When Leaders Get Caught

It happens.

Leaders mess up.

And leaders get caught.

I’m so glad that it’s more uncommon than common, but I understand what’s in play. It’s human nature. Genesis Chapter 3 makes it clear. We veer from God’s plan, go our own way, often taking others with us, then we try to hide because we are ashamed. And hope to not get caught.


When my kids started college we attended the opening meeting for parents and students at Indiana Wesleyan University. The Dean of Students, a tall, muscular, athletic guy, introduced himself as the “Dean of Mean.” And trust me he could back it up.

He told us all that: “If your kids mess up but confess, it nearly always goes well. But if they mess up and get caught, it’s not going to go well at all.

I think he spoke great words of wisdom for all of us as leaders. It’s likely that we will do something dumb over the course of our years in leadership. Maybe not something so huge that it’s ministry ending, but we’ll struggle with something.

So instead of leaders getting caught, and ending up in devastation, I think there’s a better way.


I know it’s tough because the church is the only place you might get fired for telling the truth about your struggle. It might be a difficult marriage, or a battle with pornography, or maybe anger issues. So it’s a big risk to come clean. But the risk of coming clean is far wiser than the risk of hiding and hoping you don’t get caught.

Confession leads to forgiveness and a better life.

Hiding leads to further darkness, detachment and digging a hole you just can’t climb out of.

Whether this is for you or the leaders you care about, here’s a helpful plan:

1) Don’t try to go it alone.

It’s essential that you have a trusted confidant or small group of spiritual advisers that you talk with on a regular basis. They need permission to ask you anything and your responsibility is to give an honest answer. I’ve never really believed in the notion of “someone holding you accountable.” You are only as accountable as you want to be. You hold yourself accountable, and your confidant or advisers comprise that safe place of truth and wisdom that help you navigate a healthy life.

2) Name your struggle.

One of the best ways to win the battle is to know your Achilles Heel and naming it. The mere act of bringing it into the light robs the enemy of much of the power. Plus, you gain the support of your prayer partner, adviser or trusted group. Being proactive like this now,can save you so much heartache in the future.

3) Hold the line at temptation.

No one escapes temptation, but you can resist it. It’s noble, for example, for a husband to say “I’ll never even look at another woman.” But it’s not realistic. Good intent, but almost impossible to practice. It’s better to declare to yourself… “I will not stop for a second look.” The moment temptation happens, avert your eyes. That is spiritual success. Whatever your Achilles Heel, from money to anger, hold at temptation.

4) The battle is holistic.

If you are tired, in poor health, under severely unrelenting pressure, and not praying (you get the idea), you are asking for trouble. You are setting yourself up to fail. Take care of yourself. Your potential for success in resisting temptation and leading with integrity is in great part found in the practice of those things that you know contribute to your emotional, physical and spiritual health. Perfection is not the goal. The idea is to catch it early.

5) If you’ve crossed the line, confess.

This is the tough part, but it’s necessary. Attempting to hide and cover sin will eat you alive and eventually you’ll have nothing left to give. I can’t promise your church will give you loving support, but I can tell you that more churches will than won’t. It’s a risk, but as I’ve said, it’s a far greater risk for you and your family to live in hiding.

So, how are you doing? Hiding or striving to hold the line?

How about your team? Keep the conversations open.

What do you need to do?

3 thoughts on “When Leaders Get Caught”

  1. I just read this blog post from you…it’s SUPER interesting, Dan, that nobody commented here at all. This confession/hiding piece is a huge barrier, especially for pastors – especially for me. What you said about the battle being holistic is better than any way I have heard that said. If I’m emotionally or mentally or spiritually or physically exhausted/weak/struggling, it’s WAY easier to just give in and blow up or act out…I find that when I’m reading (not just the Word but books), and praying, and hanging out with friends regularly, it’s easier to hold the line then when I’ve been lazy, not reading, and alone. Just thoughts borne from brokenness that is healing by His grace and courage.

    1. Dale, it is interesting that there was little traffic for this post. Perhaps the topic is just too personal for a public forum. Thank you for your thoughts and comments.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.