Church leaders are not free from the temptations of sin. They need to be always on guard lest they be suddenly overtaken by the deceitfulness of sin. My prayer is that the Biblical expose of the deceitfulness of sin that surrounds church leaders will further intensify our vigilance and prayer so that we may keep ourselves pure for the work of the Lord.
Pitfall #1: Having a Sense of Self-Glory and Vindictiveness
The apostle John wrote about an early church leader who walked into this pitfall. “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not” (3 John 9). It is not at all uncommon that the behaviour of certain men in the church leadership degenerate into one of self-assertiveness and self-glory. A sense of immunity from accountability and authority fills their minds. They act as though they are above everyone, and even the demands of morality and charity.
Like Diotrephes who opposed and sidelined the apostle John and other leaders of the early church, some of the modern-day church leaders also act highhandedly. They become domineering, bossy and love the prestige and power of leadership so much that they care for none but themselves. They forget godly men whom God has used to nurture the church. They slander good men and promote those who are just like themselves.
Let us protect ourselves from this sin of pride by co-labouring with and submitting ourselves to godly men who love God’s truth and righteousness and serve before Him humbly, faithfully and diligently. The apostle Peter advises church leaders, “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock … Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:3-6).
Submit yourself also to a council of biblically-minded, spiritually-wise advisers. “Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established” (Proverbs 15:22). The Bible makes clear provision for rebuking an elder who persists in sin (cf. 1 Timothy 5:19-20). No one is above reproof. Everyone ought to be accountable. Let every one of us who serves in the leadership remind himself that God expects us to be humble, submissive and accountable to one another.
Pitfall #2: Succumbing to Itching Ears as Love of Truth Evaporates
The apostle Paul cautions, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Many who express a passion for God’s truth at the beginning of their ministry have succumbed later to the popular notions and expectations of the people around them. The love of truth is weakened by the love for recognition and admiration, and soon integrity has no leg to stand on. Every manner of rationalization and compromise to meet the demands of the expanding audience takes over. Doctrines are not emphasized; moral purity is not pursued after. The audience is to be entertained — the itching ears are to be “scratched” — or else he would have to face the unhappiness of the crowd. He is afraid that people would desert him, so immunity from objection and opposition is created with a heavy dose of relational ethics. The language of love, forgiveness and acceptance abounds — but for those who have eyes to see, it is but a camouflage to cover up the abandonment of love for God’s truth!
In order to protect ourselves from such perilous compromise in the ministry, we should cultivate an unflinching commitment to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2). Remain fully dedicated to proclaim the truth, even in its smallest details, and turn a deaf ear to the desires of men to have their ears scratched. Compromise with falsehood often begins in small things.
In order to be a brave and faithful preacher of the Word, “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). In the ministry of many leaders, the Word of God has taken a back-seat to storytelling, social analysis, family discussions, psychological diagnoses, etc., which begin to usurp the authority of the inspired and preserved Word of God. Loose and sloppy handling of the Scriptures eventually leads to loose and sloppy living of the leaders and the congregation. Let all leaders protect themselves and their congregations through a disciplined study of God’s Word and faithful preaching.
Pitfall #3: Disregarding the Family Life
The apostle Paul very emphatically advises that leaders should “be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1:6; cf. 1 Timothy 3:2, 4, 12). It is tragic that many leaders have failed to give careful attention in the nurturing of their own children in the ways of God. Therefore, Paul challenges us, “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5).
Our loving treatment of our wives ought to be the reflection of Christ’s wonderful love for the church. The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Let every church leader remember that his treatment of his wife is reflective of how greatly he thinks of the Lord’s loving dealings with the church.
An adulterous church leader is a disastrous testimony before the church. He does not portray the Lord’s faithful and true love for the church. The apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians 5:31-32 that Christian marriage is a token of the mystery of the relationship that Christ has with the church. “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Adultery is an appalling desecration of the image of Christ and His church.
Let every church leader remember that God expects him to prove his faithfulness as a leader in his own home first. Remind yourself repeatedly that your marriage is a living testimony of Christ’s relationship with the church. We simply must recover the wonder of this truth. Marriage has to do with Christ, not just two people trying to seek fulfilment. It is a mission whereby God’s love is to be portrayed to the world. It is an extraordinary calling.