How to be a Great Bad Leader

I’m reading through the book of Acts, and I just came across Stephen’s speech to the official assembly of Israel’s elders in chapter 7. Turns out the assembly was full of less-than-stellar leaders, and you, too, can be a great bad leader if you follow their example. (Or you can use their example as what NOT to do in leadership…your call.)

Stephen’s story starts in chapter 6. All we know about Stephen is he lived in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven and that he was “…a man full of God’s grace and power [and he] did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people,” (Acts 6:8). And the Jewish leaders/elders didn’t take kindly to this.

As Stephen, and, more importantly, Jesus, grew in popularity among the Jews in Jerusalem, that necessarily meant the Jewish leaders’ power and popularity decreased.

And guess what?

Bad leaders cannot STAND to lose power. They will go to GREAT lengths to maintain power because without it they feel worthless. It’s sad, really.

In Stephen’s case these jealous elders decided to “secretly persuade” some dudes to accuse Stephen of blasphemy.

Again, bad leaders create conflict using deception and underhanded tactics in order to create the illusion that their poor leadership choices are justified.

And because most of the Jews inherently trusted their leaders, they automatically believed whatever they said. The general population just couldn’t conceive their beloved elders would deceive them or have back door meetings or strong arm people into doing immoral things.

The elders wanted Stephen to shut up about Jesus so they could maintain their dictatorial control over the masses. The best way to ensure Stephen would shut up was to kill him. And the fastest ticket to death in those days was to be convicted of blasphemy. After all, no upstanding Jew would tolerate such a thing, and neither did their law. And guess who got to decide if someone accused of blasphemy was guilty or innocent? That’s right: the assembly of elders.

Hmm. Sounds a little self-serving.

Bad leaders design processes and procedures that always result in them alone having absolute authority. They carefully craft heirarchies to ensure they cannot be held accountable by anyone else.

Israel’s elders went to great lengths to make sure Stephen would be found guilty of the drummed up charge of blasphemy. “They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place (the Temple) and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us,” (Acts 6:13-14).

Bad leaders have people in their pockets. They know who is weak enough morally and/or emotionally to exploit them when they need to. Sometimes bad leaders bribe others to do their dirty work so they themselves can still appear clean to the general population. Other times they threaten people to cooperate. Other times they manipulate people to do their bidding by convincing them the task at hand is really a noble thing to do. Worst of all, sometimes bad leaders misuse scripture to convince the spiritually naive that God WANTS them to do whatever devious thing the leaders have in mind. That last one gets all over me and makes me want to hit things.

So the Jewish elders put Stephen on “trial”. They went through the motions of justice to deceive the masses into thinking they really were after the “truth” and really were being “fair” to Stephen. These elders brought in these hand-picked false witnesses and pretended to be hearing the false accusations for the first time, as if they hadn’t coached these witnesses to say exactly what they said.

The heart of Jewish religion was the temple sacrifices doled out by the law God established through Moses. So these sly elders got people to accuse Stephen of defaming and wanting to get rid of both.

Bad leaders play on people’s emotions. They know what hot-button topics will really get their people stirred up–so stirred up that they become unable to calmly and rationally listen to anyone else’s side of the story. Literally, the science says once we humans become flooded with anger or fear, our brains cannot process new information until we physiologically calm down again. Bad leaders know this and use it to their advantage.

The high priest (think “head elder”) puts on his best shocked/fake-let’s-be-fair voice and asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?” (Acts 7:1).

And you know what Stephen says?

He brilliantly launches into the history of Israel and, specifically, how the Israelites royally failed at recognizing Moses as a prophet. They disobeyed Moses all the time, willfully choosing idolatry over worshipping God again and again.

Stephen uses the example of Moses to illustrate to the elders that, just like their ancestors before them, the elders are stubborn, have hard hearts unyielded to the Lord, refuse to listen to God, and, worst of all, “…always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51).

Wow. That’s an indictment there if I’ve ever heard one. Stephen also accused the elders of “betraying and murdering” the “Righteous One” prophets of old spoke about–i.e., Jesus (Acts 7:52).

