Authentic Leaders Living Credible Lives Among God’s People

false teachersUnfortunately, both in the history of the Bible as well as our contemporary scene, there are examples of both good and bad leadership in the House of God.  In this past season I have personally come across the amazing contrast of both.  It has caused me to freshly realize some important aspects of God’s design for leadership that we must not lose sight of.  

On the good side I was recently at a service in which a man from the congregation brought up the eldership team and had the congregation pray over them as they were heading on a retreat.  It was very touching as he cited the passage in Hebrews 13 about local church leadership.  Hebrews 13:7-17  Remember those leading you, who have spoken to you the Word of God, whose faith follow, considering the end of their conduct… (17)  Yield to those leading you, and be submissive, for they watch for your souls, as those who must give account, that they may do it with joy and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you.

With tears in his voice he said, “We know these men, we know their lives, they have laid down their lives for this church, and we want to live in a way that the Bible says ‘that they could serve us with joy and not grief.’  Let us honor and pray for them as they go to this retreat.”  This was both touching and a fresh revelation of what Paul said was an important part of leadership, “Know (to perceive with the eye) those who labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord, and give you instruction that you esteem them very highly” (1 Thes 5:12-13).

With the rise of the online avenues and social media there has never been a time in which teachings and ideas from both God ordained, as well as self-proclaimed leaders, reaches far beyond people personally “knowing” their lives.  With over 550 million Christian based web and blog sites along with an unknown greater number of Christian social media sites, good and bad spiritual ideas are being perpetuated by both good and bad leaders.  We have an internet smorgasbord of just about any theology you like coming from people that you don’t really know.   

When it comes to leadership and teaching in the house of God the fruit of leaders’ lives is to be connected to what they teach. 

Jesus tells us when He speaks about false leaders that the fruit of their lives is the most accurate indicator of their authenticity.  Matthew 7:15-16  “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  (16)  “You will know them by their fruits….  Paul says similar things when he is contrasting false apostles in Corinth who were trying to discredit him (2 Cor 10-11).  He appealed to what they knew about his own life when He lived among  them.

Paul makes an appeal to the Thessalonians mentioned earlier, that knowing leaders’ lives who are over them in the Lord is essential (1 Thes 5:12-13).   The idea of knowing is to know their lives not just what they teach.  He tells Timothy “show yourself an example” with his life as he “prescribes and teaches things” (1 Tim 4:11-12).   John commended the Ephesians who measured leaders and found some to be false, obviously not only because of their teaching but also because of their lives (Rev 2:1-3).

This is one of the challenges of the online world when it comes to leaders, teachers, and receiving from them.  The fruit of their lives should confirm the ideas they speak.  We must remember that what we really believe should affect our behavior.  Our theology determines our practice.  Just because one can preach or write well doesn’t mean they are living well!  When you look at Biblical maturity and authenticity it is seen in the closest relationships the leader has.  It is in the real fruit of their real lives that should be observable (usually in their closest relationships) that is the platform for any messages they want to proclaim.  I like to sum up the Biblical fruit as “if it doesn’t work in your own house, don’t try to preach it in the Lord’s house!”   

Leaders’ real lives are the authentic platforms from which they speak

One reason I was touched with the previously mentioned example was the contrast it revealed to some recent leadership scandals I have been following with leaders of worldwide, online influence.   Recently one popular megachurch leader who was a consistent preacher of certain applications of grace to the exclusion of other truths fell severely.  He inherited a popular internationally known church and began to lead it forward.  He published several books on grace and even formed an network designed to focus and facilitate the wonderful message of  “God’s inexhaustible grace.”  I read some of his books and other writings.  While he has some very good things to say about grace, seldom did he mention walking or growing in grace.  Rarely did He mention any challenging aspects of God’s nature.

It seems that his perspective on grace caused him to live carelessly and he ended up with unfortunate falls to immorality.  Marital problems and carelessness resulted in he and his wife having affairs that were uncovered and in June of 2015 he stepped down from that church.  

