Toxic Spillage: The Side-Effects of Following a Toxic Leader

It is a great story. God’s Kingdom is expanding at an extraordinary rate. The church is loving God and neighbor and is growing like crazy.

But, Herod, the king, was doing what he could to please the Jews, rather than God. He had James killed and had Peter arrested and put in jail. Then the unusual happened.

Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him.

Acts 12:6-9 (ESV)


Miraculously set free by Christ.

But then, we see how toxic leadership creates havoc for others besides their targets.

Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then [Peter] went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.

Acts 12:18-19 (ESV)

Absolute Authority and Control

What strikes me about this story is not the miraculous intervention of the Lord on Peter’s and the church’s behalf (which is incredible) but the almost unnoticeable story of Herod’s employees – the guards of the jail.

When Peter was supernaturally saved from Herod’s prison, Herod held the guards accountable. Of course, this was normal practice for the day. The king would have to show that if the prison guards didn’t do their job there was the worst possible punishment coming – death. Surely, other guards would take notice and toe the line.

But, in this case it points to the wickedness of the leader rather than any sense of justice – even in Herod’s screwy world.

Herod needed to establish his absolute authority and control. The guards must die for their failure to keep Peter in prison, though Peter was unchained at no fault of their own.

Evil men impact the lives of others . . . even those who are not necessarily the intended targets of their evil.

The guards died for Herod’s sins.

In time, Herod gets his just due for his toxicity. [A few verses later Luke explains that Herod died a horrible death that is linked to God’s judgment]. But for now, it is those who were simply going about their job, doing what they could to provide for their families, whose lives are ended.

Toxic Spillage

If you work for a Christian organization (or other) that is ruled by a toxic leader, be aware. It will spill out and over you. It is one thing to work for a rotten leader who just doesn’t know how to lead well. We may even say his heart is in the right place. He just doesn’t make good decisions. And those failures impact those they rule.

But if you are working for a Ravi Zacharius, Jerry Falwell Jr., James McDonald, or Mark Driscoll the toxic spillage will drown you. What they do to John is likely in time to happen to you.

Just do a Google search on all the damage done to employees of these toxic leaders.

Chuck DeGroat notes, “They all bear trauma in their bodies and brains. Sleeplessness. Paranoia. Shame. Rage. Indecision. Depression. Anxiety. Suicidal thoughts.”1 This is the testimony of the traumatized over and over.

It isn’t pretty and suffering the “side-effects” of toxic leadership is not worth it.

For years, my family was treated with great kindness by the toxic leaders of our mission organization. We have often said, “We were the favored ones.” But, in time, we faced their wickedness just like others had.

John worked for a major international mission agency and thought he was good friends with the CEO. However, that didn’t stop the CEO from finally taking John’s office keys and requiring him to be out of his desk in short order for doing nothing other than giving some helpful recommendations.

I can guarantee it will happen to you as well unless you very intentionally become complicit in your leader’s evil.

You will be required to keep your head down. You will have to say “yes sir” to every demand no matter how unbiblical. You will be required to keep your mouth shut when unethical (and maybe illegal) practices come to your attention.

I can promise you, it is not God’s calling for you to grovel under such leaders.

And, do not believe for a moment you will escape their onslaught even if you do take the knee.


Photo used for graphic by Ivan Bandura.

1 Chuck DeGroat, “Narcissism Is Not a Leadership Style,” accessed February 10, 2020,

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