You’ll never guess how the elders responded to Stephen’s rebuke.

That’s right, they humbly accepted the correction, admitted their wrongs, and thanked Stephen for having the you-know-whats to point out the sin in their lives so they could stop and grow more mature in their faith in God.

Just kidding.

The elders of Israel threw a fit. A FIT, I tell you.

“When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him…[at the mention of Jesus being with God in heaven] they covered their ears, and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at [Stephen], dragged him out of the city and began to stone him,” (Acts 7:54-58). Stephen died from that stoning, and then the elders went on to persecute other Christians in Jerusalem so badly that they all literally ran for their lives, scattering throughout the region (Acts 8:1).

Bad leaders lose their minds when they are confronted with the truth. If their cover as “good guys” is threatened publically, bad leaders attack those blowing the whistle. And then they attack everyone associated with those who blew the whistle. The gloves come off. The leaders stop delegating their dirty work and take matters into their own hands as a last ditch effort to squelch any revolt on account of the masses slowly beginning to realize these leaders are not what they seem.

Like Israel’s elders back in the day, some people today are really great bad leaders. Phenomenal, actually. And, unfortunately, there are still some really great bad leaders in churches today.

Ask the Spirit to help you perceive if any of your leaders–inside the church or out–fit the bill of great bad leaders. If you find you are under one (or more–they tend to travel in packs), blow the whistle. But know you will likely be clobbered when you do. That’s ok. Jesus told us that will happen when we stand for what is right.

If your whistle-blowing results in change for the better, rejoice! If it doesn’t, relocate. That is, find new leaders. There are great great leaders out there; stop wasting your time under great bad leaders.

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Why Church Membership is Important

So my last three posts – When it’s Not Okay to Leave Your Church, When it’s Okay to Leave Your Church, and What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church – all started with a basic presupposition: church membership is important.

Why is church membership important?

But there is an ever-increasing number of Jesus-loving people who don’t share that view. And it makes perfect sense that if you don’t value church membership, you are less inclined to feel like loyalty to your church (or any church, for that matter), is a biblical hill to die on. 

In fact, one of my readers was brave and honest enough to just say what a lot of you may be thinking:

“These last three blogs seem like a whole lot of agonizing over a non-issue to me. If a church is not for you, move on. End of story. And no, don’t feel sad or guilty about it. There aren’t thousands of separate churches. There is one true Church (as in body of Christ that we commit to), and all the separate institutions are just parts of the whole. If you don’t like your building, go to another. Loyalty to a bad/mediocre/not for you church is just silly.”

I so appreciate this comment because it clued me in to the fact that I shouldn’t assume we all value church membership. And we must value membership before we can talk about persevering in our commitments to our churches.

So, why is church membership important? After all, church membership isn’t even in the Bible…

Or is it?

It’s true, you can search for the word “membership” all day long and not find it in the Bible. But if we stop and look at Paul’s letters and other New Testament writings, we find commitment to a local church commanded ad nauseum.

Each letter Paul wrote was to a local church body – at Rome, at Corinth, at Galatia, at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Colossae, at Thessalonica. And in talking to these individual churches, Paul stresses things like unity (Ephesians 4:3, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:14) and each believer using his spiritual gifts to build up the body (1 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:12). He emphasizes serving one another (Galatians 5:13) and sacrificing personal freedoms in order to see to the best interests of others (1 Corinthians 9:12, 10:32). Paul commands Roman believers to “be devoted to one another in love,” and to, “Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10).

New Testament books written by other people speak to the same topics as well as to believers in local church bodies submitting to church authority figures (Acts 16:4, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:5).

In other words, the majority of the New Testament is about how to do church in the lowercase c sense. And when all the lowercase churches do church the way Paul and others tell them to, the uppercase Church – as in the body of Christ all believers are committed to – is freed up to accomplish its God-given responsibilities to spread the good news about Jesus and to help believers grow in their understanding of Jesus.

Without committing to a local church body – and by that I mean doing more than filling a pew anonymously on some Sunday mornings – how do we live like the New Testament tells us to? When we church hop and/or fly under the radar of church authority by not committing to a local church (which our culture calls “becoming a church member”), it’s hard to be held accountable to live our lives according to the Bible. We have no community context in which to live out the New Testament commands.