Only three months later in September 2015, he was picked up by another church (to the surprise of many) and continued to impart his ideas about grace to the online world.  He continued to promote a perspective on grace that “God doesn’t even see our sin.” His previous sin almost seemed to cause him to highlight his understanding of grace even more.   He continued to write and tweet things like the following which have truth in them but when ignoring other aspects of God’s truth they can be taken to promote careless living, deception, or a cover for practicing sin.  

  • “God’s ability to clean things up is infinitely greater than our ability to mess things up.” 
  • “God’s capacity to forgive is greater than our capacity to sin; while our sin reaches far, God’s grace reaches farther.”
  • “God is a good Father, and because we’re with Jesus, God’s affection for us is unchanging and His approval of us is forever.” 
  • “So grateful God is a bottom feeder.”

Five months later it was revealed that he had hidden previous affairs in addition to the one that was uncovered.  He was removed from his position at the new megachurch.  Now other attitudes are beginning to come to light.  The network he helped start to promote their perspective on God’s grace finally had to shut down as most of the board members resigned seeing the problem with proclaiming God’s grace in a way that facilitated and covered immorality.   What leaders teach should be connected to how they live.

I did come upon his last social media post that gave cause for hope that he is repenting.  The words he was saying seemed to be in contrast to and helped to correct some of his previous extreme teachings. 

“I hope and pray that the events in my own life over the past couple years serve as a warning to all who, like I did, believe they are standing firm.  Sin is deep.  It is real. It destroys. It deceives. May this be an opportunity for all of us to examine our own hearts and beg God for the mercy and forgiveness we all need.”

Credible leaders are known by credible lives that are lived out among God's people. Click To Tweet Another example was the leader of Europe’s third largest church and popular grace/prosperity preacher.  After posting a video on his blog, “Sexual Sin is Not Enough to Take You to Hell” (should have been a warning), many female parishioners began to come forward and speak of affairs and sexual abuse with this international leader.  

My pastor, who serves in many different nations, has given warnings about this man for a while.  Here is one of the biggest problems with this preacher.  While secretly stepping down for a “Sabbatical” he continues to run online sites as well as a Facebook and blog site that some of my Facebook friends subscribe to.

While we continue to have wonderful online social media tools to proclaim God’s truth beyond our borders we must keep the Bible’s perspective that credible leaders are known by credible lives lived out among God’s people

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Leaders facing “cognitive dissonance”

I had to take quite a bit of psychology in my past and there is a concept I learned called “Cognitive Dissonance” that really becomes highlighted in a postmodern climate.  Cognitive dissonance is defined by the dictionary as “anxiety or an uncomfortable feeling that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes, beliefs, or the like.”

It can occur in many areas of life but it is particularly evident in situations when a person’s behavior conflicts with beliefs that are integral to his or her internal self-identity.    An example would be a situation in which a woman who values financial security is in a relationship with a man who is financially irresponsible.  There is a conflict in what she believes and how she lives.  Her beliefs conflict with her desires.  When pressed about it by close friends or family members you will usually see some form of cognitive dissonance.

In a postmodern climate in which there is no absolute truth.  Everyone has their version of truth based on their upbringing, culture, education, and associations.  According to a postmodern mind no one’s truth is any better than any others.  But what about when a person’s version of truth they allegedly hold in their own view (my truth) begins to conflict with other truths they hold in their life?  When challenged about these inconsistencies cognitive dissonance will surface.

We live in a day when leaders need to be clear.  Being clear is not being narrow-minded in a way that arrogantly thinks one knows it all, while judging all others. The greatest leader who ever walked the face of the earth was Jesus Christ.  People didn’t have a hard time knowing what He believed. At the same time He refused to be trapped into narrow-minded perspectives by people trying to discredit Him.

I watched a couple of recent interviews with leaders who were put on the hot seat being ask several challenging questions.  The interviewers were obviously trying to trip them up.  The interesting thing about the interviews, even if you don’t like the leaders or their positions, was you could see a bit of the struggle the first one had facing cognitive dissonance (towards the end of the video) while the second remained very clear  about his internal beliefs (and made sure he expressed them clearly even-though the interviewer tried to disorient him with cognitive dissonance).  Here are the videos.  The second two are little lengthy but worth watching.


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