Christian leadership is a huge responsibility to live up to. It is an immense privilege, but with it comes great responsibility.

The story of David calling for a census of the nation (2 Samuel chapter 24)  illustrates a little talked about but profound message for all Christian leaders to hear; when a leader sins, it’s often the people who suffer most.

David’s sin was to trust in the size of his army to protect Israel, rather than to place his trust in God. His sin caused very little damage to his own person. But it did result in the deaths of 70,000 people from across the nation.

As a leader, I am constantly aware of the imperfections and sins in my own walk with God. And yet, God continues to use me. I can tolerate hidden sins (minor or major) in my life, and remain in my role as a preacher, church leader, ministry leader, etc. But I know that when I am not walking as I should with God, the quality of my preaching, my leadership, my pastoral work, anything within my ministry, will actually suffer. And that means those I am seeking to serve and lead will actually suffer.

I had a friend at university who was part of our Christian Union, but was never fully involved with many of our activities. She was in relationship with God, but something was holding her back. As a teenager she had been part of a youth group where the youth worker had been sexually abusing some of the young people. My friend had come to faith through his ministry, so when his character was found to be so corrupted, she questioned the validity of everything he had ever taught her about Jesus. He is probably still in relationship with Jesus; she has walked away from God. When a leader sins, it’s often the people who suffer most.

Paul warns Timothy to watch his life and his doctrine. Persevere in both, and you will save not only yourself, but also your hearers. Constantly develop and grow in your character and your theology. If you do, you will save yourself and your followers. If you don’t, those following you may pay the highest price for your neglect.

Mark Williamson is a founding director of One Rock International. He’s a lay preacher and leader within the Methodist Church, author of a biography on John Wesley, and currently researching for a biography on William Wilberforce. He enjoys good films, good food, praying for London, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna.