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Four Unhealthy Commandments of Church Leadership

Posted on February 25th, 2015

As I have been finishing the final small edits of The Emotionally Healthy Leader (Zondervan, July, 2015), I have been reminded again of how deeply in our bones many of us carry the following four deadly, faulty beliefs:

1. It’s Not a Success Unless It’s Bigger and Better

Most of us have been taught to measure success by external markers. And let’s be clear—numbers aren’t all bad. In fact, quantifying ministry impact with numbers is actually biblical. But let’s also be clear that there is a wrong way to deal with numbers. When we use numbers to compare ourselves or to boast of our size, we cross a line.

The problem isn’t that we count, it’s that we have so fully embraced the world’s dictum that bigger is better that numbers have become the only thing we count. What we miss in all this counting is the value Scripture places on internal markers as well.

The teaching of Jesus is that we are to abide in him and abound in fruit (see John 15:1-8). What this looks like will differ depending on our unique leadership callings. Cloistered monks who spend most of their time in prayer and offering spiritual direction, for example, will bear a different kind and quantity of fruit than I will as a pastor in a church in New York City.

2. What You Do Is More Important than Who You Are

What we do does matter—to a point. And hopefully, you want to develop your skills and increase your effectiveness.

But who you are is more important than what you do. Why? Because the love of Jesus is the greatest gift you have to give to others. Period. Who you are as a person—and specifically how well you love—will always have a larger, longer impact on those around you than what you do. Your being with God (or lack of being with God) will trump, eventually, you’re doing for God every time.

We cannot give what we do not possess. We cannot help but give what we do possess.

3. Superficial Spirituality Is Okay

For years, I assumed. I assumed that anyone who attended church and listened to biblical teaching—in our church and others—would experience transformation. I assumed pastors, worship leaders, administrative staff, missionaries, and board members devoted themselves to nurturing a deep, personal relationship with Jesus.

I assumed wrong.

Now I don’t assume anything.Instead, I ask.

I ask leaders to tell me about how they are cultivating their relationship with God. I ask questions like: “Describe to me your rhythms, how you study Scripture apart from preparations, when and how much time do you spend alone with God?” I ask them how they structure their time with God and what they do. The more I’ve asked these questions of pastors and Christian leaders, the more alarmed I have become.

Just because we have the gifts and skills to build a crowd and create lots of activity does not mean we are building a church or ministry that connects people intimately to Jesus for the sake of the world.

4. Don’t Rock the Boat as Long as the Work Gets Done

Too much of contemporary church culture is characterized by a false niceness and superficiality. We view conflict as a sign that something is wrong and so we do whatever we can to avoid it. We prefer to ignore difficult issues and settle for a false peace, hoping our difficulties will somehow disappear on their own.

They don’t.

For years, I turned a blind eye to issues I should have been engaging promptly and directly. But as we all learn sooner or later, I discovered that I couldn’t build God’s kingdom with lies and pretense. I found out the things I ignored eventually erupted into much bigger problems later. We have to ask the painful, difficult questions we prefer to ignore or the church will pay a much larger price later.

If we allow ourselves and our leadership to be formed by these faulty commandments—even in small ways—we increase the likelihood of devastating, long-term consequences. Odds are also good we will damage ourselves as well. And we will damage the people we serve by failing to bring them into spiritual/emotional maturity so they can offer their lives to the world.

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