CHAPTER 15: A LEADER LIVES A CONSISTENT LIFE
A Christian Post article in December 2018 broke the sad news: “A Kansas City evangelical megachurch pastor has been placed on an indefinite leave of absence as he seeks help at an addiction treatment facility after confessing to a “moral failure” to his wife and church leaders.”
Such news item occurs with numbing regularity so that people are hardly shocked anymore. We don’t need to know the salacious details of what happened to that pastor in Kansas. But one thing is sure-- something went wrong inside of him much earlier than its public expression.
Gordon MacDonald, in his insightful book “Ordering Your Private World”, writes this: “Our outer, or public, world is easier to deal with. It is much more measurable, visible, and expandable... It is the part of our existence easiest to evaluate in terms of success, popularity, wealth, and beauty. But our inner world is more spiritual in nature. Here is a center in which choices and values can be determined, where solitude and reflection might be pursued. It is a place for conducting worship and confession, a spot where the moral and spiritual pollution of the times need not penetrate.”
Making our public and private lives consistent is an uphill battle. That is why an untold number of leaders take the easy way out. We have seen leaders who are the paragons of virtue in the office but mighty failures in their personal lives and relationships. Or ministry leaders whose relationship to God has atrophied due to constant neglect, while projecting a confident aura to the outside world.
Jesus calls such leaders as hypocrites. He reserved His most scathing rebuke to the religious leaders of Israel whose public persona was at variance with their spiritual lives before God. Why? Because of their inconsistent lives. ““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28).
A leader will soon discover that the adulation of people and the taste of outward success can be addicting. They give such a rush of pleasant sensations that he will soon be craving them more and more. By neglecting secret spiritual disciplines, a leader may be able to do more and thus reap more significant outward successes, at least for a time. Increasingly, he neglects more and more his private life before God. And just like that, it won’t be long before what remains is but a shell of his former self. The inner life has wilted, and slowly but inevitably moral compromises begin to creep in.
How can a leader insulate himself from such inconsistencies before it’s too late? First, resolve not to sacrifice your private relationship to God before the altar of success. Early in your leadership responsibility, realize that your utmost priority is your life before God. Every first hour in the morning must be spent praying to God, and listening to Him speak through His Word. Before the rush of daily activities come flooding in, the leader must discipline himself to remain in his closet first, alone with God.
In the Bible, we read this about Jesus: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35). If even the perfect Son of Man rose early to fellowship with the Father, how much more we sinners who are badly in need of grace daily. This fellowship is the most critical key to resisting the allure of this world. If you are neglecting your time with God, stop whatever you are doing, and re-set your life. No matter how painful, remove anything that robs your time with your Lord and Saviour. If you don’t, you will become another statistic in the ever-lengthening list of leaders whose career imploded because of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15).
Second, surround yourself with faithful brethren and colleagues who will warn you if ever you veer off the righteous path. Give them carte blanche in rebuking you if necessary. One of the chief causes of leadership failure is when a leader isolates himself from others. When he does that, he removes opinions and ideas coming from multiple perspectives. A leader, just like any person, has blind spots that only others can see. He, therefore, needs other people to warn him of unseen dangers that lurk around the corner. Indeed, we have to remind each other and help each other return to God if any of us fall into sin. Paul challenged the Galatian church in the following way: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1).
In our church, I always found it healthy if there are at least two other persons that share the leadership responsibility with me. I believe that this is the reason why a plurality of elders is the New Testament ideal for every church. Admittedly, numerous churches do not have enough qualified men to be pastors nor enough resources to support them. This lack of leaders was the case in our church for many years, having started with only eight members, most of whom were students. One thing we did to remedy the shortage of pastors was to let a couple of faithful men share leadership duties with me. We met regularly to discuss church matters, and most decisions were collectively made. I believe the Lord used such a temporary arrangement to preserve our church during those early years.
Third, practice regular self-examination using the Scriptures as your standard. Humans have the capacity for self-reflection that is unique among living organisms. This ability is God’s gift to us so that we can correct our ways. Admittedly, such innate capacity has been significantly impaired by the entrance of sin. But because of the indwelling Spirit, a Christian can probe the inner recesses of his mind and heart. Paul can, therefore, say to the Corinthians to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5a). Towards this end, keeping a diary or journal is one means you can use. Such discipline has been largely neglected in this age of texts and emojis. I have been keeping a journal for decades now, and God has used such discipline to grow my faith.
A Christian’s logos is about the Spirit’s power to change not just the outer person, but the heart as well. Thus, a Christian leader must set the example of a consistent life. Yes, he is not perfect, but a holy striving for consistency must be evident in his daily life.
1. Evaluate the alignment of what others think of you and what you know about yourself.
2. Identify areas of your inner life that is not consistent with your public life.
3. How can you give the topmost priority to your relationship with God?