Follow the Leader — or Not

I’m a follower. Always been more comfortable following than leading. But I haven’t always chosen the best leaders to follow, and that lesson was a very painful one in my early 20s. I had moved away from home to be closer to my boyfriend. And the first time I attended his church, I loved it. The music was the latest, most popular contemporary church music. The sanctuary had large, plush, comfortable chairs. And the preacher was the most engaging, charismatic, and motivating I’d ever heard.

I was immediately drawn in. I dove in headfirst and gave 1000%. Within a matter of months, I was teaching Sunday school, working in the daycare, assisting with the youth group, singing in the choir, and on the dance team. Plus, I was engaged to the pastor’s protégé. But then, the house of cards began to waver.

One Friday afternoon, an eleven-year-old girl from the church came to me in tears. She had recently overheard a disagreement between her parents and the pastor. And in the heat of the moment, the pastor – who knew their landlord – promised to get the family kicked out of their home if they didn’t “come to their senses” and agree with him. The young girl was terrified they were going to lose their home, and she was devastated that this trusted, beloved pastor would treat her family this way over something as small as a disagreement over a Bible verse.

I comforted my young friend the best I could, but truthfully, I was shaken, too. I thought that pastors were supposed to love and protect their flocks, but that’s not what I’d heard in this girl’s story. I decided (in my young, naïve, and immature mind) that I would just go to the pastor, ask him to help me understand, and that he would have a logical explanation that would restore my confidence in him. Instead, I was chastised for allowing this girl to confide in me (that’s gossip). And I was told that it was none of my business. My job was to trust the pastor – not question him. And to keep my mouth shut. I did keep my mouth shut, but trusting the pastor after that became increasingly difficult.

It wasn’t very long after this that one of the other assistant youth leaders came to me to confide in me. He had been assigned to mentor a troubled teenaged boy in the church and had found himself (a twenty-something man) feeling sexual attraction for the fifteen-year-old boy. The leadership was pressuring the youth leader to spend more and more time with the boy, and the leader wasn’t sure how long he was going to be able to stop himself from acting on this attraction. As a victim of sexual abuse, there was only one thing I felt I could do. I called the lead youth pastor and set up an appointment to speak to him and his wife. And I told them my concern. They thanked me for caring for and trying to protect this boy, and told me they would take care of it. Within days, I was called back into their office, called a liar and a gossip (although the youth pastors were the only ones I told), and was threatened that they would stand me up in front of the entire church and tell the congregation that I was a liar and a gossip and that I couldn’t be trusted. I opted to leave the church.

I had chosen to follow a dynamic leader, and all he led me to was a shattered heart and years of pain.

Sadly, about six months later, that youth leader admitted that he had sexually abused that teenage boy.

When I left that church, my mindset was that people couldn’t be trusted. Only God could be trusted. And so, on Sundays, I would just stay home alone with Him. Over time, I’ve learned that I was both right and wrong.

People are not perfect, and they will never be able to meet all of my needs. If people could meet all of my needs, I wouldn’t need to trust God, and I wouldn’t need to learn how to do things for myself. And God isn’t going to put me in those positions because they aren’t healthy for me.

Community – which is made up of people – is necessary. For years, I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need people. That I could do it all myself – with God’s help. But God made us for community. And He likes to use people in my life. And sometimes, He likes to use me to help others. And sometimes, the thing that keeps me going is knowing that I’m not on the road alone.

This post is part of a weekly book discussion on Lynch, McNicol, and Thrall’s “The Cure.” You don’t have to read the book to participate in the discussion. If you have a written response to this week’s chapter, go visit my co-facilitator, Jason Stasyszen, at Connecting to Impact, to link up to the widget.

About Sarah Salter


  1. I am sure I would have done the same thing…you did what you thought was right….but He does like to use people in all our lives…

  2. Wisdom hard won, Sarah. Sorry you had to experience that and sorry for the people still there at that church. Sue

  3. Sarah Salter says:

    Thanks, Sue! I’m so blessed where I am now! I’ve never been a part of such a gracious church family! 🙂

  4. I can’t even imagine what you went through…
    When I was little, we were “encouraged” to leave the Catholic church soon after my parents divorce.
    When I was in high school, I found the “perfect religion and church”. Against my Mother’s plea, I was baptized in this church. A couple of months later our church burned to the ground. Vandalism. Afterwards our pastor was arrested and convicted of embezzling a whole lot of money that was donated for the new church. Not as the arsonist, just for the embezzlement.
    I lost all faith in organized religion at that point…

  5. I had a conversation with my sister the other day about how Christians (intentionally or not) do major harm to others and have even turned people away from God.
    Some can’t discern between people letting them down and God. So they think it’s God doing it.

    We are all imperfect. People will hurt us and it’s hard to stay open to the possibility of hurt.

    I know I’ve been tempted (and have fallen to the temptation) of separating myself from corporate fellowship. But God has always graciously brought me back into the church setting and each time He is helping ME mature…not them. I can’t change other Christians, but I can decide how I respond. He’s helping me love them even when it seems impossible…though I’m a work in progress with this too 🙂

  6. I know I’ve heard the stories before, but man, I still get shocked reading it again. Kept thinking, “red flag, red flag” as I was reading. It’s so sad to think that some leaders choose to lead in this way. Lord, help us! I know no one is immune to that thinking. Makes me want to stay close to Jesus, relying on that relationship to inform everything else. Not quite the point of your post, I know, but thanks for allowing the digression. 🙂 Thanks Sarah!

  7. Sarah Salter says:

    Kevin, one of the things that I love about God is that you don’t have to be in a church building to find Him. I see Him when I’m out on the trail, hiking. I’ve seen Him in hospital rooms and bedrooms and kitchens and back yards. And I’ve seen Him in the love I see in you, through our friendship. God doesn’t need you to embrace organized religion, Kevin. He just loves it when you’re willing to embrace Him. 🙂

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