Pastors Who Fall Safely

My former pastor Bill Hybels did not learn how to fall safely. We all fall down in life, but have we learned to fall safely? When pastors and leaders for Christ fall unsafely it hurts them, their families, and the people they serve.

As a mega church pastor with worldwide influence, Bill Hybels’ recent fall into disgrace has been very painful. His sexually inappropriate comments and behaviors toward a number of women, his abuse of power, and his denials have harmed countless people.

I keep praying God’s mercy and restoration for Bill Hybels. I pray for the women he violated, his family, and everyone whose heart and faith have been wounded by his failure to adequately watch over his life (1 Timothy 4:16).

If you don’t learn to fall safely, you will fall unsafely and it will hurt! (See Proverbs 24:16)

Skiing behind my dad as a teenager on a big hill in Wisconsin, I learned how to fall safely on my bottom instead of on my face! Then I was ready to follow my friend and expert skier Steve Harper down the steep, black diamond slopes in the Rocky Mountains.

There’s a pastor who fell ice climbing and his story teaches us how to fall safely.

Nathan Conrad was leading a group of friends up a 110-foot wall of ice called “Dracula” in New Hampshire. He was two-thirds of the way up and it was time to put in the all-important, third ice screw that would anchor him securely to the mountain. Instead, he kept pushing to get higher.

Suddenly, Nate’s muscles weakened, his arms and legs started shaking, his footholds blew out, and he careened 70 feet down, crashing into the ice wall as he fell!

Miraculously, his friends below held onto his rope and he survived with only a few bone fractures. He fell safely.

But when his climbing buddy’s video of the fall went viral, professional climbers around the world harshly criticized Nate as a lousy climber. He fell again — this time into depression and shame. But it became a life turning point.

As a pastor, he admitted to being “driven by idols of achievement and approval” to work 75-hours a week. His “pastoral super pump” was killing him and his family. (Many pastors we help struggle with being over-worked and over-stressed. See our article “Pastor Stress Statistics.”)

Nate learned to fall safely — not only as a rock climber, but also as a pastor — by acknowledging his limits, asking for support from friends, and focusing on his personal discipleship to Christ. (See “The Fall” by Nathan Conrad in The Leadership Journal.)

Kristi and I challenge you to join us in praying a “fall safely prayer” we learned many years ago from Dallas Willard: “Lord, please don’t grant me more power than my character can handle.”

We expand this by praying, “Lord, please don’t grant me more success than my character can handle.” We also pray for our “competitors” to succeed more than us. Humbling prayers like these help us to fall safely into Jesus’ arms and to gather other people to join us there.

Yes, Lord Jesus, we fall into your arms of mercy and we pray you’d also embrace Bill Hybels and each person who has been harmed or disappointed by his sin. Amen.


Listen to this post’s companion podcasts, Emotions: Befriending our Shame, part 1 and part 2. 


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