Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions When Leaders Fall “They’re Only Human” Doesn’t Help Our Disillusionment

When Leaders Fall “They’re Only Human” Doesn’t Help Our Disillusionment


It seems like it is impossible to go through a month without hearing of another Christian leader and their misdemeanors. The phenomenon is interpreted differently. Some feel like Pastors are being victimized as believers post their judgements all over social media. Others would prefer to ignore it and avoid all discussions. But unfortunately some Christians have been trying their best to battle through the disillusionment that can often happen when people you trust are discovered to have a secret life.

So what exactly is disillusionment? To be brief, it is the shock, confusion, emotional and/or psychological instability that arises when you realize that the world or aspects therein, don’t work the way you once believed it to. These beliefs that we put our trust in, aren’t necessarily doctrine. They are formulas we have derived through life experience, that we assume to be biblical. For example: “If I do Christian things like serve at church, regularly attend church, read my Bible, pray…I will avoid hard things”. Often it’s not until a challenging situation, that we discover we had these beliefs in the first place. But disillusionment can settle in, in the process of relearning such beliefs.

For any person who is genuinely struggling with the disillusionment that has arisen in relation to such leaders, it is inevitable at some point that you will hear the statement, “Well the fact is they’re only human”. The statement is meant to imply that leaders are only humans too, open to the same temptations and frailties that all humans are. For a disillusioned person the statement couldn’t be more frustrating. They know that the person is only human, but usually that’s not the problem upending your previously perfect worldview. Here are four reasons why this statement can be incredibly difficult for a disillusioned person to swallow:

Why “They’re Only Human” Doesn’t Help

1. It can be dismissive

For the genuinely disillusioned person, they often can’t make sense of the mess in their head. All they have is a sense that something is not right, and no obvious way to organize that confusion. None of the confusion they are experiencing is intended to come across angry, or judgmental. They’re just doing the best they can to find psychological and emotional clarity, which is often buried underneath a massive mess of thoughts. Sometimes the reason we make a statement like this is because we feel some need to defend the leader. Maybe the disillusioned person is being too harsh or we can just sense that they have a really imbalanced view on the situation. And we may be right! Maybe we feel compassion for the leader…and that’s okay too. But if the cost of asserting our opinions equates to a dismissal of a believer’s very genuine and active process of internal reorganization, it probably isn’t worth it. At least not in that specific moment.

2. It fails to acknowledge some mixed messages

If you have ever expressed interest in leadership you will at some point have someone
tell you about the cost of being a leader. You will be reminded that the Bible says that there is a greater accountability for those who teach, and that church ministry is a calling that not everybody will have in this life. So herein lies a slight mixed message that we are clearly unaware of. Either leadership does carry a high accountability that we all must pay should we fall, or leadership does not deserve that level of elitism it does these days, since ‘they’re only human’. Now we as members of the Body may not be the individuals that are meant to hold a leader accountable, but it certainly is a conundrum for the disillusioned person to navigate! Because are we defending the leader by making this statement? Or are we going to acknowledge that leaders are held to a different standard, as per 1 Timothy 3:1-13?

3. They may be struggling with the Christian celebrity-syndrome

Yes, many believers do put Christian leaders on a pedestal. And the disappointment that ensues when that pedestal comes crashing down is a painful one. It’s probably true that we should have never placed anyone besides Jesus in such a favorable light. But I might add that nobody, especially not the leader with the celebrity status, is discouraging them from doing so. Leaders in the spotlight present themselves as a brand.
Their image is perfectly curated just like any other celebrity. See, the difficulty with a statement like “they’re only human”, is that often it’s not the disillusioned person who first painted them in this superhuman light…it was the leader. The leader in most instances intended to gain this kind of popularity. So why is the disillusioned person being suddenly expected to immediately acknowledge the leader’s humanity, when they have been trained to perceive them in such a glorified state?

4. It doesn’t change the disillusionment

Finally, the statement can do very little to rectify the disillusioned heart. Often the person isn’t exactly sure why and how the leader’s fall has broken their foundational system of interpreting the world. And it’s going to take some time for them to make sense of it all. Sometimes the disillusioned person simply needs to grieve. So if we are interjecting with this statement in an effort to comfort, it may be better to leave it unsaid. The better thing to do might be to ask some helpful questions that might help them heal.
At the end of the day, the best thing we can all do for a person with disillusionment is:
a) Listen to them;
b) Direct them to resources that will help them understand what they are going through. After all, the disillusioned person is human too. And we ought not judge them harsher than the leader that fell
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Melanie J. Saward is an Author & Podcaster based in Sydney Australia with her husband Josh and her 8 year old daughter. Her most recent book examines the concept of ‘Disillusionment’, unique to disappointment and discouragement that she believes is a greater influence in church disengagement than offence. Her hope is to provide a framework for healing through disillusionment that leads to a greater relationship with Christ. Her book "Disillusioned: When You Get Lost Following Jesus" can be purchased from all major bookstores.