to the battle. If you haven't given your heart to intercession, perhaps it is time to stand in the gap for the leaders in your church.

As followers of mankind’s Redeemer, God invites us to the ever-renewing work of His grace. Yes, let us structure greater safeguards and accountability for those in leadership, for their sakes and ours. But let us also remember, though the Lord visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children, He also shows His "lovingkindness to thousands" who love Him (Ex. 20:6). Let us surrender our heartache to the Lord and release ourselves from the pain caused when a leader sinned.

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