My most recent visit to my doctor included some shock therapy. No, I didn’t receive any electric shock treatments. Rather, my physician gave me a harsh reality check. He challenged me to notice some warning signs:
He pointed out that my blood pressure is slightly above normal and offered no excuses like “well, that’s to be expected considering your age.”
He noted that I weigh almost ten pounds above my ideal weight and asked me whether I had noticed the need to lose a few pounds.
He chided me for not being involved in a regular, vigorous, exercise program. My report about taking walks with my wife and trying to get at least 10,000 steps per day didn’t seem to impress him too much.
That doctor’s visit caused me to start thinking about other warning signs. What are the warning signs when a spiritual leader might be at risk? Here are just a few thoughts that came to my mind:
We are at risk when we become preoccupied with ministerial functions and neglect quiet communion at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38–42). We can become so busy doing ministry, we ignore the One who called us to ministry. Instead of continuing earnestly in prayer, we pray on the run. We read the Bible professionally, but neglect to meditate on God’s Word personally. We preach about secondhand experiences rather than sharing from a personal life-changing encounter with Christ.
We are at risk when we start seeking our own honor and glory rather than giving all honor and glory to God (Mark 10:35–39). Times of great success in ministry are particularly dangerous—we might find ourselves declaring, “Is this not a great ministry that I have built?” Like King Nebuchadnezzar, we might begin to focus on our mighty power and the honor of our majesty (Dan. 4:30) rather than constantly recognizing that “ ‘ “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men” ’ ” (4:17). 2 A healthy model for ministry is John the Baptist, who selflessly declared, “ ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ ” (John 3:30).
We are at risk when we become depleted, neglecting important health practices like adequate rest. On one occasion, Jesus gave this warning when His disciples didn’t even have time to eat: “ ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while’ ” (Mark 6:31). A balanced healthy diet, a regular exercise program, quality time with loved ones, and adequate sleep are not optional extras; rather, they are essential components of a balanced life for a spiritual leader who intends to stay on course and finish strong.
We are at risk when we begin to make excuses for our lapses in integrity. When we try to justify our behavior with comments like “I’m only human” and “nobody’s perfect,” our feet are already slipping. Our only safety is found in following the counsel of Solomon: “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on" (Prov. 4:14, 15).
We are at risk when we withdraw from active ministry and become passive observers rather than active participants. Nehemiah was working on the front lines when he participated in a great victory for God’s people (Neh. 4:21–23). In contrast, King David was loitering in his palace when he wandered down a slippery slope that resulted in adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11:1–17).
Perhaps you can think of some additional warning signs when spiritual leaders are at risk. We would like to hear from you. Write to us at [email protected], and we may publish your letter to the editor.
Please don’t ignore the warning signs. If you receive a word of caution from your doctor, a family member, or a colleague in ministry, don’t just ignore it. Take time for prayerful reflection and self-examination. We all need to take heed lest we fall.
We are at risk when we begin to make excuses for our lapses in integrity
1 Since writing this editorial, I have started working out at a gym and my numbers are already improving—but I recognize that it’s a daily commitment and lifelong journey.
2 All Bible quotations are taken from the New King James Version.