Ed: You recently wrote a book about people ruining their lives, and you called it an implosion. Why did you use that term?
Eric: Demolition experts can take a building down two ways: they can pummel it from the outside with cranes and wrecking balls, or they can implode the building from the inside. With an implosion, everything looks normal on the outside. There isn’t a crane and wrecking ball announcing to onlookers that the building is going to be destroyed, but beneath the surface explosive devices are placed at strategic places to weaken the foundation of the building so that it topples.
We can speak of attacks from the outside, but more common, in terms of a leader falling, the destruction comes from the inside. When the pressure of the role or when the brightness of the spotlight weighs more than our inner integrity, implosion is inevitable.
I could go on and on with the imagery of implosion. When we watch a building implode, it seems like what took years to build falls in a matter of seconds, but in reality there was lots of planning beneath the surface before the building implodes. We sometimes think a leader falls quickly, but JC Ryle wisely stated, “Men fall in private long before they fall in public.”
Ed: You used King David as the primary example in your book. Why him?
Eric: Surely no implosion is more shocking than David’s. Scripture calls him a man after God’s own heart. Unlike Saul, who was the people’s choice for king, David was God’s choice. He united God’s people, defeated their enemies, penned psalms, and danced before the Lord unashamed of how his worship was perceived by others.
He woke up at dawn with singing to God while living in a cave. I don’t believe I have loved God as much as David loved the Lord. Yet after all those incredible moments and after receiving God’s promise that his kingdom would never end, David pursued a married woman and used military resources to kill her husband in an attempt to cover things up. If King David can fall and ruin his life, surely any of us can.
Ed: So what leads to an implosion?
Eric: I believe the record of David’s fall is very instructive for us, not so we can follow in his steps but so we can kill the sins in our hearts that can lead to our ruin. In David’s story in 2 Samuel 11, we see he was isolated, bored, and filled with pride. He sent people who would have held him accountable away as he remained in Jerusalem (isolation).
He strolled the roof one night looking for anything to do, because at this point in his life God was not enough for him (bored). His demanding that Bathsheba be brought to him, even after he learned she was married, showed that he believed he was entitled to anything he wanted (pride).
Ed: Do you think those same sins are at play now when leaders fall?
Eric: Yes. Sadly, the same patterns keep repeating. Even in our sins, there is nothing new under the sun. Isolation, boredom, and pride still destroy ministry leaders. Leaders who have fallen and, by God’s grace repented and come back to the Lord, share similar stories.
“I pulled away from people.” “I was in a bored season in my life and ministry and just wanted something else, something different.” “I felt entitled to things because of my position or my success.”
And it is not only leaders who fall. Leaders who fall are more prominent, in that we hear their stories, but they are not more prevalent. People in our churches, neighborhoods, and families ruin their lives too and their stories matter to God as much as any leader’s story does.
Ed: Is there any hope for those who have fallen?
Eric: Yes, there is hope. David’s sin was not the end of his story. He lived with consequences the rest of his life, but the Lord removed his sin and the guilt and shame of it.
We benefit today from his beautiful prayer for forgiveness in Psalm 51. In his prayer of confession, we see him David taking full responsibility for his sin (he doesn’t even mention Bathsheba or the men who brought her to him) and rely fully on God for forgiveness.
God created a clean heart for David, gave him a willing spirit to sustain him, and cleansed him from all his sin. David proved to be a man after God’s own heart in his response to confrontation. He owned his sin and repented. Which was very different than Saul’s excuse-making response when he was confronted. So we should pray fervently that those who fall own their sin and embrace and enjoy God’s great forgiveness. God’s mercy is greater than our sin.
Ed: With a seeming onslaught of stories, how should we respond?
Eric: We definitely should not respond with arrogance, thinking, This will never happen to me. Whoever thinks he is standing firm must be careful not to fall. Just as great and mighty buildings can fall, so can people we believe are great and mighty.
And so can we.
Stories of implosions should remind us of our own fragility. We aren’t any better than those who have fallen. David wrote the words “how the mighty have fallen” after hearing of Saul’s demise. Yet he could not keep himself from falling the night he was on the palace roof.
We can’t keep ourselves from falling either. We need God’s grace to hold us up. He is the only One who can keep us from falling, so we must throw ourselves on his grace. We must respond in humility and in grief.
We grieve for those impacted and we grieve for ourselves, knowing we still struggle with our own sinfulness too. We must also respond in prayer, praying for those who have fallen, those impacted, and those living in the rubble and fallout zone of an implosion. Marriages, ministries, families, and churches are deeply and adversely impacted. We must pray for them, not with haughty eyes but with humble hearts.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.