In the third part of our series on abuses of money, sex and power within the church, we look at a model of healthy leadership
Steve: As I reflect back on my life, my most profound, lifechanging and challenging moment came when I packed a tent, found a field and decided to have an argument with God. Five years previously, on leaving Bible College, I had felt I was God’s man of faith and power for the hour, and was all set to change the world. However, things hadn’t turned out quite as I had hoped. Disappointment and frustration filled me. I was stuck in a job I didn’t want, in a church which I thought was limited in vision and inwardlooking. As I cried out angry words, I asked, “‘What about all the prayers, all the dreams?’ There was no great voice from heaven, no blinding revelation; in fact, just a big silence. Eventually, the words of a psalm came to me: ‘I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than take my fate upon myself.’ As I drove back home, I’d come to a place of recognition that God had the right to decide. If the reality was to be handing out the song sheets and sorting out the chairs in a job I didn’t feel called to, because that was what my Father in heaven wanted, then I was going to trust him. On one level nothing had changed, but on another, everything was transformed.’
We cannot get away from the fact, much as we may be tempted to do so, that Jesus came as a servant, laying down his rights (Philippians 2:6–8). He did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life for all. If we truly want to follow Jesus, these are his radical terms for leadership.
Scripture provides us with no systematic theology of a blueprint for leadership.
In 1 Corinthians 3:5, Paul declares that he and other leaders are only servants and, as leaders, mandated to prepare the people of God for works of service (Ephesians 4:11–12). The apostle clearly teaches that character is more important, and must come before gifting. When Paul writes to Timothy and Titus regarding the appointment of elders in the newly established Church, the list of qualifications is almost entirely issues of character and lifestyle, as opposed to skills (1 Timothy 3:2–7).
Chaos occurs when gifting is elevated at the expense of all else. Gifted leaders can be set up to fail, working in high profile situations that those even with all the right safeguards around them would struggle with.
When Things Go Wrong
Scandal, moral failure, and the abuse of power among certain leaders that detaches many from the Church, can become a refining fire bringing a fresh response to leadership in the 21st century. If we place servant-hearted leadership as our highest aim, what can we learn from those who have found themselves broken and broken-hearted in their leadership failure?
As documented in previous issues of Christianity, North America has seen some high profile ministries that have tumbled through sin. While there have been failures and scandals over here, few would argue that the situation in the UK Church is as serious. Jonathan Edwards of the Baptist Union notes that the proportion of ministers who leave Baptist ministry because of ‘gross misconduct’ is tiny. However, there is an enemy, and temptation is all around us. Jesus himself found temptation exhausting and debilitating. ‘Stuff ’ happens and we, as the Church, not simply charismatic and Pentecostal but the whole Body of Christ in the UK, must not be proud but embrace humility – humility which causes us not to fingerpoint, but to be guided by the Holy Spirit. We need to have the necessary safeguards in place designed to stop things going wrong – and if they do, we need to be ready.
Disconcertingly, God’s habit seems to be to choose to limit the use of his power and to allow us to make our free choices, even when he disagrees. Power and leadership go hand in hand – what are we going to do with it? How will we avoid its potential to corrupt? The Bible understands our human nature, talking about ‘the pleasures of sin’ (Hebrews 11:25). Sin is pleasurable, for a time; otherwise none of us would want to indulge in it. The use and misuse of money, the exploitation of others, forcing them to do things God never would, the abuse of our sexuality – these are power-related. Power brings opportunity, and most of us are opportunistic. What once seemed clear temptation becomes ‘Why not’, ‘I deserve it’, ‘I’ll just try it once’.
The majority of church leaders in the UK are good people doing a job to which they believe God has called them. Many are unsung heroes who often earn little, work long hours and carry a great deal of pressure. Almost certainly they will get it wrong at times; display a singular lack of wisdom; perhaps simply find themselves in situations where they are destined to fail.
But there can be a whole system in place which isolates leaders and sets them up to fail. Individuals are given a big title with the expectation that they will be the ‘man or woman of God’. They are set up without a framework of support, without a team, without friendship. Is it any wonder that this sets individuals on a possible course of destruction? A great danger in all of this is that ‘real’ life begins to fracture away from ‘ministry’ life.
When any of the following things seem to be raising their head in church life, then these are danger signs we should take very seriously.
Beware of strong hierarchical structures where revelation or biblical interpretation flows from the top down and obedience from the bottom up and authority lies in the hands of one or two individuals.
How are you treated when you comment on the leadership system? All leadership need safeguards, with opportunities for others to ask questions without suddenly being seen as a ‘rebel’. Leadership teams need to look actively for an external accountability, fostering a culture of self-criticism or humour at their own expense.
Resist any tendency towards secrecy. There should always be transparency on issues of money, lifestyle and decision-making.
Strong direction backed up with phrases amounting to ‘thus says the Lord’ should be open to challenge.