If we leave our churches when our preferences aren’t met, how is that being devoted to one another or honoring others above ourselves or sacrificing personal freedoms for the benefit of others?

If we leave our churches every time the Elders make a decision we don’t particularly care for, how is that submitting to their God-given authority?

If we leave our churches every time we have a disagreement with other believers, how is that working toward unity?

If we aren’t committed to our church, who’s going to help us see when we are erring in our ways?

What’s more, it’s difficult (impossible?) for the Church to do its jobs when believers constantly flit from one part of the body to another – from one little c church to the next. It takes time and people to get programs that reach nonbelievers and programs that disciple believers rolling, and it takes commitment from said people to keep them rolling. If we all leave our churches every time we become dissatisfied with something, there is an “us” shaped hole in the ministries in which we were serving/participating, setting the ministries back.

Church membership is the answer to these kinds of problems. It isn’t a commitment to a building, like my friend stated, but, rather, it is an avenue through which we can be encouraged to live our lives according to the New Testament – to love one another, to work out our differences for the sake of unity, to serve others, to submit to elders – which requires a community of believers.

“Church membership” may be a modern term not used in the Bible, but the concept is one of its main themes. The idea that one can be committed to the capital C Church without being actively involved in a local lowercase c church is a myth at best and a lie at worst.

You may love Jesus, and, by His grace, you may be going to Heaven, but the Bible is clear that you can’t live a New Testament life without being committed to your lowercase c church. God desires us to live in accordance with His word because it’s in our best interest to do so and because He is glorified when we obey.

And that, I believe, is a biblical hill to die on.

What’s Oil Got to Do with It?

Truth be told, I’m not comfortable with the whole idea of anointing people with oil. It’s a mysterious, wacky religious right practice that I just don’t understand.

It’s not a practice I’m very familiar with, having grown up with no religious upbringing in suburban America. And, frankly, my intellectual pride screams at the top if its lungs how ridiculous the person is who believes a dab of household oil can bless or heal someone.

Still, I’ve had a handful of experiences with anointing in my short Christian life. My children were both dabbed as babies when we dedicated them to the Lord. But I’m not sure why. I think it is a symbol of bestowing blessing on the child, but I’m not certain.

I’ve been anointed myself by a pastor when asking for healing of stubborn headaches.

To be sure, this practice is odd in our culture. And I’m not sure I’ll ever be entirely comfortable with it. But those to whom the Bible was initially written were completely comfortable with the concept.

The first mention of anointing with oil was when Aaron and his sons were installed as the first priests of Israel. Exodus 28:41 says, “…anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.”

To consecrate was to make holy – to set apart for the Lord.

I suppose that’s what we were doing with our girls on their dedication days.

Throughout the Old Testament, priests, altars, the tabernacle, and leaders were anointed in this fashion, as a symbol of their desire to purely serve the Lord.

The New Testament seems to use anointing in a different manner.

In Mark 6, the twelve disciples are sent out to do the same kinds of things they’ve seen Jesus do. “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them,” (Mark 6:13).

James also uses this concept of anointing in relation to health. He says, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well,” (James 5:14-15).

I don’t know why oil is a big deal to God. I don’t know why He tells us to use oil to show holy intent or to invite divine healing. But He does. There are a lot of things about God I don’t get.

But that doesn’t excuse me from obeying Him.

Awhile back I told you about my daughter, Allie, and her on-going mystery back pain. Since then, she has met with a pediatric orthopedist who was perplexed and ordered an MRI. I was told after the fact that all the doctors were really worried, suspecting the worst.

But, praise God, the MRI was negative. We examined more urine samples and tested her blood for at least 10 different things. All is normal. She was sent to a pediatric rheumatologist in September who diagnosed her with discitis – a super rare inflammation of a disc between her vertebrae. She prescribed anti-inflammatories to alleviate discomfort. It didn’t help, so she prescribed a different one. It didn’t help either.

