When the Tallest Trees Crack and Fall: Christian Leaders, Sin, & Disappointment

Last fall, we took our 12-year-old son away for a weekend of hiking and discussion while we worked through the Passport 2 Purity material together.

When we went for our longest hike, it was a blustery day with heavy winds. As we went deeper down into the canyon, the pines at the top of the hill loomed tall above us. Soon we heard sharp snapping noises. Swaying wildly, the trees too close to the edge of the pack, too tall, too top-heavy, and too unprotected from the wind, began to crack and fall with amazing speed, downward to the earth below.


The more I thought about it, the more it hit me: it’s an apt warning to us all.

  • Don’t grow taller than your roots grow deep.
  • Don’t be top-heavy, proud and puffy at the top but easily swayed by the winds.
  • Don’t plant yourself away, unprotected, from the other trees.

You can’t expect to healthily grow while living purposefully far away from your local church Body. Don & Lori Chaffer, married couple at the helm of the band Waterdeep put it this way: “don’t walk away from the crowd.”

You can’t expect to healthily grow if you appear strong but have no one who can question the direction and top-heaviness of your growth. Three years ago, men like Mark Driscoll, Bill Gothard, Bob Coy, Doug Phillips stood at the head of large ministries. They’d each grown tall. They appeared strong.

But they, each of them, purposefully stood at a distance. They eschewed accountability, pulled away from anyone or anything that would have authority over them, and in time, like the pines we heard crack in the canyon, they cracked and fell. And, as they fell, each one damaged other saplings and trees that were growing around them.

It should bring sober awareness to us all.

“Let anyone who thinks that he stands
lest he fall.
~ 1 Corinthians 10:12

  • Beware when you look around you and only see a few, loose, weak fellow believers. Don’t plant yourself in a place where you are unprotected and unsurrounded.
  • Realize, no matter how tall you seem to be, that you are weaker– more vulnerable– than you think you are. You can fall… I can fall… easier than we may believe.
  • We should focus on growing as part of a healthy forest. Don’t try to go it alone. Don’t just focus on your own “height” or health. Plant yourself amongst others who are healthily growing… be a integral PART of a strong local Body of Christ.



What warnings would you add?

What observations come to your mind when you see Christian leaders fall?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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4 Responses

  1. Vanessa says:

    All these are good points, I would add (some of these you yourself have mentioned in other articles

  2. Holly says:

    You’ve written a very accurate portrayal of this subject for sure.

    I would like to pose 2 thoughts in response.

    1) Often times the damage that begins could/should be confronted by BOLD men (in some cases women, depending on the situation of course, but in the context of biblical leadership, my belief is it should be men in their life) EARLY on when there are relevant facts of truth that substantiate that confrontation.

    2) I believe it is difficult in our culture to establish these relationships you’re encouraging. I have been praying for and seeking exactly what you describe to keep my spiritual growth accelerating and humility paramount. Many are accustomed to living independently, even in the church, absent of close relationships that the Bible describes as necessary in the body of Christ.

    I would love to hear how you would pursue such relationships in an environment where a person like myself is a bit isolated in location, yet desires to be a “part” of the local body as the Bible describes. I would guess there is even a majority in the more “local” in proximity areas that tend to struggle in this area. Going against norms are not easy, and the concepts you write about are typically not culturally practiced. How does one encourage a more biblical environment in places where culture has played a part in a body of believers veering away from it, seemingly unintentional?

    I don’t normally comment because often times it is difficult for me to formulate into “text” exactly what I am trying to say, so I hope that all makes sense!

    Blessings to your family, Jessica!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Hey Holly! Glad to hear from you–

      On #1- I absolutely AGREE! It’s one reason why we need to have strong elders, poised to fiercely drive out wolves, and gently confront sin among those in the Body in order to restore those sheep who have gone astray. We need discerning, wise men who are willing and able to protect the Body in these ways– even protect from wayward or wandering “leaders” who would harm us.

      #2- It’s difficult. I see the humble willingness to be confronted/corrected in Pastor Scott (and in Katie too) & am so thankful for it. It’s one of the things that brought us to WCC… that we saw that he was not the “lead elder” simply because he’s the Pastor. He’s an elder among elders, and even in our interactions with them, before the job offer was extended to Doug, we saw a few decisions where Pastor Scott’s “preference” was not the way things went. That gave us great encouragement that it wasn’t a one-man show, where he could put a little influence out and control the decisions of the elders. I’m so thankful for that. That example, but also that commitment, gives me confidence that when one of the pastors/elders is weak (trying to exert too much strength), there won’t be a set of “yes men” ready to give in to that weakness.

      That is what, I think, happened in the specific instances I mentioned. In each situation/ministry, one man was allowed to grow too strong, his influence was too controlling, and his opinions mattered too greatly.

      As for you, it reminds me a bit of when we lived overseas. I would say, keep asking the Lord to give you friendships and particularly friends who will ask you the hard questions or challenge you when you are apt to give yourself a pass or avoid calling sin “sin” in your life. I can think of a couple friends God gave me in those lonely overseas years who were willing to say- “I think you can find a way to do x, despite your protest that you can’t.” or ask, “how are you getting into God’s Word this week?” which (of course) prompted me to get into it more than I was. I’m so thankful for faithful friends, and I think we each have to WORK to not isolate ourselves.

      It’s hard in situations like yours, where you’re geographically isolated, as well as just being in a season of life where it’s hard to connect-

      Some other ways God provided growth and challenging in my life in those years were these things:
      (1) Online forums with other women where I could have my thoughts refined and challenged.
      (2) Audio Bible & sermons, so I was purposefully able to confront my own sins/weak spots.
      (3) real-life friends and Bible studies (I drove quite a distance to participate at times in order to stay connected with other women).
      (4) Putting my raw thoughts “out there” on my old blog, and letting other believing women confront errant thought, question my logic, and bring other Scriptures to refine my theology & thinking.

      Blessings to you, Holly! We miss your family but know the distance was so difficult for you guys to get plugged in. Just know you are missed!

  3. Laura says:

    Wow, this was a great illustration, easy to remember and easy to apply. I love how God gives revelation so often through his creation. Thanks for sharing this. Laura

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