Thursday, May 15, 2014



Every few years, the Lord seems to raise up some extraordinarily gifted young leader and the Christian community hopes he will take them forward and guide them into God's purposes for their movement.  Roll forward ten years.  Has he done this? No.  His life is a mess.  He is no longer following God's purposes.  His great giftedness has attracted women other than his wife or a blindly loyal authoritarian personality cult (or both) - and he and the whole movement goes off the rails.  The more gifted the man, the higher the casualty rate.  It doesn't just happen in the church, but in business too.  It takes years to untangle the mess, if it ever gets cleaned up. 

SEXUAL COMPROMISE: It happens so many times following the same pattern - it almost gets boring and depressing.  Most commonly, the man is over-stressed at home and work and lonely in the crowd he leads.  He gets some comfort talking to a younger female assistant, spends too much time alone with her; she becomes a closer confidant than his wife, then they cross a physical moral boundary - and then rather than face the shame of exposure and disciplinary action, he covers it up with a growing web of half-truths.  He ends accountability relationship with anyone who he cannot manipulate and promotes those he can.  Once integrity is lost, sins multiply.  Then the movement he founded slowly loses its spiritual strength and the blessing of God.  Eventually there is so much unethical behaviour covered up that it is difficult to stop that culture, short of shutting the organisation down. 

Is this pattern just with high profile leaders?  In confidential surveys, about one third of adults confess to have fallen into adultery.  Geneticists find about on in ten people are not genetically related to the man they think is their fathers.  This secret pain tears up people, marriages, families and Christian movement that go that way.  But despite the Bible being full of warnings, you don't get much in the way of warnings to stay far away from adultery in church sermons or leader training.  Church is full of such nice smiling spiritual people - and even more our leader is such spiritual man - surely it would offend to make such a warning?

RELIGIOUS CARTELS: But the other most common way promising young men go off track, is being sucked into a religious cartel.  Every strong leader needs a team of men to help him.  Jesus had his twelve that he trained.  The problem is that sooner or later, the leader unlike Jesus is going to make some sort of mistake.  In a healthy organisation, the team will hold him accountable, correct the error and put him back on track.  But not all teams do this.  Unhealthy teams form a pack to discredit, harass and intimidate the person raising the concern. Those who argue for accountability get pushed out and the organisation spirals downward.  The same happens with business cartels and political cartels.  These cartels network, support and help eachother to squash dissent and breed fear.

But these two most common leader-destroying scenarios are the two main warnings confronting us in the book of Proverbs:  The warning not to join violent gangs (Proverbs 1:10-19) and the warning to keep away from adulterous relationships (Proverbs 5:3-20).  But most reading these would not see application to their situation.  Gangs and adultery can't happen in church - do they?  Yes they do.  The context in Proverbs is the street.  Maybe that would apply to working class areas.  Pastors and businessmen are not so much at risk of street gangs.  But gangs dynamics don't just happen on the street.  The team involved can include a high profile speaker, a public relations man, a lawyer, an engineer and an accountant.  But they end up with sophisticated gang behaviour.  Most of the people in a ministry or business can be operating in good faith, while such gangs quietly manipulate things, sucking in more people and deceiving and intimidating the rest. 

Is this rare?  No.  Almost all of the top 30 construction companies in South Africa have paid admission of guilt fines for tender collusion.  Were all the engineers in these companies involved? No.  Most didn't know about it.  But in each company there were a few who were doing this, who were networking with a few in other companies.  How does our president manage to spend R200 million of state money on his personal retirement home? Answer:  A political cartel network.  In the Bible, King David used the assistance of Joab to cover up his adultery.  But he knew before Joab was an unethical person and should have fired him long before (2 Samuel 3:28).

The dynamic happens in the church.  In know of two decades of first hand experience that most of the religious power in South Africa and in Cape Town is controlled by cartels that collude to cover up unethical behaviour.  Why do we not have revival despite umpteen City-wide and suburb organised prayer meetings?  Because such Pharisee cartels unrepentantly jump on the prayer meeting bandwaggon and they become a farce (see God ignoring such farcical prayer in Isaiah 58).  That is why John the Baptist so strongly told the Pharisees to go away from his genuine revival movement (Matthew 3:7-10).  These Pharisees are not interested in prayer till the crowds get big and the TV cameras arrive.  Then they fight for a slice of the action.

The most important sermon in the Bible is Jesus 'Sermon on the Mount' (Matthew 5-7).  What are the two main threats cited here?  Answer: Our desires (of which sexual temptation is the biggest risk) and Our dislikes (of which handling conflict is the biggest).  These are the same issues as above.  Just that in business and ministry, manipulative leaders create cartels of their followers to handle conflict on their behalf.


Experience has shown the two biggest destroyers of promising young leaders in ministry and business are relationships between gifted leaders and:
1) younger female assistants - where intimacy progresses to adultery.
2) teams of men - where secrecy and bullying progresses to gang style behaviour.
Most think they are 'bullet proof' - it is not going to happen to me, my ministry, my church or my business - the ones that have fallen are different to us - but then it does happen to them.

There is no single solution.  Like security to protect against crime, you need layers of precautions.  They are not going to be the same for every person.  See a more detailed article "How do we prevent leaders crashing" with suggestions is found at:

If you see gang style behaviour in your church, business or ministry, then speak up against it and if it doesn't stop then leave.  Likewise, if a cross gender relationship starts to develop in a risky direction at at work, it is probably wise for one of the parties to move.  These are the two main threats and we need to be ruthless (Matthew 5:29) to protect against them. 

Yours sincerely,

Philip Rosenthal

1 comment:


An interesting article. To use Christian-speak; you can't have reform without true repentance. In the case of churches such as Sovereign Grace Ministries, which actively "covered" child abuse for many years, if the elite gang is allowed to continue entrenching its sin and power then the ministry will crumble into decay and/or become a cult.