Lessons Pastors/Leaders/Influencers Can Learn From Scandals – Part 2

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln (and we thought he was quoted a lot before, by the time Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis are done, Abe’s quotes are going to be as ubiquitous as Taylor Swift. But I digress.)

In my previous post on what we can learn from these recent scandals, I mentioned the possible reasons can be from the need to escape, falling into temptation because of the opportunities that present themselves (sometimes from being pursued or preyed upon) and offered a few thoughts on them.

There is a third reason that I think is important to discuss and worthy of its own post and here’s what I offered previously:
“Perhaps it doesn’t have anything to with being preyed upon or a real need for escape but instead – people reveal their true selves when given power, wealth and access along with the misguided notion that “I can get away with it.”


I think that is scary because it points to that people can capable of great evil and how easy they are able to either be the main character of the evil acts or the conduit of it. Power can bring liberation to an entire nation or with a few simple words and a seal that represents a particular office can bring great pain and devastation to another nation. That is scary.

This is very difficult for us to get – we just don’t have access to such power. What we can relate to is that each of us have this idea of the life we think we should live. And to cut to the chase, when things don’t go our way, we are not only disappointed but we feel that something is “owed” to us. Now some of the these things are petty, some are downright tragic and there’s a lot in the middle. Numerous times I have heard people say, “I just didn’t ever think my life would end up like this.”

It seems when you have power, you not only see the opportunity to gain back the things you felt owed to you but you delude yourself into thinking that you are either an exception to the rule or that you will get away with it. This is the point of the Lincoln quote – give someone power and they will reveal their character.

Then there’s our context here in the West. Ordinary men and women can gain status and clout by talent that is either quantified into wealth or acquire an office by a democratic election or an appointing for the common good. In the church world, committees search, deliberate, hire, and ordain thereby granting authority to do great works of good in the name of God.

But sadly month after month, and sometimes week after week, we hear of another scandal and tarnish another name – Petraeus, Armstrong, and Sandusky – How does this keep happening? How do we stop it? What can we as leaders learn from such terrible scandals?

We often label the root cause to such behavior as an issue of entitlement. It seems the first step in confronting our entitlement is to expand the term to include the selfish notion that wrongfully desires “the life we thought we were suppose to have.” When we look at it that way, we can identify some of our weaknesses and potential temptations.

For the pastor and Christian ministry type, it seems our entitlement may also come from an incomplete theology of salvation, calling and mission. It’s worth considering just what happens at conversion, and what needs to happen in the doctrine of regeneration. Further, if we could think less selfishly of how we think we should live in Christ and extend it to how others should live, we would overcome our issues of entitlement and focus more on justice, compassion, and seek the common good in a way that truly serves people and honors God.

The two go hand in hand. This is why so many are so devastated when powerful people we have trusted use their position to not only selfishly please/profit themselves but also add to the injustice and abuse/rob from the weaker. And this is what pastors/leaders/influencers are to do – join the work of God in bringing His justice, redemption and hope to others.

There will always be scandals, there will always be abuses of power and we should continue to seek, remove and punish the scandalizer. The good news is that all of us seek and celebrate character, we are a world that is always looking for heroes and inspiration, this is among the reasons why so many of us are captivated by the story of Jesus. May we learn from our failures, from the failures of others and may we rely on God’s grace to follow in his footsteps.

Lessons Pastors/Leaders/Influencers Can Learn From Scandals – Part 1

Sadly, it’s become a routine part of our week to hear about a breaking scandal. Last week it was revealed that David Patraeus, head of the CIA and Gulf War hero resigned after an “F.B.I. investigation uncovered evidence that he had been involved in an extramarital affair.”  Many have commented  that the timing of the revelation is odd given that he was to testify about the Benghazi attack.  Yes but the story should be just as troubling regardless of that and should remind us of the need for trust and character in positions of power and influence.

Yesterday news broke about Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a young man who was 16 at the time. And sadly, there’s always news of a pastor or a Christian figure allegedly involved in something inappropriate as well.

Understandably many wonder what drives these men (and women) to do such things – “Don’t they know they’re going to get caught??” I’ve thought that too.

