In our culture pastoral failure is more public than faithfulness. Over the past year, it seems like news outlets and social media have been showered with stories of the moral failures of renowned Christians and prominent Christian leaders. The lesson is simple—even the faithful fall.
It is heartbreaking to watch. There is the jolting and sobering reality that none of us are above the risk of such failures. This truth should give each of us a healthy fear of moral failure and disqualification from ministry. We should tremble at the prospect of the potential damage we can cause to the witness of the Church of Jesus Christ, to others around us, and to our own souls.
For this reason, I am thankful that Eric Geiger has written How To Ruin Your Life.
In this book Geiger follows the instructive and inspirational story of King David’s implosion, repentance, and restoration. The book is outlined in four movements.
- The Implosion (2 Samuel 11)
- The Confrontation (2 Samuel 12)
- The Confession (Psalm 51)
- The Celebration (Psalm 32)
What makes this book so helpful is the ability to look at the scriptural depiction of David’s life as an exemplary warning. It is a warning that helps us avoid the fatal mistakes that will lead to our own moral failure. It has been said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I cannot think of a more fruitful example in history than a “man after God’s own heart” whose life painfully demonstrated that he, like all of us, struggled with the depth of sin in his own heart. As we witness the unfortunate collapse of Christian leaders around us, perhaps God is calling us to look at ourselves with humility and trembling.
If you have ever watched a building being demolished, you understand the importance of Geiger’s central analogy. He notes in the book that there are two ways to demolish a building. One can demolish a building from the outside with wrecking balls, which is visible to everyone and catches no one by surprise. On the other hand, a building can also be demolished from the inside by strategically placed explosives that weaken the integrity of the structure. This second type of demolition is not obvious to onlookers until the building suddenly collapses.
The point is simple: disqualification for issues of character are always preceded by an implosion of integrity. A leader falls apart internally before the ruin and rubble is seen externally. Geiger reminds us that “if you ignore the erosion of your integrity you will implode.” Through David we learn how to ruin our lives so that we won’t. Geiger carefully rehearses the story of David to wake us up before we find ourselves in the wake of our ruin.
As D.A. Carson once said, “No one drifts towards holiness.” In most cases, disqualification in leadership is a process; it is something that slowly percolates over time with a series of smaller compromises. Just as demolition experts place explosives inside of buildings so they will weaken and implode, there were three explosives on the foundation of David’s life that led to his implosion.
- Isolation: The desire to escape toward independence.
- Boredom: The unfulfilled desire for satisfaction.
- Pride: The sense of entitlement.
The story of David provides a compelling case that isolation, boredom, and pride are not sins to tame, but sins that must be slain. To slay sin, one must surrender. Geiger writes:
“A surrendered heart owns the sin without looking around for others to blame. A surrendered heart offers the sin to the Lord for Him to take it away instead of offering something in an attempt to make things right. And a surrendered heart expresses no confidence in an ability to stand apart from God’s grace” (154).
We need to learn from the instructive and inspirational story of David’s implosion. Geiger skillfully shows us that we need to pray Psalm 51 and 32 again and again. Furthermore, if we are on the path to destruction, or if we have found ourselves disqualified from ministry, we need to humbly throw ourselves on His grace and rejoice in the forgiveness He has given. This is one of the most compelling arguments of Geiger’s book. When leaders fall, we often wonder how we should respond. If we fall, where should we turn?
The gospel is our only hope.
When we uncover our sin, God covers it in Christ. In other words, the good news for the gospel is not only something that Christian leaders are called to faithfully preach only to others, it is also good news for those who have fallen to preach to themselves. Regardless of where we are on the continuum of compromise, rebellion, or disqualification, we can rejoice that our sin has been condemned in Jesus instead of us. Instead of sin being charged to our account, Christ paid for our sin in full on the cross.
In light of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, Christian leaders must be aggressive in killing sin. The story of David reminds us that while Christ receives the punishment for our sin, we will still receive God’s discipline. It is important that we strongly consider the warnings of David’s life, so that we do not find ourselves following the same path. I cannot think of a timelier book for Christian leaders to take up and read. When it comes to Christian leadership, character should always trump competency. Competent and effective leaders must always be on guard to not forfeit their roles over deficiencies in their character.
In the story of David we can see the explosives that weakened the foundation of his character, and learn how to avoid our own self-destruction. “But in David’s story, we also see that God’s grace is greater than our sin and our struggles. We learn that ruin does not need to be the end of our story. We can begin again.”