How the Gospel Affects Following LeadershipThursday, June 10, 2010
I don't know any non-sinful or non-fallen Christian leaders. I am a Christian leader, and I am not among that number.
Those Christian leaders who are fallen or who do sin are too numerous to count. Probably because all of them fit this category.
So now let me ask two important questions.
1. What does the gospel of Jesus say we should do for those who sin against us? Who sin at all? How does the gospel say we should act toward those who are fallen?
This is the most significant question. The answer is the foundation to everything else in the Christian life. It easy. Ephesians 4:1-3 says we are to forbear with everybody.
"1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love.3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace" (NLT).
Ephesians 4:31-32, the last two verses in the chapter, teach us to forgive everyone who sins against them, and not dirty them up in our minds or in the minds of others with an angry, unforgiving heart.
"31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you" (NLT).
That's how we treat people who are fallen, and people who sin.
2. What does the gospel of Jesus say about our attitude toward our leaders who are fallen and who sin?
The answer to this is just as easy. Read the same verses again. Leaders are no different. They are people too. And just because they are in positions of leadership does not mean that (1) they are suddenly not fallen any longer, or will not commit any sin, nor does it mean that (2) they are to be treated differently than we treat other Christians (the only exception being the case of what seems to be very gross and public sin as dealt with in 1 Timothy 5:19 ff.).
But what do we do? If our leaders sin, or if they portray some fallenness, we act shocked, so surprised that they could ever possibly allow themselves to stoop to that level. Then we allow our esteem of them to drop. Then we talk bad about them. Then we stop following them. Then we leave the church.
And where do we go? We go to another church....where fallen leaders lead.
You know, when it comes down to it, you've only got two solutions if you're mad at your local church leaders. You can leave and go to some other local church where fallen men are leading there too. Or you can leave and go nowhere else, and be led by your own self...where you are a fallen man too. Either way, you're going to be following men who are fallen.
This is why Paul writes what he does. Leaders are Christians too. They are persons. And they are to be treated no differently than we are to treat anyone else in the body of Christ. Believers are to forbear with leaders and their fallenness, in gentleness, humility, and meekness. And believers are to forgive their leaders when they sin.
I recall being a leader in a local church where I was not given the benefit of this treatment by half my church members. Even though there was no evidence that I had actually sinned in any specific way, I was treated with hatred. There was no forgiveness offered to me, and no forbearance shown to me. I've been a leader in another church where I most definitely did sin. And in return I was called all manner of names that even my Heavenly Father doesn't call me.
The conclusion of the matter is this. If you are a Christian and you belong to a local church, your biblical responsibility is to follow your leadership. The Bible makes this plain in passages like Hebrews 13:7 and 17, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, and other similar passages. But nowhere does the Bible claim that the leaders you follow have arrived at some special dispensation of no-longer-sinning. 1 John 1 makes that clear enough. John calls anybody who makes such a claim a liar, as well as one who calls God a liar.
Leaders are fallen. They sin. But they are your leaders. And they love you. They labor as those who must give an account. And if you're convinced that this doesn't describe your leader, then you have one of two options.
First, stay and love your leader, gently challenging them with the biblical standards, becoming their best friend, working as long as you have to in order to love them like Jesus loves you, in order to see them mature into God's fullness for them.
Second, reaffirm your love for your leader, then find another leader whom you do believe fits the biblical qualifications and descriptions for leading a church, remembering that they are fallen to, and not getting all bent out of shape when they sin.
When you remember that leaders are people too, you come more easily to grasp the Golden Rule in Matthew 7 where Jesus taught us to do for others or do to others whatever we want other people to do for us or to us. It's that simple. You'd never want to be treated without forgiveness or forbearance, so don't treat your leaders that way either. You'd never want the cold shoulder for something you've done, so don't give the cold shoulder to your leaders. You'd want love and reaffirmation when you've fallen to sin, so give that to your leaders. Do to your leaders what you'd want other people to do to you.
This is the gospel of Jesus Christ in living color in the local church.