Vanishing Leaders

Like the dreariness of continual rainfall, the bad news about people who have influenced our lives has been a never-ending flood recently.

The sad unexpected

It’s not just leaders who have passed away, although these last few years have taken their toll in a very real and jarring way. It’s also the people to whom we’ve looked for understanding and guidance, both near and abroad.

I’ll take just two examples. Two people whom I’ve considered leaders in the body of Christ and who have heavily influenced my personal life over the years: Ravi Zacharias and Joshua Harris.

Joshua’s book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” was a key component in my teen years. Reading through it around age 13, I prayerfully made a decision to not date casually or for fun, but with a purpose. Turns out, the girl I eventually did date in my 20’s, my now-wife Michelle, chose the same path (although by different influences). Dating with a purpose and saving ourselves for marriage are choices I’m extremely grateful for and choices neither of us regrets in the slightest.

Many believers, myself included, were shocked and saddened in 2019 to learn that Joshua had essentially turned away from Jesus and, in his own words, stated he was no longer a Christian.

More recently, the news of Ravi’s passing in 2020 felt like we had lost the foremost leader in the apologetic community; a C.S. Lewis of our time. Ravi had an ability to thoughtfully and brilliantly respond to any question sent his way, and his teachings and ministry helped me tremendously throughout the last two decades.

To hear of his shortcomings late last year and only have them confirmed on none other than my birthday a week ago has been difficult to process. Many people have responded to this discovery with everything from total denial to calling him a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but the best response I’ve seen so far has come from the perspective of an ex-convict of attempted murder, diagnosed psychopath, and Christian apologist, David Wood, who also knows something about living a double life.

What now?

I’ve thought about throwing out the books and material from both authors as I’m sure some other believers have already done, never again setting foot near their door.

With Joshua Harris, it certainly feels more like a 1 John 2:19 type of situation, which says, “They went out from us [seeming at first to be Christians], but they were not really of us [because they were not truly born again and spiritually transformed]; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out [teaching false doctrine], so that it would be clearly shown that none of them are of us.” (AMP) That said, the principles I learned from him early on, the ones reflecting those found in the Bible, still stand true for me deep down, and I don’t doubt for a minute that the stance I took earlier in my life was the right one.

In the case of Ravi Zacharias, I’ve felt an almost opposite reaction. Not to what he apparently did in his hidden life, but because of his commitment to Christ to the end. We have a tendency to be quick to forget about Jesus’ grace, love, and forgiveness. I instead went out and bought every remaining book of Ravi’s I didn’t already own in the event they eventually get pulled (the entire RZIM organization will undoubtedly and rightfully change in drastic ways).

Update: Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him”. Ravi’s widow, Margie, and their son, Nathan, tell a different side of the story:

Who to follow?

What a reality check (and gut-punch) when someone we look up to falls or is no longer in our present lives. I personally have had struggles and failures in many areas, and I’ve witnessed those around me face the same. Who do we then turn to?

It’s interesting that so many in the Bible, leaders like Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Peter, and so on, also had failures. Rather than cover these up, God chose to write their shortcomings down in the #1 book in the entire world. Are these leaders still effective today? You bet! Do we ignore or overlook what they did wrong? Not at all.

For me, the leaders whom I thought represented a life I aspired to live simply served a purpose God used to bring me closer to a life Christ wants me to live. The entire Bible serves this purpose as well, pointing us only to Christ.

An amazing gift

One of the things I’m guilty of is being lazy in my learning about God and life by relying on a handful of people, whom I thought had it all figured out, to do all the work. How much more could I learn by pursuing one of the most amazing gifts God ever gave us, a direct relationship with Him?

What seems like a sense of hopelessness with our “best” leaders vanishing could be God reminding us that this life is all about Him. God is more than capable of raising up new leaders, and He uses all of our broken lives for His purpose and glory.

What’s preventing Christ from leading through every one of us believers?