Christian Leaders Leaving the Faith

Posted on Posted in Church Leadership

Christian Leaders Leaving the Faith—
How has leadership failed them? What can we do for the future?

You can probably name a few leaders from the news over the past few years. One morning you wake up, and some strong Christian leader from your past, has left the faith. Or maybe just his wife and kids. Or done something nefarious. You’re stunned. Maybe you followed this person since you were a teen. Maybe it’s been someone you have followed for years. Maybe he (or she) has had an impact on your life in some way. Or maybe you don’t know them at all and it’s just another headline indicting the Christian faith. They no longer believe what they believed. They left their wife, their children, their faith. And the world applauds them for their courage, their honesty, their transparency.

Why is this happening? Is it accelerating? What can we do about it?

There are many reasons why it happens. It may appear as though it is accelerating, and there are some good things that leadership can do to prevent it from happening.

Why is this happening?

It’s always happened. History has its renouncers and wolves. I think in earlier decades they may have wandered off into sin as a way of wandering from the faith. Or maybe there was no social media to debate every detail and make it widespread. As the American culture acts (becomes) more secular, it’s easier for people to simply claim they have become more enlightened and go off and live like the culture around them. It looks more transparent and more honest. Looks. Plus, there are now a number of atheist organizations that actively seek them out and welcome them to deprogram them from past religious toxicity. I kid you not. Even in New Testament times people left the faith:

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19 ESV)

Some are false teachers. Some are not really believers. Some are struggling with faith and hard truths from God and are temporarily confused and will may come back. There are many reasons people leave the church and the faith.

Maybe it’s the last hour. 1 John 2:18, the verse just before the one above, says that we will know it’s the last hour when many start leaving the faith. Maybe we’re in the last hour. I’m not going to speculate about times and epochs here. My goal is to help church leadership better deal with this issue now so they can help stem the flow in the future. There are some errors we have made that we can change for others in the future—those are the things I want to address. Of course, if it’s God’s purpose to show us the last part of 1 John 2:19—that not everyone is a true believer—there’s nothing we can do about that. What really concerns me is the whole Hebrews 6:4-8 situation—“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.” So we need to make sure we are training peoples heads—and their hearts.

Maybe it’s the way we treat each other as believers. The depravity of the heart. The careless love that we show. Maybe we’re too strict and pile up things on believers backs that God didn’t command. Or maybe we’re too lenient and don’t bring the full truth of what God has said. Or maybe we know all the Do’s and Don’ts of the faith but haven’t concentrated on the Big Two that Christ left us with—

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

There are many reasons and Leadership should take the time to understand what those reasons are so we can see them in their early warning signs and make swift corrective, biblical, wise changes to help those struggling—or those that will be struggling in the future.

Is it accelerating?

Maybe. Maybe not. Because of social media, everything is known almost instantly. That may make it look like it is accelerating. As well, the current generations are more transparent—they have to be—everybody knows everything instantly! So they are confessing where they are at any one moment. In fact, Christianity is declining in America (maybe just shifting…)—though it is increasing as a whole in the rest of the world (see here and here). Christianity is under attack emotionally in the USA which means those who are not serious Christians find it easier to leave the faith. We are sort of between the testaments of a postmodern, post-Christian period. G. Shane Morris, a senior writer at BreakPoint, a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, puts it this way—

“In the subduction zone between a nominally Christian culture and a distinctly post-Christian one, sparks are flying—in florist’s shops, bakeries, universities, legislatures, and bathrooms nationwide. Those who want to live in peace with the still-sizeable Christian remnant need to move past lazy dismissals of religious “bigotry,” and learn why Christians have come to the conclusions we have for 2,000 years.”

We are changing from a Christian nation, where the national religion was Christianity, to an NRA culture—No Religious Affiliation— meaning people are no longer afraid to not be associated with the national religion. And just because there is a national religion in any country, doesn’t mean all, many, or even most of the people who live there truly practice what the religion professes. It was a way in the past to delineate what the majority of the country calls themselves from a religious perspective. Having said that, there are still a whole of people who believe in God—even if 50% of those beliefs are fairly heretical in biblical parlance.

