Seems like every time you turn around, a new story emerges about a Christian leader who's had a moral failure.
Adultery and other sexual sins. Abuse. Pornography. Financial impropriety. Lying. Church politics. Drugs. Drunkenness. Divorce. The list goes on and on.
It has become so commonplace that nothing surprises us anymore, does it?
These failures are heartbreaking on so many levels. It hurts the cause of Christ. It causes the world to laugh at the church. It makes us look like hypocrites. It damages the ministry of churches in their communities.
But to me the greatest tragedy of these failures is the fact that the next generation is watching. Impressionable children are watching and being impacted negatively by the failures of leaders.
Here's the deal. Kids often can't hear what we are saying, because of how loud our actions are speaking. In so many cases, our lives are not matching what is coming out of our lips.
The Bible reminds us of something in the book of 1 Timothy.
"Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you."
1 Timothy 4:16
Our first priority is to watch how we live as we try to teach the next generation what it means to follow Jesus. Our life validates our message. Our greatest influence is not found in what we say, but in what we do.
We must watch ourselves because the next generation is watching us.
Did you hear about the man who decided he wanted to work at the local zoo. He applied and to his surprise, was hired immediately. They told him to show up bright and early the next day before the zoo opened.
Well, he showed up the next morning and was escorted straight into the zookeeper's office. The zookeeper took him into a backroom where there was a very realistic gorilla costume hanging.
The zookeeper informed him that their gorilla had suddenly gotten sick and passed away. Not wanting to disappoint the kids and families, they would put him in the costume and he would play the part of the gorilla. The good news was there was another real gorilla being brought from another zoo and it would arrive tomorrow. So he would only have to be the fake gorilla for one day.
He really needed the job, so even though he wasn't fond of the idea, he reluctantly put on the gorilla costume and plopped himself down in the gorilla cage. He spent the day grunting, jumping up and down and trying his best to imitate a real gorilla. Finally the day was over, the zoo closed and he was able to go home.
The next day, he showed back up at the zoo, anticipating that he would do an ordinary job like sweeping up trash, feeding the birds or taking hay to the camels. But he was quickly taken to the zookeeper's office and told that he would need to play the part of the gorilla once again. There had been a delay and the real gorilla would not be arriving until the next day.
He begrudgingly agreed to be the fake gorilla once again, putting on the costume and plopping down in the cage. Things were going okay until around 11:00 am, when he looked over and noticed that the workers had accidentally left the door open between the gorilla cage and the cage next to it - the lion cage!
And to his utter horror, the lion was walking through the open door and into his cage. He was going to be attacked and eaten alive by the lion! He began to panic as the lion approached him. He just knew he was going to be lunch! As the lion got to him, he yelled out in fear, "Help! This lion is going to eat me!"
Suddenly, the lion stopped, looked intently at him and said, "Be quiet! The lion was sick today and I'm filling in with this costume. If you yell out again, you're going to get us both fired!"
Yes. The next generation is watching us and they can see right through hypocrisy. If we are going to see them follow Jesus, then we must first model what it means to follow Jesus.
A recent survey among those who had grown up in church and then walked away from the faith, revealed that a big reason was because people in the church did not live what they preached.
We must watch our words. We must watch our boundaries and avoid situations that can lead to moral failure. We must watch our motives. We must watch our actions. We must make sure that how we live during the week matches up with what we say at church on Sunday.
Church leaders, we must watch ourselves. Parents, we must watch ourselves. Grandparents, we must watch ourselves.
When the work day doesn't match the church day, the next generation is left with doubts about the validity of our faith.
The next generation is watching. What will they see in us? Will our life be a living testimony that inspires them to follow Jesus?