Protest singer and composer Pete Seeger wrote a song (1955), “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” In the song he asks the question: Where have all the flowers…young girls…young men…soldiers…graveyards gone?
Spinning off Seeger’s question I would like to ask, “Where have all the humble leaders gone?”
I see a lot of self-confident, bold but, unfortunately, arrogant leaders in His church. Why is it that there are so many young, charismatic, seemingly successful leaders who are also arrogant—making leadership all about themselves? Hardly a month goes by that we don’t read about another well-known leader who disqualified himself. When will it ever end?
Pride is a difficult issue for leaders to recognize in themselves and even more difficult to deal with. It often hides under the cloak of confidence and conviction. It is a root cause for the undoing and fall of many leaders.
Most of you reading this know that I am a leader-development guru and have been for over 40 years. I read extensively and constantly on the subject of leadership generally and church leadership specifically. One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read is The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham.
I had the joy and privilege of working with the Billy Graham team on occasion during my years with the Navigators. In the 60s I was in San Diego for a Graham crusade and visited a church where one of Graham’s associates, Grady Wilson, was speaking.
During a Q&A session following his sermon, the question was asked about how Billy remained humble all these years. Grady’s response was eye-opening for me. He said that when the team first formed, they made a deal with Billy that if the Lord kept him anointed, they (the team) would keep him humble. I thought then (and still think) that this is an amazing combination. The hand of God on my life and a few friends who are not afraid to call me out, speak truth into my life and hold me accountable.
It was John Stott who said, “Pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.” Wow, if that isn’t the truth!
After 52 year of pastoral ministry in quite a number of different churches, I’ve come to a few conclusions I want to share with you.
- Many Christian leaders can’t seem to handle success, just as some young athletes can’t handle it along with the money and notoriety that accompanies it and they self-destruct at some point
Some leaders are not prepared emotionally, relationally or spiritually to deal with lots of quick, and sometimes unexpected, success. It goes to and messes with their heads.
“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around , He (Jesus) said and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you.” Mark 10:42,43 The Message
Ruminating on these two verses for several years I’ve said to myself: Not only godless rulers but godly Christian leaders as well. When Christian leaders get a little power (speaking opportunities due to their “Successes,” write books, see an uptick of hits on their websites and assume celebrity status), how quickly it can go to their heads. All this can then lead to independence, an inflated, perspective of their own importance which in turn sets them up for a fall. Dave, it’s not going to be that way with you. Lord, have mercy!
2. The longer some leaders lead and the more success they experience, the less they are open to suggestions or creative input which don’t originate with them.
At some point they begin to believe that they are the brightest, fastest and most intelligent person (and actually say that) in the room and really don’t need to listen or be accountable to others. They are blind to their own blind spots and are not really interested in considering the opinions or observations of others—even those on their own team.
“Every leader must be willing to live under loving, grace-infused, patient, and forgiving biblical inspection” ~ Paul David Tripp from his book Lead
3. The more results some leaders experience, the hungrier they become for more and more with no end in sight
Some successful leaders develop an insatiable appetite for results and success. Whatever may be happening, it’s never enough. People on their teams (along with the leader) don’t understand biblical contentment and satisfaction, but rather experience ministry-life like a treadmill that’s going faster and faster. Exhaustion and burnout are not far behind. Biblical contentment and unbiblical greed are at war with each other in the hearts of successful leaders—especially those for whom that success has come quickly. They are without the necessary wisdom to handle it with a humble and contrite spirit (Isaiah 57:15).
Achievement, and more of it, rules the day!
Once again, a wise word from Paul David Trip and his book, Lead
“Does success produce worship of God in your community or self-congratulation? Achievement can turn humble servant leaders into proud, controlling, and unapproachable “Mini Kings.” Leadership in the church is not comfortable and predictable. It’s not a safe place to look for your identity and inner security.”
Some of you may remember the late Chuck Colson who birthed “Prison Fellowship.” While doing an interview in Chicago he was asked what he would consider the top three traits of a good leader. He said: “Well the first would be humility. And the second would be humility. And the third would be humility.”
Do I hear an “amen” out there!
How are you doing fellow leader?
Do you have close friends who keep you humble and accountable as you pray for God’s continued hand on your life and ministry?
Is your value and worth wrapped up in ministry success and more of it or is it wrapped up in Jesus and what He accomplished for you on His cross, through His resurrection?