We have been creating a case for the importance of having the right balance of support and accountability in our lives. We are fundamentally relational beings and thrive best when we are in relationships of trust and encouragement. That is what will sustain us over a lifetime. (See the previous posts Who Are You Allowing To Get Close To You? along with What Kinds of People Are Drawn To You? and The Power of Human Connection.)

Of course we all have our own share of difficult relationships and people we struggle to get on with, but they will come without much effort on my part! I can certainly learn a lot from such people, especially from how I react to them, but I have to be careful to not let them influence my thinking unduly.

John Maxwell talks about a survey taken among several hundred pastors and Christian leaders who had failed morally in some way or other. They had compromised their integrity and fallen into a sin that had led to them losing their ministry. The tragedy for these leaders was they had started out with great intentions of service and support to others only to find that their moral failures had disqualified them from what they had thought was their life calling.

Analysis of the survey revealed three consistent observations about these fallen leaders:

1. They had stopped spending time alone with God each day.
One of the peculiar pressures of spiritual leadership  is how easy it is for relationship with God, prayer, preaching and serving to be an external performance with no inner reality. It is a temptation that all of us face – having an outer form of respectability or even godliness, but with no real substance underneath.

2. They had no one to whom they were accountable to in their lives.
Without the input of others it is so easy to lose perspective and become self-justifying about one’s actions. We all have blind spots and it is only too easy to hurt or offend others by what we are ourselves not aware of. Moreover, we tend to justify our own behaviour by our intentions, while we judge others by their actions. Without trusted people with whom we are accountable to, it is so easy to miss important clues or overlook key evidence of situations where we are crossing the line and putting ourselves at risk.

3. They thought they would not be the kind of person who would allow a moral failure to happen to them.
They had lost sight of their own human frailty and weakness with disastrous consequences for them, their families and their ministries. The greater a leader’s level of influence and responsibility, so does the number of people affected by their decisions. And if that is a bad decision the consequences will be widespread.

You and I may or may not be church leaders, but the same principles apply to all of us. At times of stress, depressed mood or just in the general frenetic pace of life it is easy to lose sight of the above three safeguards. If that carries on a consistent basis then the Law of Process will work but with seriously negative consequences. (For more on this see 9 Ways To Look At Your Failures With The Eyes of Faith. Especially #7).

The reasons for this are :

1. Every one of us has weaknesses in one area or another. Indeed even your greatest strength can have within in it the seeds of weakness as it can take away time from your loved ones or as you become successful lead to pride and arrogance within you.

2. Being in any position of influence opens you up to attack in some form or another. The stakes are higher and so the challenges are greater.

3. People set and expect higher standards for you.

4. As we look to serve others it is so easy to become what have been called, “starving bakers” who are busy serving bread to others, but never eating for themselves.

5. It is so easy to become blinded to the temptations of power and popularity. In that sense how we handle success is a far greater test than failure or mediocrity.

6. It is so easy to get busy that our spiritual life suffers more than anything else.

7. We then find ourselves merely reacting to needs and forgetting to train others for the future.

Some old English Puritan affirmations from the 16th century sum this up in a form that is timeless. I was first introduced to them over 20 years ago, but I find them helpful reminders to be sober minded about myself and my abilities:

You have heaven to win or lose yourselves…. A holy calling will not save an unholy man.
You have sinful inclinations as well as other men.
You have greater temptations than most men.
The tempter will make his first and sharpest onset upon you. If you be leaders against him, he will spare you no further than God restrains him.
Many eyes are upon you and therefore there will be many to observe your falls.
Your sins are more aggravated than those of other men. They have more of a hypocrisy in them.
The honour of your Lord and Master, and of His holy truth lies more on you than other men.
The success of your hearers and the success of your labours do very much depend on your self examination.

These certainly are sobering words.

However, to me they are a reminder that I cannot be an island by myself. I need to ensure that I have the right network of healthy relationships around me. In the next post we will look at some principles as to how to develop this.

For now, what thoughts, questions and comments does this raise for you?