Whether it is indeed declining we’re not totally sure yet—but with social media, 24/7 news cycles, and a current culture where fascist beliefs are quelling traditional Christian beliefs, it is making it harder to preach the gospel in a public forum. Think of how many big name crusade evangelists like Billy Graham and Billy Sunday you know of today. They’re all gone. There seems to be no end to TV evangelists hawking the gospel as self-help, health and wealth, and something to improve your personality. But the big names are all in an era gone by.

Five good leadership practices to help young people (and any age) learn to lead themselves

No methodology is perfect. No strategy is foolproof. Only God’s word is guaranteed not to return void (Isaiah 55:11). But there are good, biblical and leadership principles that can help you prepare others for their journey and prevent a lifetime of headache and heartache.

The hardest person to lead is? Yourself. We don’t see ourselves well. We do what we want to do. Others can usually see us better. For some personalities, we have poor self-awareness. For some, we have none! Others can have a huge amount of empathy and self-awareness—which can cause a different problem dealing with issues. Let’s look at what some of the top leadership practices are that help young people.

    1. Don’t give too much authority/responsibility in ministry to young believers (1 Timothy 3:6). Parse it out over time when they have shown themselves wise enough to get the authority. Plan it out—write it down—do the homework to ensure you bring them to where they need to go. This is a great principle when choosing elders and leaders. Including our children. Scripture says if you give people that are young in experience and belief a leadership position, people that are not ready for the responsibility, it causes them to get puffed up—to start believing their own press. They believe that all the things they think are true and good. They need to go through the process. They need to suffer defeat at their own hands. They need to make their own mistakes and grow from them. They need to fail forward and prove themselves—if to no one else but themselves! They need to do these things in a controlled environment where you can use those as teaching moments to help them get up and start going again. Then will they be ready to lead others. It’s like when you leave your parents house to get married. For 30 years your parents have worked hard and built up all that they have. They have a nice house, nice car, nice things. It’s taken 30 years for them to get where they are, scrimping, saving, losing, gaining, investing, growing, learning, applying. Many times when we get married and leave, we want to have the same things that our parents have. We want right away what they have taken 30 years to build. It’s a natural desire. It’s ingrained. Wisdom dictates we learn to start at the beginning—with nothing. And learn to build.One of the worst things you can do as a leader is bring in a new hire and leave them alone. We fear the concept of micromanaging so much that we have a tendency to let them alone and not give them the training and mentorship they need. It’s ubiquitous and endemic. We look at the credentials, degrees, titles, and we think, “this person has a lot of education—I don’t want to insult them by telling them what to do.” Some of the smartest people I know have done some of the stupidest things. We are all only one step away from stupid. Take the time to grow your people and let them earn their level of leadership.Instead, map out—on paper—what you want of this person and how you are going to test them, train them, and grow them  to the place you believe they need to be. If you haven’t spent a considerable time on how you are going to move this person through the ranks, you are not leading. Take the time to plan this person’s success. Don’t presume! It costs me nothing to say that again—Don’t presume! People are hired 15% for their skill and 85% for their attitude (survey). Don’t presume they know fully what they are doing—or that they fully understand your culture and procedures. Or even that they have the same passion and vision. Maybe you hired them for that very reason—that they bring in fresh ideas and new-culture thinking. That’s fine—but don’t let them govern alone. That presumption on your part will cost you 1.5 to 2 times the salary to replace the person and a whole lot more of your wasted time. As well, it could slow down or even derail your ministry. I can’t warn you enough to walk slowly with this. We hire someone usually because we need them in order to grow our organization. We have usually waited too long to bring them on so it really is paramount to us that we get them on board and producing as fast as possible! So we skip some important steps. We neglect to properly onboard and train people. It will always hurt you. And even if everything turns out okay, you probably could have moved faster if you had an strong plan.My dad used to love the saying, “I taught him everything he knows—but not everything I know!” Take the time to teach them everything you know! Then they will be able to use all the collective wisdom to further the goal.

