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Between sessions at a busy conference, I rushed through my email at a student kiosk. I clicked open an article and time stopped. Finger poised over the mouse, I read the headline about Jennifer Knapp, a million-record-selling, multiple-Dove-award-winning singer-songwriter: "Jennifer Knapp: resisting the label lesbian, but ‘in love with a beautiful woman.'"

I clicked through the article but honestly, I wasn't that surprised. I'm a big fan of hers, the kind who'd googled Jennifer every few months when she disappeared from the music scene. I'd wondered what was going on in her life that made her make that drastic change. But what did surprise me was my constant thoughts about Jennifer over the next few weeks. What surprised me was my sadness and confusion and deep sense of loss.

I live my life through music, and Jennifer Knapp's albums: Kansas and Lay It Down, represent a significant season of spiritual growth. As I spent more time thinking it through, I realized that Knapp's music was more than just a soundtrack. Her honest lyrics were written better than my own words. Her haunting and powerful voice put me in a touch with a part of me that needed a song.

Whether she wanted to be or not, Jennifer Knapp was a spiritual leader for me.

So what do we do when leaders live lives or do things we disagree with? Although Jennifer would exert that she hasn't "fallen" or even "changed," that she's just embraced what in her words is "wholly me," I still find myself wrestling with truth and grace and everything in between.

I wanted to not care. I wanted to put that in a box and ignore it. But as a leader myself, I can't. I can't decide to not think about something. I can't decide to ignore my heart.

So as I've read and reread her interviews, with Christianity Today and The Advocate. I've look for that same leader. I am confused when she claims to "not struggle within herself," but I am comforted when she tells CT, "I have a lot of critically thinking fans who are trying to sort out their lives as Christians as best they know how." I would hope Jennifer would understand that I'm not sure what to do with this, where to put it all, how to make it all work.

I spoke with ministry friends. As we shared our stories of spiritual leaders who turn a different way, the room took on a somber tone, as if we were standing around the punch bowl at a wake. The youth pastor in a long-standing affair. The passionate Bible teacher who's now an outspoken atheist. The pastor with a smile on his face on a Sunday, struggling with debilitating, suicidal depression during the week. The author in rehab, again. Doubt. Sexual Orientation. Addiction. Brokenness. Sinfulness. Humanity.

Their faces revealed the truth that all leaders struggle with, the unmooring feeling when one you've emulated falls away, or falls apart. A friend of mine summed it up like this: "I think as leaders we've all got to sort through who we are really following. It's easy to shape yourself into the image of the leader above you. But we are supposed to be shaped into the image of Christ."

Jennifer's announcement did two things for me: one, it reminded me that as a leader, I need to struggle through the hard realities of life, the confusing, and the unknown. And two, I need to be fearless in my search for truth, even if it leads me to unknown places.

Parker Palmer says these kinds of experiences cause us to admit "that ours is not the only standpoint, the only experience, the only way, and the truths we have built our lives on begin to feel fragile." The temptation is there, to dismiss inconsistencies and hard realities. But as leaders, we are called to break open our hearts and invite the questions, the wrestling, and the Spirit's work.

How does your heart negotiate when spiritual leaders ‘fall'?

June23, 2010 at 12:50 PM

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