The Idolatry of Leadership

There is something I have been thinking about for a long time now. We all know that idolatry is simply defined as something we worship. If we place that idol before God then it becomes very dangerous. I would venture to say when we have anything else we worship other than God we begin to get into dangerous ground. I have been in ministry now for about 20 years. I have seen the rise of the value and significance of how great leadership will release people to give all they have to the work of God. I have also witnessed poor leadership and how it cripples a staff and hinders the growth of a local community of believers. I aspire to be the best leader I can, but I often feel leadership and the concepts of leadership have been elevated to an unhealthy level in our churches.

Have we traded in the desire to be more Christ-like for the sake of being a good (or great) leader?

Have we placed more emphasis on change management processes and lost our hunger for the movement of the Holy Spirit and the discipline of earnest prayer?

Have we focused more on our ability to lead others to grow the church and forgotten the simple words of Jesus that He will build His Church?

I will admit that I have. I was actually at a very unhealthy place were I wanted to read more books about leadership and even spiritual disciplines as a leader than I wanted to hear the voice of God. The Bible had grown stale. I felt I needed to focus my efforts on being a better leader and learning better change management principles. If I could just do those things really well then I could lead people where I thought they needed to go. I had almost lost my very soul for the sake of trying to be a great leader. Thankfully God rocked my world and brought me to my knees. The words from John 15 hit me right in the heart. “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (emphasis mine). Jesus didn’t say apart from me you can do somethings or a few things. That word… nothing, left me feeling completely empty and useless, because I had been trying to do it all on my own.

Eventually this question plagued me… What had I missed in my intense desire to be someone and do certain things? All things and desires that were good. Really, really good stuff if I say so myself. But I had been missing the voice of the one who gave me all my gifts and my position. In short leadership became an idol.

I have learned that you can have the most well thought out mission vision and strategy in the world. It can even be very compelling, the most compelling one ever. You can do all the right things but still miss the voice of God in the process. Have we forgotten that it was the work of the Holy Spirit that transformed the disciples from scared men into fearless men boldly proclaiming the gospel?

The gift and privilege of leadership is fragile and easily abused, misused, and destroyed. Jesus said we can do a lot of great things in His name but not know him or his voice. In the end He will tell us “depart from me for I never knew you” (reference Matthew 7:21-23). Is our focus to get things done or know His voice? Is our focus to do our will or His will? Hear me clearly. I am not saying don’t lead. It’s a shift in how we view leadership. I must be led by the one who gives me everything I need so that I can lead. I must humble myself to put aside my wants and what I think needs to be done to hear God speak so I know how to work with Him. The gift and privilege of leadership is fragile and I must hold onto it with open hands so that I do not make it an idol thus destroying it or abusing it. I must abide in him so that the gift of leadership will bear fruit. What does it gain us to do a lot of great things and miss the voice of God?

So how do we balance the desire to lead well, because it matters, with the need to hear the voice of God? I believe we need to go back to the simplicity of Jesus’ words. “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing“. We must discover what it truly means to abide in Him. According to Merriam-Webster the different variations of abide are; to accept or bear, to stay or live somewhere, to remain or continue, to wait for, to endure without yielding, to bear patiently, to accept without rejection, to remain stable or fixed in a state, to continue in a place, to conform to. So many of these things seem contrary to what we often think of as leading. So many of these words grip my heart and call me out to a better place with Jesus. They remind me that leadership is simply the ability to influence. If we want to have the most effective influential life for the kingdom then why wouldn’t we “remain stable or fixed in a state” with Christ! He said that is the only way for us to bear fruit.

We must must take our eyes off leadership and fix our eyes back on Jesus so that we can actually lead well.

We can only lead well if we are led well. We must allow ourselves to be led and walk with Jesus. It is then and only then the precious gift of leadership we have been given will bear a fruit that will last and go way beyond our own ability, because we get to work with a God who can do more than we can ask or imagine.

1 Comment

  1. Steve says:

    Sooo agree! Where and when did we become smarter than Jesus by encouraging followers of Christ to find and hone leaders – and their own leadership skills – rather his repetitive encouragement that we be Spirit following disciples that attempt to be great by being servants (not leaders) of others.
    Seems like this strategy of going after leaders… the influencers at the top – is nothing more than “strategy”… not Spirit… the foolishness of man.
    I think Satan just loves it because it makes it simple then for him to just spend his time taking down the leader and leader-driven organization dies. Whereas if we were all servants following Jesus, regardless of functional role, it wouldn’t impact us near as much because we’d still be following the same person of Jesus (not a leader) and serving each other.


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