Expanding the Voice of the Church —
for Our Own Good

What Happens When Our Leaders 
Fall from Grace?

It happened again in the business world.

Another celebrity spokesperson’s fall from grace has shaken the foundations of the company he represented.

It’s happened before. It will happen again.

I predict these companies will survive. Hertz survived OJ Simpson. Nike survived Michael Vick. Subway will survive Jared Fogle.

Will the role of celebrity spokespeople continue to thrive? Probably. The temptation to ride one charismatic individual’s success is difficult to resist. It gives us an excuse to hide our own talents under a bushel. We'll gladly credit the leader if it eases our burden!

What does this have to do with Church?

Congregational culture traditionally relies on one major influencer—the pastor. If the pastor is charismatic and stays out of trouble, the chemistry can help the congregation. In fact, many congregations rely on this. Some denominations purposely foster one pastor staying in one congregation as long as possible. (They are called Settled Pastors.)

The name of the pastor becomes better known than the name of the congregation. Some congregations are forever tied to a long-deceased charismatic leader. Marble Collegiate Church is rarely mentioned without mentioning Norman Vincent Peale. Unfortunately, there are many more congregations than there are charismatic preachers.

There is a “trickle up factor”—a sort of ecclesiastic Peter Principle—that takes advantage of the Christian nature to follow. Charismatic leaders can use charm to deflect criticism—rising in influence to major leadership roles based on little but likability. If and when scandal results, the whole congregation (and perhaps the whole denomination) suffers. Compare Billy Graham’s influence to that of his grandson.

Every church of every size places its reputation in the hands of its pastor. This can be particularly perilous to small congregations. Innocent parties, often the laity, can spend years trying to repair Humpty Dumpty.

The power structure of the Church typically leaves the members shouldering the blame. The pastor has voice and visibility. Local control and a direct pipeline to church authority works in his or her favor. Members who discern potential problems are easily dismissed as malcontents. As evidenced in recent clergy sex scandals, fear of retribution is not unreasonable.

When issues finally hit the fan, pastors in hot water are reassigned. They can start fresh! Congregations stay in place, dealing with the problems they left behind for a very long time.

What are today’s businesses learning from their experiences relying on one celebrity spokesperson?

A New Reliance on Micro-Influencers

Companies are exploring other avenues. Instead of banking on one name, they start working with several.

Some companies nurture a stable of “ambassadors.” Apple may have led the way with their “evangelists.” That was the actual job title! Apple evangelists are key enthusiasts with only one claim to fame—they love Apple. Guy Kawasaki made his name helping Apple make its name.

Other companies approach existing clients and entice them with perks that keep them favoring the use of their products, trusting their clients will notice and follow suit.

Micro-Influencers and the Church

Micro-Influencers were always part of Jesus’ mission plan. He counted on each of the 12 disciples and each of their social connections to spread the Word.

What if today’s Church paid more attention to its micro-influencers—members who can navigate the social climate of your neighborhood? What if they gave them more voice in the Church and provided tools to help them share?

This was never more possible than today. Are we confident as community to motivate mini-infuencers? Or do we keep our micro-influencers in the shadow of our pastors?