Another prominent ministry leader was recently disciplined and has taken a leave of absence for inappropriate behavior. While I have not consulted personally on this situation, the reported incidents are very similar to other situations I have been involved in helping resolve. One of the commonalities in these situations is most ministry leaders do not fail suddenly, but gradually and incrementally as they drift toward the actions that ultimately lead to their downfall.
One of the reasons for this is some leaders, in an attempt to be edgy or hip or radical (or whatever the word is today), stretch the limits of appropriate behavior. They want to get as close to the edge of questionable behavior as possible without stepping over the edge. In doing this, they desensitize themselves to appropriate behavioral limits and eventually end up on the wrong side of the line.
A better choice is to move as far away from the edge as possible, without making the opposite mistake of being prudish, perfectionistic, or legalistic. Ministry leaders are supposed to be examples of ethical and moral conduct. We are supposed to be examples of the best behaviors—particularly in interpersonal relationships, conversations, and other communications. Some leaders chafe at this requirement to be an example, but it’s a biblical pattern they would do well to emulate (Phil. 3:17, 1 Tim. 4:12). We can do this in healthy ways—without being preachy, arrogant, or over-bearing about it.
Besides personal behavior, another aspect of leading effectively in this area is accountability and transparency with your team. When the situation referenced above was revealed, I convened a team meeting for re-training of the President’s Office employees at Gateway on appropriate interpersonal relationship and communication—particularly on social media and in direct messages among the team. We have clear standards, which we are currently meeting, on these matters. The training was to reinforce those standards and remind each other of them. It was also to underscore our need for mutual accountability, meaning we all speak up when something seems inappropriate and help each other stay away from any perilous edges.
Rather than judge other leaders for their mistakes, use these recent experiences to enhance your commitment to ethical and moral behavior as a leader. Beyond that, train or retrain your team to appropriate standards in these areas. And, if you are drifting the wrong direction, step back from the edge!
Dr. Paul Kelly provides a biblically informed theology of youth that gives youth ministers and pastors a deeper understanding of the common experience and divine purpose of teenage years. You can find an excerpt of his new publication here.
Dr. Chris Chun hosted a digital symposium with Dr. Michael Haykin and Dr. Robert Caldwell to discuss Edwards’ spirituality, devotional life and theological impact in American Christianity.