I came across a sad story the other day. It involved another Christian leader who had got himself into a major mess.
Why does this happen?
No doubt there are lots of different causes. Love of money, sexual immorality, false teaching and so on. But I think the downfall of many leaders is caused by something else. And that something else is ambition.
Let me define ambition as the desire for personal promotion and self-fulfillment at the cost of others. I am not talking about a genuine zeal to spend oneself for the cause of the kingdom. I am not criticizing people who want their lives to reflect everything God created them for, and not settle for second-best.
Ambition takes a leader out of his or her God-given sphere of ability and anointing, and attempts to extend that sphere through human effort disguised in spiritual clothing.
True leadership serves people. Ambition uses people.
True leadership is always based on personal relationships rooted and grounded in servanthood and integrity. Ambition is based on position, and sadly, position in the church. Ambition can come clothed in the form of an elder, pastor, prophet or apostle.
The problems start when ambition takes a person out of their sphere of genuine gifting. Out of their depth, they must rely on the power of their office and manipulation to maintain control. Things start to go wrong. Other, truly gifted people become a threat and must be removed. The network of relationships surrounding them becomes more and more shallow. Decisions are made on what makes the leaders look better, not on what benefits the most people. Others are used to make the leader look better. Instead of serving God’s people and his kingdom, they are enlisted in the cause of promoting the leader’s success.
The sad thing is that if only such leaders stayed within their God-given limits, in the end what they do would be far more effective. The net effect of ambition is that whatever the Lord wanted to do through that person is largely lost. And other people are hurt. And in some cases, the name of the Lord is brought into disrepute.
What is the solution? Unfortunately, by the time the train wreck occurs, it is often too late to do anything. But we can start by raising people in a culture of discipleship and honour.
Discipleship is part of the answer because through it we can gently but firmly help young leaders to come to grips with what they are and are not gifted to do. It is just as important to know what you are not gifted to do as what you are gifted to do. We can teach young people that external position is a practicality that is needed, but does not convey worth and value. Corrie ten Boom never had any position in the church, but her position in the Lord caused her life to touch millions. If you don’t know who she was, you should find out!
Honour is part of the answer for this reason. Our personal integrity as leaders is measured not by the honour we receive, but by the honour we give away. Never trust a leader who is not constantly honouring others who have been an influence on his or her life. If you are a leader, give honour away as much as you can. Make it a lifestyle. After all, you have nothing you did not receive from God or others.
It’s time we started building churches based on discipleship and the giving away of honour, not the promotion of the person at the top. It’s time we started building movements where the people at the top are those for whom the top means absolutely nothing.
Then real leadership would flourish. Real gifting would abound. And churches would no longer be crowds following leaders. They would be spiritual families, the safest places on earth.
And God’s kingdom would come.