      What about hiring family? I was a president’s kid (PK). I also had some of my kids working for me at my own business. I also had some of my kids in the praise team when I was a worship leader and worship pastor. Wherein, I had to prove myself with my dad and went from facilities manager to VP of Marketing in 13 years, one of my kids was a bit prideful of being the boss’s child and came across arrogantly. I had to have a serious talk with him. In fairness, he now studies leadership and is a humble individual on his way to being a level 5 leader. I have another child who has a personality that is naturally humble and in his own right was a good leader. He is now the Music Director at a very large church. My advice? Do it only as a training opportunity in ministry. Don’t plan to bring up your child as the next leader in your church. Send him/her out as soon as possible to help some other ministry. There are too many problems and temptations and frankly, it’s just not worth it for all the potential problems it brings. I know. You want to be close to your kids. And there’s nothing like being around your family and keeping your grandkids nearby. But more times than not, it causes serious problems. Let them be happy elsewhere. Running an organization is tough enough without the added problem of family dynamics. If it’s a family business and you want to have generational transition, that’s different. There are still some better procedures if you do that. But at a public church, be careful about having your kids in leadership positions. I guarantee it will at least have some negative effects on some in your staff. And that’s normal. And it’s understandable. Don’t be frustrated with staff for feeling that way. You have to scrutinize your family more than others. If not, bad things can will happen.

      You have to earn all levels of leadership except the first level, which is Level 1—Positional Leadership. This you are given by someone—it’s the only level you do not earn. You want your people—especially family—to earn the right to lead. If they do not earn these positions because you are giving them to them, you will create significant troubles for yourself and many others. Don’t. Do. It. Let it be a test for their ability. People buy in to the leader before they buy in to the vision. If your people are not buying into a leader, they will not take your organization where you want it to go.

