I Watched a Successful Christian Fall, and It Scared Me

“How did he go off the rails?” I asked myself.

Many years ago, I admired a very high-profile CEO who was a Christian. I first met him in 1978. There weren’t many software businesses in Atlanta back then, and a banker who was trying to win our business introduced us to show he understood software economics.

This CEO was so out of the box. He loved his employees. He knew their wives and kids and allowed them to use his motor home for vacations. He led morning devotionals, and he prayed with them. He even served them lunch every day. I mean, he personally served them lunch to establish the culture of servant-leadership. This was before the term was even coined.

Building an Empire

Over the years, he built an empire. He was seemingly successful at everything he did inside and outside his company. If there ever was a man I thought had the Midas touch, it was him.

Then one day he decided to divorce his wife. Since he was such a high profile Christian, the press loved the story, and the industry gossip was all about it.

Shortly before the divorce became public, I became a Christian. When I heard the news, it scared me. I asked myself, “How can this happen to this man? He is a very public follower of Jesus, and he very publicly practices his faith. Can this happen to me? I am just starting to follow Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I am relying on Jesus to protect me.”

Searching for Answers

We met at his magnificent home. He gave me a tour which went on for over an hour. It was amazing. He had everything any man would ever want. Wealth, status, recognition, power and a deep faith. He had it all. At least everything I wanted at the time.

We talked about his business success. And then I turned the conversation to faith and family. I asked him, “What happened? How could you divorce your wife?”

He said, “When my wife and I were dating, I met her mother. Her mother was very overweight. I told my fiancé if she ever became like her mother, I would divorce her. Over the years she kept gaining weight. She tried to lose the weight but didn’t. One day she just gave up. So I made good on my promise and divorced her.”

I was dumbstruck.

Death of Accountability

I told him the real reason for my visit was to get this question answered. I said, “You are everything I want to be as a Christian. I want my new faith to protect me and also be super successful at the same time.”

He said “These things just happen sometimes. It is a divorce; that’s all.”

I left his home very confused asking myself, “How can this happen?”

The answer came when I spoke to a mutual friend.

He said, “The CEO grew up with a close friend. As he went into business, his friend became a pastor. The pastor was his confidant and accountability partner. He had tremendous influence on the CEO in his faith and how it played out in his business and family.

“About a year before he announced his divorce, this pastor and friend was killed in a car accident. From that time, the CEO started making decisions driven by pride. He lost his accountability. The divorce was simply his most recent decision.”

Success Births Pride

This man’s life showed me the importance of having someone who is intimately involved in a Christian leader’s life. A man who loves you and whose only agenda is accountability to God and to speak the truth in love. A man who serves the role of prophet in your life. He speaks to you as God speaks to you.

Success eventually leads to pride. You may not think this will happen to you, but it will unless you have that man who will call you out. That man you trust. That man who is called by God to speak truth into your life and hold you accountable to God himself. We all need that man.

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2 thoughts on “I Watched a Successful Christian Fall, and It Scared Me

  1. Charlie, Great post. It reminds us that earthly success is not the same as spiritual “success”. What God’s views as success and what man views as success are not the same.

    At the risk of sounding like a contrarian, I wish you had titled the article “I watched a Christian, who had obtained worldly success, fall, and it scared me.” We need to make sure we don’t equate worldly success with what God sees as success.