The prognosis is Allie will just have to grow out of the condition, which could take weeks or months. She’s been in pain for 6+ months. As she sobbed in my arms for over an hour on Wednesday, James 5 came to mind. It was time to give this wacky religious right practice of anointing a shot.

I took Allie to my favorite pastor’s house, a house she has spent much time at playing with his grand children, and, unbeknownst to Allie, we prayed over her. The pastor snuck a dab of oil on her head, and she smiled ear to ear. Then four of us prayed for healing and wisdom while Allie meandered around the house, playing and swindling a friend out of her fruit snacks with her sweet smile.

Allie was ok the rest of the day. This morning she cried a few minutes in pain. It remains to be seen if/how/when healing will come.

But obedience to the scriptures happened yesterday. And I know that pleases God’s heart.

 

(Dis)Unity

Our church is entering a time of transition.  A couple of weeks ago, our senior pastor of almost 9 years announced that he and his family are headed to the mission field full-time.  They leave in less than 3 months.  And so the process of finding an interim senior pastor and, eventually, a permanent senior pastor is beginning.

Our church is led by a group of elected elders.  They vote on things to make the decisions for our church (1 Timothy 5:17).  Members can speak freely to the elders at any time, but, ultimately, members do not decide the direction of the church.  The elders do.

In any type of government, ecclesiastical or secular, there is potential for disunity among the governed.  And during times of transition, that potential is even greater.

And I fear the church-fracturing effects of possible dissension within our body at a time like this.

Dave Ramsey has a rule in his corporation.  If you have a problem, a gripe, a complaint of any kind, you can voice it up the chain of command without fear of penalty.  But if you voice it to an employee under you or equal to you in authority, you are fired on the spot.  Why?  Because Dave understands the crippling potential of unhealthy criticism within a body of people.

I fear that members of our church will begin to voice their negative opinions to one another on how they feel the pastoral search is going, spreading disunity like gangrene, focusing our body on lesser things than spreading the Gospel (Romans 15:5-6).

(I fear this not because our church is especially disgruntled but because our church is made up of humans, and humans, as we all know, are bent toward discontent.  So, while this particular post is about my fear for my church, I also fear for your church and the Church at large.)

To be clear, I am all for members voicing their negative opinions to senior staff members and elders.  Do it!  Do it in love (1 Corinthians 16:14; Ephesians 4:15).  You have a voice.  If you feel things are going in the wrong direction, speak up.  But speak up to those who have the ability to change things, NOT to your fellow members.   Spreading negativity within the congregation is not fruitful.  In fact, the destructive effect of such speech cannot be overstated.

And it plays right into Satan’s hand.

Satan wants our church to fold.  He wants us to split over whoever the new senior pastor is.  He wants to divide us, pitting members against members, directing our attention to ourselves and our preferences so we will have no energy left to spend on loving people like Jesus did.  Satan wants to stir our pride against our elders to convince us that they are incompetent so we dwell on our anger and bitterness each Sunday instead of worshiping our resurrected Lord together.

Paul understood what was at stake.

In Ephesians Paul wrote, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:3-4).

In Colossians he wrote, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity,” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Part of this unity that we should strive for includes submitting to the elders – and their decisions – even if we disagree with them.  The author of Hebrews puts it succinctly, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you,” (Hebrews 13:17).

We won’t always agree with our leaders.  And that’s okay.  What matters is what we do with our disagreements.  We can handle them rightly by discussing them with those in authority over us, or we can handle them wrongly – sinfully – by discussing them with those around us.  Ultimately, though, Scripture commands us to submit to those in authority over us, whether we like it or not.

If you are in a church where you are unwilling to submit to its leaders, figure out why that is.  The leaders may not be acting in accordance with Scripture.  If that’s the case, leave that church!  Go find a Bible believing church to be a part of.

But if it turns out you are unwilling to submit to the leaders for personal reasons instead of biblical reasons, ask the Lord to work the rebellion out of your heart.  Ask Him to cut out your bitterness and your pride.  Ask Him to help you authentically and properly submit to your church leaders and, more importantly, to Him.

Your church’s unity – THE Church’s unity – depends on it.