    2. Ask good questions, often. Daily. It’s part of good coaching, mentorship, leadership. Good leaders ask great questions. Jesus lead by asking questions. Leadership isn’t only telling people what to do and how to do it, it’s asking questions to make sure what they know is the right thing to know! Take the time to ask questions in the midst of your day-to-day and the training you do with all your people. Again, like in #1 above, take the time to write out your questions. Do the homework. The questions might be different with each of your people. They may be very similar. The idea is to test and measure, test and measure. If your eyes don’t constantly test where the car is in relation to the road, your brain cannot measure the distance to a dangerous object and you’ll soon be in a wreck. That’s why driving and texting is not wise. It takes your eyes off the road for five seconds at a time. You can travel over the length of a football field in five seconds. That’s what happens if you don’t test and measure daily with your people. The idea is to not let much time go by where people can get into bad habits. It’s true apprenticeship. The master or journeyman trains the apprentice. Those who are wiser (more experience) train those who are learning (less experience). If they fail, it’s on a very small level before anything too serious is destroyed. They can start over or adjust with little damage.The way you test is to ask questions—the better the question, the better (and faster) you will grow your people. Then you measure the answer and adjust your training to help grow the other person in the best way. It’s like a teacher giving quizzes often and tests every other week. You will learn how your training is being absorbed. If they aren’t getting it, you adjust. Let them know from the very beginning this is how you work. Good leadership is about growing your team so they are capable today and tomorrow. As your organization grows you will need more people to lead more people. So you need to be training your people to train your people. There’s nothing worse than hitting momentum only to find out your team isn’t ready and you crash and burn. Bring people along daily. Remember, leadership doesn’t happen in a day, it happens daily.Now this isn’t to stifle your good producers and those who have a lot of experience and training. Make your questions more complicated and deeper for them. As well, you don’t need to ask them as often. But even people that are smart and bring a lot of experience can get off track. Or misunderstand the mission. Plus, it allows you to make sure everyone is heading in the correct direction. It really is an indispensable tool for helping people grow. You just need to learn how to ask questions in a way that is training oriented and not demeaning. Based on your personality, you will need to adjust to speaking the other person’s personality language. But that’s a whole different part of leading and training others. Get good at asking questions and you will be a great leader. With this knowledge, what do you need to do now to learn to ask great questions?Here is a link to a pool of coaching questions I put together so you can get an idea of how to ask questions. Coaching is the process whereby you ask good questions to help people to dig deep and come up with real answers—not superficial ones. There is a whole lot more to being a good coach and helping people grow—that’s part of being a good leader.  Pool of Good Coaching Questions
    3. Be incredibly transparent and full of character. It’s good to let people know you well. It’s good for you and good for them. It’s also how you begin to practice Level 2 leadership—Permission leadership. You get to know your people deeply. Share time, truth, love, help, caring with them. Know them and their family. You cannot lead people well whom you do not know. If you don’t meet their needs in the midst of them meeting the organizations needs, you will lose them or burn them out. It’s not just about getting paid for their work, it’s about working together toward a shared vision. Demonstrate the character you want them to have. Don’t expect them to have high integrity if you struggle with telling the truth or any other character flaws. Remember more is caught than taught? All day long this is true. Good company corrupts good morals or character (1 Corinthians 15:33). If you define good character for your youth, they will always have a true model to follow. Even if they are not in the faith. If you live your life dying to self and living for others, you will be transparent and they will know the truth. If you are selfish, they will learn selfishness.I remember one day going into the city and I took my 5 year old son with me. I had an early morning pickup to make and I brought him along for some company. As we were getting ready to go into the building, there was a homeless man in a blanket sitting against the wall. He was the only person around. My son leaned into me and said, “who is that?” I told him it was someone who didn’t have a place to live and so was living on the street. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a granola bar and give it to my son to give to the man. My son never forgot the man—and showing courtesy and kindness to someone in need. We went to help at a mission during thanksgiving and different places where the kids could help others. My daughter liked going to other countries and working with street boys. She’s been a paramedic for 14 years helping others.The way to teach character is to have character. Integrity. Honesty. Leadership starts with you. Leaders add value by serving others.
    4. Mentor, coach, train. Many leaders will give a command or a goal and everyone else needs to make it happen. That’s a manager, not a leader. A good leader models and mentors his team. Gets out in front and shows the way. Shows them how it’s done. Tell them all you know. Then coach them—find out what their goal is and see if it matches your goal. Ask good coaching questions that will help them dig deep and bring up the limiting beliefs and other issues that are stopping them from reaching their goals.  Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.
    5. Practice IMPACT leadership—
      Inspire everyone by being amazing at what you do. Be the best you can. Especially loving people.
      Motivate correctly. You cannot motivate people—they are already motivated. Find out what that is and do it!
      • help everyone Pursue knowledge and be really smart and good at what they do. Make excellence your standard.
      • ensure everyone Applies the knowledge they are learning all the time. Knowledge isn’t power. Applied knowledge is.
      • be Conscientious in everything. Focus. Do what’s right. Value correctness and quality.
      • have Tenacity and persistence. Stay on target. Don’t waver. Push until your done. Then push some more.

There are a lot more good leadership principles you should intentionally (key word) teach your youth (and yourself). Get on our email list and get weekly emails on good leadership practices. Your youth should know fully how to lead themselves and others very well by the time they are 16. This world is only getting harder. We teach a 9 month session to youth on leadership. You cannot join it right now, but you can learn a lot from the information sheet and list of principles we inculcate into them (check it here). Click through all the pages and get a feel for what is being taught. Don’t simply let things happen—be intentional and make things happen according to what you understand to be good leadership strategies and biblical principles. And if you don’t know, study to learn. You could be a good leader by simply reading a little every day (remember, leadership happens daily). Otherwise, those whom you love, those whom you will die for, may one day be sharing bad news. And you don’t want that for anybody—especially your family. I implore you—learn and teach good leadership practices. Today—and every day!

Straining forward with much love and blessings,

Royce & The Caris Team