Bob Coy and the idolatry of leadership: If we put our hope in earthly leaders, we'll struggle when they mess up

Bob Coy

The recent revelation that US megapastor Bob Coy has stepped down from leadership amidst allegations of "moral failings" leads me to wonder whether we idolise our leaders.

Many of us will be familiar with the passage from Exodus 32, where the Israelites get fed up of waiting on God to answer their prayers and decide to worship a handcrafted golden statue instead.

We might have a bit of a laugh at the story - 'bless the poor, ignorant Israelites and their little statue - if only they were as sophisticated as us'.

We might also have been told that we idolise things in our own culture: money, material goods, power, sex and fame. But as Christians, we often think that these things are below us; our hope is in Christ, not earthly things.

How about our pastors?

What about those church leaders who seem untouchable? So holy that they're almost infallible; popular, a thriving congregation, lovely Christian family, beautiful house and a shiny car. What about them?

When stories such as Bob Coy's hit the headlines, we have to ask ourselves if we are putting an unhealthy pressure on these pastors. Not that pressure defends or makes up for sin, but it's probably fair to say that many of us are guilty of idolising our church leaders in such a way that keeps them from admitting their shortcomings and staying accountable.  We're also probably guilty of sins we never have to account for before an entire congregation. 

Loneliness is often cited as the hardest part of church leadership; while those in ministry find they are investing much of their time in building a strong church community, it's a constant and exhausting struggle to be a part of that community themselves. Sometimes it's even undesirable; not every church leader is an extrovert, and most relish time apart from their congregation to recharge.

So within that context, how do we make sure that we are honouring our leaders, and ensuring that they themselves are being discipled?

Had Bob Coy had close friends around him to communicate with, would he be in the same situation now? We won't know the answer to that, but we can take steps to ensure his story is not one of many.

We must also ask of ourselves: where are we putting our hope? Is it really in Christ, or are we looking solely to our earthly leaders to keep us afloat? If so, we're going to struggle when they mess up.

In a response to Bob Crow's recent allegations, the director of One Hope ministries - Rob Hoskins - writes: "We all have failures, hurts and disappointments that we carry with us like sores — some open, exposed and raw, others covered and hidden."

Hoskins reminds us that we are all sinners, and all fall short of the best that God has for us (Romans 3:23). "This is not primarily the story of the fall of a mega-pastor," he says. "It is primarily the story of mega-sinners, of which I also am one."