In listening, reading and wondering, I often hear these possibilities:
The need for escape from the pressure and stress that drives people into temptation and the abuse of their power.
They are often preyed upon by people who want to experience the excitement of the power and spotlight.
Perhaps it doesn’t have anything to with being preyed upon or a real need for escape but instead – people reveal their true selves when given power, wealth and access along with the misguided notion that “I can get away with it.” 

Or is it a combination of all these reasons and more?  In any case, what are we to learn from such things? And more importantly, what is our motivation for learning? Is it to escape in the gossip of damaged reputations and feel morally superior,  is it to become more effective in hiding our own trespasses and potential scandals? Or do we hope to learn for the good of others and for the common good? In answering that question we can move from the judgement of others, away from our selfish pursuits and into the protection and restoration of others.

I want to examine these often-heard possible explanations and offer some thought for not only preventing future scandals (maybe our own) but even more important, to actually live better and in way that is faithful to the calling we have received.

“The need for escape from the pressure and stress that drives people into temptation and the abuse of their power.”
This has always felt a bit incomplete to me and “too convenient” as in “I’m so stressed, I just can’t help myself …” Still, there’s something about “the need for escape” as we can all see so much personal, relational and social damage attributed to this idea of needing “to get away from it all.” Examples of escapism include abusing of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, media, a hobby, a cause and just about anything that you can lose yourself in.

Among the many problems with escapism is its arrogantly individualistic and does not take into account the needs or feelings of others. It’s not to say that people are completely selfish and quietly loath their loved ones and so forth but for whatever reason, their judgement is clouded and their need for escape overcomes their sense of duty and responsibility, blinds them of their identities and enables them to forfeit their sacred vows.

We should find that when we are stressed that we need to be in conversation with people we love and trust. We ought to also feel that we need to “escape” not from something but to something and so the need for prayer, meditating, reading, journaling, reflecting, etc. should be lifelong and very important practices for us.

When I find others stressed, it’s amazing what a conversation over coffee, a beer, or a meal can do. Of course, it’s not the consumption of the said examples but the relational energy and care for each other that helps keep each other grounded, accountable and cared for. We would be well-served to reach out to each other when we are stressed and when when we find others stressed.

“They are often preyed upon by people who want to experience the excitement of the power and spotlight.”
Indeed, I’ve heard stories like this and on a very small level, have even experienced some of the awkward attention often associated with being a pastor/leader (again even on this small level). When I hear such statements, it seems to me they serve better as warnings than any basis of justifying scandalous behavior. Yes, there are people trying to trap others. It is not beyond belief that there is a woman out there trying to seduce Tim Tebow in some scandal (there could be a guy trying the same too). Similarly, I am confident that there are evil men/women out there trying to trap women of power/influence as well.

But what I see more of is people who are enamored with the spotlight and to make a long story short, commit a series of bad decisions and compromises that result in a mutual realization that both/all parties are in too deep and have a little recourse but to try to cover it all up out of self-preservation and perhaps also, confused feelings. Obviously I am not a qualified a psychologist, please only read those words as an observer.

But here’s the lesson for pastors, leaders and influencers of any kind. You may not consider yourself that good-looking or attractive (and let’s face it, a lot of these guys involved in such scandals are not “studly” by any means ;), but no one should be naive to the opportunities that present themselves.  The sheer volume of pastoral sex scandals should remind us of this.

The success story is not the simple avoidance of a sex scandal but to live a life that is honorable, that serves the common good, and for the Christian, a life that brings glory to God. Let us recognize the various temptations associated with our positions (sexual and financial) and practice safe guards that protect what we represent, protect those we love and follow with me here, also protect the potential fellow scandal-partner(s) – many of whom are often hurting themselves and have spouses, children and families that could be devastated as well.

Among the many takeaways from these scandals are for those who are married, strengthen your marriage. For those abstinent, guard your celibacy. Let us be people of prayer, of moral fortitude, and who put the needs and good of others before our own – as that is part of the responsibility with everyone who holds a position of leadership, everyone who holds a microphone, everyone in power. Again, we do these things not merely to avoid scandal but for honor and to live as intended. May the Lord strengthen us as we seek to rely on Him.

In addition to being preyed upon and the need for escape, I want to look also at the third given reason in the next post: when given power, wealth and access along with the misguided notion that “I can get away with it” that people reveal their true selves.

Thanks for reading, feel free to add/send your thoughts/comments.