Seven Warning Signs of a Leader’s Fall

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Seven Warning Signs of a Leader’s Fall
Thom Rainer
by Chuck Law­less

Simon Peter is one of my favorite Bible char­ac­ters. He is so real . . . so human. He was the leader of the apos­tles, named first in the lists of the dis­ci­ples in the New Tes­ta­ment. Still, though, he fell in a dra­mat­ic way (Luke 22:31-62).

The story of Peter’s fall is filled with warn­ing signs for today’s lead­ers. Though these signs don’t always hap­pen in a lin­ear fash­ion, each one should cause us to slow down and eval­u­ate our lives.

Being over­con­fi­dent – Jesus told Peter the Enemy would sift him, but Peter strong­ly affirmed his com­mit­ment to go to prison or to death for Jesus. Sure­ly Peter meant those words, as evi­denced by his later will­ing­ness to defend Jesus in the Gar­den of Geth­se­mane. With­in hours, though, he would deny know­ing Jesus. Peter was over­con­fi­dent and didn’t know it – and that’s the dan­ger of over­con­fi­dence. Believ­ing “it won’t hap­pen to me” is a huge warn­ing sign.

Suf­fer­ing emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal fatigue – The dis­ci­ples were to watch and pray in the gar­den, but instead they slept. The emo­tion­al fatigue of mount­ing oppo­si­tion to Jesus had taken a toll. Exhaus­tion increased their vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to the Enemy’s arrows. Under the weary­ing strain of a leader’s respon­si­bil­i­ties, we, too, some­times let our guard down. Car­ry­ing too many bur­dens and get­ting too lit­tle rest can lead to seri­ous con­se­quences.

Fail­ing to pray – “Pray,” Jesus com­mand­ed the dis­ci­ples in the gar­den. Even if they want­ed to, still sleep came eas­i­er than prayer. The prob­lem here is sim­ple: prayer­less­ness reflects self-dependence rather than depen­dence on God. Any­time we’re not pray­ing, we are sus­cep­ti­ble to a fall. In fact, prayer­less­ness usu­al­ly cor­re­lates to act­ing first and fol­low­ing God sec­ond – as Peter did when he first defend­ed Jesus with a sword.

Grow­ing dis­tanced from Jesus – Peter fol­lowed Jesus after His arrest from a dis­tance. That dis­tance was obvi­ous­ly geo­graph­i­cal, but his heart would quick­ly grow dis­tant from Jesus, too. His actions soon to come would make that point. He who had stood with Jesus and said he would die for Him wouldn’t stand for Him when chal­lenged. Our dis­tance from Jesus may be marked more by less Bible read­ing and fewer prayers than pub­lic denials, but any dis­tance can set us up for a fall.

Try­ing to hide in pub­lic – Peter did not hide well, of course, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t try. He warmed him­self at the same fire that warmed the ene­mies of Jesus. Sure­ly he hoped no one would see any­thing unusu­al in his pres­ence. Good lead­ers don’t ignore this warn­ing sign: if you’re tempt­ed to hide some­thing (even while still serv­ing pub­licly), you are mov­ing in the wrong direc­tion.

Lying – A ser­vant girl looked intent­ly at Peter and accused him of being a fol­low­er of Jesus; in fact, the word­ing sug­gests she stared hard at the dis­ci­ple. Face to face. Eye­ball to eye­ball. Account­abil­i­ty in action. Still, Peter lied to her. She chal­lenged him with the truth of who he was, and he denied it. You know a fall is at full throt­tle if you lie when con­front­ed with the truth of what you’re doing.

Escalat­ing denials –Three times, oth­ers ini­ti­at­ed a con­ver­sa­tion about Peter’s rela­tion­ship with Jesus; three times the dis­ci­ple denied it. To admit he was a fol­low­er of Christ would have been to risk his own life, and Peter would not go there. In fact, his denials esca­lat­ed to the point that he was angry, swear­ing he had no rela­tion­ship with Jesus. “May curs­es fall on me if it’s otherwise,” he said. Lead­ers in the midst of a fall often con­vince them­selves that loud con­tin­u­al denials some­how change real­i­ty.

Here’s the dan­ger for lead­ers today. For Peter, the process of falling occurred rapid­ly. It was as if he ran and leapt into dis­obe­di­ence. Most lead­ers don’t leap into trou­ble, though; they slide there. Some­times the process hap­pens so imper­cep­ti­bly that lead­ers are in a dis­as­ter before they know it.

That’s why good lead­ers know these warn­ing sig­nals and guard their heart.

Chuck Law­less cur­rent­ly serves as Pro­fes­sor of Evan­ge­lism and Mis­sions and Dean of Grad­u­ate Stud­ies at South­east­ern Seminary. You can con­nect with Dr. Law­less on both Twit­ter and Face­book.

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