The commitment of people should not become a test measured against financial giving or attendance at church activities, but should actively encourage them into involvement with other spheres of interest or churches in the area.
The use of spiritual gifts in a church can be a prime arena where people get hurt. In any leadership health check we must look at the use of spiritual gifts where they are practised in a church.
Spiritual Gifts Health Check
• Intentional modelling of good practice by the leaders; for example, ‘I think God has said this…’ not ‘God says…’
• Avoid super-spiritual or Gnostic or secret revelation language developing in a church culture.
• Judge and weigh prophetic words, particularly directional words, provided by the wisdom and discernment of a leadership team.
• Provide a regular opportunity for people to identify the spiritual gifts God has given them – to understand both the strengths and the weaknesses of each gift.
• Encourage the servant heart in all who wish to exercise gifts.
• Focus on the gifts being used to glorify God and build others up.
• Create opportunities for spiritual gifts to be practised.
• Feedback when gifts are exercised, both when used well and when they are unhelpful or damaging.
• Look at the credence, character and integrity of any visiting prophet.
• Be accountable for prophetic utterance, particularly if it is a predictive prophecy.
• Gain honest verification for claims of healing.
• Afford a safe and respectful environment for prayer ministry, with clear guidelines.
There seems to be much talk about developing our spiritual gifts and our leadership skills, but little spoken of developing our spiritual fruit: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22,23). Gifts without the fruit are dangerous. Fruit are the quiet things, the character things; they don’t get on a platform, they are easily taken for granted and overlooked. Good fruit needs careful, consistent cultivation, generally carried out when no one is looking.
Preparing for the Worst
So, how do we put in place things to stop it all going horribly wrong?
God protects leadership by his requirement to deal with our character. If relationships are one of our foundational values, they are a priority in building church, and also a key to our own maturity. So how do we keep relationships good? What do we do when relationships go bad?
Let’s be realistic. Bad things happen. We must be transparent with each other, refusing to have no-go areas and resisting any attempt to shove stuff under the carpet in our approach to church life. This means being prepared ask each other, and give permission for, friends to ask the hard questions. If we have a friend who has struggled with pornography, then why not simply ask every so often what happens when they surf the net?
But these things are never easy. Steve: I remember being at a party when I thought I saw a friend from the church kissing someone who was not his wife. The next morning I decided to make the phone call. The drive to this man’s house seemed interminable; I would rather not be doing it. On arrival, we went for a walk. I asked him firstly if I had seen correctly. My friend confessed that I had, and together we talked it through, prayed together and agreed a way forward. There was much that needed to be worked through, but it was out in the open; restoration could begin. We could call this confrontation, but perhaps a better phrase is ‘faithfulness to a friend’.
Ignoring things is not a biblical option (see Matthew 18:15; Matthew 5:23,24.) Faithfulness and relationship go hand in hand, and we must to talk to each other. This isn’t something we can do by email or text. Rather we should talk, humbly, lovingly, wanting to listen, possibly being wrong, aware of our body language, choosing the right setting, asking questions, recognising that we might need others to help at some point.
We can hear the word ‘discipline’ as punishment. However, the New Testament clearly establishes the word in context of training and development (Hebrews 12:6–11). Even when church discipline requires ‘separation’ (see Matthew 18:15–17), our aim should always be the eventual restoration of the relationships. In Luke 15 Jesus tells three stories: the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. The context of the scripture for these stories is restoration: ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23).
Gordon McDonald, the well known pastor and writer of Rebuilding Your Broken World (Thomas Nelson), written after confessing publicly to an adulterous relationship, provides an exemplary model where a leader falls, confesses his sin without excuses, steps down, goes through counselling and therapy and, after a significant time, is restored and begins writing and speaking again. The man is a fine example of the healing process of repentance, discipline, discipleship and restoration. There is a way back for leaders; see the checklist below.
As leaders, we must drink deeply from our personal, lifegiving relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and cultivate a teachable, humble spirit. The importance of reflection in the midst of our busyness cannot be emphasised too highly; reading scripture, books, keeping some sort of journal, asking a friend to reflect with us, resolutely taking every thought captive to Christ. We need to find a sustainable rhythm of living so that we can deal with whatever comes. Let’s embrace love; loving God, but also loving ourselves, our family – the Body of Christ. As leaders, we are required to truly know ourselves. There should be no surprises in our weaknesses, our strengths, or our sinfulness. This cannot be done on our own; but with others, calling on the unimaginable grace of God, we can endeavour to do what God has called us to, and do it well.
Our thanks go to the following people who have kindly helped us in our research for this article and sent us either guidelines for pastoral conduct or guidelines for the use of the gifts of the Spirit, or both: Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union Bishop of Willsden, Pete Broadbent, Church of England Pastor Jonathan Oyelede, City Chapel John Glass, General Superintendent of Elim Pentecostal Churches Faith Forster, Ichthus Christian Fellowship Ness Wilson, leader, Open Heaven Church, Loughborough Gerald Coates, Pioneer