Christian Leaders, Don’t Let Your People Down
Our ministry recently received a moving email from the aunt of a young man who died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 26.
The email, which we have permission to use, said this:
Hi Dr. BROWN. I’m not sure if you remember meeting this young man over the summer in New York City. His name was Salvatore Joseph Panarese. I am his aunt. Meeting you was an amazing experience for him, you were one of his favorites to watch and learn from. Just wanted to let you know that sadly, he passed away on October 10. … I don’t know why am writing this but I just wanted to let you know because he came home from that trip super excited. And I was trying to reach out to a few people that he encountered this summer.
Along with the email was a picture of Salvatore and me that he posted on Facebook. It was taken after a debate I had in New York City in August with my friend Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, with this caption: “This was top notch got to meet. One of my favorite apologists Dr. Brown. He did awesome in the debate.”
His obituary, posted online, described him as a zealous Christian, unashamed of his faith:
Salvatore loved Jesus and ministered to countless people through the years; we will never know how many ‘Seeds of Faith’ he planted until we see him again in heaven. I believe God told Salvatore, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant,’ when he arrived in heaven. Salvatore touched a lot of people’s lives while he was here, and who knows how many people will believe because of him. He is still a witness even though he has moved to heaven. Salvatore truly lived life to the fullest through God and simple pleasures; chatting with friends and family. He loved everyone, and loved all family.
And just like that, previously healthy and without a trace of serious illness, he is gone, the victim of respiratory failure.
But his passing gives me pause for thought (along with the opportunity to honor this young man, whom I met only once).
Life is short, even if we live to be 100. Let’s cherish the years we have, making them count for the Lord and being vessels of love and redemption and healing and hope. And let us never neglect our own families. They, above all, should be recipients of our love and devotion.
Live Godly Lives
But there’s something else that struck me after receiving this notice about Salvatore.
As leaders in the Body, we have many eyes on us, especially if we have a strong public presence before.
People whom we have never met in this life (and probably never will) look to us for inspiration, for encouragement, for edification. They are looking for examples whom they can follow. They want to see people with integrity. They are wondering if there are men and women who truly serve God — not hypocrites or charlatans who use the gospel for personal benefit. And they are hoping that there are people of intellect who believe as they do, since they’re bombarded with charges that no one with a working brain would believe what we believe.
Can we make a solid case for our faith? And can we do so with grace and compassion? And are we genuine?
Of course, we fully understand that every human being has clay feet. That all of us fall short of God’s perfect standards. That none of us has answers for every question. That, on our best day, we are still in need of the mercy of the Lord.
At the same time, leaders are called to live godly lives. We are called to practice what we preach. To be people worthy of honor, with a good reputation both within and without the Church.
Free From Scandals
To expect us to be free from scandals is not expecting too much.
The Hebrews were exhorted to, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
Can we say to our congregants and those to look to us, “Follow my lead”? If not, we should not be leaders. (See also 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 4:9.)
When I saw the picture of Salvatore and me, I thought to myself, “What if I had failed? What if I was not the man he thought me to be? What impact would that have had on his faith?”
That’s why leaders have such great responsibility before a watching Church and world: We are public representatives of Jesus, and we can make Him look good or bad.
So, I encourage you, fellow leaders, to lead well. To keep your relationship with the Lord strong. To be transparent in the midst of your struggles, but always pointing people to a way of hope, a way to overcome. To be genuine.
None of us will be perfect in this world. Far from it. But there’s a big difference between flawed and hypocritical, and by God’s grace, we can live transformed lives.
Your people are rooting for you and the Lord is cheering you on.
Don’t let them down!
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Jezebel’s War With America: The Plot to Destroy Our Country and What We Can Do to Turn the Tide. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.